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Survival Tips for Malaysia

Survival Tips for Malaysia
Survival Tips for Malaysia
Survival Tips for Malaysia

When travelling in Malaysia it is important to remember that this is a conservative country. Consequently, things that may not seem like a big deal in western countries or only receive a slight fine are seen as major offences in Malaysia and receive severe punishments.
Possession of drugs in Malaysia can be punished by the death sentence, even if you are carrying a small amount for personal use. It is best to avoid all contact with drugs in Malaysia and be suspicious of any stranger who offers to give or sell you drugs. Gambling is also highly illegal and can receive a heavy punishment.

Pick pocketing is a common crime in large towns and cities, especially Johor. There are also incidents of people driving up on motorbikes and snatching bags, often taking their victim along with them if they refuse to let go. Carry your bag on the shoulder facing away from the road and keep a close eye on your possessions in crowded areas.

Vehicles do not stop at pedestrian crossings and it is safer to cross busy roads at pedestrian bridges and pedestrian traffic lights.

Buy a good padlock for your bag and hotel door. You may find that windows don’t always fasten properly and you should fasten them securely with a cable lock. Don’t leave valuables in hotel rooms: carry your passport or ID document and other valuables with you at all times or deposit them in the hotel safe.

Make sure you negotiate the taxi fare with the driver before getting in and try to avoid fake or unregistered taxis late at night by using a dial-a-taxi service.  

Although female travellers who dress conservatively will rarely have trouble in Malaysia, it is best to avoid travelling alone at night. Also, make sure you lock you hotel room door when in the room to discourage unwanted visitors.

Money Matters in Malaysia

Money Matters in Malaysia
Money Matters in Malaysia
Money Matters in Malaysia

Malaysia’s currency is the Malaysian ringgit, which is pronounced rin-gay and written as RM. There are 100 sen in one ringgit, which is also often referred to as a dollar. Notes come in RM1, RM2, RM5, RM10, RM20, RM50 and RM100 notes, while the available coins are 1 sen, 5 sen, 10 sen, 20 sen and 50 sen.

Costs

Generally speaking, the cost of living in Malaysia in higher than in many Asian countries, especially Thailand and Laos, although it is cheaper than is Indonesian and significantly less than in western countries. Those on a tight budget should be able to spend just $20 a day, although this will only buy the absolute basics and $35 a day will allow you a few small luxuries. Those who can afford to spend $150 each day will be able to stay in some of the country’s top hotels and dine in style, while for those with a real taste for luxury $275 a day should be more than enough to experience the best of Malaysia.

ATMs
ATMs are abundant in all Malaysian cities, especially in shopping areas. The most reliable machines are attached to banks and it is probably best to stick to these as ATM machines to occasionally swallow cards.

Travellers’ Cheques and Credit Cards
Most major credit cards are generally accepted in top of the range hotels, shops and restaurants throughout Malaysia. Check for surcharges added to your bill before you pay as these are illegal. Travellers’ cheques in pounds sterling or US Dollars can be cashed in most banks and even some shops.  

Changing Your Money
It is illegal to carry more than RM1000 into or out of Malaysia, so most of your money will need to be changed within the country. Although there are a large number of banks located around Malaysia with money changing facilities, the best deals are found at licensed moneychangers’ kiosks. These kiosks pop up all over Malaysia and tend to stay open until about 6pm.

Location and History of Malaysia


Location and History of Malaysia
Location and History of Malaysia
Location and History of Malaysia

Covering 329,847 square kilometres, Malaysia is situated in Southeast Asia and is bordered by Thailand, to the north, Indonesia and Singapore to the south, and Brunei and the Philippines to the east. Malaysia is divided into two separate land masses – known as Peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo – by the South China Sea.

Malaysia has a tropical climate, with a hot summer and intense rainy season. With forest and mountain ranges running through the country from north to south, there are mangrove swamps and mudflats on the west coast, which separate into bays and inlets. There are a number of beautiful beaches on the west coast as well as dense forests to explore.

