Thursday, June 30, 2011

Kuala Lumpur

A few weeks ago I had to take care of some business in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur is the capital city and also the largest city in Malaysia. I finished my business early so we all had a chance to explore the sights a bit.

These are the Petronas Towers. They are 88 stories tall, and they are the tallest twin tower buildings in the world. From 1998 to 2004, they were the tallest skyscrapers ever built. They are unique in that they are built of reinforced concrete, not steel. The cross-section is also a popular Islamic pattern, which reflects the official religion of the country. Those of you who are Sean Connery fans will recognize the buildings from his 1999 film, "Entrapment".

Underneath the towers is a wonderful shopping center complete with a Louis Vuitton, Coach, Chanel, and any other super high-end store that you can think of. Jimmy Choo, the famous shoe designer, even has a store here in tribute to his Malaysian roots. There is also a large aquarium. We met some friends who live in Kuala Lumpur and experienced this underwater world underneath the towers!

Here is Craig and his best friend, Navid. Navid and his family used to live in Penang where Navid and Craig were classmates. Navid is from Persia (Iran), and they are just like two peas in a pod! Here is Craig and Navid in front of some ancient fish from South America.

Here is Craig and Navid in the huge aquarium. The aquarium has a tunnel and a moving sidewalk. It's like swimming with the fishes, only you don't have to get wet!

Big teeth!!

We had a great time in Kuala Lumpur! Craig really enjoyed spending time with his best friend, Navid. We had a great time exploring a bit of the city and talking to our friends, Navid's parents. We are all looking forward to visiting KL again soon!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Craig's First Missing Tooth

In March of this year, Craig got his first loose tooth. It fell out a few days later. Here is Mr. Craig, with one missing front tooth.

Well, we were all very excited to see if the tooth fairy visits Malaysia. So, we gave it a try. Craig completed the necessary step of putting his tooth underneath his pillow before going to bed that night.

The next step, of course, is to wait until morning to see if there was a fairy visitor during the night. But, what would that fairy bring? Would it be U.S. dollars, or Malaysian Ringitt? What exchange rate is used? How much does a tooth fetch these days? Is the price adjusted for inflation?

All of these questions were answered the next morning when one tired little boy took a look underneath his pillow to find a crisp 10 ringitt bill!

Eventually the sleepiness was replaced with excitement! It turns out that the tooth fairy does in fact visit Malaysia and pays for lost teeth in local currency! Who knew that the tooth fairy had gone global?

What a cute boy!!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Back to Disneyland!

Back to our favorite place on earth, right? Before any grandparents or aunts and uncles get mad that we snuck back to the US and didn't visit them, let me clarify. We went to Disneyland Hong Kong! Hong Kong is a short 3 hour flight from Penang, and a great place to spend our 10th wedding anniversary together! We took this trip in March, and I'm just posting it now. With so much to do and see in our neck of the woods, it's hard to post everything!If you know our family very well, then you know how much we LOVE Disneyland (or any Disney park, really). Before moving to Malaysia we had annual passes to Disneyland and tried to squeeze every last penny out of them, driving 5 hours to the park as often as we could. When we moved here, I knew we'd be missing our Disney parks so I planned a trip to the closest Disney park to us, Hong Kong! We were able to sneak away for a quick weekend to enjoy a familiar place (it really looked exactly like Disneyland in California all the way down the main street) and also enjoy a new city. If you remember, Craig was Mickey Mouse this past Halloween (click here for our Halloween in Malaysia post). Because Hong Kong is a bit north of Penang it is also a bit cooler (meaning high 70's in April) and shockingly enough we have no clothes for cooler weather!! Craig decided to keep warm he'd wear his Mickey Mouse costume to keep warm. I told him he'd be a photo-op for people if he wore his costume and he responded by saying, "I'm a photo-op for people everyday." Which is true, he does get a lot of attention in South East Asia with his blonde hair and blue eyes - and also because he's darling! He was given a very royal welcome, with the sign at the Jungle River Cruise made up in his honor!
We weren't expecting quite so much attention, though. At times he became surrounded by photographers! Here he is, right before he led the day's parade down Main Street.He was also stopped throughout the park, here is a shot of people getting their shots of him.
Mickey Mouse himself was very excited to see his little protege!  I think it was because Craig was one of the very few children in the very long line to meet Mickey Mouse.

