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The word 'pulau' in Malay languange means 'island'. Pulau Manukan is situated near Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah. It is the most beautiful of all islands surrouding the coast of Kota Kinabalu. To get to the island, you need to take a speed boat from Kota Kinabalu, journey takes less than half an hour and costs only a few ringgit (Ringgit Malaysia) per passenger. The island is small, with limited facilities. There's no hotel on the island. A few resort houses are available if tourists would like to stay over night on the island. There are huts along the beach where you can hire equitments like canoes and life-jackets. The beach is fantastic, with white sand, crystal clear water and lots and lots of rainbow coloured fishes. Snorkelling is a must. Jungle tracking would be fun too. Or at least go to the end of the jetty and feed the fishes that accasionally jump out of the water. There are seasons when all kinds of water sports are not allowed on the beach. I had been to the beach at one time like this. There were thousands of jelly fish lying on the beach and thousands more in the water. It was the season when jelly fish come rushing into the beach. Other fishes are all gone and the whole beach was surrounded by only jelly fish --- a real eye-opener.
'Kuching' (or more correctly 'kucing') in Malay language means 'cat'. Literally we can call Kuching the City of Cats. There are many attractions in this capital of Sarawak (the largest state in Malaysia). But there are something different about Kuching that I really like, which are not easily found from resources like travel guide books. There's this museum situated on the top of a hill, called Sarawak Museum. It's one of the best museums in Malaysia. But what attracts local people more is not the museum itself, it's the 'aquas' (local language) that hang out on the hill at night. 'Aquas' are young men dressed up like women, and some of them are really of 'top quality' (comparable to Thai aquas). You won't suspect their identity until they speak-- their voice is the one thing that they can't change (and the other 'thing' too, of course). These 'pretty women' usually hang out at the museum hill (or more commonly known as the 'aqua hill' by local people) after 10 at night, waving, flying kisses and chasing cars that drove by, especially if there're blokes in the car. So you blokes beware when you drive by, make sure you roll up your window or one of the gorgeous aquas might grab you at your neck. On Saturday nights, there're always car or motorbike racings (illegal ones, of course) along the highway that leads to the Sarawak Parliament House. You don't have to book an appointment or anything like that. If you're interested, just speed down the highway on Saturday night at around midnight and soon you'll find some challengers coming to join you. Great fun but make sure you fasten your seat belt and step on it when you hear the siren of the police car. You can't miss the Waterfront if you go to Kuching. This is the best place for loafing and fishing if you have plenty of time to kill. So join the loafers at this 1 kilometre park by the Sar
awak River. If you're lucky, you might see 1 or 2 dolphins jumping at the mouth of the river as you sit on the bench watching the sunset. During day time, skateboarders and roller-bladers like to hang out there. At night, some 'aquas' from the aqua hill might drop by. Going further away from the city centre, you can visit the cultural village for a bit of cultural education about Sarawak. And if you do go to Cultural Village, you might as well stay a night or 2 at the Damai Lagoon, which is just a few miles away from the village. Damai is not comparable to Sunway Lagoon in Kuala Lumpur but it's nevertheless small and decent. If you like animals and would like to experience a bit of jungle life, go to Bako, the National Park. Here you would expect to stay in quite primitive houses where, at night, monkeys jump on the roof tops and wildboars banging their heads on the doors. For eating out, try seafood, which is what Buntal is famous for. Some seafood restaurants in Buntal are built on the sea. Imagine sitting under open starry sky, enjoying fresh cheap seafood and feel the vibration of the wooden floor as the waves keep rushing into the shore. You really can't miss Buntal if you love seafood. August is the month when local people celebrate the Kuching Festival. the celebration lasts for about 2 weeks and lots of activities will be going on in different places in Kuching such as the Kuching Food Festival, Cat Exhibition, etc. However, August is usually the month of the year when the weather is the hottest (above 30C) and occasionally, air pollution occurs in this month (due to the smoke from forest fires), which can persist until September.
KLIA is the largest airport in South East Asia. It is so huge that I was lost when I transit there last summer (or maybe my sense of direction is poor). There are different terminals for domestic and international flights. Due to its massive area, there is frequent air-tram service running between different terminals. Staffs are very helpful. I remember I was looking for a bureau de change cause I needed to get some change to make a phone call. And this Malay lady at the counter told me there isn't one nearby so gave me a coin of RM1. Ho ho!! I was impressed by her generosity. There are many shops in the airport, all new and shopping is really a pleasant thing to do there. The cleanliness of the airport is excellent, better than many other airports I had been in South East Asia (Changi, Brunei etc).
I flew with this airline one year ago. The food's good, and service was great. All of the stewardesses speak at least 2 languages, (English plus Mandarin) so communication shouldn't be a problem. After boarding, each passenger will be given a small bag containing note pad, eye-shade, pen, socks and some other stuffs. This is not with Malaysian airline (sorry but I tend to compare these 2 airlines cause they're rivals). Also I find the stewardesses more polite compared to MAS. Although they serve only 2 meals over a 13-hour flight, but they give each passenger a small box containing snacks like sandwiches and chocalate bars, so you won't have to push that little service button on your handset when you're starving. Also, there's no smoking seats (non-smoking flight) so you don't have to worry about second-hand smoking.
