Magnificent Malyasia, Crazy Chennai

April 9, 2011 - Chennai, India

Finally found some internet! Woo hoo. A day behind with my journal, so it doesn't talk about the IPL match last night, which was crazy...that'll be in the next post. Should have the internet the whole time in Phuket, which we leave for at midnight tonight.


A ridiculously early start greeted myself, Dylan, Julian and Alana as we set off for our travels. A 6am flight to Melbourne to connect with our AirAsia flight to Kuala Lumpur was to blame, with Dylan’s sister picking me up at 4:30am in the morning. After a teary goodbye with the wife, I had my suitcase in the boot and was sitting in the back listening to Dylan berate his sisters driving!


We arrived at Adelaide Airport at 5am, waited for Jules and Alana, who were late as usual, and checked in for our Qantas flight. If our flight was on time, we’d have just 35 minutes to collect our suitcases and rush to the AirAsia checkin desk in the International Terminal to catch our flight to KL. We got through the security check in record time, despite the extremely long lines, which worried me – I didn’t want to waste travel karma points on the security check when we would need them to make our international flight. We had some breakfast, made our way to the gate, and boarded our plane. The pilot had us up in the air at the scheduled time and things were going smoothly.


Of course, there had to be a twist, and 20 minutes before we were due to land the pilot came on the loudspeaker and airport. Our new estimated time of arrival gave us just 20 minutes to grab our bags and checkin. Once we landed, it seemed the whole plane knew we were in a hurry and did their level best to ensure we wouldn’t get off the plane in any hurry. Once we finally raced down the stairs and onto the tarmac, we pretty much ran to the baggage carousel. We overtook everyone on our flights and reached the carousel first, but of course the bags weren’t out yet. With 5 minutes left before our flight closed, the carousel started spewing out bags, and when ours finally came around, we grabbed them and raced to the AirAsia desk.


We made it with a minute to spare, pulses racing and nerves jangling. We cleared Immigration in no time, took a shot of coffee infused vodka that was being offered in Duty Free to calm the nerves and headed to our gate. Our plane was ready to board, so we were sitting in our seats before we knew it.


The flight over was long and cramped, Dylan and I sharing one row of 2 seats and Jules and Alana sharing another. Despite the lack of sleep the previous night, none of us slept more than half an hour, and Dylan and I tried to pass the time watching movies. We sat through Road Trip: Beer Pong, the third instalment in the Road Trip series, and if the thought ever crosses your mind to hire this movie, throw a swift fist into your own forehead – the pain will be a lot quicker than sitting through the hour and a half of the movie.


After what seemed like an eternity, we finally touched down in Kuala Lumpur, Dylan’s first time in foreign climes! We stepped off the plane expecting to be hit by the heat and humidity, but despite the usual stickiness being present, the temperature was surprisingly mild. We made our way to Immigrations, where we found lines that were the biggest I’d seen. It took 45 minutes to get through, not what we needed as we only had a few hours to explore KL. We purchased tickets for the Express Train, which saves you a whopping 10 minutes travel time compared to the bus! To catch the train, you take a shuttle bus to the train station, which was on a mouldy, mosquito riddled bus. Dylan and I grabbed some curry chicken puffs at the station, which were magnificent, and then we jumped on our express train to KL Sentral. An hour after leaving the airport, we were at KL Sentral, and we found a local train that would take us to Pasar Seni Station, the closest station to our Chinatown hotel, appropriately called Hotel Chinatown 2!


We got off the local train at Pasar Seni and walked through the streets to Jalan Petaling, the street on which our hotel was located. Jalan Petaling is the street in Chinatown that contains all the markets, so we had to push our way through those with suitcases in tow, but some 2 and a half hours after touching down, we’d arrived at the Hotel Chinatown 2. We checked into our rooms, which were surprisingly decent given they cost us $23 each, freshened up and then it was time to hit the streets in search of dinner.


I decided that as we only had one night, I’d take the group to all of my favourite food haunts on Jalan Sultan, which runs parallel to Jalan Petaling. First up, we hit the satay stall, and sat down to enjoy some of the finest satays you will ever eat. We ordered 20 chicken satays and 8 beef satays between the 4 of us! They were delicious, and surprisingly the beef satays were probably even better than the chicken satays that Malaysia is famous for. Our bill for all of this was just under 20 ringgit, which is about $6.50 Australian!


