Malaysia and More!

Malaysia and More!
Kuala Lumpur Skyline

Monday, January 29, 2018

Farewell Kuala Lumpur!

Our time in KL has come to an end.  It has been a fabulous 3+ years in Malaysia!  We arrived as a family of four and Joe and I left as empty nesters.  Our two youngest learned to drive, got their first licenses, and graduated from high school in KL.  Not to mention the countries they have visited.  Too many great experiences to recount!

I just want to say, "Thank you KL!"  Thank you for the warm weather so I got to wear short sleeves and pretty sandals every day of the year.  Thanks for the friends I made, friends for life.  Thanks for giving my children a wonderful high school education.  Thanks for giving us friends from around the world.   Thanks for all the wonderful cultures represented in this welcoming country.  Thanks for being so close to so many amazing travel destinations.  Thanks for the reasonable prices that made enjoying life here easier.

We have been back in the US for a few weeks now.  A friend of mine asked me if I was going to blog about the repatriation process.  I am not.  But here are a few observations about being back in the US:

1- I have to pay close attention to the weather forecast.  And I have had to do lots of shopping!  5+ years in the desert and jungle has not left my wardrobe prepared for winter!  (And we also had to buy a snow shovel...)
2-  I have also had to pay attention to which side of the car I get into!  Malaysians drive on the left side of the road, not the right.  (I didn't drive in Malaysia, so at least I don't have that transition.)
3- US money is all green and the same size.  I have to look carefully when I am paying.  :)
4-  When you go to the doctor, you have to go to a pharmacy to get your prescription filled.  In Malaysia, you left the office with all medication in hand.  That was nice.  (Although I am loving not having to file claims for all medical expenses!)
5- Grocery shopping takes a bit longer.  There are so many good options!  And when did grocery stores get so fancy?  I was buying groceries yesterday and there was a man playing on a baby grand piano!
6- Our travel schedule is much different.  No Australia, Thailand, Bali, China, Cambodia, ect.  Now our travel plans are much more domestic, visiting family and friends in the US.  But I sure do have some precious grandchildren, so that is okay!
7-  And just to be real, I had wonderful help in KL.  Someone to clean my house and do the ironing.  A wonderful driver who also ran errands.  I am amazed at how much time housework takes!  Although it is like riding a bike--  I haven't forgotten how.  ;)

So again, thanks KL!  Till we meet again!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

American Association of Malaysia!

Hi Everyone!  No, I haven't been blogging lately, but yes, I have been staying busy in KL!  Earlier this year, in March, I was elected the new president of the American Association of Malaysia (AAM). 
Here I am, at the home of the American Ambassador to Malaysia, Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir.   There was a lovely morning at her home, where the American Association was invited to a delicious  reception.  We also heard a safety talk for living in KL.  

The American Association is here to offer support and friendship for Americans living in KL, although our membership is not exclusively American.  We also participate in a few fundraisers to donate money to local causes.
 This is our largest fundraiser of the year, our annual Christmas Charity Bazaar.  We were written up in the Star newspaper, here in KL.  This article was published on October 28th.  To read the article online, click here.  If you are available, come see us at the Renaissance Hotel on November 3rd, from 10-3.  Come early and bring plenty of cash for great Christmas shopping opportunities!

If you want any more information on the American Association of Malaysia, visit our website by clicking here.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Perth and Margaret River, Western Australia

There are all sorts of vacations.  Two weeks ago, we were in Shanghai Disneyland, trying to see and do as much as we could in our time there.  I just got back from Western Australia, where our pace was much slower and relaxing.  It was a wonderful trip!!
Perth is a 5-6 hour direct flight from KL.  Which in my book, is a short flight.  We landed in Perth, spent the night at the Pan Pacific Hotel, a very nice basic hotel.  We left the next morning and drove down to Augusta, the very southwestern tip of Australia.
 So our plan for our second day in Western Australia was basically to drive to the town of Margaret River.  The concierge at the hotel was so helpful.  He gave us a great map with all the wineries in the Margaret River region and told us about the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse.  That is where we decided to go!  It was about a 4 hour drive from Perth to Augusta.  We don't drive much in Malaysia, so the trip itself was very enjoyable.  
We saw a few of these signs!  I never had time to snap a picture, so I had to grab one online.  Then I was on the lookout for some kangaroos!  I would not be happy unless I saw some.

