Ideas and inspiration from coffee shops in Singapore

I’d heard good things about the coffee scene in Singapore, but it’s the kind of place we usually rush through on the way somewhere else. This visit was no different, with just 24 hours in the country before we headed towards Indonesia, though this time we prioritised the coffee. And I’m very glad we did.

Nylon Coffee in Everton Park was very special.

Nylon Coffee Roasters in Singapore

They just do coffee (rather like some of the coffee shops we’d found earlier on the journey in Vienna or Budapest), so the only question you’ll be asked on entering the shop is: “How do you want it?” (If you’re desperate for a cake or something else to nibble with your coffee, there is a bakery next door, by the way).

They roast their own beans, so your nose will guide you the last few yards to the coffee shop entrance, with the aroma wafting out into the street.

Nylon coffee roasters in Singapore

And their menu is pretty simple. It’s espresso, white, iced, long black or filter. And there are three sizes to choose from. They do a seasonal blend in the espresso machine (Central American beans in there for our visit), though there are more options if you go for the filter.

On the menu at Nylon Coffee in Singapore

Who needs a more complicated menu than that?

No sugar is needed in coffee this good, so no sugar is offered and in fact there was no sugar in sight anywhere in the coffee shop. What a contrast to the coffee scene in many other parts of South East Asia.

Good coffee in Singapore at Nylon Coffee Roasters

Best of all, there’s nothing pretentious about this place. We got to meet Jiamin, one of the co-owners, and I immediately warmed to her attitude, especially when I mentioned that I hadn’t enjoyed my coffee in another venue in Singapore earlier that day.

“Coffee is very subjective,” she said, and you know what, I really think it is. A place I don’t like might be someone else’s favourite, though in our case it’s usually as much to do with atmosphere and welcome as it is the actual coffee quality.

So Nylon Coffee Roasters was one of my favourite coffee shops on the whole 25-country journey, even if it was standing room only, and there’s no wifi!

The fact that Nylon Coffee was so busy on the afternoon we dropped by shows what a destination coffee shop it has become for locals in Singapore, especially as it is tucked away at the back of a residential block well away from any main streets.

Outside Nylon Coffee roasters in Singapore

If you’re going for the first time, you might need a hand with directions, mind you. Once you find the arched entrance to Everton Park (just off Everton Road), you can avoid doing the tour we did of every retail outlet by nipping round the back to the right after the arch and then walking along the side of the block. After 100 yards or so, you’ll find Nylon. Believe me, it’s worth the effort.

Chye Seng Huat Hardware coffee shop in Singapore

Chye Seng Huat Hardware is a completely different type of coffee shop, actually more reminiscent of those trendy mums and toddlers places you find in Dulwich or Stoke Newington.

Again, we spent a while finding the way in to this place, pushing and poking the front door and windows on Tyrwhitt Street street before we realised the entrance is around the side, where everyone is sitting out on the terrace.

This is an old hardware shop near to Little India, which is how the coffee shop got its rather unusual name. It’s in an art deco building, with a lot of the fittings from the old hardware store giving the place a real urban coffee shop feel, as you would find in many big western cities.

Inside Chye Seng Huat Hardware coffee shop in Singapore

Education is a big part of CSHH and they’re keen to show the whole coffee-making process, from the green beans to the coffee cup. So there’s different coffee stuff going on all over the premises, with a roaster, a workshop, an annex with a retail space, the coffee shop itself and more activities we didn’t get a chance to see upstairs.

CSHHBeans

But, like Nylon Coffee, there’s nothing preachy about the approach in CSHH. And they were happy to chat about their coffee and the coffee shop concept even though the queue was building up behind us.

Good coffee in Singapore at Chye Seng Huat Hardware

The coffee was fantastic quality, again. And with two choices of espresso blends on the hopper, we had no option but to stay for a second cup.

Oh, and unlike Nylon, these guys do food. It was our choice for an excellent breakfast, though beware of the small tables if you do choose to eat (yes, we had a spill, which seems almost inevitable if you try to fit two cups and two plates on one table…).