From there, we headed 2 stalls down, to the lady who sells Roti – flat breads cooked on a hot grill. Jules, Alana and I ordered a Roti Channai, which is a roti bread with a curry dipping sauce, while Dylan opted for a Roti with cheese and egg. To share, we ordered a Nasi Goreng and a Maggi Goreng (friend Instant Maggi noodles!). Dylan ordered a boring Coke to drink, while the rest of us chose the traditional Tea Tahrik (hot tea pulled through condensed milk). The food was delicious and the Maggi Goreng was surprisingly far mar tastier than we’d imagined it would be. Our bill for all of this was 22 Ringgit, or $7.


As we had limited time, we all agreed that we’d catch a taxi to the KL Menara (KL Tower) and go up to the observation deck. It cost 38 ringgit to go to the top, which wasn’t too bad. The views from the top of the tower are pretty cool, though might be better during the day, as aside from the Petronas Towers you don’t see a huge amount in any clarity. We caught the lift back down and then headed to the F1 Simulator as we got a free ride with our ticket. To say that the simulator was lame would be an understatement, essentially you sit in a fake cockpit and play a computer game, no vibration, no motion, just watching a monitor.


Disappointed with our F1 experience, it was time for a change of pace. We jumped in another taxi and headed to the Sentral Market. Feeling generous, I decided I’d shout the gang to a fish spa. At the market, the fish spa costs just 5 ringgit ($1.66) for 10 minutes, an absolute bargain! Especially for me, as I’ve been on the receiving end of one it is like being tickled in your most ticklish spot for 10 minutes, quite horrible. Turns out Dylan is scared of little fish, so he opted out – what a wussy. Alana and Julian dipped their feet in, and Alana screamed for the whole 10 minutes, it was quite funny to watch.


We walked around the Sentral Market a little longer, before heading to Chinatown for a spot of shopping. Dylan and I bought some sunglasses from a fixed price store, but being night one and being incredibly tired none of us were really in a bartering mood, so we headed back to the roti lady for a Roti Bom (roti with butter and sugar) to finish the night off. It was full of buttery, sugary goodness – the perfect night cap – and when we’d finished we headed back to the rooms to bet some shut eye as our taxi was booked for 4am the next morning.


We turned in about 11pm, and what seemed like minutes later I was awoken by my alarm. 3:30 in the morning is pretty harsh after 2 nights of very little sleep, but at 4am we were all ready downstairs, checking out. Our taxi driver filled the boot with our luggage and used straps to keep the boot from flying around, as there was no way it was closing!


The hour taxi ride to the airport was fairly uneventful and somehow none of us fell asleep. We arrived at KL airport, dropped our baggage off for our flight to Chennai and headed to McDonalds for breakfast – Chicken Roll and Egg McMuffins and Chicken Sausage McMuffins (no bacon in a Muslim country!). After breakfast we headed to Immigration, but the lines were massive and we had the slowest person in history, so by the time we were getting our passports checked they were calling our names for our flight! We raced through the security check, got to our gate and were ushered through and told we had to run to our plane. Whoever decided to park the stupid plane a good 5 kilometres from the gate should be shot (ok, it probably wasn’t that far, but it was easily the longest tarmac walk I’ve ever done!). We got to the plane at the scheduled departure time, found our seats – kicking the people who’d tried to steal them out – and settled down for our flight. Dylan and I had planned to watch the end of Once Were Warriors, which we’d started on the flight to KL. Once the plane was in the air however, we both fell asleep! It made the flight go quicker, and before we knew it we were flying over Chennai.


We landed, walked through the rather dilapidated airport, cleared Immigrations, grabbed our luggage and headed out to find an ATM and a taxi. We found an ATM, but it kept telling me that I hadn’t inserted my card ‘porperly’ (whatever that means!), and despite accepting Julian’s it wouldn’t give him any money, so Jules changed some Aussie dollars into Rupee and we found ourselves a taxi. We all hopped in, with Dylan declaring that the front seat belonged to me yet again. For those who haven’t travelled in the front seat of a Chennai taxi, let me assure you that it is definitely not the best seat in the house. The seatbelt didn’t work, and the view of the near misses was first class, albeit rather scary! Traffic in Chennai is mad, road rules aren’t obeyed (if they have any at all) and it reminded me of Ho Chi Minh City on steroids.


