Monday, August 23, 2010

Full Moon Party Moments: View from my Bungalow

What I Woke Up to this morning



Haad Rin Beach next to where the Full Moon Party is going to take place in 2 days.  As the moon gets fatter, the parties are getting crazier. Newcomers are pouring into the island every hour and the ambiance is infectious with excitement. From here though, chill tranquil place on the hill, above the canopy (feels like a treehouse!). This is what I see every morning. I can stay here forever.


Music



Download: Drugs in My Body.mp3

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Indie Guide to Malaysia: Shopping in Kuala Lumpur

Indie Guide to Shopping in Kuala Lumpur
Fo'real. Best shopping you'll find is in Asia, no need to be a dirty backpacker. 

By pure chance that our hostel was in some obscure place outside of the centre, my amour and I found the best vintage shopping I’ve possibly seen in my life, even better than Toronto and Bangkok. What made it so great was that a) a lot of the clothes were in from Japan so they were super awesome b) they didn’t know how cool their clothing was so it was cheaper than a chocolate bar for a winter coat! c) the prices make all the clothing that much more worth it even if they're not perfect. Your trendy, bargain hunting heart will beat faster just by the thought of it. I must admit though that this place is ultimate indie shopping paradise for guys. Below I’ve listed the other places that have made me happy pants for consumption. I need to stress again how low my budget was on this trip, 6 month unpaid internship in Jakarta and all, so if you are looking for bargains, this blog will help you find them where you wouldn’t expect and even give you a couple tips on how to bargain the best deal.


 Contents
1. Chow Kit Vintage Stuff
2. China Town Copy Shopping
3. FYI on Copy Shopping
4. How to Bargain in China Town
5. Other Consumptions: Eyebrow Threading
6. Music

























Sunday, August 8, 2010

Indie Guide to Malaysia: Perhentian Island's Long Beach

Guide to the Guide Book Fail


 Contents
1. Intro
2. Lodging
Nightmare Story 
Tips
3. Eating
Where not to Eat
Tips
4. Partying
Tips
5. Practical Info
Getting There
Getting to Langkawi

1. Intro
In my opinion the guidebooks and forums hype this place up way too much. Upon arrival to Long Beach (the supposedly backpacker party spot of all the beaches) I found it ridiculously beautiful but completely lacking ambiance and the pristine water was littered with speed boats parked all along the beach. The cost of living was way too expensive (all the guidebooks mislead you on the prices) and finding lodging was a complete catastrophe almost leaving us stranded to spend a night like washed up seaweed on the beach (see Lodging Nightmare below).

On the other hand, the crystal clear water truly is something that is worth seeing. I haven’t seen anything as refreshing and glass like as I have here. The sands are so white you think it could be manufactured and the palm trees and bright green jungles along the hills encircling you might make you think you’re in paradise. Snorkeling is to die for and if you’re into that calm, tranquil sort of fun and your budget is not scraping rock bottom you can probably have a great time. As for my amour and I on our last trip together before we hit the LDR mode again, we were looking for cheap and crazy ass party times and we were sorely disappointed. The Lonely Planet 2010 edition is pretty accurate, but the forums describing Perhentian as the backpacking and budget hotspot of Malaysia can eat it.



2. Lodging 

Symphony Huts: Extremely basic rooms with mosquito nets, bathroom outside and fan. They don’t give you sheets so you have to ask for it. Cheapest room 45 RM, more expensive 75 RM. If you’re desperate these are such nice people they will let you sleep in their kitchen if you have nowhere else to go. Also, can rent snorkeling stuff for 5 RM.

Moonlight Café/Huts: Wifi internet here and rooms looked like a step up from Symphony. Cheapest room 45 RM but will be very hard to find.


Rock Garden Lodge: On the hill of the right side of the beach. Beautiful view. Cheapest room 45 RM.

