Country Counter: 17, 18
Cities Visited: Kuala Lumpur, Singapore City, Genting Highlands
Timeframe: December 2011
I’m sure everyone agrees that traveling in south-east Asia can be really cheap. Even if you don’t earn in Western currencies, a buck will go a long way in most of the countries down there. My parents read about a holiday package offered by D’Paul’s, one of the most recognized operators in India. 8 nights in Malaysia, Singapore and the Genting Highlands for €700, including flights, stay, transfer AND visa (it’s €850 now, after 6 years though!)
The trip starts with an economy-class flight (usually sold out) to Kuala Lumpur. Once we land, a bus escorts the group to a hotel (think Grand Seasons and the like), with buffet breakfast included. The first half of the first day is free for tourists to roam about independently. We took this occasion to visit the not-to-be-missed Petronas Towers.
Mom near the Petronas Towers
The second half is usually spent in a conducted tour of the city. We were glad that we visited the tower early. Although the conducted city tour is great, things are on a clock so you won’t get those leisurely minutes to click an infinite number of selfies. We indulged ourselves in the highly popular street food, or ‘makanan jalanan’, consisting of meats and fish on satay skewers. To be honest, it was so good I kept coming back every day for the rest of the tour. The national dish is chicken rice, which, you guessed it, is fried chicken served with rice.
Istana Negara – the official residence of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, the monarch of Malaysia.
Next, we headed off to the Genting Highlands. On our way, we passed by the magnificent Batu Caves, a Hindu temple set in a limestone cave with a huge golden idol of Lord Murugan. The sheer climb will deter many, but when you make to the top, the view is worth it.
Simply getting to Genting Highlands is an adventure. A bus takes you to the base of a mountain (or hill, don’t remember). From there, you ride one of the longest (and most scenic) cable cars to reach atop. An absurdly huge area welcomes you – 5 hotels, three casinos, an amusement park, a shopping center – all in one building complex. I literally got lost once trying to find my room, which number into thousands. I’m not saying the place is unorganized – quite the contrary. Well lit, with signs everywhere, the place is a must visit for at least a night, even if you aren’t into gambling.
A roller-coaster runs INSIDE the hotel complex, zipping by overhead, and the entire place is decorated with life-size models of every imaginable movie and TV memorabilia. I even tried out the Go-Kart track (which, understandably, has the longest queue and waiting time) which was super fun.
After our one-night stay, we headed off to Singapore. We were able to cross the border pretty fast, as our visa was already pre-arranged by the company. Conducted tours in Singapore ranged from a ride on the Singapore Flyer (Singapore’s answer to the London Eye) and the Jurong Bird Park. A city tour also takes you through Orchard Street, which boasts of all the major luxury brands in one stretch.
View of Marina Bay Sands from the Singapore Flyer. Residents write their wishes on white balloons and place them on the river before Christmas.
The city tour was conducted on an amphibious vehicle, which, at the risk of sounding naïve, I had never seen before. It completely blew my mind when the seemingly normal ‘monster truck’ simply glided into the river and became operational as a boat, without any unpleasant noise or jerk.
The wonder car (or boat, or both?)
During the tour, we stopped by one of the most visited spots in the tiny island nation – the Merlion Park, located right next to the Central Business District. A clichéd picture had to be snapped.
Merlion Park, near Central Business District
The last day was reserved for two separate parks: Resorts World Sentosa, which had the Mama Merlion, and Wild Wild Wet, a water-ride amusement park that is worth its name. The rides were some of the craziest experiences I’ve ever had. The best part is, the whole setup is so well organized, no extra safety harnesses are required. Rides range from steep water slides to downhill Go-Karting.
Marina Bay Sands
Even though we were returning home during Christmas time, I felt gloomy after the trip ended. I had not expected a conducted travel package to turn out to be so much fun. My mood was partially lifted when we flew back via Singapore’s Changi Airport. You’ve got to experience it to know why it is consistently rated as the world’s best airport.
The Central Business District and skyline
Total Cost of Travel and Stay: ₹ 50,000 per person incl. tax (€707 in today’s exchange rate)