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New Year’s Road Trip, 2012-13

Posted by on January 11, 2013

One of the benefits of living in a small country (compared to Australia) is that it doesn’t take all that long to drive to another city — or country, for that matter — and enjoy some new sights. We haven’t really made the most of that since moving to Malaysia a little over four years ago. Our drives (rather than flights and bus trips) have only really taken us to the island of Penang (about four hours from KL) with a stop in Ipoh on the way (two hours from KL); a one day trip to Malacca; a stay at A’Famosa Resort, Melaka; a couple of days in Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan; a weekend at a resort in Kuantan, Perak; and another couple of days in Cameron Highlands. I don’t recall blogging about any of those trips though.

However, as some new theme parks opened in Johor in the last quarter of 2012, we decided we’d go check them out over the new year holiday break, choosing weekdays in the hope it would be less crowded. Jeremy also wanted to show me the new Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, so we figured, why not cross country borders too? Which means I figured it was worth blogging this time, even though I didn’t write about our last trip to Johor and Singapore (taken by bus) in February 2011.

We set off for Johor around lunch time on the 30th of December, stopping about half way to have lunch and swap drivers (I drove the first part). When we went to Penang, we hadn’t been in Malaysia long and so I wasn’t very confident driving here yet, and thus relied on Jeremy the whole time. I am much more comfortable driving here now though. I still don’t much like driving in KL, but everywhere else isn’t really a problem. Including the break we had in the middle, the drive only took about five hours. That’s about half the time it took me to drive from Perth to Esperance in my home state, which I did in a full day (minus the last two hours, because I got nervous after crashing the car into a ditch, so Jeremy drove it instead) when I had to get my driving hours up to get my full license. I use this as a comparison because I know five hours of driving in a car might seem like a long time to some people. Australians tend to view driving for hours a bit differently due to how vast our country is.

We didn’t do much after arriving at our resort accommodation. I stayed with Leo in the hotel room and tried to read some of From the Edge of Darkness by my friend Kevin Saito (who I visited in California in February) whilst Jeremy and Doyle explored what there was to do. Then we went to dinner and I got to have what they considered enchiladas (ha! they weren’t rolled up, only folded).

Monday 31st December, 2012

Since Legoland is so new (opened September), the roads to get there are not on our TomTom GPS. We instead had to rely on Google maps on both my and Jeremy’s phones, and even then Google didn’t have the location quite right. Thankfully we managed to figure out how to get there, and since the park is still so new, parking was free! That was a nice bonus to learn.

We got to the park not long after it opened and very few people were there yet. The ticket queue was fairly short. I hadn’t pre-purchased tickets online, which are discounted, because I had a voucher for a free child’s ticket, but tickets needed to be purchased at the park. If you look at the prices in Malaysian currency, RM140 for an adult ticket sounds like a lot. But it’s less than US/AU$50, so probably fairly standard for a theme park. Or cheap if comparing it to the likes of Disney. I am glad we got the kids in for free, though (Leo is 2, and only kids 3+ need to pay).

This Legoland is actually the first one I’ve ever been to. Being there brought back memories of Christmas during my childhood and being excited at the new Lego I’d find and get to build. So it was pretty cool to get to see the first Lego statues throughout.

What I was most excited about seeing at the park was the Lego miniland. That’s the place where they’ve recreated parts of cities in South East Asia, plus China and India. In the picture here, you can see a mosque from Putrajaya, the city where the Malaysian government offices are, and behind that is the Petronas Twin Towers from Kuala Lumpur. Besides these two Malaysian cities, they also have Johor Bahru, which is the capital of the state Legoland is in, as well as KLIA (KL International Airport). My favourite non-Malaysian recreations were the Taj Mahal of India, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and the Forbidden City of China. One of the things I also particularly liked was how there were moving parts of the display, such as trains, buses, boats, dancing, and a ferris wheel from Singapore. The final section we went to was for Lego pirates! Not exactly an Asian thing, which is why it surprised me, but it was cool to see a pirate ship and an Imperial fort shooting canons (well, water) at each other.

We headed out into the Land of Adventure after that. Here I rode the Lost Kingdom Adventure and admired the Ancient Egyptian Lego pictures and sculptures while Jeremy watched the boys in Pharaoh’s Revenge, which is just a little undercover playground thing. Then I traded places with Jeremy, and he took Leo on the ride while I stayed with Doyle. I’m not really sure why Doyle wasn’t interested in going on the rides. Anyway, the Lost Kingdom ride is just like a car that takes you around the inside of a pyramid, and you get points for shooting things with your laser gun.

