Globetrotter: Truly Asia

By Nilanthi Sangarabalan

Hong Kong. Malaysia. Singapore.

Date: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 03:55:10 +0000

Today will mark my 23rd day of having left the U.K. Not necessarily a well-known and celebrated milestone, but today is also important because it marks the last day of my stint in Asia – tonight I will catch a flight, landing in Cairns tomorrow. Fancy finding out how it’s been?

Hong Kong: October 11- 17th

Still recovering from a cold I’d caught whilst in the UK, I arrived in the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong not feeling 100% well. If anything, the seven days there helped me get used to the environment and the idea that I would be travelling for three months.

The accommodation of choice was a complex called Chung King Mansion – a little intimidating to a first time solo traveller due to the sheer number of people bustling about and the various touts who come to offer you a room in their hostel. The guesthouse on the 11th floor I had booked into was nice and quaint, although I didn’t spend much time there – having dropped my bags, I was ready to hit the city.

People in Hong Kong tend to keep themselves to themselves – not necessarily because they’re unfriendly, they just tend to just go about their business.  I wasn’t bothered by this – a friend had lent me her guide book and it proved invaluable throughout the whole trip. Hong Kong is split into two areas of interest, the mainland and Hong Kong Island. I stayed in the mainland, but went to the island every other day, (accessible by ferry – a comfortable 10 minute ride). The area I stayed in was full to the brink with shops, mostly malls. I’m not normally a shopaholic, but here it was difficult to restrain myself.

Highlights of the week were definitely:

1) The Peak:

The journey up in a tram was exciting in itself, but the views are spectacular.

2) The Po Lin Buddha:

A giant Buddha statue atop a ridiculous number of stairs.

3) The night market:

Having not walked down the road far enough to find one night market in particular, I went back another night, found the market, and tried my hand at some bartering.

4) The ferry ride to and from the island:

Watching people in suits using this mode of transport to work made me smile.

5) The night show by the pier:

A daily twenty minute show composed of orchestral music and lasers.

My hopes of gorging myself on bubble tea and dim sum were dashed when I struggled to find many joints selling either. Still without much of an appetite after being unwell, I decided to play it safe and only had a handful of rice dishes, instead living off bakery items (and there were a lot of bakeries).

You can get a fairly good trip out of Hong Kong within 4 or 5 days. Thankfully, I needed the extra two to focus on getting well. All in all, a good introductory trip.

Singapore (1st Leg): October 17- 20

On this leg, I stayed with my cousin and her family, only making one day trip into the town centre.

Considering I’m not a massive art fan, I thoroughly enjoyed the Singapore Art Museum (good job on the current exhibitions). Afterwards, I headed to the National Museum of Singapore – a definite must visit! In addition to the galleries dedicated to food, fashion, film and photography, there is an interactive exhibition that takes you through the history of Hong Kong, telling you about major events as seen through the eyes of the major players as well as the common people. You also get a handy companion device to guide you through, which is literally miles ahead of the audio guides we have in the UK.

Another highlight of Singapore are the jingles and adverts you see and hear on the MTR (train) system. With help from a trio called the ‘Dim Sum Dollies’, you are encouraged to give up your seat, queue when the train is coming and move into the train to allow more passengers in. Yes, I hear the same things in London, but usually from the bus driver. And he doesn’t even sing it, he just yells it from the front of the bus.

Malaysia: October 20-30

The aim of this trip was to not spend the whole holiday in relatives’ houses having refills of tea and being fed continuously. I am proud to say this was certainly achieved. Of the ten days I was in Malaysia, five were spent visiting Georgetown in Penang, and Malacca (both recently recognised world heritage cities). The other five were spent in Kuala Lampur, where I took day trips.

Penang and Malacca are both worth visiting. Malacca architecture has been heavily influenced by the Dutch and Portugese and I got the feeling I had gone somewhere where time had literally stood still – I certainly didn’t feel like I was in Malaysia! Penang was also a lovely area, with structures dating back to the time when Malaysia was part of the English colony.

