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Friday, May 25, 2012

Kota Bharu in a Nutshell

   I won't spend a lot of time writing about the town of Kota Bharu because we only spent 2 days there, and I don't have much to say. We stayed at the Habib Hotel, and the one thing I'd change about the trip is change that hotel. We did get spoiled with the treatment we received at the last two establishments, but they barely opened the front door for us and never offered to help with our bags out of the taxi. Nor did the driver, for that matter. After such a warm welcome (not), then to be given our room key with no instructions about breakfast times, while given our vouchers for both that and the free welcome drink---uh, ONE voucher for ONE drink? We didn't use it. We got into the elevator with our luggage, pressed the button, nothing happened until the door fully closed, followed the “stand behind this line” sign on the floor, then got up to the second floor and waited. Not only did the door not open, but the light went out (it has a glass door, so we could see out), and it went quiet. Turns out you have to manually push the door open. We schlepped our bags to the room over the DIRTIEST CARPET I HAVE EVER SEEN! It's truly a disgrace!

The oddest thing about this is this area is known as the largest Muslim population—very conservative and known as fastidious people.
  The room itself was sparse and smelled bad—sort of a moldy smell. We immediately put on the air-con, which we thought might help. It had a large bed with a nice duvet on it, a flat screen TV mounted on the wall (every hotel has these now), a desk with a light fixture that uses the only outlet, so it's impossible to have the light on and computer charging at the same time. The bathroom had no bar of soap—if you wanted to wash your hands, you had to reach into the shower to use the liquid soap dispenser, then dry your hands on the towel in the shower area (it's okay, it wasn't that far from the sink). The sink leaked (this is now a recurring theme, but we didn't stay long enough to see if it ever stopped).
The room had one small window at the far end of the room and it looked out on the disgusting building next door, which had some guys who smoked outside during the day.
We called to ask if they had an upgraded room and were told they were full. So this was it...but thankfully, it was only two nights.
  We got out and walked around, then found a place to eat lunch, which had pretty good food, but one weird-looking thing they called a pizza. My salad was great, though, and I was happy to be eating something fresh and raw.
We met another tourist there named Weise from Austria, originally from Netherlands, who was fun to talk to and who gave us a run-down on where to go and what to see in town. Later that night, we walked to the night market, which had nothing of interest, then beyond that to the local eating market. We ordered one plate to share, then later watched the man making murtabaka, which were pancakes filled with either chicken or beef mixtures or banana and sugar for dessert, which is what we got. He cut it up for us so we could eat it easily and wrapped it in paper, and we brought it back to the hotel to eat.

  The next day, after a mediocre breakfast with lukewarm food and no service, we headed out to the craft building that we thought would have batik demos and wood carving, plus a place to buy them. It didn't have much to see and the batik guy was MIA, so we ended up eating lunch at their buffet, which seems to be a good local place. They were really helpful telling us what to do and from which mains to choose, then you add greens and other things and later get watermelon to eat—as much as you want—and they only charge you for the main courses. We each had the fried chicken, and the total was MR11= under $4.

I've already mentioned meeting the university students who were there. One of them walked by with a camera, so I asked her if she was visiting the area, but I think she said she goes to school around there. I asked if I could ask her a question about her clothing because I've noticed how beautifully the Muslim women dress daily, and she sat right down at our table to talk. 

 I loved how open she was to the opportunity to talk. From the gist of it, I learned the women have quite an extensive wardrobe—the definitely love clothes and shopping! I took a picture of her sitting with us, then before we left, we asked if we could have a group shot and they agreed. Later, we ran into them and they asked it they could take our picture too, so we all gathered together for a group shot. That's when they told us they're at the university, which surprised us because they look like teenagers, but are in their early to mid-twenties! I gave them my card because they heard me say I write a blog and asked if I'm on Facebook.

   After we left them, we walked over to the bazaar where they have batiks. It's on the 3rd floor, so was very hot—no air con here, just fans. But once I started shopping, even though I literally dripped and kept wiping my face with my schmatta, I managed to do a bit of damage there. I found one stall where the woman didn't speak English, but another woman came and translated and helped. I started asking for batik, but then go so involved with colors and what she had, I lost my way and ended up buying material that wasn't actually batik. At least it's locally made. I was buying for some women in my guild study group because we're blending our own weaving with other cloth. Most of them are indigo dyeing cloth, but since I'm here and unable to do that, I decided to buy something in Malaysia instead. Anyway, I hope they like what I bought for's not only taking up much suitcase space, but also helped cause a MR80 overcharge for the flight! Ooops.
Meanwhile, Matthew wasn't just standing around...he bought a batik shirt and two caftans for himself! Oh, and I bought 2 caftans also—they're gorgeous!
By the time we finished there, we were spent, so headed back to the hotel. We stopped and did the unthinkable...went into a McDonald's! We never do that, but it was air conditioned and had cold drinks where we knew we could get iced drinks.
That evening it started to pour early along with thunder and lightning, so we got a taxi and headed for the Chinese restaurant we'd heard about. The food was quite good, the place immaculate and huge with large parties of people at many tables.
We were happy to pack and be on our way to Kuching, where we are now. The word means cat, though cat is actually spelled without the h for the word cat. But they've adapted to it because they have cat statues and cat things for sale everywhere. More later about's time to go shopping!

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