Doyle was getting hungry for lunch after that, so even though it wasn’t quite lunch time, we headed to Pizza Mania. The best value seemed to be to get a family pizza combo that we could share between the four of us. As soon as Jeremy finished, I told him to go off to the Dino Island ride, since we were going to have to take turns on that as well, while I supervised the boys as we finished the rest of our lunch. Then I took them over to the Duplo Playtown (another playground) for a play. This was really the only part of the park where there were sculptures made out of Duplo instead of Lego.

After Jeremy relieved me of my parenting duties, I headed to Dino Island myself. Dino Island is like Legoland’s equivalent of Splash Mountain. It’s a log flume ride, and you start off by going around and seeing dinosaurs made out of Lego before going up into a mountain and then splashing down at the end. I just love seeing all the Lego sculptures and being impressed by what you can make with the blocks, and that’s what makes Legoland really quite different from other theme parks I’ve been to. Even if the rides are essentially the same things you might find elsewhere.

I returned to the Duplo playland to find Jeremy and the boys, and took some photos around the playground before leaving. We headed to the 4D Studio next, to watch the Lego Racer movie. I think what I found most unusual about the film is the fact there was no dialogue, but I suppose it makes sense if you’re likely to have an audience of people who speak a multitude of different languages, and some would not necessarily know English. That was followed by some time in the Build & Test area, where the kids had access to lots of Duplo blocks to build towers with, and Lego blocks for building vehicles you could race in the test area. I really enjoyed watching Leo try to be helpful by collecting Duplo blocks from one table and giving them to Doyle, who was building a tower at the earth quake test area.

After we’d had enough time there, we headed out and Jeremy wanted to go on the Observation Tower, but Doyle wasn’t interested. So instead we left the Imagination area and into Lego Kingdoms. I wanted to go on the Dragon roller coaster ride, so we headed up there. Jeremy stayed with the boys in a seating area inside the castle while I went to line up. Then… right when I’d reached the front of the queue, they stopped the ride due to rain. The last people who’d been on it came back wet! I didn’t know how long the rain would be and I’d left my phone with Jeremy, so I just waited. And waited. I sat down on the ground but some of the rain was leaking in, and it kept spreading, so the couple sitting next to me kept moving over so I didn’t get too soaked. Eventually the rain let up, and after the staff had a couple of turns around to make sure it was all okay, I got to go. The first half of the ride is actually inside the castle and you get to see a lot of Lego people. Then the second half is the roller coaster, and it was a pretty good one! Once I got off, I headed back to Jeremy and explained what happened. Leo was asleep by then, and Jeremy decided to try his luck in the queue, but then the rain started up again.

Eventually Jeremy gave up on waiting for them to get to go on the ride, and we did our best to explore the rest of the Lego Kingdom and then Lego Technic area without getting too wet. By the time we got to the Technic Twister ride, I wondered why something undercover wasn’t even running. Doyle and I waited for a bit but then we wandered off to find Jeremy, and the four of us sought shelter in The Café, where the boys each scoffed a chocolate cupcake. When they were done, we headed back to the Technic area. The Twister ride was running by then, and since that was the one ride Doyle was actually keen on, I took him on. It was, for the sake of continuing Disney comparison, much like the Alice in Wonderland teacup ride. I was glad I finally had something to go on with Doyle.

After that, we headed to Lego City because we’d seen that the Legoland Express ride had been running, even in the rain. We waited in line a very long time for that one, probably because it was the only ride people thought was running (though I suspect many of the visitors had also left the park due to the rain, so it could have been worse). It was nice to finally have a ride we could all go on together, though.

We had to take Doyle to the toilet after that, but once everything was sorted out there, I decided we should see if any of the roller coasters were running again. We were given special glasses for the fireworks on the way, and as we arrived at Project X, back in the Technic area, we saw they were testing it. So Jeremy got in the queue and I took the boys to some ground fountain area that was being lit up with coloured lights, as it was already getting dark from the sun going down (as opposed to the rain-filled clouds). Doyle was getting drenched though, so I ended up taking the boys back to the ride and catching sight of Jeremy as he came down the steepest fall of the coaster. Since the queue still looked relatively short, I traded places with him again and got to go on the ride. My stomach churned a bit at the fall, but again, it was another decent roller coaster. I was glad to have a turn.