Great breakfast in Singapore at Chye Seng Huat Hardware

So, coffee in Singapore is a fantastic experience, and we barely scratched the surface of the scene over there. If you really want to check out all the good coffee shops there, you’ll need at least a week. But if you only have 24 hours like us, we’d highly recommend Nylon Coffee and Chye Seng Huat Hardware.

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World War 1 in Singapore – reminders of, in pics

We weren’t in Singapore for long enough to do a proper picture blog with observations on life there, especially after our long, long delay at the border, where Singapore officials were meticulous to the point of taking four minutes per person trying to enter the country.

Most people associating Singapore with wartime are thinking of the collapse of British rule there as the Japanese advanced in WW2. But we were fascinated by some of the WW1 references we found.

I’m not sure how many streets in France still have names like this these days.

Petain Road in Singapore

Even I wasn’t sure whether it really referred to the Vichy leader, until I saw other street names nearby…

Marne Road in Singapore

And clearly the World War One connotations for Singapore are not as painful as they are in the UK. I can’t imagine a school playground getting a name like this back in Britain, even in a year when everyone is focusing on centenaries…

Somme playground in Singapore

This part of Singapore – near Little India – does have some remarkably well-preserved architecture, though we wondered what sort of people lived in these beautiful terraced houses when they were first built.

Terrace near Little India in Singapore

They had a beautiful covered walkway down the front of their homes, whoever they were. And some lovely tiling out the front.

Terrace near Little India in Singapore

SingTiles

It’s a little bit clearer who the guests were at Raffles in Singapore a few decades ago…

East India rooms at Raffles

And being on a coffee and tea tour, we had to give afternoon tea at Raffles a go. More on that in the Singapore coffee and tea blog (to follow), but Raffles retains its distinguished feel.

Raffles in Singapore

I just couldn’t help feeling that I probably wouldn’t have been a regular visitor to the place during colonial times, as I’ve never been a great fan of fawning service or arrogant customers, and for some reason as we sat sipping our tea there soaking up the history, I couldn’t help thinking that there’d have been an awful lot of that back in the days when the tea room was the best dining space ‘east of Suez’…

 

 

 

A traditional coffee in Kluang; an exciting Liberica in Johor Bahru; and a lively local place for breakfast

A lot of travel guidebooks tell you it’s worth stopping at Kluang railway station for a coffee, but they don’t tend to go into the history of this place, which goes back almost 80 years.

Kluang Rail Coffee

We got lucky with a coffee connection made in Kuala Lumpur when we met local lad Ony, who insisted we stop off on our way south towards Johor because he knows the owners of the Station cafe.

This meant we not only got to try the coffee experience in Kluang, but were also shown around by Chiang Lim Jit, one of the family members whose grandfather set up the station café all those years ago.

Visit to Kluang Rail Coffee with one of the owners

It’s a fantastic story, involving immigrant workers from Hainan in China, who came to Malaysia mainly to work for the Brits, whose army camp was nearby. The Hainanese had great culinary skills, and part of that involved making the coffee.

It’s intriguing, mind you, to wonder what happened a couple of years after they opened up shop when the Japanese rampaged their way through these parts: did the station café remain open? Did the Japanese even drink coffee? We didn’t get time to ask these questions, so if anybody knowns anything, do let us know…

Coffee in Kluang at the railway station

The coffee they use here used to be grown just two stations up the line, but is now sourced a little further away nearer to Johor. It’s still a quality Liberica bean, though.

This is no ‘third wave’ artisan coffee shop in the modern western sense of the word, however. And we didn’t really get to see exactly how the coffee is prepared: the staff were so in awe of Chiang’s techniques when he turned up, that he was hidden from view as the waiters all huddled around him to watch.

We could see it involved pouring the coffee from a great height, though, or was it just the water being poured over the coffee beans or powder? In any case, the result is what is known as a traditional coffee (as opposed to your espresso or more modern ‘pourover’) and you have the option of black, with sweetened milk or with evaporated milk.

It’s a strong, rich coffee, and it’s very very popular round these parts. The café was full shortly after it reopened for the afternoon at 2.30pm (yes, they close for lunch!), and we were told its regulars include Singapore border officials who think it’s worth hopping on the train up for a cuppa, and the Sultan of Johor, who has been known to arrive driving his own private train to get here.

