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10. Feb, 2015

My Miserable Malaysia Airline Moment

My Miserable Malaysia Airline Moment

Dont Fly Malaysia AirlinesMalaysia Airlines has been making the headlines recently for some of the worst reasons imaginable (crashes and disappearances) and I don’t want to undermine the severity of that.  They should be making front page news again after recently dishing out a shockingly bad experience on flight MH132 – albeit I’ll consider myself lucky my plane DID make it to its destination…The problem? My bags didn’t.

What’s the first thing anyone wants to do after a long flight? Grab their stuff and take a shower. No such luck for me – I boarded my flight to Delhi to start my trip to my office in Jaipur, and left New Zealand behind on a very long 19 hour flight. How was I welcomed?  I wasn’t – Malaysian Airlines ground staff couldn’t care less or be be any more impolite – I was left stranded and spent a very uncomfortable 24 hours in Delhi’s sweltering 38 degrees heat on its chaotic streets with nothing but the clothes on my back – literally.  1 day in my life written off.

Malaysia Airlines has even had the audacity to ignore at least 6 of my emails over the last few months. Zero, zip. Absolutely unbelievable! Knock knock, are you there, Malaysia Airlines? They’ve given me several case numbers: GTS/2559-09/2014, 4498-10/2014, 2738-11/2044, 0355-02/2015, 56-02/2015 and notified me that my email “has been well received”.018730-lost-luggage

Their Head of Marketing & Products, Dean Dacko, even had the cheek to send me a survey asking for my feedback on my flight!  I gladly responded!

Malaysia Airlines “customer service” is nothing short of deplorable, I think its staff and common courtesy towards its customers has gone missing as well!

What’s your worst airline story? Did they resolve your issue to your satisfaction?  Anyone else fallen foul of Malaysia Airlines “customer service”?

15. Jun, 2012

Rafting New Zealand serve up a white-water knuckle ride on Tongariro River

Rafting New Zealand serve up a white-water knuckle ride on Tongariro River

“Any final tips?” Vladimir nervously asks our guide, Lee – not entirely sure that he really expects an honest answer. With a smile the width of the Tongariro River, the response is quick and delivered with typical Kiwi humour – “Just stay in the raft”.

Bobbing up and down like excited toddlers on a fairground carousel, the sounds of gurgling white water heightens our senses. This was it. There is no time for shirking responsibilities. We paddle intensely as if our lives depend on it as we crash through the first of over 50 white water rapids.

White-water rafting in Tongariro River
White-water rafting in Tongariro River

Tongariro River’s gentle white-water rapids are ideal for aquatic newbies like me. White-water rafting might not be an exact science with different meanings to its I, II, III, (all the way to a VI) classifications, since different countries have their own “ideas” of what constitutes what. But, whatever class you chose, you’re going to have to learn teamwork; you’re going to get wet; and you’re going to embarrass the living hell out of yourself. We could have chosen one of Rafting New Zealand’s more extreme options but opted for the class III, which still promised 2.5 hours of white knuckle adventure.

With life-jackets and helmets secured, my wife, 13-year old daughter and I introduce ourselves to our fellow adventure seekers who include Vladimir, an Australian university professor, and his two teenage children. Decked out in boots, wetsuits, blue/green/black fleece jackets (it’s supposed to be warmer than cotton), red life-jackets, and lime-green and red helmets it is hard to tell anyone apart. I guess when you look like a rainbow-stuffed bratwurst that’s bound to happen.

Didn’t I say you’d somehow manage to embarrass yourself? Who cares what you look like? Take it up with the Fashion Police – I had a river to tame. More specifically the Tongariro River, which nestles in the centre of New Zealand’s North Island, not too far from Turangi.

Our first lesson in teamwork involved us carrying the raft from the bus to the banks of the crystal clear Tongariro River. No slacking on carry-duty. We reach the riverbank. Lee shouts instructions on what to do, but it is hard to pay attention to anything other than the steep volcanic cliffs framing the river. Pushing off from the river bank, the current quickly drags us away from the comfort of terra firma. “Fast forward” roars Lee.