2.1 Nightmare Story

Nearly Homeless on Long Beach
ARRIVE EARLY OR BOOK IN ADVANCE IF POSSIBLE. I cannot stress how important this is for your chances of getting a place to stay while on Kecil (small island, the supposedly cheaper of the islands). We had arrived around 11:30 am on Long Beach, sat down for lunch and by the time we started nonchalantly asking around at the multitude of hostels lining the beach we found out that not one single damn place had a bed to spare for the night. Double you tee eff. We were told to head to Coral Beach, 10-minute walk to the other less beautiful side of the island, but even there our hopes died in the receding surf. Everything was booked, we were burdened with much too much luggage, the sun and our sweat added a multiplier of 10 boo-feelings and after doing the night bus from Kuala Lumpur all we wanted to do was RELAX. It’s a weird thing to start to consider your bum options. I had a mosquito net with me and Dog Blanket (name of my clutch travel blanket) and I figured that maybe we’d have to spend a night with the crabs. Desperate, we finally showed up at Symphony Huts on the left side of the beach and after their expected rejection I say forlornly, “But…we have no where else to go..” The guy examines us for a second before saying like a dubious angel he was,

“Well, we may have something. But you should take a look first.” Curiosity spiked and desperation factor x 1 billion I was eager to see what possible lodging could save us from a sand stormy night on the beach. The assistant took us along the row of hobbit like huts and laughing all the while like we were bunch of buffoons but the joke was on us. Finally we stop at something that I thought was an unfinished tool shed. The door is hanging off to the side, chillin like a cocky champ against the wall and I peer into what might be my quarters. Inside there is this ratty, brown stained misshaped thing, about a centimeter thick that was obnoxiously trying to pass as a mattress. There was no electricity, so.. No fan, and the walls were lined with the tools and supplies of the workers. The ground was just dirt and to my good luck just outside a frackin' dragon lizard the size of my arm walks by to welcome us to the hood. Prick.

The dude must have seen Mr. Dismay and Mrs. Horror make babies on my face because his laughter got harder. Trying to be a bad ass I start laughing too but inside I’m thinking that there is no way in Hades that I will spend the night in this hole. We leave saying that we’ll be back if we don’t find anything and the bitch of it all was that someone was so desperate that they ended up taking it while we were away. This shed was prime property now and boy was I pissed that we didn’t take it. So low had my standards sunk on this romantic island because we couldn’t find lodging. In the end we spent the night there and it really wasn’t that bad. Thanks to Symphony huts we had a roof over our heads and one chillin’ door we shoved over barely covering the entrance. Moral of the story, don’t dick around when it comes to lodging on Kecil in high season.


2.2 Lodging Tips
  • Early bird gets the worm. If you’ve spent the night on the beach or in the shed, wake up early and wait at the huts around 8 am, that’s when many people check out. The next phase is at 11 am. Rooms usually open up around then and people will be waiting in line to snatch the best stuff up.

  • Coral Beach is supposed to be cheaper. Didn’t check myself but that’s the word on the sand. It is not far at all from Long Beach so it is prob worth checkin’ out. Although the beach is less appealing because of all the dead coral on the shore and hard rocks, the ambiance is definitely cozier, and eating over there is much better quality and cheaper. We had a sunset bbq seafood dinner there for 18 RM.

  • Ask for unfinished huts. To my surprise, the Chinese couple we took the boat with also slept in a shed. With his poor English he managed to say that he doesn’t need a room just a roof and him and his wife paid 15 RM/person to stay in an unfinished hut.

  • Don't plan your trip around the guidebooks: You’ll read that you can get rooms for 20 RM on Long Beach. Bullshoi. The cheapest I found was 45 RM. If you want a dorm though of course it’s cheaper.

3. Eating
It's not that special compared to the rest of Malaysia, but here is what stood out from the rest in terms of price and quality.
 
Mama’s Kitchen: On Coral Beach you should come here for great seafood dinner along the water and on the side of the island with sunset. For 18 RM you get bbq seafood with rice, potatoes, banana bread and your choice of sauce. I got the lobster that was amazing with garlic butter sauce and boyfriend took the prawn with black pepper sauce (not that great a sauce). The ambiance was nice with Shaggy playing the background and it was packed.

Sunset on less popular side of the Island, Coral Beach

Shari-La Hotel: Same deal on Coral Beach but 15 RM and on the hill overlooking the water!

Moonlight: Pretty good food, lots of Western food choices. Tried the chicken curry as well as beef fried rice for 10 RM or less. Also free wifi on Long beach.