Inside kluang Rail Coffee shop

It’s also hard to know what exactly goes in the rather tasty toasty things they serve up to have with your coffee. There’s a secret family recipe to their kaya, which comes on toast or steamed, but is basically roasted sugar and butter – it is delicious!

Kaya toast in Kluang

There’s talk of developing the railway through here, making it a fast track across Asia and pulling down the railway station building. The family have opened up other coffee shops round Kluang, but we think the original place is a fantastic piece of history they surely have to preserve: the kitchen is still in the same position it was 78 years ago, as is most of the seating area; the only major change since 1938 is that the owners no longer sleep on-site waiting for the first train to pull through in the mornings.

Sadly, because the train departures from Kluang are so few and far between, we had to transfer to the bus for our onward journey south; now that’s something they could do to improve travellers’ access to this wonderful café in Kluang…

We found a fantastic coffee shop in Johor Bahru. My Liberica has a good story of its own, too.

My Liberica coffee shop in Johor Bahru

It’s run by four brothers, who each have a different role in the business, one focusing on the coffee plantation where they grow their own Liberica beans, one leading on the roasting side of things, one doing the marketing, and the fourth keeping an overall eye on the business.

The great part of this story was that to start up their coffee business the brothers had to persuade their father to swap part of his palm plantation over to coffee, and if you’ve been to Malaysia you’ll know how hard that must have been, with hectare after hectare of land now covered with palm oil trees as far as the eye can see.

It’s especially exciting because the liberica bean represents a mere 2% of total worldwide coffee production, and it’s certainly not a bean I’d come across before hitting south east Asia.

Speciality coffee in Johor Bahru at My Liberica

My Liberica has the feel of a western style artisan coffee shop, with lots of choices of how dark you like the roast, how you like your coffee prepared and which bean or blend you want. They even do the infamous civet luwak, which we’d seen on the road since Vietnam, but avoided trying.

And best of all is the My Liberica philosophy: “It’s OK to enjoy or dislike your coffee how your palate prefers; a coffee can be a matter of compatibility or fate.”

We chose a cappuccino made to perfection on their Marzocco machine, while the barista fiddled around with syphons and flames for someone else that morning. This is the kind of coffee shop we’d return to day after day if we lived in Johor Bahru and we’d love one day to visit their coffee plantation…

Great coffee in Johor Bahru at My Liberica

It’s not an easy coffee shop to get to, mind you, with no public transport within a mile of the place, so we had to get a taxi to and from the Taman Molek area, but we tried another coffee shop right in the centre of Johor and didn’t like it nearly as much. So if you’re anywhere near Malaysia’s second city, get yourself to My Liberica for a fantastic coffee experience.

Of course, there’s also that new coffee shop opened up by the guy we’d heard about who used to be based in Kuala Lumpur. We managed to miss the soft opening of Atlas Coffee Embassy by a few days, and he was opening up properly a week or so after our visit. But this means the choices for coffee in Johor Bahru are good ones.

We can’t leave Malaysia, though, without a mention for our favourite place for breakfast in Johor Bahru. Hua Mui (on the corner of Jalan Trus and Jalan Dhoby) has been around for decades, but the original owner’s granddaughter is still in charge.

Breakfast in Johor Bahru at Hua Mui

You’ll get a fabulous egg toast with a rich milky cup of tea for next to nothing here, and you’ll feel most welcome as one of the few westerners among a crowd of locals.

The way they prepare the tea reminded us of the Kluang coffee maker, with the kettle held way up high and poured deftly into our cups from about 6 feet up – it’s apparently another Hainanese family doing things the Hainan way.

Preparing tea at Hua Mui cafe in Johor Bahru

It’s the usual sweetened milk and it probably isn’t the best quality tea, but it’s a fabulous experience and our top tip of all in Johor Bahru.

Traditional tea in Johor Bahru

We returned there a second time, by which we were recognised and made even more welcome by the staff, before we embarked on the lengthy and arduous border crossing into Singapore by bus, but that’s another story…

Coffee culture and designer tea in Kuala Lumpur

We travelled right across Kuala Lumpur in search of good coffee and tea. Most of it we managed on the rather good local transport system, using a combination of buses, monorail and the light railway, though we did opt for taxis to get home from both our favourite coffee shop and tea room.