The last time I flew with this airline was just about a month ago. The food's ok, you get to try some of the traditional Malaysian food like nasi lemak and satay sauce, etc. But they only serve 2 meals (dinner and breakfast) over a 13-hour flight, with no snacks in between each meal. And when I asked the stewardess for some snacks, she came back to me with a small packet of peanuts. The weather was not particularly good on that day and there were some small turbulences. Some stewardess spilted drinks on the aisle when they were pouring drinks for the passengers. So the situation became a bit messy when they were serving meals. Also, there were some smoking seats on the plane, and my seat was just one row before the smoking seats so I was inhaling second-hand smoke all the way through. In general, my experience with this airline hasn't been great, unfortunately.
Times Square is colourful. That was my first impresssion when I went there. But that's because I went there at night when all the lights are on. I went on a morning and it didn't appear to be as attractive as it is at night time. So if you go to Times Square, be sure to go at night. It's an extremely crowded place so be very careful with your belongings. There are a lot of things to see here, shops, hawkers, and so on. I went there a few times, mostly at very late nights when we felt hungry and wanted some snack. I remember there's a MacDonald's where we had our late night snacks. There are some seats by the window where we sat and watch people passing by, comparing the way New Yorkers dress and walk. This is the place where I find people-watching enjoyable :)
When I went to New York city, Central Park was not on my must-see list because there were so many other attractions and I didn't even have enough time to see them all. Also, I am not particularly interested in parks cause I've seen a lot of these in England. But my gang insisted that we should go so I had to follow. And it didn't disappoint me at all. Looking at the NYC map, you'll find that Central Park covers almost half of Manhattan. Therefore it's huge, and you definitely need a map or you'll definitely get lost. This is the place where New Yorkers go, after work, or on weekends, with families. You can do all sorts of outdoor activities in here. There are sports grounds, lakes, skating ground, restaurants, and paths with street performers and so on. It was summertime when we went there and the park was very crowded at some spots, especially at where the performers are and around the skating ground. It's an excellent place for pinic if you have plenty of time to kill in New York.
I love musicals (though sometimes not fully understand what the performers are singing) and have seen quite a few so far. I personally think the best is 'Cats', which I had seen in Broadway, New York city. A lot of people say that Broadway shows are in parallel with London musicals. I haven't seen 'Cats' in London so can't really compared. But the one I've seen in NYC is really excellent!!! Tickets are expensive, but there are ticket booths (similar to those in Leicester Square, London) where you can get some cheap ones, at half the original price. Can't remember where the ticket booths are since it was about a year ago (is it Times Square??). But I remember the ticket was $40 (original price $80), and it was a fifth row seat. Queues for the cheap tickets were horribly long. The stage was not as big as I imagined but the setting was excellent, so as the make-up and costumes. The story is not as good as Les Miserables or Phantom of the Opera but the show is very lively and entertaining with lots of dances and great songs. My favorite song from this show is 'Memory', a great great song!!! Throughout the show 'cats' were running around the whole theatre. They don't just stay on the stage. They were very very 'cat-like'. I remember especially the girl who played a siamese cat, so willowy and graceful. It was a great musical and I will definitely see it again, but not in NYC. I'll see it in London, just to have a comparison of whether Broadway shows are better, or London's.
You haven't been to New York city if you haven't been to the Liberty Island. And yes this is where the Statue of Liberty lives. The only way to get to the island is by ferries, from Battery Park, which is at the south end of Manhattan. I went on a Saturday morning. Tickets were $10 for a round-trip, for students. The queues at the ticket booths are horribly long. And there were only 2 ferries on that day so the queues for the ferries were like hundreds of people. Once get on the ferry, you're off for a nice trip. Manhattan sky-crapers such as the World Trade Centre are in a perfect view for photo taking when the ferry is half-way through. Souvenirs and refreshments are being sold on the ferried but most people won't be interested as they're busy taking photos. Be sure you bring your camera with you. Single journey to the Liberty Island takes about 15 minutes. You can stay on the island for as long as you like. But again expect long queues for the ferries on the island. On the journey back to Manhattan, the ferry will stop by another island nearby, called the Ellis Island and again you're free to get on the island for as long as you like. From Ellis, the ferry takes you back to Manhattan.