We paddle hard and furious through the first whirl-pool. Then silence – the calm before the storm. Sounds of hissing and roaring water catch our attention. “Hold on tight” Lee bellows in an effort to prevent the ignominy of one his guests receiving an early soaking. Our chorus of squeals and gasps boomed and echo as we successfully navigate our first obstacle.

When we we’re not buckarooing the many rapids, the tranquillity and sheer beauty of the landscape takes our minds off the job in hand. We bob and weave silently through a corridor of sheer pumice rock faces and my neck is still stiff from gazing skyward.

We even find time to paddle to the riverbank and climb a small waterfall and dive feet first into the river.

Refuelled with hot chocolate we continue to paddle left and right through smaller rapids. Suddenly, the river dog-legs around a corner and a much bigger and even angrier rapid would surely test our new-found skills. We clutch our paddles as firmly as we can and we’re soon back in mother nature’s grip and in the midst of a violent washing machine. We thrash and jolt up and down in our raft like rodeo stars in a bull-riding contest. A good soaking ensures that everyone stays wet but thankfully no one goes “man-overboard” and we simultaneously wave our paddles in a team high five.

The final few rapids ensures our raft continues to twist and turn wildly as water swirls around like a washing machine on its fastest spin setting. Losing my balance, I slip and swallow a good amount of Kiwi H2O and cling tightly to the ropes as the raft spins and is relentlessly pounded.

Lee leads us confidently through our final push as we paddle as hard as we have all day. Riding through our final rapid we feel like peas trapped in a saucepan of boiling water but realistically I guess it’s quite tame by New Zealand white water standards.

White-water rafting might not be for everyone, but anyone with a sense of adventure should give it a shot. Nothing but a white-water rafting trip transforms you from a leisurely float one minute to being hammered around on some sort of waterslide on steroids moment.

I look at Cerys and she looks like she has paddled so hard that I know it will be hours before she taps out any text messages to her friends!

Our aches and pains are quickly soothed with hot showers, complimentary drinks and hot dogs in Rafting New Zealand’s sleek, modern HQ. I was already planning my next white water adventure.

I travelled the Tongariro River with Rafting New Zealand (0064 (7) 3860352); www.raftingnewzealand.com. The Tongariro White-Water River Trip costs $109 per adult for an action packed afternoon and includes all safety equipment, hot drinks and snacks.

26. Apr, 2011

All good things come to an end

No trip to Singapore would be complete without having a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel.  What I had forgotten was the exorbitant price tag that comes with it!  One Singapore Sling (for Rhys), one Tiger Beer (for yours truly) and 3 mini-burgers blew an already large hole in my pocket at S$64!! (about NZ$68).  Rhys politely declined my invitation for another drink!

The 2nd thing we had to do before our trip was over was to see Singapore’s iconic Merlion statue.  Can you believe it?  During April, as part of Singapore’s culture festival, it had been hidden away behind temporary walls and used as a feature in a makeshift one room hotel called Merlion Hotel.  Apparently for S$150 per night, a couple can spend the night in the makeshift bedroom where the Merlion forms part of the bedroom’s furniture.  Not what I had in mind!

As we ambled back to our hotel, I reflected with great pride and satisfaction on what had been an adventure of a lifetime for the 2 of us.  For me, I got to spend nearly 3 weeks with my son, as well as share his 17th Birthday at the Taj Mahal.

25. Apr, 2011

Clean air, green grass & tranquility

As today was ANZAC day, we caught the extremely efficient train (MRT) to Kranji and then walked the short distance to the War Cemetery to mark our respects.  As this was our only full day in Singapore, we decided on a whistle stop walk around the city to see as many sites as our weary legs would allow.

Sentosa Island is a must see destination when in Singapore.  Meaning “peace and tranquility” in Malay, it has developed into an island theme park, full of attractions and things to do for locals and tourists of all ages.  Using the MRT is so easy in Singapore.  We took the north-east line and got off at Harbour Front Station and made our way to the 3rd level of Vivo City mall to catch the Sentosa Express.  I was intrigued to see how much Sentosa had developed since I was last there in 2009.