3.1 Where NOT to go
Coffee Break: This place will entice you by its central location and chilled out set up in the sand along Long Beach. But don’t be tricked by convenience. After the long and tiring journey of an all night bus, we stopped here to eat our first meal. The green curry was bland, watery and barely had any chicken in it, also quite overpriced (8 RM). The cheeseburger could hardly be considered a burger at all with some weird, thin and pink patty in the middle. All the food is overpriced on this island but Coffee Break will steal both your money and joy of food.

"It feels so good not to be disappointed by what you order," -Boyfriend upon leaving the island

3.3 Tips
  • Avoid the Fried Noodles. This is just my personal opinion, but the fried noodles at multiple places on the island consisted of spaghetti like noodles doused in Soya sauce- not the usual glass noodles or rice noodles you can usually expect with Southeast Asian food. Maybe it is a real Malay dish, but I personally detested it when I tried it at Panaroma and saw similar noodles at Moonlight.

  • Eat at Coral Beach: As written for Mama’s Kitchen and Shari-La above, it is cheaper and you can get amazing bbq seafood deals. Also the ambiance is incredible with live violin music playing on one side of the beach to Shaggy’s Bathroom floor playing on the other.

4. Partying
The main reason we made a quick exodus off the island is because there really is not that much. With beers going at 10 RM (3.5 USD approx) it was impossible to party and have a good time without feeling you were going broke very fast. These high prices are reflected in the ambiance. Believe the Lonely planet in this instance when it says that you should not go with large expectations for nightlife. People here are mega chill.

A typical night out you will take a drink or two at one of the local bars, check out movie night at Panorama and maybe smoke some sheesha and listen to live acoustic guitar all night. It was surprising that even though it was high season and all the rooms were booked, it still was sort of lame for nightlife. On the bright side, come to Long Beach if you are looking to relax and have interesting conversations with various backpackers from around the world, not shake your bonbon as you would in Koh Phi Phi or even Koh Chang. You’ll learn so much and share many laughs with your fellow travelers.

4.1 Tips
  • Bring your own alcohol. The ones that were having the best and most affordable times were the ones who had brought a bottle of their own stuff, sometimes duty free from Langkawi. It really is the only way to be able to party here.

5. Practical Information

5.1 Getting there:

From Kuala Lumpur
Take a bus from Putra Bus Terminal leaving at 9:00 and 10:00 pm to Kuala Besut. Get there early though. We arrived around 9:30 looking to leave on the 10 pm bus only to find out that it was completely booked on a Wednesday night. Because it was booked we had to take an alternate route to Kuala Terengganu station on a bus that left at 11:00 pm (2 hours from Besut) then take another bus to Besut. Price was 40 RM (same as going directly to Besut).

From Terangganu Station
You will arrive from KL around 7 am. Take the ghetto looking bus to Kuala Besut around 7:30 am. It takes about 2 hours to arrive at the port. Price of the ticket is 12 RM

Kuala Besut to Perhentian
You will be dropped off at a travel agency where you will have to buy a ticket for the boat. The roundtrip ferry ticket is 70 RM. It is not a scam taking the roundtrip ticket because all the return boats accept the tickets at any time (in Koh Chang Thailand, the return ticket is often hard to use and often gets wasted). Your boat will drop you to any beach you like for no extra charge.

Other fees to watch out for:

Nature Fee: You have to pay some sort of national parks fee of 5 RM


Water Taxi: To get from your ferry to the shore they’ve cooked up some scheme to get you to land. You don’t have a choice though and the fee is fixed. 2 RM per person.

5.2 Leaving Perhentian Islands
Ferries to the main land depart at 8 am, 12 pm and 4 pm from Long Beach. Your ticket might say that you have to tell your hostel one day before but we found that that wasn’t the case and ended leaving the same day we decided to go. If you are on Long beach just meet at the centre of the beach 15 minutes before your desired peacin’ out time.

From Kuala Besut to Langkawi
After paying 10 RM/beer we decided we had enough of overpriced shiaza and we left for the west coast and to Langkawi from Perhentian. This itinerary should be pretty damn useful because the only thing the internet gave me was hella inefficient (travel backwards all the way to Terengganu station for 2 hours).