New York city is huge and subway is the best sort of transportation to get around the city. It is cheap, cost you only $1.50 (by token) for a single journey (compared to £1.50 for London underground). It is quick and frequent, trains coming every 5-10 minutes. And it's a very complete system covering the whole New York city. Now, sounds like it is not much different from London underground except for the price. In fact, NYC subway is horrible. Much worse than London underground. If you think London tube stations are dirty, NYC subway stations are even worse. Most stations are very dark and very old. And the trains are dirty and old, too. The worst station in Manhattan is the one at 42nd Street. A lot of doggy people hang around there, holding brown bags (with alcohol inside) in hands, staring at people like everyone's alien from outer space. And most of the staffs working at the token counters are rude. They don't talk but shout. However, I understand that it must be really stressful to work in a small room underground, very stuffy and unhealthy. In general, I don't like NYC subway. But it's the cheapest and quickest (not safest) way to get around NYC so I would still recommend it to you. (Well, unless you can afford the yellow cab.)
When I visited NYC people told me Chinatown is a must-see so I went. This is a very unique area in Manhattan with completely different culture compared to the rest of NYC. Most people there are Cantonese, I guess. Cause I heard them spoke Cantonese. Some of them (especially older ones) don't speak English at all but had been staying there for years. Imagine living in NYC without English, this is just like a little China of it's own. Since Buddism is the major religion for chinese people, there's a temple (quite large building) in the Chinatown with lots of people coming to worship the Buddha everyday. Along the street are mostly grocery shops and restaurants. Chinese food is very cheap in here. One plate of chicken rice is only 3 or 4 bucks (compared to £3.50 or more in London Chinatown). That's why I had most of my dinners in Chinatown throughout my stay in NYC. Although it is the biggest Chinatown I've seen so far, I find that all Chinatowns (NYC's, London's, Manchester's....) are actually quite the same. In general, it's a nice place to visit, and an excellent place for dining if you love chinese food.
When I went to NYC last summer I stayed in Harlem for a week (in Sugarhill Hostel). People had been telling me that Harlem is a notorious area. And yeah I can confirm that with you. The area is dirty. I saw a lot of weird people around that area, hanging around doing nothing but watching people, making you feel uncomfortable. One night, a British girl who stayed in the same hostel came back after midnight and was horrified cause she was followed by 2 guys from the subway station to the hostel. Fortunately the hostel was not very far away from the subway station and nothing serious happened. She felt unsafe so moved out the next day. Another night I heard a gun shot just outside the hostel. NYC is huge. How to tell whether an area is notorious or not? One American told me this: go to the MacDonald's in that area. If the counter is all 'wrapped up' by bullet-proof glass, straight away you can tell that the area is not particularly safe. There was a MacDonald's like this in Harlem, where I had my breakfast on most mornings during my stay there.
Summer of 99 I went to NYC for about a week and throughout the week I was staying at a hostel called Sugarhill. It's a very old hostel in Harlem, Manhattan. I stayed in the dormitary, together with 7 other people from different country. It was a mixed dormitary with more guys than gals. The rent was 25 dollars a night. And I think it's really quite expensive for a hostel like that. But this is NYC, one of the most expensive city in the world. I couldn't afford a hotel room so had to bear with this hostel in one of the most notorious (yes, Harlem is) areas in Manhattan. The beds are all double-level beds. The whole dorm smelled awful. It was summertime and there's no air-conditioning (well, 25 bucks a night, what can I expect??) so the whole dorm was very stuffy and hot. Bed sheets smelled awful, too. At night, although it's summertime, still it could be quite cold sometimes, and the heater was never on. There wasn't enough blankets for everyone in the dorm so one night a guy who came back drunk in the middle of the night grabbed my blanket and left me in shock. Another night I heard this gun shot outside the hostel and was absolutely horrified. Thank God I left for England the next day. In general, it was really quite a horrible place to stay. But if you're on a limited budget trip, you might wanna consider Sugarhill. Well, at least the shower was powerful enough and the water was hot :)
'les miserables' was the second musical i saw (the first one was 'west side story'). it was christmas holiday and i went with another 3 friends. the settings of the stage was excellent. most of the songs are nice, especially 'i dreamed a dream' (think this song is really touching!). i read the book before i went to see the musical so had a rough idea of the story. but one of my friends didn't know the story at all and couldn't quite understand the english. so if english is not your first language, it's probably worth going through the story before going to see a musical. the show was quite long, and it's not like 'cats' or 'west side story' where you get to see a lot of dances, so i got a bit bored after couple hours (maybe it's because i knew the story beforehand....well??). also, we were sitting at quite far from the stage, either circles or balcony, can't remember....we couldn't afford the front rows :) and eyes got a bit sore after a while. the show could have been more enjoyable if we were at seats nearer to the stage. in general, it was a good one and worth watching. but i won't see it again, not for £20.
London is huge and there are loads of museums and galleries in there. National Portrait Gallery is one of those smaller ones, compared with, for instance, British Museum and National Gallery (which is just steps away from the Portrait Gallery). So people tend to miss this one. Frankily, I won't say it's a must-see like British Museum or National Gallery. But if you have plenty of time to kill in London then it's probably worth spending couple hours in it. As the name implies, you can only see portraits in this gallery, and some people can easily get bored by this. However, entrance is free so why not pay it a short visit after you've been to the National Gallery??