Chinatown was such a big hit with us last night that we decided to go back there for dinner this evening and to do some gift shopping.  Afterwards, we headed back to Clarke Quay just to soak up the atmosphere and to walk around in the evening.  It’s packed with bars and restaurants of all nationalities.  We stayed in Clarke Quay in 2001 during a “stop-over” when we moved to New Zealand.  Rhys was only 7 then but unfortunately the walk did not jog Rhys’ memory of that trip.

24. Apr, 2011

From one extreme to the other

I was looking forward to Singapore.  I feel a strong connection with her as I was born there and have been fortunate to visit several times since.  We left Mumbai at 10:05 this morning and the flight to Singapore was full and not the best flight I’d ever had!  We landed in Singapore at 17:00.

Getting to our hotel from Changi airport in Singapore was incredibly simple, quiet, clean & much less chaotic than India!  The two countries are like chalk and cheese and could not be any more different.  After reaching our hotel in Robertson Quay just after 18:00 and a quick shower, we headed straight out to Clarkes Quay and then to Chinatown’s food markets for a few scrumptious chicken satay kebabs, a plate of piping hot noodles, washed down with a large Tiger Beer!  Afterwards, we headed straight out to Singapore’s Night Safari, where I think we were last to leave at just after midnight.

Needing a nightcap, we headed for a local bar in Robertson Quay where I soon found out one more thing that’s different about Singapore & India – the prices – S$16 for one beer – needless to say, I only had the one beer and luckily for our budget, Rhys didn’t have anything!

23. Apr, 2011

Farewell Mumbai

What an experience last night at the game.  Mumbai Indians won a close game and the atmosphere at the stadium was excellent – certainly the best of the venues we’d been to.  But what an ordeal to get into the stadium – we were frisked 18 times for weapons, etc and had our tickets checked 12 times.

As they say “all good things come to an end” and today was our last full day in India for this trip.  Due to confusion, our pre-arranged business meeting was postponed and then eventually cancelled, leaving us with a free afternoon.  Rhys and I took a deep breath and decided to tackle Mumbai’s train system and congested city centre.

We arrived in Mumbai Central (CST) with no real plans – other than just to walk around.  We walked past the maidans, where future Sachin Tendulkars were plying their trade.  We used the cricket ground as a landmark and found our way to Marine Drive (also called the Queen’s necklace) and took a stroll up to Chowpatty Beach before hopping onto a local train at Charni Road and eventually back to the hotel.

This evening we took a rickshaw for the short distance to Juhu beach, which was packed with families taking advantage of the sea breeze.  We strolled through the many food stalls next to the beach and opted for bhel puri (puffed rice and potatoes served with tamarind sauce) and pav bhaji (spicy mashed vegetables and toasted bread).

With bags packed, flights confirmed and passports and tickets secure, we decided to watch a bit of TV before getting an early night.  But Rhys decided he’d tackle one more snack – and duly brought back some Jalebi (made by deep-frying flour in a circular (coil-like) shape and then dipping it in syrup) from the food stalls next door.

22. Apr, 2011

Match day ticket frenzy

We decided to have another flexible day today as we had arranged another meeting (which didn’t take place).  Rhys finally awoke just after 9:30 – his body alarm clock must have alerted him to the hotel’s breakfast service closing at 10:00!

We finally managed to get our tickets for tonight’s game between the Mumbai Indians v Chennai Super Kings.  They had been sent to a “friend of a friend’s address” who had flown back to Delhi yesterday and hadn’t told his room-mate that we were coming!  Using the rickshaw driver as translator and a frantic call to our contact in Delhi, we’d secured our tickets.

The exhaustion and stress of racing around Mumbai to get the tickets meant that this afternoon was a very sleepy one – I went to bed for an afternoon siesta to charge my batteries before we headed out to the same stadium that India won the Cricket World Cup at earlier this month.

21. Apr, 2011

Empty airports & street food

Today was another official “blob out” day as we needed to check out the hotel by 12:00 and were flying back to Mumbai in the afternoon.  The day got off to a bad start as Rhys discovered that someone had stolen his “favourite” shoes from our “private” courtyard – needless to say hotel staff denied any responsibility and the hotel manager blamed fellow guests!