We found The Brew Culture by chance, mind you. We caught the 83 bus from KL Sentral up to the Plaza Damas part of town and felt quite smug to have found our way so far from the centre of town. But we’d gone there in search of a coffee shop that has actually closed down (the owner, a former Malaysian barista champ, has transferred to Johor Bahru, where he opened a new venue shortly after we got that far south – check out Atlas Coffee Embassy if you’re interested in tracking him down).

The Brew Culture for coffee in Kuala Lumpur

Plaza Damas is a massive shopping mall on both sides of the main road and there are countless cafes, but Brew Culture stared down at us as we got off the bus so we decided to give it a go. And very glad we were that we did…

Best coffee shop in Kuala Lumpur?

What we liked about the guys who run this place is their enthusiasm and passion for what they do (it seems they gained their love of coffee when living in America and/or Australia, and wanted to bring something similar home).

Their basic espresso blend for our visit included Indonesian, Bolivian and Salvadorean, but if you went for the hand brewed coffees, you could choose from a number of other options, including a delicious sounding Yirgacheffe from Ethiopia.

Cake and coffee in Kuala Lumpur at The Brew Culture

It’s the kind of coffee shop where you can choose to sit on stools at the window watching the world drive by on the main street, get your laptop out and spend a few hours working, loll around in comfy sofas, or sit near the bar and chat to the baristas (owners).

Inside The Brew Culture coffee shop in Kuala Lumpur

It was when we were swapping stories with the owners that we got talking to another customer by the name of Ony and ended up with a rendez vous for later in the week further south in Malaysia (that’s the great thing about coffee connections, they always seem to lead to other new experiences, but more on that in the blog to come…).

BrewedShelves

For coffee in Kuala Lumpur, we’d recommend getting on that bus to Brew Culture. The guys there did recommend somewhere more central, but we had a less positive experience there, which will lead to another blog entry later, around some of the issues that can crop up in coffee shops, so we’ll save that story for then rather than naming the other place in a negative entry).

When the guys at Brew Culture heard that we also review teas, they insisted we try their range of flower teas. The chrysanthemum tea was almost as good as their coffee, so if tea is your tipple, get yourself to Brew Culture anyway!

Chrysanthemum tea at The Brew Culture in Kuala Lumpur

But for great quality tea in Kuala Lumpur, we’d actually recommend a trip to the opposite end of town. The Tea Republic has an extraordinary range of teas from some of the big international tea suppliers (Ronnefeldt, Jing Tea, Koala Tea, and some Japanese and Canadian companies we hadn’t come across before).

Great tea in Kuala Lumpur at The Tea Republic

They have nine signature teas (Ceylon breakfast, Earl Grey with cornflowers, a puer-based tea, an oolong, a white tea, a gunpowder, and then the ones we wouldn’t normally choose: mint, chamomile, roiboos and fruit) and if you go for the High Tea, then for about £4 (UK) you get a pot of tea, a cake and a tray of sandwiches – so it’s great value, too.

Great place for afternoon tea in Kuala Lumpur

We loved this place for its simplicity but also its quality. It sits in the corner of a fairly plush looking shopping mall in a more affluent part of KL (Bangsar shopping centre NOT Bangsar village!), but there was no sign of any airs and graces that sometimes go with such circumstances; the staff were friendly and open to chat with us about the teas and the background to the tea room.

The owner, we found out, is an architect, but tea is her passion and The Tea Republic her big project that takes her beyond the world of architecture. But it’s funny how often coffee and tea shop owners’ past or other careers find an outlet in their new ventures: if you look at the design for the name of this tea room as you enter the place, you can see the architect’s style in the layout and feel.

The Tea Republic tea room in Kuala Lumpur

Good luck to these guys, and keep serving up great afternoon tea to the people of Kuala Lumpur. This place is open every day from 9am to 9pm, so you have lots of opportunity to get over there for an excellent cuppa.