Just past Augusta is the lighthouse, the tallest one in mainland Australia.  The very tallest lighthouse is in Tasmania, a future destination for us!
This is one of the first signs we saw as we walked up to the lighthouse.  It was not the last time we saw this sign!
You have to pay to go up the lighthouse.  I believe it was $20 AUD.  Joe and I were the only two on the tour, which was nice, since space inside the lighthouse was limited.  This was the view from one of the windows on the climb up.
This is where I tell you that my pictures do not begin to do justice to this view!!  The white breaks you see in the distance is actually where the Southern (or Antarctica) Ocean and Indian Ocean meet!!  National Geographic named the view from the Leeuwin Lighthouse the third best ocean view in the world!  Numbers one and two are in Mexico and Hawaii.  
I just wanted you guys to see these corbels.  This was a very functional lighthouse, built to save lives.  But they still made it beautiful.  And one more story.  Out in the ocean, not far from shore, is a large rock.  If you drill down below the rock, through the center of the earth and go out the other side, you will be in Washington, DC!  This spot is the furthest spot from Washington in the whole wide world!!  A reporter from the Washington Post actually came here last year to do a piece on this place.  This lighthouse was one of the highlights of our trip and we just learned of it that day.
Our tour guide suggested our next stop-- Hamelin Bay.  There are stingrays in the areas but we didn't see any right here.
We parked our car and went for a short hike.  This is part of the Cape-to-Cape Trail.  It is a very popular trail going from Cape Leeuwin to Cape Naturaliste.  It is 183 km, or about 114 miles.  Gorgeous views at every turn.  I would like have spent more time doing this hike.
It was hard to leave the turquoise ocean, but we still needed to get to our hotel
This is the grounds for the Grand Mercure Basildene Manor, in the town of Margaret River.  Funny enough, it was originally built in 1912 by one of the Leeuwin Lighthouse keepers.
The grounds were amazing.
Basildene Manor is actually a bed and breakfast with the prettiest fruit displays.
Margaret River is a wine-growing region in Australia.  Our next day was spent doing a wine-tasting tour in the area.  We went with Bushtucker Tours and they did a great job.  We also enjoyed the beginning of fall colors in the region.
Xanadu Winery
Lunch was provided on the tour.  The dark meat all the way on the right is kangaroo and the one beside it is crocodile!  They were pretty tasty.  On the way back from the tour, in the late afternoon, we saw some kangaroos in a field by the road!  Great way to end this day.
Our next day was another traveling day, from Margaret River back up to Fremantle.  We took a slight detour to Cape Naturaliste, to that lighthouse.  
It was worth visiting, but the views were not as spectacular as the ones from Cape Leeuwin.
This tour guide recommended we visit this outcropping of rocks called Sugarloaf.
The guide also suggested we eat at Bunker's Beach House in Bunker Bay.  This place was very close to Cape Naturaliste and right close to the water.  I loved the location and was just hoping for a decent salad or sandwich.  What I got was this Moroccon-spiced fried chicken cutlets with a cucumber kimchi.  Hands down the best meal of the whole trip!
Our destination that night was Fremantle, which is not far from the airport in Perth.  We stayed right at the harbor.  This was the sunset view from the Bathers Beach House restaurant.  It was the perfect place to have a drink and dinner and watch the sunset.  There is actually a whole area here close to the harbor, with lots of restaurants and small carnival.
Probably the highlight of our trip was visiting Rottnest Island.  You have to take a ferry there (unless you have your own yacht.)  You can either leave from Perth or Fremantle.  It takes about 30 minutes to get across.  Be sure to buy your tickets online ahead of time.  I waited until the night before and a couple of the morning times were sold out.  If you want their website, click here.  We were forced to leave at 8:15, which actually was a good time to go, so it was okay.  We beat some of the crowds of the day.  We had the best weather on this day!
All the colors of the water were amazing.  Reminded me of all the colors in The Maldives.
There are no cars allowed on the island.  There are some buses that take people around the island.  Most people get around on bikes, which you can rent online, along with buying your tickets, or we rented ours at the ferry jetty.  You can also rent snorkel equipment and can bike to several snorkeling locations on the island.  Since this was fall in Australia, at 75 degrees F, I thought it was borderline for swimming.  Perfect for biking, though!
We rode our bikes along, stopping to soak in the views in several spots.  
This is the point where I will confess some boat envy!  We saw some kids get off the boat on the right, ride their kayak to the beach, and go swimming.  Not a shabby way to spend a Saturday!!
We spent about 3 hours cycling around.  They say you can cycle around the entire island in 3-5 hours.  That is not for the faint of heart.  There are lots of hills.  And you are in direct sunlight.  Be sure to bring plenty of water with you.  I assumed we could find water on the way.  I was wrong.  We went back to our starting point and had lunch and looked around some of the shops.  You can take a bus tour that will take you to see all the island.  And they also have motorized bikes which I think would have been a better way to see more of the island.
Rottnest Island got its name from the Dutch explorers who visited the island long ago.  They thought these animals were large rats.
They are actually Quokkas!  A marsupial, in the same family as Kangaroos, quokkas are mainly found in Rottnest Island and Western Australia.  They are very friendly and are quite happy to pose for pictures.  Part of the fun of visiting Rottnest is to find a quokka.  I saw several, all surrounded by a crowd of people.
We returned back from Rottnest in the late afternoon.  This was the view from our balcony at Be. Fremantle, the serviced apartment where we stayed.  We sipped some wine we purchased in Margaret River and watched all the boats come in.  So lovely and peaceful!
On our last morning, we had breakfast on 'Cappuccino Row', a street in Fremantle that has lots of restaurants and cafes.  We picked one recommended online.  Hmm, Australian breakfast food is quite different from American breakfasts.  Or the places we tried were just way hipper than we are.  Let's just say, it was interesting...  But across the street from our cafe, there was this large furniture store.  the outside had probably the most amazing murals I have ever seen!
It was a fun five days in Western Australia! 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Shanghai Disneyland!!!