The morning of our anniversary we had a very special Disney Breakfast and got to see all the characters!  Craig was in heaven, it felt just like home to him!

There were lots of familiar rides, too!  Here are Brent and Craig on Buzz Lightyear's astroblasters!  It was really exactly the same as the ride in California, which Craig thought was fantastic!

Here are my two happy boys on Dumbo!

And of course, no trip to any Disney park would be complete without a wonderful firework display right before closing!  This is Tinkerbell's castle all lit up!

I will admit, you are seeing way more of Disneyland than Hong Kong.  We did plan the trip to see Disneyland. I thought Craig (and Frankly, Brent and I) would be ready for a taste of home, and we were definitely happy to be walking around familiar territory.  The park, minus a few rides,felt almost identical to Disneyland in CA.  But we did make our way into Hong Kong during our weekend!  Here we are in front of the Hong Kong Temple!  It was so beautiful!  Hong Kong has one of the world's nicest, cleanest public transportation systems.  We used this to run around both the Kowloon side of the city as well as the Hong Kong side.

Here is the famous Clock tower, on the Kowloon side at the ferry port.
We used the ferry to take us from Kowloon to Hong Kong, here is the famous skyline of Hong Kong.  We really have tried to tell Craig the peace sign is not obligatory in photos, but his classmates have told him otherwise and he keeps sneaking it in!!  I wonder if he'll still do that when he goes to college?

Here is the famous area of Soho in Hong Kong.  This is an enourmous travelator, that takes people up the hill of the city.  There are various stopping points that you can get off the travelator and get out onto the street to shop or eat.  It's great going up, but you have to walk back down, the travelator only goes one direction.  It goes up the hill in the evening and down the hill in the morning for the commuters.

Here is one the the streets you can get off the travelator and walk down.  I told Brent it all looked like one giant Chinatown, and he reminded me that we were in China.  This was a very fun area, and I wish I'd had a week to explore it all.

At the end of the day in Hong Kong we hopped back on the subway to make our way back to our Disneyland hotel.  They had a special subway car to get there - check out our window!

We had a great time on our weekend getaway to Hong Kong!  We got a little bit of a familiar feeling with Disneyland and the chance to explore a beautiful new city!  As always, we'd love to go back!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Hop, Skip, and a Jump to Koh Lipe

Wesak Day, or Buddha's Birthday, is a public holiday in Malaysia. We celebrated by chasing white sandy beaches and crystal clear blue water in the Andaman Sea. Just northwest of the Thai-Malaysian border is the Tarutao National Park, which is a small group of protected islands. We stayed on the only inhabited island in the group, Koh Lipe (pronounced "koe lee-pay). Koh Lipe is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Penang.

The hop to Koh Lipe is a short, 30 minute flight from Penang to Langkawi. Langkawi is a Malaysian island right on the border with Thailand. We've visited there before. You can read the post by clicking here. We had a few hours to spend in Langkawi before skipping to Koh Lipe, so we took the famous Langkawi Cable Car to the tall limestone peaks on the island. It's one of the longest and steepest cable car rides in the world. Here is Craig and his friends Katie and Lauren as we leave the base station for the trek up the hill.

From the top of the mountain you can see the surrounding blue waters, tall white sailboats, and Thailand. The rolling clouds and shadowy peaks made for a dramatic view.

Skipping to Koh Lipe is a nice speedboat from Langkawi across the Andaman Sea. The journey took about an hour. We passed by other small islands, fishing boats, and more blue waters.