Oh, and don’t miss the Victoria Sandwich – a real treat that tasted almost as good as cake at home in Yorkshire…

Victoria Sponge with tea in Kuala Lumpur

A very special tea room in Bangkok

Bangkok may not be famous for its tea rooms, but that will soon change if flower enthusiast Sakul Intakul has anything to do with it. Our trip to his Salon du Thé gave us one of the most extraordinary afternoon tea experiences I have ever had.

And from April or May 2015, Sakul has plans to make this tea room even more special, but more on that at the end of this blog.

The Museum of Floral Culture in Bangkok is probably not the most frequently visited tourist destination at the moment. It is some way off the beaten track to the north of the city centre, and the tuk tuk we picked up from the ferry stop hadn’t heard of it, so struggled to find his way there.

If you’re heading there – and we thoroughly recommend it to any visitor to Bangkok – get off the ferry at Payap station and take a tuk tuk to Samsen Road, Soi 28. The museum is actually signposted once you get nearby, so isn’t that hard to find.

Museum of Floral Culture in Bangkok

The museum is housed in a wonderful three-storey colonial building, set in beautiful gardens, with butterflies, exotic birds, and even a sugar baby flitting from branch to branch as we sipped our tea.

Orchid growing at the Museum of Floral Culture in Bangkok

The whole place has a floral theme and is the brainchild of Sakul Intakul, surely one of Thailand’s foremost experts and author on tropical flowers.

FloralFlowers

He has designed an afternoon tea, where everything you consume has come from the flowers he loves.

Tea in Bangkok at the Museum of Floral Culture

The teas on offer include one made from Vietnamese lotus, several rose-based concoctions and the one we chose, which was a Thai flower (but I can’t decipher my notes to read what it was called!).

Sweet nibbles for afternoon tea in Bangkok

The sweet nibbles you get with your pot of tea are also flower – or at least plant – based: there’s lots of coconut in them, but also a range of Thai flowers we’d never heard of, cardamon from India and other creations using flowers from Japan or China.

It was really the most extraordinary afternoon tea I have ever tasted.

FloralVerandah

With Sakut’s plans to develop his venue, the menu will change slightly, but the tea selection and the basic format should remain the same.

You see, his big idea is to build a new conservatory in the middle of the gardens, with a Japanese bridge to link it back to the museum house. Inside he will serve up what he hopes will be Bangkok’s most exclusive high tea, with a maximum of 16 guests a day and one table set aside for lovers (He’s a bit of a romantic at heart).

Our only hesitation in giving this our wholehearted backing is that the prices will double. But I guess he needs to work out which way to make ends meet for a business he is clearly passionate about. And for western visitors – or for the local celebrities he currently has as customers – the £10 price tag should not be a disincentive.

We can’t wait to get back to Bangkok later in 2015 to try out the new Salon!

If you really can’t manage the trek up to that part of town, but still want a good tea in  pleasant surroundings, you might want to try Elysian Teas, which was not far from a lot of the embassies in Bangkok in Sukhumvit.

Elysian Tea House in Bangkok

They have three rooms: one is an air conditioned space set out in oriental style with low chairs to sit on or pouffes, or indeed mats if you like to sit cross-legged for your cuppa; you can go out into the garden if you like the heat and the flow of air; or onto the terrace, which is somewhere in between the two.

Inside Elysian Tea House in Bangkok

They have 30 or so teas on the menu, and you are invited to sniff as many as you like before choosing, as they bring round a basket full of small jars of each tea to give you an idea of what you’re about to order.

Basket of tea samples in Elysian Teas in Bangkok

It’s a nice concept, very simply done, but it’s not really a full afternoon tea kind of place. Their food selection is based around mainly French-style patisseries with the increasingly popular macaroons (called macarons for some reason …), taking pride of place in the display units.

ElysianTeas

So if you’re needing a good place for tea in the heart of Bangkok, Elysian Tea House just might be the one for you.

I’d still recommend you get in that river ferry and find your way to the Floral Museum, though. Or, hey, do both as we did.

We benefited from Bangkok’s burgeoning coffee scene

If you’re going to have a coffee in Bangkok, it’s good to get there early. At least, that’s my take on it, since I prefer my coffee hot, while the outside temperature in the Thai capital by mid morning is better suited to smoothies or other cool drinks.