Malaysia’s modern history dates back to the 2nd century AD, when there were a collection of up to 30 separate Malay kingdoms. The Malay kingdoms gained power and riches as costal city ports, which were established in the 10th century. Originally Hindu or Buddhist states, Islamic found a place in Malaysia in the 14th century.

The Sultanate of Malacca was established at the start of the 15th century by prince Parameswara, from Palembang, who fled to the area from what is now known as Singapore. Prince Parameswara turned Malacca into an important trading port, putting Malaysia firmly on the map. However, Malacca was conquered by Portugal in 1511 and a Portuguese colony was established there.

In 1786 Britain established a colony in the Malay Peninsula, with the British East India Company leasing the island of Penang from the Sultan of Kedah. The Anglo-Dutch Treaty was signed in 1824, which divided the Malaya archipelago between Britain and the Netherlands.

Although there were Malaysian figureheads, the British mostly ruled Malaysia until the Japanese occupation during WWII. The Federation of Malaya was established in 1948, which reinstated the independence of the rulers of the Malay states under British protection.

From 1948 to 1960 the Communist Party of Malaya embarked on a guerrilla campaign known as the Malayan Emergency from 1948 to 1960 to force the British out of Malaya. Independence for the Federation within the Commonwealth was finally granted on 31 August 1957, and the Federation was renamed Malaysia in 1963.

At first there was much fighting with Indonesia over boundary lines, culmination in the racial riots of 1969. The New Economic Policy was established to restore peace to the country and since then Malaysia’s various ethnic groups have lived more or less in harmony.  

These days Malaysia’s economic and social structures are good and the country’s affluence can be seen in modern structures such as Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Twin Towers and the Sepang F1 Circuit.

Food and Drink in Malaysia

Food and Drink in Malaysia
Food and Drink in Malaysia
Food and Drink in Malaysia

Malaysia is a great place for people who love to eat and experiment with food. There are a wide range of Malay, Chinese and Indian dishes available through the country and some interesting mixtures of culinary styles. As you travel through Malaysia, look out for regional specialities and try to experience the full range of Malay cuisine.
Hawker stalls and coffee shops are good places to find a cheap and tasty meal. Hawker stalls tend to be very clean and open until late in the evening. Curry dishes and other meals in western style restaurants, while seafood restaurants serve fresh fish prepared in the Chinese style. For western food, head to the shopping malls, where you will usually find a large food court with a number of well known fast food restaurants.

Here is a selection of the numerous dishes you will find on your travels in Malaysia:

Nasi lemak – the most common Malaysian breakfast dish consists rice cooked in light coconut milk with anchovies, peanuts, a slice of cucumber and a little chilli.

Rendang – usually made with beef, this dry curry dish consists of stewed meat in a spicy curry paste.  

Chilli crab – a whole crab is covered with a generous amount of sticky, strong chilli sauce.

Laksa – this dish varies from place to place but is basically a coconut both with seafood or chicken.  

Bak chor mee – this noodle dish is cooked in a chilli-based sauce with minced pork, fried anchovies, vegetables and mushrooms.

Popiah – these delicious spring rolls can be either fried or raw. Filled with boiled turnips, fried tofu, fried shallots and garlic, chopped omelette, chopped stir fried long beans, there is usually a sweet chilli sauce to dip them in.  

Hainanese chicken rice – usually found on street stalls, this steamed chicken dish is served with special gently spiced rice and tasty ginger.

Bubur cha-cha – a traditional Malay desert with cubed yam, sweet potato and sago added to coconut milk soup.

Kuih – this sweet desert is made with coconut milk, coconut flesh and either glutinous rice or tapioca. It is often made into cute and colourful designs.

Avoid drinking tap water and drinks with ice in Malaysia. Bottled water is cheap and easy to find.  

Coffee – known as kopi – and tea – teh – are both popular and tasty drinks in Malaysia as well as a local variation known as teh tarik. Tea and coffee usually comes hot, with condensed milk to sweeten it. If you don’t want milk ask for teh o, while teh ais will get you iced milky tea.
Also popular is a drink known as kopi tongkat ali ginseng, which is a mixture of coffee, a local aphrodisiacal root and ginseng served with condensed milk.