Take a taxi to Jerteh Town that is about 20 minutes away. The taxi ride should not cost you more than 20 RM, 30 RM max. From Jerteh there are buses leaving at 9, 10 and 11 pm towards Kuala Perlis (this is the port you need to take the ferry to Langkawi). If those buses are full or unavailable to can alternatively take a bus to Kuala Kedah which you can also take a ferry to Langkawi. We took the 11 pm bus (which was an 1 ½ late) which arrived at 8 am. Ticket was 49 RM (Note: Eat at the super amazing market next to the bus station while waiting. It is everything amazing, authentic and cheap that was impossible to find on Long Beach and made me remember why I love SE Asia.)


From Kuala Perlis take the ferry (starting at 8 am and goes every hour until 6 pm) to Langkawi. Ferry ticket = 18 RM. Taxi to any beach you want is fixed at 24 RM.

We headed to Pulau Cenang. Don’t know what it’s like yet… We’re here right now and excited to write about it in the next posts!

Other Articles on South East Asia
How to: Don't Get Ripped off in Bangkok

Rad Market Shopping in Southeast Asia's Coolest City


Escaping the Disney Feeling of Singapore: Indie Guide

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

How to Survive Travelers' Diarrhea


LIFE SAVER


We all get the chocolate rain once in a while when traveling. Yea yea, it's gross but let's be adults here. This has happened to me way too much in the last couple months and for all you avid travelers and thin stomachs I figured you need to know how to deal with this shit (ha).  It can seriously ruin your trip, having you fear to leave your hotel aka the proximity to a toilet and leave you bedridden from stomach pains. I stupidly ignored it because I hate taking medication and figured my iron stomach would deal with it itself. The result was silly and I almost wasted my trip in Barcelona, embarrassed myself by skipping the fierce bathroom lines in clubs all because I didn't tackle the problem right away. The problem is magnified with exotic places, especially spicy South East Asia when every plate causes your stomach to feel like Eyjafjallajokull. Here is what I've learned the hard way.


Tips: 

Imodium is key. KNOW THIS WORD AND BRAND. While traveling in Egypt I forgot the name of this medication and was given some random weird crap that didn't plug me up well at all. You take two chewable tablets right away and then one each time you go. It really is a life saver and it allowed me to party without worries in Barcelona afterwards.


Sugar Water: If you're somewhere remote and don't have access to Gatorade or sugar drinks to replace lost fluids and electrolytes, mix some sugar and water. I don't know, that's what my mom told me anyway.

Lil'Fel Rocks the Pharmacies. Egypt, the shizzle they gave me didn't work.  False hope is given.

KEEP TOILET PAPER WITH YOU: While in Egypt again, I can't express how desperate my situation became when the storm was fast approaching and I barely made it in time to the stall only to find out that the stall, building or anyone around had no toilet paper. I had a cultural discovery because of it and that's the fact that in some cultures they don't even use toilet paper, they use...wait for it..their hand. In India and South East Asia they usually provide some form of water or hose to rinse off. That's cool. But in Egypt no such water existed... seriously dudes, don't forget to walk around with TP at all times. You can lose your dignity running around begging restaurants to give you some. ha..ha..


Eat White People Food: It's not spicy or too experimental and most importantly it feels like home. The familiarity of the white stuff was the only way I was able to eat without instant down pour. For some reason McDonald's chicken nuggets are theeeee most appealing to me when I'm sick. I also survived off of some Easy Mac I happened to pick up while passing through Australia!



Don't Party, dumbass: This may be intuitive but you'll be surprised how motivated people can be when they have one night left in a crazy city with their friends and they have started to feel well. This was my situation in Singapore. I was feeling sort of better and I thought I was strong enough to survive a night out. I had a great time that night actually, even got drunk without any emergencies, but the consequence the next morning was worst than the worst hangover you could have. Your stomach will feel like a lava pit and risk spewing from any which way. Try taking a 5 hour bus ride to Kuala Lumpur without a toilet on board and you have a real situation. With some Immodium the situation luckily worked out. The only meaning I can derive from all this is that my bedridden state is allowing me to blog about it. yay. Good luck all.



Chocolate Rain.  A brilliant song by a talented young man. It might become your anthem. No connection to the dia except, "Some people stay dry and others feel the pain." True say, Tay.