Gallery Drip Coffee in Bangkok

Of course, Anita got round that problem with a big iced coffee at the Gallery Drip Coffee bar in Bangkok.

Iced coffee at Gallery Drip in Bangkok

I was a bit hesitant about making this coffee shop our first port of call because I prefer to start my day with a cappuccino or other espresso-based coffee and I feared that Gallery Drip just might be all to do with drip coffee!

Cappuccino at Gallery Drip coffee in Bangkok

It is, but this is a great coffee shop and if you look at my coffee with hot milk, you’d barely know it wasn’t a cappuccino.

Gallery Drip Coffee is on the ground floor of Bangkok’s Art & Culture Centre (BACC). If you’re looking for it and happen to enter on a higher floor of this building, don’t be diverted to one of the other coffee shops on the way down, as we almost were. Gallery Drip is worth waiting for.

Gallery Drip coffee shop in Bangkok

The coffee shop itself is not air conditioned – which can be a bit of a drawback in such a hot city – but they have fans, and if you take one of the seats on the outside of the coffee shop, you can benefit from the gallery/mall air conditioning.

What I liked most about this place, apart from the taste of the coffee, was that they go for coffee grown as locally as possible. So we had a blend of Thai coffee, grown near Chiang Mai (which is apparently their all-year-round coffee), and a bean from nearby Laos.

Coffee shop in Bangkok

And because this is all about drip coffee, they grind each cup individually, making every coffee a personal creation or work of art by the baristas there.

In the window of Gallery Drip coffee in Bangkok

A coffee shop like this in the UK or America might tend to be a bit snobby about their coffee and how they make it, but the guys running Gallery Drip were both friendly and approachable. In fact, when I began to chat with Reggie (a DC expat now living in Bangkok), they began to join in, even offering us other brews to taste. These are genuine coffee lovers who love to engage with others who enjoy their cup of Joe.

Reggie was also a great source of ideas for where else to go for coffee in Bangkok. I had a list of places recommended by others on social media, but we either couldn’t find these, they were too far away from where we were staying or were closed on the days we were in town.

So we ended up for our second Bangkok coffee at a wonderful place called Ink & Lion.

Ink & Lion Cafe in Bangkok

This is not the easiest place to find, if you don’t know it or aren’t familiar with Bangkok’s strange street naming methods. Its address is 1/6 Ekamai 2, Sukhumvit 63.

Basically we walked up and down Sukhumvit 63 street several times before resorting to asking some guys in a London pie shop (yes, really, in Bangkok!), and it just happened that one of them knew the place.

Their description, and the best guide to getting there for now at least (December 2014) is behind the derelict Irish pub at the start of Sukhumvit 63.

Good coffee in Bangkok at Ink & lion

I loved their coffee options, with two blends on offer for the espresso machine: one just had Thai coffee in it; the other a fantastic mix of Thai, Indonesian, Brazilian and Ethiopian. Or they had a whole range of single origins if you wanted your coffee made by some other non-espresso method.

There had been quite a mix of westerners and locals in Gallery Drip, but in Ink and Lion, we were the only westerners there, suggesting that Bangkok is developing its own indigenous coffee scene.

Inside Ink & Lion coffee shop in Bangkok

Ink & Lion is quite an arty place and the owners apologised that we were visiting in between exhibitions, as their walls are normally covered in local artists’ work. But we’d guessed as much given the selection of arty magazines lying around on the shelves alongside the chess sets laid out for customers’ use…

If you’re into American-sized muffins and other cakes, you might at first think there isn’t a lot to eat here at Ink & Lion, but actually their mini scones and cheesecake are both delicious and filling.

Mini scones at Ink & Lion cafe in Bangkok

And finally, how did they get such an unusual name? Well, the ink is linked to the arty scene the owners come from, as well as being the colour of coffee. And the lion is the motif on their rather attractive Marzocco espresso machine.

Marzocco machine in Bangkok at Ink & Lion

Oh, and if you’re heading that way, please note that they are not open on Wednesdays.

So, we can’t claim to have reviewed the Bangkok coffee scene, with only two coffee shops visited out of the many places that have opened in the last five or so years.