Deciding then that Jeremy also deserved a turn on The Dragon, we headed back there next for the last chance at a ride. Jeremy managed to get on it that time! I took the boys to the shop so we’d see him when he came out, and I picked up a small packet so Doyle could get a surprise Lego man. Then it was finally time for us to start heading back toward the entrance to catch the fireworks. We walked back through the Miniland again, and it was cool to see it with all the lights in the dark.

The fireworks ended up starting a bit late, but with the special glasses we were given, they looked like raining Lego bricks! I thought it was well worth the stay. Of course, I had to keep the glasses so next time I have the opportunity to see fireworks, I’ll be able to experience it again.

That was the last event before the park closed, so we headed out, and stopped by the shopping area to get our dinner at the pancake place, thankful that we didn’t have to eat at Legoland and pay their prices again.

After such a long day, both boys fell asleep on the drive back to our hotel. Jeremy and I stayed up to midnight just so we could say the obligatory “Happy New Year!” but then we went to bed.

Tuesday 1st January, 2013

We had a bit of a slow morning, due to the long and late day at Legoland. After gathering up our passports, though, we drove out to a nearby McDonald’s for breakfast (it was a lot cheaper than breakfast at the hotel), and then headed out in the car on our way to Singapore. Jeremy and I had crossed the causeway on two separate vacations, staying across the border (first from Singapore on our honeymoon, for an afternoon trip to Johor Bahru; second from a trip to Johor, for a day trip to Universal Studios), but this would be the first time we’d do it in our own car. When you travel in a bus to do it, you have to get off the bus and go through immigration much like you would at an airport, and then get back on the bus again. At both sides of the border (Singapore and Malaysia) for exit and entry.

It’s completely different in a car, and possibly one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. You don’t have to get out of the car, you just drive up to an immigration counter that looks like a road toll booth, hand over your passports to be stamped, and then drive on through. Obviously the immigration officer checks through the windows to look at the passengers, but it was still pretty cool. When it got to the point of us doing the same thing in Singapore (though slower, since we had to fill out immigration cards), I said to Jeremy, “They don’t even check the boot of your care. You could smuggle a person back there! And then the next place we had to stop was where they made you open the boot so they could check it, so I was glad to be proven wrong about that.

Though our TomTom GPS apparently had Singapore maps on it, I hadn’t been able to figure out how to program Singapore properly, so we used Jeremy’s Apple maps, as well as Google maps toward the end when the Apple ones disappeared due to lack of Internet. Jeremy drove us to the Marina Bay Sands, and when we got into the parking, discovered we couldn’t actually get in. A security guard had to fiddle with something so we could go through and then told us we’d have to get a ticket from inside the mall somewhere. Why on Earth does Singapore have to be so confusing to foreigners? At least we made it in I suppose.

We had a look around the mall for a little bit, on our way to the Art Science museum, then looked around the area taking in the sights of the city across the bay. Once Jeremy bought the tickets, we decided to get some lunch at the pita pocket place called Pita Pan, just opposite the museum. As chance would have it, the museum was holding an exhibition by a Lego sculptor, Nathan Sawaya from New York. Clearly not tired of Lego from Legoland, that’s the exhibition we went to see. It was really quite cool to see what one person could make with Lego. I don’t even want to guess how much it would have cost to buy all those bricks though! How do you even get them all in one colour to make a single-coloured sculpture? Most of the sculptures were of the human form, but in very creative ways. I think, though, that my favourite one was of the Tyrannosaurus-Rex bones. It had to be partially suspended from the ceiling, but it was still really cool. I mean, how to even go about imagining how to build something like that?

Onwards after the museum, we headed higher and through the Marina Bay Sands to the other side where we found the Gardens by the Bay. We had seen this structure from farther away and wondered what it was, since it looked like giant manmade tree trunks. It was cool to get a closer look and to find out that part was called Supertree Grove. We walked around the gardens for a bit, which included themed areas such as “Malay garden” and “Chinese garden,” as well as a section to learn more about the different parts of trees. Jeremy went through this with interest with Doyle, while I mostly just made sure Leo wasn’t getting too off track while he wanted to wander.