Despite being a predominately Muslim country, alcohol is widely available throughout Malaysia. Beer and other alcohol can be bought in bars, restaurants and 7-11 shops. The local brew is tuak, which fermented rice wine that comes in many forms. Usually served lukewarm, tuak is often flavoured with sugar or honey.

Festivals and Holidays in Malaysia

Festival and Holidays in Malaysia
Festival and Holidays in Malaysia
Festival and Holidays in Malaysia

Malaysia is a real melting pot, where a large number of cultures live side by side. This means that the country celebrates a large number of festivals, with the Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Taoist religious festivals all being observed.
Malaysian festivals tend to be loud and colourful, marked with plenty of singing, dancing and parades through the streets. Malaysian people tend to be tolerant of people from other faiths and welcome them into their homes to celebrate with them. These festivals are a good opportunity for foreigners to learn more about Malaysian culture and hospitality.

Here are some major Malaysian festivals to look out for. Many festivals revolve around the lunar calendar, so dates vary slightly from year to year.

New Year’s Day
January 1st is a public holiday and New Year’s Eve is marked in most cities with sporting events, competitions, exhibitions and cultural performances by Malaysian multi-ethnic groups.

Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year lasts for 15 days and is very colourful, filled with feasting and firework displays.  Gather to watch the traditional dragon and lion dances, which take place to the beat of gongs and drums. Penang is the best place to experience Chinese New Year in Malaysia.

Thaipusam
This festival is celebrated by Hindus on the tenth month of the Hindu calendar. Thaipusam is a day for penance and atonement and during this time devotees to fulfill a vow they have made to Lord Muruga, who is also known as Lord Subramaniam. Devotion is demonstrated by fasting and piercing their bodies with elaborately decorated metal structures decorated with colored paper, fresh fruit and flowers and parading through the streets. To get the most out of this festival, head to Kuala Lumpur to watch Lord Muruga’s jeweled chariot carried  through the streets to the Batu Caves in Selangor.  

Wesak Day
Buddhists celebrate this festival in May to remember the birth, enlightenment and ascension of Lord Buddha. The daytime is filled with visits to the temple and merit making, while there are processions of floats and candles in the streets after dark.

Gawai Dayak
On the 1st of June the people of Sarawak celebrate the good annual with parties, games, processions and feasting. People gather to sing traditional songs, dance and drink the locally produced rice wine. Children bring their parents plates of food and cattle is sacrificed to ensure that there is a good harvest the following season.  

Hari Raya Aidil Fitri
Also known as Hari Raya Puasa, this Muslim festival marks the end of fasting throughout the month of Ramadhan, which is the tenth month of the Muslim calendar. The celebrations last for one month and feature bright decorations, feasting and parties

Lantern and Moon Cake Festival
This festival is celebrated by all Malaysians, who hang colourful lanterns on their houses and eat moon cakes in this celebration of peace and unity. 

Hungry Ghost Festival
According to Chinese tradition the gates of hell are opened during the 15th day of the seventh lunar month to allow the hungry ghosts to wander the Earth in search of food and possibly seek revenge. The Chinese hold a festival at this time to remember their dead ancestors and pay tribute to them, setting aside food for them and burning money so that their relatives can use it in the afterlife.

Deepavali
The Festival of Lights, also known as Deepavali, is celebrated as the triumph of good over evil, marking the legendary time that Lord Krishna is said to have defeated Narkansura. Mainly celebrated by Hindus, people visit the temple during the day and lit candles and oil lamps in the evening. There are colourful parades through the street and much merrymaking.

Christmas
Unlike most Asian countries, Malaysia celebrates Christmas much like people do in western countries. Houses are decorated with lights and a large Christmas tree, carols are sung and the traditional roast turkey dinner is often eaten to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

When to Visit Laos

When to come to Laos
When to come to Laos
When to come to Laos

Laos’ climate is tropical and the weather tends to be quite hot and humid, with temperatures climbing as high as 40?C to the south of the country. There are two main seasons in Laos; the rainy season, which lasts from May to September and the dry season from October to April.