We arrived at Udaipur airport 2 hours before our 15:45 flight – the airport was clean, air-conditioned and modern – but very empty.  Time for more reading!

After the relative peace and tranquility of Udaipur, arriving back in Mumbai was not fun.  We pre-paid for a taxi to take us to our hotel and navigated through the congestion and noise.  The hotel upgraded us to a one bedroom apartment for 2 nights which was a very pleasant surprise – well for me anyway, as Rhys “volunteered” the sofa bed!

Tonight we plucked up courage to try food from the infamous street markets just around the corner from our hotel in Juhu.  And what a pleasant surprise!  Rhys and I feasted on bhajias and samosas, followed by Sohan Papdi (one of India’s most popular sweets) – all for 40 rupees (just over a dollar!).

20. Apr, 2011

Temples and romantic dinners!

I slept really well last night and looked forward to a full day excursion to see the 14th century intricately carved Jain temples of Ranakpur and impressive Kumbhalgarh fortress.  But first, I had breakfast to tackle!

Udaipur is a much “gentler” place than Jaipur.  The trip to Kumbhalgarh Fort took a couple of hours as we meandered through rolling countryside.  The last time I was there, I spent several hours just soaking up the place – its size is surpassed only by the Great Wall of China.  With temperatures reaching 40 degrees, I accompanied Rhys around some of the remnants but “encouraged” him to walk up the steep slope to the palace on his own!  I gathered my breath and thoughts in the shade with a cup of chai masala!

Ranakpur is hidden away in a valley about 90 kms from Udaipur and is definitely worth the trip.  Built nearly 600 hundred years ago, the temples contain over 1,400 pillars and columns – and each one different.  We arrived at the same time as a few tourist buses and were made to hire some baggy trousers (for less than a dollar) to cover our legs as shorts were a definite “no-go”.

After the “mandatory” stop for lunch at the local tourist café, we made our way back to Udaipur and the comfort of the swimming pool!

This was our last day in Rajasthan and I wanted to take Rhys for dinner at a local restaurant overlooking Lake Pichola.  Ambrai Restaurant was the perfect setting and sat down for dinner just metres away from the lake’s edge and just as the sun was setting over the City and Lake Palaces.  How romantic!  I’m sure Rhys would have done anything to enjoying a twilight dinner with  his girlfriend, Jade, rather than me this evening!

One thing was certain – the standard of food at Ambrai was excellent.  Hara Bhara Kababs as entrees, chicken tikka masala and aloo chatni wala for mains, accompanied with roti and naan breads – washed down with one or two large Kingfisher beers!

19. Apr, 2011

Sleep deprived, but raring to go

Arrived just after 06:30 this morning from the overnight train from Jaipur and felt a tad groggy – perhaps something to do with trying to sleep on a noisy train in a cot with crusty cotton sheets and a thick woolen blanket!  The Orient Express it wasn’t!  Rhys slept soundly he said!

Staff at Swaroop Vilas Hotel checked us in very quickly.  After showering and what must be said was one of the worst hotel breakfasts you can imagine, our driver took us into the centre.

Jagdish Temple is a “must see”.  A local asked the obligatory “where you from?” and then proceeded to tell me he was coming to New Zealand next month.  But he did not know which airline he was flying with or which airport he was arriving at, so I politely declined his soft sales techniques designed to entice me to visit his craft shop!

Uninspired by this morning’s pitiful breakfast, we resorted to some Kiwiana – latte and muffins at a café near the City Palace.  And we finally got around to writing a few postcards!

The City Palace was just as I remembered it – full of crazy colours and decorations and a real sense of history.  The last time I was here I took so many photos of the Lake Palace (where the James Bond film Octopussy was filmed) that I let Rhys handle today’s photography!

Skipping lunch, we visited Eklingi & Nagda temples, which are both an easy drive from Udaipur.  We managed to avoid the tourist buses so we virtually walked around the temples in perfect tranquility except for the ever present “shoe minders”.

We have been getting used to the idea of spending afternoons by the pool to escape the fierce afternoon heat – today was no exception.  Refreshed from doing a few lengths in the pool and a shower, we took a stroll around the centre in the evening and returned to the hotel for dinner – which was consistent with their breakfast – dire at best.