After several brushes with death, we finally arrived at the Hotel Checkers, our hotel for Chennai. It was still only 7:30am in the morning Chennai time, so we were told our rooms weren’t ready but would be ready in ten minutes or so, so we could just sit and wait. Some 50 minutes later, we were told our rooms were ready! Jules and Alana were given their keys, but the room given to Dylan and I was only temporary, as it had a double bed and although I think secretly that pleased Dylan, it wasn’t my cup of tea. It was a good thing it wasn’t our room for long, as the toilet didn’t flush (why am I always the one who gets the room with toilets that don’t flush?). The good news was that we were given a free water, and not just any water, this was Diet Aqua (who know that regular water was high in calories!).


It was time for us to hit the streets of Chennai. The noise, the heat, the humidity and the was insane. We walked past slums, livestock, millions of people and were harassed constantly but Rickshaw drivers. We walked around some market sort of things, but these were pretty poor, even by Asian standards. Finally we decided that we’d take an Auto-rickshaw to St. George’s Cathedral, one of the places on the ‘must see’ list in Chennai. The rickshaw ride was an experience to say the least, the traffic is mad and you lose count of the amounts of time you think you’re about to lose your life – we had Dylan, Jules and myself squashed into the back seat and Alana on Julian’s lap – even the locals were laughing at us! Why the Cathedral is a must see is beyond me, you get a small glimpse of a smallish but unimpressive Cathedral from the end of the driveway before security guards usher you along. Our guide book talked about a sprawling shopping complex called Spencer Plaza, that was also a must see, and as it was nearby we decided that we’d walk there. The walk took about 20 minutes, by now the heat stifling, but finally we arrived. Spencer Plaza was lame, the shops were poor and there was a food court that had about 6 ‘restaurants’, none of which were genuine Indian food and included amongst them Pizza Hut, KFC and Subway. We went into Subway to grab some cool drinks and surf the free wifi for a bit, and read that the restaurants were all located around Marina Beach, which also was a must see.


We decided it was time to leave and make tracks for Marina Beach, so we left the Spencer Plaza and found ourselves another rickshaw. This driver was very friendly, and said he’d take us to the beach and then take us to a restaurant afterwards as we wouldn’t find anything worth eating at the beach. We arrived at the beach, and he was right about food, restaurants were nowhere to be seen, so we walked the half a kilometre from the car park to the actual water, through sand, shoddy jewellery markets and stinky fish sellers. The beach was very boring, so after making the water, we decided we’d head back and take the rickshaw driver, who promised he’d wait for us in the carpark, up on his offer to visit a good Indian restaurant.


I asked our rickshaw driver if the restaurant was cheap and he promised me it was. He took us to a place called the Kabul restaurant, and as soon as we were ushered in I knew it wouldn’t be cheap. Air-conditioning, cutlery and hundreds of waiters told me that this was a tourist trap! We got the menu and my worst fears were confirmed – mains were all about 250 rupees, cheap by our standards (about $5 Australian), but about 5 times the going local rate for a main meal! We ordered our meals, garlic and cheese naan for Jules and Alana and plain naans for Dylan and I, a plate of tandoori chicken, some biriyani, a mutton masala and a chicken punjabi. We all agreed that we were happy to pay these ridiculous prices as we hadn’t actually seen anywhere we’d happily eat and we were starving, but vowed not to do it again. Once the food came out, we cared even less about how much we’d pay – it was absolutely sensational! I couldn’t believe how delicious was. Our final bill was 1630 rupees (a bit over 30 bucks), which is ridiculously expensive by Indian standards but we comforted ourselves with the fact that if you paid that much for quality food like that at home you’d be delighted.


We went downstairs, where our rickshaw driver was waiting for us again, and asked if we could be taken back to the hotel via a supermarket. Our driver said no problem, but he would take us to a couple of shops first – I knew exactly what this meant, we’d be dropped at overpriced joints where he’d receive petrol money for bringing potential clients and we’d be pressured into paying a fortune for stuff we didn’t want or need. I was right too, and we went to two shops that we didn’t care for, the guy that ran the second one even got angry with us when we chose to walk out because we hadn’t seen downstairs, but we didn’t care, we weren’t interested. The supermarket was next door to that one, so we hit it up, but were devastated to find that there was no beer. We bought some soft drink and some water and found our driver again, asking where we could get beer. He explained that alcohol isn’t common in Chennai as it’s against their religion, but if we paid the right price he could source some. The right price was 100 rupees per bottle, just over 2 dollars, but we didn’t care, we said we’d have 12 bottles.