The coolest and driest months are between November and February and this is the best time to visit the country, especially as this is when many of Lao’s vibrant festivals are held.

However, temperatures are significantly lower in the mountainous regions to the north of Laos and can be pleasant all year round, although it can get rather chilly in the evening during January and February. The hottest part of Laos is by far the southern region and it is best to avoid this area during the very hottest part of the year, especially March and April.

You can expect heavy rain practically every day during the rainy season. However, these rain showers tend to be over quite quickly and are easily avoided. Travelling during the rainy season can still be enjoyable, although be aware that many of the roads won’t be in as good a condition as during the rest of the year.

The peak tourist seasons occur from December to February and again in August. January can be very busy and it is a good idea to book in advance if you are travelling at the start of the year.

Types of Transport in Laos

types_of_transport_in_laos_1
Types of Transport in Laos
Types of Transport in Laos

Laos has only been open to international visitors for little over a decade, so you cannot expect to find the spectrum of travel options available in some of the neighbouring countries. There is no rail service and although most of the roads are now paved vehicles can be old and unreliable. The secret to successful travel in Laos is to allow plenty of time and don’t worry too much if things don’t go exactly to plan. Just sit back and enjoy the journey as you watch the stunning scenery slide past.

Plane
This is of course the most convenient way to travel, although not necessarily the most rewarding and certainly not the cheapest. The national airline is Lao Aviation and there are regular domestic flights from most major towns and cities such as Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Savannakhet, Xieng Khouang, Pakse and Oudomsay. There are even weekly flights from smaller towns such as Luang Namtha, Sayaboury, Houeixay, Sam Neua, Saravane, Lak Xao, Muangkhong and Attapeu.

Taxis
Mainly restricted to Vientiane, taxis can be both metered and unmetered. It is also possible to hire taxis for the day if you plan to do a lot of sightseeing.

Tuk-tuks and jumbos
The Lao answer to the taxi, these small and somewhat rickety motorized vehicles can be found all over Laos and are a good way to get around. Fares are generally negotiable, so make sure you agree the price with the driver before setting off.

Buses
Public buses run around large towns and cities between towns and villages throughout Laos. They tend to be rather small and cramped but quite reliable. There are also slightly larger tourist buses available for a slightly higher fee.

Mini Buses
These are a more comfortable way to travel if you are following the tourist trail between places such as Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiane.

Boat
The mighty Mekong River flows through Laos and travelling by slow boat is a great way to see the country, while speed boats race down the river, much to the delight of thrill seekers. Daily services run from Vientiane to Luang Prabang and from Luang Prabang to Huay Xai.

Bicycles
A great way to explore the countryside is by hiring a bicycle at a tourist hub and simply cycling away.

Car hire
Although private car hire is possible, it is generally more trouble than it’s worth. A better option is to hire a car with a driver, which can be done through most hotels or tourist agencies.

Survival Tips in Laos

Survival Tips in Laos
Survival Tips in Laos
Survival Tips in Laos

As a rule Laos is a very safe country to travel in. People are friendly and honest and the crime rate is low. However, as with any place there are certain things you should look out for so that you can make sure you stay safe while you travel.

Most people will have trouble changing large kip notes, so it is essential to carry a selection of smaller notes as well. Change larger notes at banks, luxurious hotels and upmarket shops.

Tap water is undrinkable, so make sure you buy bottled water, even for brushing your teeth. Bottled water is cheap and can be purchased at most shops.

Lao people don’t follow western queuing methods and trying to form a polite line to buy your bus ticket or at the post office will simply mean that you get pushed to the side. Be assertive and don’t be afraid to elbow your way into position, nobody will think any less of you for it.

Although crime is low in Laos, money and belongings do occasionally go missing from hotel rooms. There is also sometimes pick-pocketing and bag snatching on crowded buses. Stay alert and keep your valuables with you.