Back in KL, I visited the Batu Caves – which house two main temples and statues of various Hindu deities. I also paid a visit to the Petronas Twin Towers. This took two attempts, as the first time I went, I arrived too late (9:30am) to get one of the 1500 or so tickets sold each morning (the ticket desk opens at 8:30am). The second time round, I took no chances and was in the queue by 7:30am. Although advertised as a must-do in Malaysia, I’m not sure this is the case, as I think you can get better views from the KL tower and don’t need to get up ridiculously early to get a ticket for it. Saying that, the sight of the Petronas towers and the KL tower at night has possibly been the best night view I’ve seen so far on this trip. Yes, it even beats the Hong Kong skyline (just).

Malaysia was also the country where I started to truly experience the culinary delights that accompany a trip abroad. Satay, nasi lamak, hokkien mee and biriyani – accompanied by ice coffee, ice Milo, or indeed, ice Nestlo (that’s coffee and milo together).

I left Malaysia still wanting to do more. Considering the sheer number of relatives I have there, though, I’m sure I’ll be back within a few years.

Singapore (2nd Leg): October 30 – November 2

Returning to Singapore, my stay this time was in a lovely guesthouse in the centre of town. Coincidentally, a friend from home was also in Singapore at the time, so we both did a little sightseeing. Whilst here, I also attended a day cookery class. Since I could not find a course that would teach me traditional Singaporean dishes for the amount of money I was willing to part with, I chose a chocolate tasting/demo/hands-on class instead. I may start creating my own truffles when I return home!

My friend and I also spent a day in Sentosa, which claims to be ‘Asia’s favourite playground’. Expecting an island with small attractions, I got a bit of a shock when I arrived and found that the whole place seemed to be an attraction. Apart from the shops the popular stops included a giant merlion statue (the symbol of Singapore), zip wire rides, a luge race course, beaches, a recently opened Universal Studios theme park and a casino. Having been encouraged to visit the casino, I paid a visit and quickly lost $10 (5 pounds) on a poker game. Looks like I won’t be going ‘Ocean’s 11’ on that place anytime soon.

On each arrival in Singapore, I found myself falling in love with the place a little more. It’s definitely somewhere I could see myself living and working in the future. Plus, bubble tea is in abundance!

‘Challenge Nil’ update

I haven’t had a great start in accomplishing the challenges set by my friends. Here are the details:

1. HONG KONG: See how far you can barter a seller down on an item’s price

–> If you flirt a little, attempt to connect with the seller on a common issue (he liked football, I made something up about supporting Chelsea) and if the seller is not good at maths (either due to lack of learning, or shock from seeing such a beautiful foreigner), you can barter down a cute pen from $9 to $4.

2. SINGAPORE: Take a day long cookery course

–> Okay, it was half a day, a demo rather than a course, and focused entirely on how to melt chocolate and make truffles rather than how to concoct an Asian cuisine to die for. But I got to make truffles and take them home.

3. MALAYSIA: Eat durians

–> I arrived in Malaysia just as durians were out of season – what are the chances? I did actually spend a good half an hour looking for them, but even the stalls that only sell the stuff were closed. That’s got to tell you something. Found durian on my second leg in Singapore.

4. MALAYSIA: Visit Batu Caves and climb up and down the stairs twice (Sathiajothy Jeevaretanam)

–> Done, although I took a lengthy break between the two climbs – with 272 steps, you can hardly just start climbing them again as soon as you reach the bottom.

GENERAL: Commit one of the seven deadly sins in each country you visit

–> Pride in Hong Kong, Gluttony in Malaysia, not quite sure if I committed anything in Singapore – perhaps a bit of sloth? The jury’s still out on that one.

GENERAL: Get a photograph with a policeman in every country

–> This has proven more difficult, and unless things pick up in my next set of countries, may have to consider this challenge failed. Policemen in Hong Kong and Singapore both said ‘no’ to a photograph straightaway, the Malaysian policeman was much more obliging.




Nilanthi Sangarabalan is a recent graduate of the London School of Economics. Coming from a family of travelers, she was hit by the travel bug from an early age and spent three months after her university education exploring parts of Asia.