Our taxi driver told us that we had to give him the money, and he’d have to buy them as it’s illegal. It was quite exciting, knowing that we were attempting to purchase black market beer. The first four stops we made all ended in disappointed, but at stop number 5 we hit paydirt. One slab of Kingfisher was in the back of the taxi, and we were being instructed to hide the twelve bottles, all 650ml in size in our backpacks. It was quite a squeeze, but we did it and our taxi driver told us that we had to hide them from the people at the hotel. As we were walking into the hotel, I realised that our hotel room key was at the bottom of the bag and as the hotel would have changed our room by now. We tried to walk past reception but they kept calling out to us. We told them we had to get the key out of Jules and Alana’s room, but instead they just gave us the new key.


We went up to our new room, loaded our fridge up with black market beer and explored our new digs. This would be one of the dearest hotels of the trip, at $83 per night, so we expected a fair bit. It’s fair to say it fell well short of that mark. The bedding was old and stained, only some of the lights worked, we had a ledge outside our window that was home to a couple of nests of pigeons (one nest even had little baby pigeons in it) and the room was just in a general state of disrepair. We would discover in time that the air conditioner wasn’t overly effective either.


We were tired and hot after just a few hours exploring Chennai, so we thought it would be a great idea to check out the rooftop swimming pool of our hotel. We all got changed into our bathers, and headed up to the roof in anticipation of a nice, relaxing swim. We found the pool area and our hearts sunk. You could barely see the bottom, there were water boatmen swimming in the water and it looked very uninviting. The view from the roof was ok, there isn’t really a lot to see in Chennai. We decided that we’d just danger our legs in the water, there was no way any of us were swimming in the cloudy water. We killed half an hour with just our legs in, talking amongst us about how disappointing Chennai is a tourist attraction!


Our whole reason for choosing Chennai had been to see an IPL game, but we’d failed to secure tickets. We were more determine that ever now to try and scalp some and salvage something out of this leg of the trip. When we got back to the rooms, we consulted the guide books again, and they confirmed that there is really very little to see or do here.


We killed some time just watching TV and I was on my laptop and knocked back a couple of the black market beers, before we decided that we’d head to one place the guidebooks promised was full of action, an area known as Pondy Bazaar. It was supposed to be markets, restaurants and giant rollercoasters that go a hundred metres into the sky – ok I made the last bit up, but just the thought of something decent in Chennai excited us as much as that rollercoaster would have.


We found a rickshaw out the front and told him to take us to Pondy Bazaar and step on it! Easier said than done, as despite being after 7 in the evening the Chennai streets were gridlocked. It was an incredibly slow ride, yet the chances of a collision were even higher than normal as bikes, rickshaw, cars and buses tried to squeeze themselves into the most ridiculously tight gaps at speeds that were always a little too quick. Our drive got lost and had to ask for direction, but almost half an hour after we’d set off, we’d arrived at the Pondy Bazaar.


There were lights and market stalls, which was a good start, so we started wandering around and inspecting the wares. Sandals, bangles, kids toys and shawls dominated the stalls, and there really wasn’t much with every stall seeming to carry exactly what the previous one had. We must have walked around for almost an hour, and hadn’t found anything of any interest. There is absolutely none of the touristy stuff you come to expect at markets, which was pretty disappointing.


We had actually seen a couple of restaurants on the other side of the road, so we raced across the road, dodging weaving rickshaw drivers and attempted to find one for tea. It seems that not only do they not like alcohol very much in Chennai, but they don’t like meat – all the restaurants were Vegetarian. We settled on Saravana Bhavan, as it is Chennai’s most famous chain of restaurants. Dylan was less than impressed at walking into a vegetarian restaurant, muttering “but where is the meat, Jason?” over and over again. The food was pretty good really, we didn’t eat much as we’d had a large lunch, but we shared some pulao rice, some tandoor aloo tikka ,an aloo tikka masala and some naan bread. It was cheaper than lunch, the whole meal was about $17, but not still as cheap as we knew the local food should be.


We all agreed we’d head back to the hotel for an earlyish night. The three boys all had another beer, though Dylan barely got past the neck before he’d fallen asleep, so Jules and Alana headed back to their room and it was bedtime. I got to sleep pretty easily after so little sleep in the preceding two days, but was awoken on a couple of occasions during the night by what I think was someone operating a chainsaw outside the window.