After going through the colonial garden, we had a look down at the Dragonfly sculptures by the lake as we tried to find our way back to the bridge that took us there. That’s where I learned there is a creature that looks a lot like a Dragonfly but isn’t, called a damselfly. I thought that was pretty cool as I’d never heard of them before. We didn’t see any, though it is possible I have in the past and I just didn’t know it was something different.

Once we headed back to the place we started, we finally made it to the Marina Bay Sands. Jeremy took us to the Skywalk, which we had to wait in queue for a little while for, as he loves going up those tall buildings and looking at cities from above. As it was night by the time we got up there, we actually got a pretty good view of the city lights. The Supertrees were lit up with colours, and it was also cool to watch the lightning in the distance.

It seemed like a longer queue to get into the lifts to head back down again, and Leo was getting pretty grumpy for his dinner by then, but we managed. Hopefully not upsetting too many people with a crying baby. We went to the mall where the casino is to get our dinner, but most places were either packed or only took cash, which we didn’t have. Jeremy eventually got Leo something from the supermarket while he looked for an alternative dinner arrangement for the rest of us. We ended up getting some cash out on one of my cards since his didn’t work for some reason, and ate dinner at a chocolate restaurant. Croque Monsier, which was a lot bigger than we were expecting when comparing it to the ones we’d picked up in Paris last year! But at least we finally managed to eat. Then we headed back towards the entrance to the carpark, where I waited with the boys while Jeremy sorted out the ticket so we could leave. Leo fell asleep before Jeremy got back. And, despite having the ticket when we got to the exit, we still couldn’t get out properly and needed security help again!

Alas, a long day, both boys were asleep by the time we got to immigration at the causeway, and I think it might have even been after midnight by the time we got back to the hotel. At least we managed to find a petrol station to fill up a bit and top up the card we needed to use when we got to immigration. I had to get the GPS to navigate us to one!

Wednesday 2nd January, 2013

Another theme park opened in Johor the month after Legoland, not too far from there, though in Puteri Harbour. It’s an indoor theme park, though, and is really only targeted at younger children. It’s two parks in one – Hello Kitty Town, and Little Big Club (for Pingu, Bob the Builder, Angelina Ballerina, Thomas the Tank Engine and Barney fans). People can choose to go to one park, or both, which includes a slight discount. We chose the two park option.

We ended up at Hello Kitty Town first, as a parade was just about to start at the time we arrived. It was nice to see all the bright colours on the costumes. Doyle, however, was being a little moody, and wanted something to eat. So after the parade we went to the food stall they had there to get some lunch. Hotdogs for the boys, and curry puffs for the adults. The menu wasn’t very interesting, alas. Doyle decided he wanted to play in the playground after that and Leo was apparently too little for it, so I stayed with him, and then took him over to the teacups ride. Even though it said he was too young for the ride, he was tall enough, so it wasn’t a problem. Then he took me over to the stage, where we stayed and waited for the Hello Kitty show to start.

I was amused by the show. As Hello Kitty was meant to go around the world making new friends, we got to see some traditional Russian dancing, followed by “American” dancing (an amusing rendition of something from the Wild West), France’s can can, and then some Japanese thing.

After the show we headed upstairs to the Little Big Club as it would soon be time to meet Bob and Wendy from Bob the Builder. We went into the Bob playground while we waited, and Leo got interested in feeding a foam block to a digger thing that didn’t actually work properly. Then I discovered Bob was on the outside of the playground, so we had to leave there to get a photo. Wendy wasn’t there, though, alas!

The third floor was for Thomas the Tank Engine things alone, and that’s where most of the rides were. We took the boys on the ferris wheel first, and then the bus that went around and around before heading downstairs again to catch the Thomas the Tank Engine show. It wasn’t that great, since Thomas barely moved, but I suppose it was still okay to see Sir Topham Hat. The songs were okay. I guess it was entertaining for the boys at least. When the show finished we quickly headed into Angelina Ballerina’s Dance Studio to get a photo with her before she left.