Other Good Shiaza

Check out what's good in Singapore when the Rain clears away

If you're in Asia, party your ass off but don't be a jackass

Monday, August 2, 2010

Indie Guide to Singapore

Indie Guide to Singapore.. Kind Of

Contents
intro
partying
shopping
sightseeing
lodging
conclusion

Introduction
(Photo Credit: Andre Saraiva's blog)

I can't say that Singapore gives off the ideal impression if you're into adventure, chaos and cheap good times, so frankly this post won't be very long. It is a completely clean and almost sterile city. When walking down the streets you wouldn't even know that you were in Asia. For me, the best part of SE Asia is the bustling and bordelique ambiance. In fact, most of the city looks like Orlando, Florida and even though that was my home for a bit, that is not meant as a compliment. The main party area looks like Universal Studios City Walk in Orlando or like something in the gambling centres of Las  Vegas. Even Chinatown is tame and something out of Disney World- a bad copy of the real thing. The most unforgivable thing is that the prices aren't even Asian! Some might say it's like Hong Kong, uber developed financial capital in Asia, but honestly guys, HK has much more ambiance, culture, and identity and if you're looking for a sophisticated city to spend Western like prices, I'd say go to HK over SG any day. Anyways, here is a couple of things I picked up while here. Since I'll be living in Jakarta for the next 6 months I will probably be passing through here again and this list might grow.

Partying

Night and Day: Right after dinner at Little India, head out to Night and Day, a cool bar with a cosy indie atmosphere. It's further down the road on Selegie. Walls are covered with graffiti, you can also contribute (perhaps the only place in Singapore where you wont be canned for doing it). When there's not too much people you can choose the music, the bartenders are friendly. Also, from 7to9 its 1 for 1 so get there early to get drunk if you're on a budget. (Merci à Nathan. French friend doing his third year abroad here.)
 
Home Club: New club which is pretty good would be home club. they have some local artists sometimes but sometimes its not the best. Cover entrance is always cheap compared to the rest of the city, but as always, Zouk gets most good international DJs, so always check their website if you're coming to see if they have anyone good. (Credit: Nathan again..)


Clarke Quai: Pronounced Clarkey by the locals, this is the kitch, Disney like clubbing area of the city. There are giant not-so-abstract penis statues lining the 'streets' and all sorts of tourists to accompany them. Good thing is that this seems to be where the locals go as well. Most places have major cover charges around 25 Singapore Dollars. Walk around and see what interests you from the food court of clubs. Can't say that it seems to indie and cool but it's def a good time if you go there drunk with amigos and don't care about quality of music or trying to pick up hotties.

New Asian Bar-Swissotel: Recently opened rooftop bar located on one of the highest buildings in Singapore. As soon as we walked in they were playing Ace of Base (um awesome?). Music is popular dance stuff. What makes this place worth it is the cool ambiance and great view of the city. Apparently they have a party on the helipad once a month! Reminded me of New York Bar in Tokyo but more trendy and less classy. Secondly, the restaurant is highly recommended. After eating the left overs of my friend's mega expensive Wagyu beef burger and experiencing the burger almost just melt in your mouth, I'd have to confirm that. Problem is that the food is super expensive and there is normally a 25 SD cover charge (includes 2 drinks) however I found out tonight that if you go around 11:30 pm you do not have to pay to enter since it closes at 1 am. Good ghetto student tip to get into once cool ass bar for FREE, yee-haw!

Zouk: This is the one bar I wish some indie guide could have told me before I went partying in Singapore. This is where international DJ's usually go, for example Surkin was there last night. Found out too late! According to DJmag it was voted in and around the Top 10 clubs in the world.

Other clubs that are supposed to be rad and recommended by a cool friend of friend who had lived there for 6 months (thanks again Alex) are:


La Maison (check Kitsune blog pics, here)
Attika
Double o
Amnesia
Zirca 

Lastly, recommended by a Singaporean friend I studied with at Sciences Po is Dempsy road area or Holland village. I only found this after I was leaving so I didn't get to test it out but hopefully it's less horrible than Clarke Quai!

Tips: Sunday nights are known as 'Guys night out' meaning it's gay night on the town. It's pretty awesome if that's your scene however if it's not it is quite difficult to find something a bit more straight. Thus was our dilemma tonight since Sunday was our only night to really party in Singapore and our guy friends wanted to mac some ladies. Nonetheless we found some live music in Clarke Quai with a ladyboy main singer and it was loads of fun to dance and go crazy to.