Buy a good padlock for your bag and hotel door. You may find that windows don’t always fasten properly and you should fasten them securely with a cable lock.

There is a risk of banditry is some of the less travelled regions of Laos. If you plan to explore off the tourist trail it is a good idea to take a guide with you or consult a local tour company to find out which areas are at risk.

There are also a number of unexploded bombs left over from the Second Indochina War. Although tourist areas have been swept carefully, many areas of jungle and farmland remain uncleared. Be sure to stick to well worn paths when exploring and consult a tour company before wandering off on your own.

Remember to carry your passport or ID document with you all the times in order to avoid a fine.

Location and History of Laos

Location and History of Laos
Location and History of Laos
Location and History of Laos

Covering 236.800 square kilometres, Laos is a small landlocked country situated in the Indochinese peninsula. Bordered by Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, the population of Laos is around 5 million.

With a tropical climate, Laos is a country of stunning natural beauty. The southern most part tends to be the hottest and here you will find a variety of pretty islands. The centre of Laos is covered with dense forests, while there are dramatic mountains to the north.

Laos’ past is somewhat turbulent and the country has suffered greatly from the effects of war and poverty. The people of Laos originated from Thailand and it can be observed that the culture of Laos has a lot in common with that of Thailand. It was also formerly a French-Indochinese state and you will still find French influences as well as traces of the Vietnamese and Khmer cultures.

After centuries of invasion from neighbouring countries, Laos took a severe beating during the French Indo-China war and again during World War II. Laos finally gained full independence from France under the reign of King Sisavang Vong in 1953, although peace still did not follow as the monarchy was opposed by the Laotian Patriotic Front. Years of warring followed, with the LPF forming an alliance with the group that would become the Viet Cong.

Finally, after years of instability cultural and bilateral trade agreements were signed with China in December 1987 and the political situation began to improve. Relations were improved with neighbouring countries and the west and the king retired in 1991, allowing a new constitution to form. Laos has been governed by the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party since 1975 and the political situation finally seems stable, allowing the country to rebuild and resettle.

Despite former hardship, the people of Laos are warm and welcoming and smiles are frequent and genuine. Today Laos is one of the world’s poorest countries, with agriculture the main form of economy. Laos’ main products are rice, pulses, fruit, sugar cane, tobacco and coffee, with coffee being the country’s largest export.

The official language of Laos is Lao, although a range of tribal languages as well as French, Vietnamese and English are also sometimes spoken. The majority of people are Buddhist, with a range of other religions such as animism, Confucianism and Christianity practiced by the tribes people.

Food and Drink in Laos

Food and Drink in Laos
Food and Drink in Laos
Food and Drink in Laos

Food in Laos is similar to northern Thai food, yet with its own unique twist. Rice is as popular here as in the rest of Asia, although in Laos sticky rice known as khao niaow is served instead of long grained rice. Sticky rice comes in bamboo containers and is eaten with your hands, usually dipped in a selection of spicy sauces.

The French influence in Laos can be found in the cuisine and baguettes filled with pâte known as khao jii pat-te are delicious at any time of the day, especially for breakfast served with kaafeh thung – rich and tasty Lao coffee. Lao coffee usually comes with a thick layer of condensed milk at the bottom, or black – kaafeh dam.

International food is widely available in tourist towns and in Vientiane, the country’s capital, where you will also find a great selection of gourmet French restaurants.

Here is a selection of popular Lao dishes to get your taste buds tingling.

Laap – the national dish, an extremely spicy salad made from minced meat, herbs, spices, lime juice and a LOT of chilli. This dish sometimes uses raw meat.

Tam maak hung – know as som tam in Thailand, this is fresh, spicy grated papaya salad, where the flavours are pounded with a mortar and pestle to combine them.

Foe – Vietnamese noodles, often served as a snack or at breakfast time.

Khai phaan – this Mekhong River weed is served in Luang Prabang as a delicious side dish.

Padeck – fish preserved with salt and stored for anything up to three years. Padeck is usually eaten with sticky rice.