Then it was back upstairs for more rides with Thomas. Doyle wanted to go on the bumper cars but was told he was too short (by maybe 1cm, but they made a big deal about it), so we went on the helicopter ride and the Thomas the Tank Engine train ride instead. We also discovered the food stall there was better than the Hello Kitty one, but it was too late by then. Jeremy then watched Doyle in the Thomas playground while I took Leo to the Barney one, before heading into the Pingu area where you could play air hockey and hit igloos with one of those hammer bopping games. They had some of the related cartoons screening on the main stage when there wasn’t a show on, and the boys would occasionally watch some of that.

After Leo got a surprise visit from both Bob and Wendy, we waited for Pingu to come out. Doyle didn’t want a photo with him though, so it was just me and Leo. It was interesting to me to see how much more interested Leo seemed in these people dressed up as characters than Doyle was when he was younger. Leo loved it!

Once we met Pingu, we all headed back down to Hello Kitty Town to redeem the items we were allowed to from the cards we got with our tickets. First we went to Hello Kitty house and got to see a lot of different merchandise for different rooms. So much stuff! Then we went to the Black Wonder, which is sort of a mystery adventure we had to solve before we could escape. It was quite fun, though I figured out the answer pretty early without needing to find all the clues. But I still looked for them just to be sure.

When I realised we were missing out on meeting Barney upstairs, we tried to go find him, but we were too late. So we went back to finish up our Hello Kitty activities. Doyle’s first choice was the cookie decorating, which was basically you just get a Hello Kitty cookie and decorate it with chocolate and strawberry paint. Leo had fun with this and painted his own. Then we all ate our cookies. Next was the costume dress up and photo shoot. I got to dress as Hello Kitty, and Jeremy was the ‘bad’ character. Doyle didn’t want to be that one, so he dressed up in the dress as the rabbit. I guess they don’t really cater to boys much there, but Doyle was adorable in that costume anyway, and I don’t try to enforce gender stereotypes with him. After all, his favourite colour is pink. Who am I to say that’s wrong? The jewellery making consisted of putting a Hello Kitty charm on a bracelet, which wasn’t really what we had in mind. The last activity was the nail salon, where we got to decorate our finger nails. That’s the only one Jeremy didn’t personally participate in. Though Doyle has previously liked having nail polish on his fingers, and seemed to enjoy this activity, he was soon asking for it off again. I’m not sure where that came from.

Once we’d done our activities, Jeremy and Doyle got to ride the teacups, and then we went back upstairs again to watch the final show – Barney. I think Leo particularly liked the show for the songs he recognised from Cocomong, though he did try to keep stealing some lady’s Hello Kitty toy. After the show, Jeremy and I decided which photos that were taken by the park staff we would by (it was the only way we’d have pictures of the dress up), and then we headed off.

We found a food court for dinner not too far from Legoland, and picked up some things from a supermarket for breakfast the next day, then headed back to the hotel while it was raining.

Once at the hotel, we went to the bowling alley attached to the golf resort, and Doyle tried his hand at bowling for the first time. He was too small to lift the ball properly, and only managed to knock down 6 pins, but he still seemed to have fun. I told him next time we’d take him to a bowling alley that has gutter bumpers so he doesn’t have to worry about gutter balls.

Then it was back to our room for some reading time and bed.

Thursday 3rd January, 2013

We only really had time to pack and head home, since Jeremy was meant to have a dentist appointment, but then as we were driving, the dentist’s office called to change it. The place we stopped at for lunch was nice… until I got a bit disgusted when I saw a rat in their stall, climbing on the wall. And yet I kept eating. Though that could explain why I was a bit sick when we got home, who knows?

Anyway, it was a fun trip overall, even if the rain put a bit of a damper on things at Legoland. It was nice going to the indoor theme park since it had more rides and shows our kids could enjoy than Legoland did. But I wouldn’t mind taking them back to Legoland again when they get bigger. I couldn’t say the same thing about the other park.

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Dominica has a strong interest in exploring diversity in media, seeing people subverting corporate control of creativity through crowdfunding and indie publishing, and spending as much time as she can travelling the world and discovering culture. This is what she most regularly blogs about. In her spare time, Dominica is primarily focused on long-form improv theatre, and writing and publishing speculative fiction. You can find links to some of her free and published stories and screenplays on her writing page, or check out her pirate time-travel novel Adrift. Though born and raised in Australia to American parents, Dominica lived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, between 2008-2014, until she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. She also has a background in web programming, filmmaking, and stand-up comedy. For more information, check out her about page, or any of the specific pages about her various creative pursuits in the links at the top of the page.

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