We just got back from a quick trip to Shanghai, China.  We were there mainly to visit the new Disneyland.  It was a magical time!  Well, it didn't start out magical.  Most people need a visa to visit China, so apply early for that.  We had a visa snafu.  If you want to hear about it or learn about the new 144-hour Visa-free travel in Shanghai, CLICK HERE.

I am going to do this blog post a little different.  I will put most of the relevant information and tips at the beginning of the post.  If you are just browsing for Shanghai Disneyland information, I won't make you scroll through the ton of pictures.  :)

We were at SD on March 9th and 10th.  Friday and Saturday.  Saturday was LESS crowded.  Go figure.  The only thing I can think of is that there were several large school groups visiting on Friday.   Weather was in the 60's, with lows in the 50's.  The only ride not open during our two days was the Roaring Rapids.  I am assuming that was because it was too chilly to get wet.  The park was open from 9:00 am to 8:00 pm.  There were no extra hours for those staying on property.  Plan on arriving 30 minutes before the park opens.  I read that advice more than once, and no, I did not get there that early.  So, we were in long lines waiting to go through security.  If you buy your tickets the day of, there were practically no lines to do that.  

How long should you plan your visit for?  Well, it is almost impossible to see everything in one day.  You will have to make some tough choices.  I was there two days and did and saw just about everything I wanted to.  In fact, I had no desire for a third day, so I say two is perfect.  Although if you only have one day available, by all means, go anyways!  I did find a few 1-day itineraries online.  The problem with those is that you have to stick to a strict plan and be traveling with people who are also willing (a tough sell in my case.)  And sometimes we found the line for Fastpass longer than the line for the ride itself!!  In our case, the line for the Mine Train was about 30 minutes, and the single-rider line was a 10-minute wait!  Oh by the way, if you see a single-rider line, it can be a great time-saver.  And parade time is a great time to catch some of the bigger rides.  This is a good plan for a two-day stay, because who wants to miss the parade??  Just make sure you are on the right side of the park before parade starts.  The parade route basically runs through the middle of the park.

Be sure to download the Shanghai Disneyland app.  It is free and fabulous.  The way we used it the most was for wait times.  If we only had 45 minutes before a show, for instance, we could predict what rides we had time for.  The park has free wi-fi throughout.  Theoretically...  The free wi-fi was spotty at best.  Luckily we were with friends who live in China, so they used their data plan.  If I had it to do again, I would get a SIM card at the airport.  And another thing.  Make sure your phone has VPN installed on it.  It will allow you to access Facebook, gmail accounts, and Google.  I thought I had a VPN, but it turns out I only had a trial account.  It ran out my first day.  Yes, I did survive without Facebook for a few days, but since I also had gmail, I felt a bit disconnected from the world.  The VPN needs to be installed before you come to China.  One more note.  My husband, daughter,  and I all opened We Chat accounts before getting to China.  That is China's answer to Facebook.  It was how we communicated with our friends and each other.