Also, be careful where you urinate. The rumours are true, these guys are very strict about it. True story, someone I was with (not saying who) got caught and was forced to find paper towels and mop up his own piss.

Useful Website: good events are often posted here: http://www.juice.com.sg/events/

Shopping and Eating

Little India vs China Town
Skip China town in this place because as I said it's an expensive and fake version of the real thing. I recommend Little India. It is actually my favourite part of the city (not a brown bias) and the only place that showed some charm and character. It truly felt like India, but cleaner. The prices are good and if you're a girl you MUST go to a beauty salon and get your eyebrows threaded. What that means is that instead of using wax to remove your hair, Indians use this much more accurate technique with a thread. I do it religiously in Toronto and after climbing a mountain for 2 weeks in Papua New Guinea it was a must to get rid of my chubaka eyebrows. I paid 8 SD. Careful though, they don't always do quite a good job as in North America so if they missed some stray hairs don't hesitate to tell them.

Electronics were all cheaper than China Town. For example, a Canon camera in LI was 299 SD + 8G memory card and they won't include tax. This is before any bargaining. The same camera and memory card in CT was 350 SD. Go to Mustafa's Centre as recommended by Alex below. This is the Indian mall where I found the cheap electronic stuff and it also has everything from vintage Casios to jewelery and Indian clothing.


Eating really depends on what you're down with. I, suffering horribly from Chocolate Rain (see How to Survive Travelers' Diarrhea) and could not bare the thought of eating spicy Indian food. However if you are doing Meat-Free Mardi ( being a veggie for one day a week in order to decrease your unethical meat consumption) there are veggie restos galore in Little India. If you find yourself in LI you have to try the Samosas. They are better than anything I ever had in the India away from India ie Scarborough. Because of the chocolate rain situation we did end up eating in the food court of China town. Everything looked pretty delicious and the plates were around 5 SD.

Haji Lane: This is recommended by the readers below and unfortunately we missed out. It's a mix between the Marais in Paris (see A Day in Paris for an idea) but with a more New York vibe. Cool alternative shopping, lots of indie designers, not expensive. 90% of the clothing is for girls though. Sounds awe-some.

Banana leaves restaurants: On Chander road in Little India. You can eat awesome biryanis with your bare hands, on banana leaves and have your stomach full for 3US$. Don't forget: eat with your right hand because you're left is for wiping your arse. (Credit: Nathan from the recommendations below.)

 awesome food tips here:
http://www.openingceremony.us/entry.asp?pid=3131

Sightseeing
Big surprise and not that indie, the only thing I tried was the National Museum. It was hella impressive (recently re-opened after renovations for 3 years) and the best part was that a large part of it was FREE. Apparently the arts are highly sponsored by the gov', it's too bad in our short 2 day tour we didn't get to discover more of that. There's also a theme park that has a..geek alert.. BATTLESTAR GALACTICA RIDE. Amour and I were obsessed this summer with the series and were going to go but for whatever reason we didn't make it. Hope you do though!

Lodging: Where Not to Stay
There are so many hotels in Singapore that there is very little chance of you staying at the same one I did. But just in case here is my advice. For 180 SD/night definitely do not stay at Strand Hotel on Bencoolen road. After that damn mountain we climbed all we wanted was to pay a bit more for some comfort, but unfortunately that didn't happen. The showers were not hot, the beds and pillows were hard and the service definitely didn't compensate for any of these defaults.

Conclusion
The cool part about this city is that it's kind of a food court of several cultures in one city. Chinese, Indian, Malay, Indonesian, you can find it all here. The food is good and everything is clean and orderly. Lastly the city is extremely green with most of the business buildings hosting trees and greenery on their roofs. It really is a good break if you are looking for some rest from the chaos and pollution of Bangkok or Jakarta. It feels good because you can really let your guard down and relax because people aren't out to rip you off (no constant bargaining with taxi drivers or tuk tuks!).  However, don't go here for a crazy Asian experience. To give this city some more credit, I think it can be a lot of fun if you are ballin' out of control. It is classy and has a lot of cool bars and restos to try out. As for the student experience.. I have a friend studying here for the year so hopefully he'll be able to give me some more insight as the year goes on. As always, your input is what this blog is about so don't hesitate to share your wisdom!