Tuesday, November 22, 2011

KL v Phuket It's On!

This month Ben shares the adventures of his first overseas trip to Kuala Lumpur and Phuket providing a compare/contrast of the two destinations.

At the age of 25 I finally decided to take my first trip out of this great land we call Oz accompanied by my amazing girlfriend (some great brownie points there…). So grab your passport and join me as we travel across to Asia!

Kuala Lumpur (KL) is Malaysia’s capital and the second most populous city. With a population of approximately 1.8 million, the city has evolved into a 21st century metropolis dominated by a mix of culture and technology from historic temples and mosques neighbouring skyscrapers, to colossal shopping malls. Located south-west of Thailand the island of Phuket (my second stop) is a mecca for tourists and armed forces alike, ready to experience all that Phuket has to offer. As Thailand’s largest and most popular island, the western shoreline where the rainforest meets the transparent turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea, is the spot where most tourists congregate.

Travelling to KL and Phuket in low season was the best decision we made. Other than the obvious; cheaper accommodation and activities, travelling in low season had numerous benefits. Topping the list was the smaller crowds as it was hard enough walking through Chinatown in KL or Phuket Town’s night market when we were there. I cannot imagine peak season where I assume you don’t choose the direction you walk, the crowd chooses for you.
Transport from the airport at both destinations was entertaining to say the least. Arriving at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal in KL (gotta love cheap fares through AirAsia), we boarded our pre-booked shuttle to KL Sentral, an exclusive urban centre built around Malaysia’s largest transit hub. Although we thought ourselves as the best of planners, the shuttle we chose overheated forcing the driver to double-clutch the entire trip. Arriving at Phuket International Airport, we bartered the price of our taxi but the gentleman we were talking to wasn’t our driver, our actual driver was waiting round the corner and looked like a UFC fighter. The entire trip he kept trying to increase our agreed price while driving extremely slow on the highway. Then to our shock he pulled over, threw our bags in the back of another taxi of significantly lesser quality, slammed the boot and drove off. Arriving at the hotel we realised amongst our confusion, the UFC fighter stole our duty free alcohol!

Unlike our trip from the airports our trip to the airports was much more pleasant. In KL we booked a taxi from the hotel and had a lovely lady that I’m sure doubled as a tour guide, as she explained the history of all the destinations we passed, which was great as we didn’t see much due to the overheating shuttle bus on the way to the hotel. In Phuket we booked a taxi from the guys outside our hotel. The night before we headed home we walked past our taxi driver around 1 am and asked why he was still awake. He commented that someone else would take us. Hearing this, we were a little nervous wondering if anyone would turn up but upon exiting the lift at 5am with bags packed, there was our taxi driver waiting in a jet black Mercedes! The driver was driving significantly under the speed limit, AGAIN! But to our surprise once we hit the highway his foot hit the floor and we were travelling around the somewhat exhilarating speed of 140 km/h. Needless to say, we got to the airport extra early.

Leaving our iPhones at home we had no contact with family and friends at home. As instructed by the concierge we headed towards Kuala Lumpur City Centre where the Petronas Towers are located with a 6 level shopping mall at the base. We searched everywhere for an international calling card but all we could find were international sim cards, which really helps when your phone is at home. We experienced a similar plight at other tourist destinations in KL. Upon arriving at Phuket we thought we would have another shot at locating an international calling card and lo and behold the convenience store at the airport sold them. Opposite our hotel was an internet and international calling café. It was surprising that it was impossible to contact home in KL, a modern cybercity, but in Phuket, an island with lower socio-economic characteristics, we could do.

Transport on the monorails in KL was as fun as riding the trams in Melbourne! KL’s transit rail network is a combination of four independently owned monorail networks allowing tourists, with transit rail map in hand, to navigate easily through the city. Although monorails were our preferred transport mode in KL, in Phuket we favoured scooters and the occasional tuk-tuk. Early on in our trip we found a man we called ‘scooter guy’ who spoke no English but we would tell his boss where we wanted to go and he would translate. My girlfriend and I both jumped on the back of the scooter and hung on for dear life, as we scooted through the streets and highways of Phuket. Scooter guy was the best! For 500 baht (approximately $16 AUD) scooter guy drove us around for an entire day taking us to Phuket Zoo and Phuket Town’s Night Market, and waited for us the entire time. With our backpack full of shopping and scooter guy’s front basket fitting the rest he dropped us back to the hotel. Scooter guy was definitely one of the highlights of our trip.

The shopping experience in each destination was very different. In Phuket we were literally attacked everywhere we went by the massage ladies, the suit fast talkers, the persistent DVD salesmen, and at night, the scary and very persistent ‘lady show’ salesmen. While shopping in Phuket we could haggle down to a price we were happy to pay but if not, we would pretend to walk out of the shop and 9 times out of 10 they would chase us down the street to make the sale. However, when we tried this same stunt in KL, where the merchants were a lot more stubborn and haggled a lot less, we found ourselves walking away with no one chasing us…! To our utter embarrassment, we turned around and walked back numerous times.

So after a very enjoyable trip to KL and Phuket, what have I learnt from my first overseas trip?
Ø Always choose the appropriate destination for the people you are travelling with. KL and Phuket were great for my girlfriend and I as we could relax at the beach or shop for hours and hours in the one location.
Ø The second time you visit a destination you are considerably more knowledgeable. For example, passing through KL on our way home we caught the ‘fast train’ to KL Sentral instead of the overheating shuttle bus, which gave us more time for last minute shopping.
Ø KL is a destination for shopping for higher quality products (my girlfriend especially recommends the handbags) at reasonable prices with efficient monorail transport whereas Phuket is best for lower quality products (more beachwear – board shorts, singlets, etc.) with tuk-tuk and scooter rides, if you dare!

Thank you for joining me on my first trip overseas with many more planned for the future, annual leave permitting of course.

Feeling Crowded?
Today (31st October) the world population is projected to reach 7 billion according to the United Nations Population Fund and is projected to reach over 9 billion by 2050.

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