Now on to pictures!
We stayed at the Disneyland Hotel.  It was beautiful!!  It is the nicer of the two hotel options on the property.  There was a ferry behind the hotel that took us to the park.  I do want to mention that there are only two restaurants at the hotel.  Lumiere and Ballet Cafe.  The cafe offers coffee, pastries, and Chinese food.  Not a huge menu, just the basics.  Lumiere has the character meals.  I say that because Savannah and her friend, Hannah, wanted to eat at hotel one night, and it was a pricey character meal.  But they did get cute pictures with Mickey!  There are lots of restaurants in Disneytown, next to the park.
Julie and I in the hotel lobby, getting ready to head to SD!
There is no train station, but here is the entrance.
Joe, me, Julie, Mark
These balloons were everywhere!
A Chinese tea house.  About the most Chinese-looking structure in the park.
It has been about 10 years since I have been to Disneyworld in Florida.  I remember the Pirates of the Caribbean ride there.  You basically rode in a boat between moving figures, set up as scenes in the movie.  Not very exciting.  Well, how technology has changed this ride!  It is definitely one of the best rides ever!!  You are still in a boat, but instead of cheesy animatronics, you are floating between giant screens, making you feel like you are either under the sea or between a ship battle!  And I promise, the ride is even better the second time. We actually found a time with only a 10-minute wait and rode it for the third time. 
Most of the signs in the park are written in Mandarin and English.
In the front of the Enchanted Storybook Castle
This castle is not dedicated to any one princess.
I made a reservation ahead of time for lunch at the Enchanted Castle.  I didn't include the guys.  Good thing, because the whole thing was pretty girly.  But fabulous!  Lunch began with a photo op with Princess Aurora.
After we ordered, we got a visit from Minnie, Donald, Daisy, and 
Mickey!  All dressed in their regal best.
My teriyaki salmon was delicious!
Hannah's dessert was served in a Cinderella slipper.  The whole experience of lunch at the castle was a wonderful one!
Later, we got pictures with Goofy and Pluto.  There were quite a few characters around and most had short waits for pictures.  I don't think the Chinese people quite got the whole character thing.
We loved this spot for pictures.  You will walk straight here as you enter the park.  But everyone wants to stop here for pictures.  Do yourself a favor and head for a ride.  It is much better to take pictures in the afternoon, where you can find a spot with no crowds.
This is part of the afternoon parade.  We watched the parade both afternoons.  It is hard to avoid, especially if you are on the other side of the park from where you want to be.  But that's okay, it is wonderful.  I especially appreciated seeing the Mulan float while in China!!
These female drummers were fierce!
The soldiers from Toy Story
This was in Tomorrowland, under the TRON ride.  By the way, you could watch TRON, Pirates of the Caribbean, Alice in Wonderland, Frozen, and other Disney movies featured at the park in your hotel room.
This was in the line to start the ride.  Those are motorcycles, that you sit in like you would a motorcycle.  We waited quite a while to ride this was, and it was a super fast ride.  More fast than thrilling.
Night time picture of the Enchanted Storybook Castle, the largest of all Disney castles.
That evening, we had reservations for one of the tables on the second floor at Wolfang Puck restaurant in Disneytown.  It was more of a private room.  There was a small balcony off the room, with a clear and perfect view of the castle.  Every night there is a show called Ignite the Dream.  I cannot overemphasize how great this show is!  The entire castle turns into a movie screen with scenes and music from many of the Disney movies (including Star Wars, which is now owned by Disney.)  There are also lasers and fireworks.  We timed our reservation so we could see the show, which was at 8:00 pm on this day.  The music was piped into Disneytown, so that was great.  We could not see all the details projected on the castle from this distance, but we could see most of it.  And best of all, we didn't have to get to a viewing spot an hour early.  It was truly a magical end to a magical day!  And the food and drinks were great.

This video is off-center and I can't seem to move it.  But watch it anyways!  :)
The next morning began with a buffet breakfast at the hotel.  Again, we didn't realize that all meals here were character meals, so it was a $40 breakfast.  But hey, can you really put a price on meeting Minnie and Mickey?
Lobby flowers the second morning
Here we are, waiting in line for Soaring.  This ride consistently had the longest wait time during our two days.  The posted wait time was 90 minutes but we got in in an hour.  Yes, I wore my ears the whole time.  I was in good company at this park.  :)
Saturday was supposed to be chilly and rainy.  Surprise!  We had a lovely, sunny day.  I bought  Hannah and Savannah these t-shirts at the GAP beforehand.  I have to say, I didn't find that the park had a really good selection of Disney apparel.  Oh, and I have been to Disneyland and Disneyworld in the US, and these are they best dressed park visitors I have seen!  I saw quite a few fur jackets and high-heeled boots.  And the cutest Disney Ugg boots on a toddler.
Alice in Wonderland Maze
The musical show in front of the Castle
I love this picture of Joe and Walt!

Savannah and her Mickey bar!  I never saw these.  We used to get them a lot in Disneyworld.
Oh, a little video of the parade.
This mural was by the pool at the hotel.  It is an indoor pool.
One of the last things we did was to go shopping in Disneytown.  You can buy your bear a Chinese outfit.
I will end my post with the strangest thing I have seen.  It is a Minnie...
ear pick!!!!  There was a whole display of these ear picks.  I just don't know what else to say.

I have read lots of reviews and observations about SD, with quite a few criticisms.  I found it to be a very enjoyable and magical visit.  TRON and the Pirates rides were down for a few hours of the second day, but they were up and running in the afternoon.  The cast members struggled to speak English, but they got their message across and it was fine.  There were a few line cutters, but not as many as I had feared.  Hannah and Savannah would adopt their 'bat wing' poses to block anyone who tried.  I did choose spring, and not the heat of the summer, so that was helpful.  So if you have the chance, go!!! Have a magical time!!