I was up early, as my body clock was still on Adelaide or KL time, and just killed time while Dylan slept. Finally, Dylan got up and we went and met Alana and Jules and headed down to breakfast. Breakfast was mainly Indian fare, with some other stuff like pancakes and toast thrown in for good measure. I loved it, curry for breakfast was fantastic. Dylan wasn’t so keen, and grumbled all day about breakfast. Good thing we have Thai breakfasts to look forward to, I think Dylan might like them!


After breakfast, the plan was to head back to Pondy Bazaar and see if we missed anything. Just near there is a road called Ranganathan Street and apparently there are lots of markets, so we planned to check it all out. We stepped outside the hotel to find a rickshaw and were instantly hit by the heat. It was much hotter than the previous day. We found a rickshaw and he dropped us off by Pondy Bazaar. We still couldn’t find any markets at the Bazaar, so we set off in search of Ranganathan Road. It was hot work, walking around, and we weren’t having much luck finding it. Eventually, Jules decided that he’d just wear the international data roaming charges and look it up on his phone. With the help of his trusty iPhone, we were on Ranganathan Street before we knew it.


It had been hard to find, and judging by everyone staring at us, not many tourists succeed in finding it! Alana especially got a lot of attention from the local gentlemen. There were heaps of stalls and shops, I mean proper shops too on Ranganathan, and we actually did a little bit of shopping. It was incredibly hot on the street though and getting towards lunch time, so we decided to head to a restaurant just near what is known as the Big Mosque.


We flagged a rickshaw down, and asked the driver to take us to the Big Mosque. As seems to be quite common in India, he chose to drop us somewhere else – a shopping centre called Express Avenue. Express Avenue is unbelievable, after the poverty and squalid conditions we’d seen for the past day and a half, we walked into this place and it makes our shopping centres look like a slum. It was massive, spacious, air conditioned, clean and very fancy. We looked around for a while, trying to find a Chennai Super Kings shirt in case we managed to get into the cricket, but didn’t have any luck. We looked around for a bit but decided we’d go and try and find some lunch.


Just as we were heading to the doors, I got a text message from my sister. Our friend Sol had been trying to arrange tickets to the cricket, and he’d posted a message on Facebook telling us to contact him. We’d been unable to get on the internet, wehadn’t seen the message. This was the best news we’d had this trip, incredibly exciting for all of us.


We found out that we needed to head to the Park Sheraton Hotel to collect the tickets. We decided we might as well grab lunch at Express Avenue as we were there and it was clean, then head straight to the hotel to pick up the tickets. We went up to the food court and a likely named place – the Curry House – caught our eye. For about $4 Aussie you got a giant plate that contained a naan bread, rice, a curry, a daal and a large piece of tandoori chicken, with a Pepsi thrown in as well! We were sold, so we ordered 4 of them.


The meals were fantastic, way too big but incredibly tasty and so well priced. With full stomachs and hearts racing, we pretty much ran outside and grabbed a rickshaw and told him to find the Park Sheraton pronto. We were there in no time and the security was incredibly, xray machines, body searches – this definitely was a little more upmarket than our hotel. We raced inside and the foyer was packed with people from the Kolkata Knight Riders, it was crazy. Finally we got served, and I told him that Sol had left an envelope for me. He found it and gave it to me – I had the hot little tickets in my hand! We raced outside and opened the envelope but there were only 2 tickets inside. Fearing that one of the staff at the hotel had helped themself to a couple, I ran back in and asked if there was another envelope. Imagine my relief when there was, and inside it were 2 more tickets!


We were elated, we had the tickets that would turn this trip from an eye opening, but tame experience into an eye opening into one that we would cherish forever. We celebrated by taking 2 rickshaws back to our hotel, the first time we’d actually had in any room in one after cramming all 4 of us into one every other time.






In the slimy swimming pool
Looks like Brett and Shannon are moving to India
Park Sheraton hotel...home of the IPL tickets!
Jules and Alana in a rickshaw


April 9, 2011
Sounds like a very interesting start to the trip! Can't wait to hear about the IPL and see more pics. Take care, all of you, and enjoy your last day in India!
April 10, 2011
Brings back good memories reading about KL, I can nearly taste the satays & Roti bom! It sure does sound like an interesting start to your trip,at least you know you won't be disappointed with Phuket!
Bet your looking forward to the Thai breakfast!! Make sure you eat plenty of bacon for Brett..oh, go on then! xx
April 11, 2011
Ooooh bring on Thailand!!! xx :)
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