After a relaxing one hour ride we arrived at Pattaya Beach in Koh Lipe. Now we jumped into a longtail boat to be ferried to the shore. Here is a picture of the longtail boat gathering up passengers and luggage from the Langkawi speedboat.

We squeezed onto the longtail boat with all of the other passengers and our luggage. The boat was so full that one wrong move and we'd all be poured into the blue water for an impromptu skin dive. Can you spot Craig and Jennifer in the crowd?

After jumping ashore, we needed to clear Thai immigration. In true laid-back, beach style, the immigration office was a shack on the sand, about 50 feet from the water.

After clearing customs we picked up our bags from the, er, "beach style" baggage claim.

Now that we had arrived in Koh Lipe we were excited to find our hotel. We stayed at the Serendipity Resort, which is situated on a hill overlooking the sea. Can you see the thatch roofed building poking out of the jungle overlooking the corals with the cotton-sandy beach? That's our hotel!

The Serendipity Resort is a series of wooden bungalows with a restaurant. It's only been open for a year, but it's so popular that they extended their season a couple of months to accomodate all of the interest they've had. After staying there, we can understand why. Here is Craig with fellow travelers Liam and Willa.

The reason Serendipity is so popular is that the accomodations and staff are so much fun. Each bugalow has a view of the ocean, a thatched roof, and is made out of wood and other natural materials. They are set in the forest on a hill, so each cabin feels like a private jungle getaway.

The bungalows are really beautiful inside and had plenty room for the three of us. They were stocked with books, games, candles, flashlights, and a kitchenette. Here is Craig and his friends playing around his bed one morning. Each bed has its own mosquito net to keep any pesky insects from snacking on you while you're asleep.

The staff would stock the in-room refrigerator with food for breakfast, so there was always a nice feast complete with fresh fruits, bread, and yogurt to eat while enjoying the view. We ate breakfast every morning on our balcony. Craig especially loved the Thai oranges, which have green colored skin!

Fun was easy to find, as it was only a few steps away. Craig and his friends spent one morning painting ceramic animals with the hotel staff.

Craig had a great time!

The warm water was fun to float around in, too.

Jennifer and I joined a tour group on a longtail boat that took us to various beaches and snorkeling spots around the large islands to the north of Koh Lipe. Craig doesn't like snorkeling, so he stayed behind to play with his friends and their parents.We stopped at an interesting beach. Instead of soft, silky sand, this beach is covered in smooth, round, black rocks. It's the only beach of its kind in the area.

We also stopped at a very secluded beach covered in white sand and clear waters. Here's Jennifer's feet soaking up the warm water.

Here's a picture of yours truly floating in front of our longtail boat with the national park in the background. We had lunch under the shade of the trees on the shore!

Near to the white sandy beach is the largest waterfall in the Tarutao National Park. We hiked clear to the top of it. Here's a picture with me standing at the top - just to provide a perspective on the size of the falls (okay, maybe the tour guide oversold this one a bit).

The beaches and islands were all beautiful, but there was more beauty to be found under the water. We visited four different snorkeling spots and saw a huge variety of fish. Here is a sea anemone that we saw. We found Nemo hiding in it. Can you?

We also saw Nemo's friend: a Moorish Bannerfish.

I first thought that this large blue thing was a coral, but it's actually a type of starfish.

Craig saw pictures of this blue striped seasnake, and was worried that we got bitten.

After a full day of snorkeling, we went for a walk on the beach in search of a good restaurant to eat at. There are plenty of them - all serving Thai food right on the beach!

After a few days of soaking up sun and fun in Koh Lipe, we headed back to Langkawi. We had another few hours to spend there before boarding our plane to Penang, so we relaxed in style at the Four Seasons resort. Here's Craig enjoying the five-star amenities.

This was a great trip. We all left with smiles on our faces (and for those of us who didn't pack well, a few whiskers too).

Koh Lipe was such a great, relaxing place to visit. The untouched beaches, crystal clear water, and lush jungle surroundings made it feel like we were living on our own private island.