But we were delighted with what we did find. We loved the fact that both venues are run by locals and both used coffee grown locally. And they both combined quality with friendliness, something that can be hard to find at times.

And thanks also to Reggie from DC (yes we shared a love for Swings and Peregrine Coffee in Washington) for his great conversation and tremendous coffee tips. Just a shame we didn’t get to try more of them!

Reserved seats at Bangkok station and an odd incident at the pictures in Kuala Lumpur

We rushed through Thailand and Malaysia, if the long distance trains and buses that take seven hours to do 200 miles can be called rushing. We stayed mainly in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, with in between stops just for overnight rests. And with our focus on coffee and tea places still taking centre stage that didn’t leave much time for anything else.

Bangkok station

The building housing Bangkok station is in a classic old colonial style, hardly changed in the 90 years since it was built.

Bangkok station

Reserved seats for monks at Bangkok station

We loved the section of seating on the station concourse set aside for monks and novices. And very well used it was, too. It’s just hard to imagine UK stations having reserved seats for nuns or people wearing dog collars, but I guess monks have a special place in Thai society…

Bangkok is hot all year round, and the traffic is terrible. So, a good option for staying (relatively) cool, seeing the city from a different perspective and having a cheap ride through town is to take the river ferry.

River ferry in Bangkok

We used it several times to get to and from our tea and coffee venues, in one case way beyond the usual tourist parts of town, raising questioning looks from the ticket sellers on the jetties.

River ferry in Bangkok

Bridge

We switched to buses to get through Malaysia because the Thai trains had been so slow. I won’t dwell on the weirdness of Malay bus drivers here, but what I will show are the typical views from the bus all the way through the country to Kuala Lumpur.

Palm oil trees in Malaysia

Palm oil trees are everywhere as far as the eye can see. And you suddenly begin to see how this lot contribute to global warming, since presumably before they put the palm trees in there was virgin rain forest all over Malaysia.

Palm oil trees in Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur gets a bad press generally, often because of the pollution. But we actually liked the place. It has a fantastic mix of modern and colonial architecture…

Kuala Lumpur

Best of all, we think, are the old 1920s cinemas that still show films.

Odeon cinema in Kuala Lumpur

This is the Odeon, which looked more like a market from the outside, but still has a cinema entrance round the side. We didn’t fancy the film on offer there, so moved down the same road to the Coliseum…

Coliseum cinema in Kuala Lumpur

The Coliseum has a wonderful entrance area with overhead fans that must have been there about as long as the cinema itself. It’s been split into a two-screen cinema now, but that still leaves space for about 500 in each room.

Entrance lobby to Coliseum cinema in Kuala Lumpur

We opted for a Tamil ghost story called Aaaah!, and joined the 50 or so people for a matinee showing. We’ll review the film elsewhere on our film blog (cecilandbeablogspot.com), but this was a fascinating experience also just to see what going to the flicks was like in Malaysia.

About half way through, we heard the sound of liquid pouring onto the floor in the row behind us, a sound that was repeated a few times before we realised that this was actually a man a few seats along from us vomiting all over the floor in front of him.

We moved a few rows away, but heard over the next half hour or so further bouts of illness as the man continued to pour out the contents of his tummy onto the cinema floor, with extraordinary volume (in both sound and quantity), and no sign of him rushing down the aisle to the loos.

A whole string of men in the audience did however head to the exit for the loos, often in quick succession, making us wonder if in fact this cinema matinee might be a starting point for some other sort of activities aside from the usual ablutions, which might explain why the tummy troubled man didn’t fancy going down there.

Of course it may just be that men drink a lot before they go to the cinema in Malaysia, which might explain both the illness and the frequent loo visits, but who knows?

As the lights came up at the end of the film we watched in horror as several people slipped along the row where the sick man had been sitting. But our horror was nothing compared to the poor cinema cleaner who turned up right at the end of the credits. So it may be that this was not a normal occurrence at a KL cinema.

Funny how trips to the cinema have been part of the most colourful moments of our journey, from gangland Russia, through scooter riding in China to national heroes in Kyrgyzstan. If I ever do write a book on this trip, the cinemas will have a section of their own…