Sunday, September 28, 2014

Marrakech, Morocco: Jemaa el-Fnaa, Souk & Riad

Fri 15/8/14

Marrakech Menara Airport

Ah Marrakech, you have been so elusive to us! But finally we are here.

We were greeted with the hot and dry Mediterranean summer weather (average 37 C, max 42 C). After the long queue at the immigration, we went to the taxi stand. A grand taxi (old and beaten manual Mercedes) with a grand old man in it came to us. He didn't speak a word of English. Then came a younger man helping to translate. We were asked to pay MAD 200 (Moroccan dirham) or RM 75 to take us to Jemaa el-Fnaa where our Riad was. We agreed to it as we didn't know how far it was from the airport and thought that was a fair price.

It turned out that Jemaa el-Fnaa was only 5km away! We were ripped off by the totally dishonest pakcik (old man). And we had to pay additional MAD 40 (RM 15) to another guy with a pushcart who brought our luggage to our Riad. To be honest, the Riad location was quite confusing to find on our own, it was like a labyrinth, walking through the narrow lanes so we wouldn't mind paying the MAD 40. But what the old man did was totally unacceptable. To those who plan to travel to Marrakech, please be aware of this scam. Post trip, I read here on Wikitravel:

The airport is about 5km (3 miles) from the city. There is an air conditioned airport bus every 30m that costs MAD30 one way, MAD50 return.

The taxis at the airport are totally dishonest and they act as an organised mob. The price on the meter to the airport is MAD15. The official price is four times that, MAD60, and even this is not enough for these greedy people. They will try to point at the wrong sign showing MAD100 (which is for a place 20km away) or ask for more because it's night. The best way to deal with them is to ignore those just outside the terminal; walk across the car park where you will find many more taxis waiting. Offer them MAD40, they will say "no, that's ridiculous, etc.," but once you start walking away towards the roundabout one of them will pull up behind you and say "ok, MAD50". If you really want to save money you can walk to the roundabout and catch a taxi there for the metered fare (MAD15-20 to the old town/Gueliz).

Definitely not a good start. We reminded ourselves to be extra careful next time.

The journey to Jemaa el-fnaa was pleasant though with well managed beautiful gardens surrounding the city, including the Menara gardens.

The dishonest taxi driver in old and beaten taxi

beautiful garden otw to Jemaa el-Fnaa

Pushcart guy
Derb Moulay Abdel Kader - entrance to our riad
almost there

Riad Dar Marhaba

The maze like narrow lanes leading to our Riad Dar Marhaba did not look convincing. But once there, our fears were proven wrong. We were amazed by the rustic charm of the riad with a courtyard in the centre and the rooms surrounding it. Now we believe why it was highly rated in There are only 5 rooms here with wifi, air cond, safe and hot shower. There are also shared facilities i.e. 1st floor lounge, dinner room, patio and roof-top terrace. Our room costs EUR 30 (RM 130) per room per night. Breakfast is included.

We were greeted by Sanaa who didn't speak English but tried her best to accommodate us. She served us with the lovely Moroccan mint tea in a beautiful traditional teapot and tagine.

Riad entrance door

mint tea. the cubes are sugar. not nasi himpit

our charming room
there's a safe inside


limetree in the courtyard

Jemaa el-Fnaa / Medina / Souk 

After refreshing ourselves, we ventured out to the Souk and Jemaa el-Fnaa (main square), just a 5 minute walk away. There are many shops selling clothes, groceries, bakeries; hammams and restaurants at the roofed Souk which is along the way to the Jemaa el-Fnaa (main square). The square was crowded with tourists, mostly French as this was during the summer holiday and French is spoken widely in Morocco, together with Arabic and the local Berber language. You could find a variety of things, similar to a pasar malam (night market) at the square: traditional crafts such as lanterns, chandeliers, tagines, teapots, souvenirs, food, fruits and orange juice stalls, dessert with tea and argan oil, just to name a few. During the day, there are also snake charmers and show apes (yes!). The Jemaa el-Fnaa is listed as a Unesco Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity and the Medina (old city) in which the Jemaa is part of, is one of Unesco's World Hertiage sites.

Unesco World Heritage site

Food is cheap here at the Jemaa el-Fnaa and also halal. Morocco is a Muslim country with 98.9% of the population being Muslim. We tried the cheap but very refreshing jus d orange (only MAD 4 or RM1.50) and some skewers (MAD 45 or RM17) at the food stall at the square. The skewer tasted so-so only. We think this is because the food here is pre-cooked, and then re-heated upon ordering. However, the skewer is barbecued on the spot.

We reckon to eat at one of the restaurants instead, with a 3 course meal dinner with traditional show at only MAD 80 (RM 30) or 3 course meal lunch for MAD 60 (RM 22). We didn't try eating at the restaurant though, so we couldn't comment if they are tasty or otherwise. Having said that, eating at the stalls at the Jemaa should be experienced as well, blending in with the local crowd. Try both for comparison. We also tried some local crepe which looks like thin roti canai (MAD 8 or RM3) along the way.

After the eating and window shopping, it was time to retire after a very long and tiring day.

Souk El Kessabine
dates, apricot, figs
lantern / chandelier
argan oil
Jus d orange
local crepe
food stall
let's eat!
food stall menu
fishing game!
break for prayer


4 countries, 3 continents in 1 day

This does not happen often. Quite unbelievable, but not entirely fun.

Fri, 15/8/14

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Asia
KUL-LHR : 0020 - 0640

After being told of the KUL-CDG flight delay due to the plane's technical problems, and making last minute changes, we managed to secure our tickets. Our luggage were deposited directly to KLIA's security screening since it was already boarding time. We were escorted by KLIA's security personnel to the immigration check until our boarding gate. We were the last to board, and I guess everybody were quite upset with us for holding the flight. But this was no fault of ours. The journey was smooth but I couldn't sleep well, contrary to Partner in Crime who can sleep literally anywhere.

London Heathrow Airport: 0640, UK, Europe

We arrived London Heathrow airport at 6.40am at Terminal 4. We transferred to Terminal 5 for our connecting flight to Paris CDG via British Airways. Since MAS and BA are under the One World alliance, our BA tickets were issued in KL and we did not have to collect our luggage at Heathrow and check in again for the flight to Paris.

We found a multi faith prayer room complete with the ablution place and sajadah (prayer mat) at Terminal 5 so we performed our prayers there. Luckily we brought some snacks with us as we didn't bring any GBP cash and we didn't want to change money for just some snacks and drinks. Of course we could always use the credit card in case if we wanted to buy anything.

prayer room

LHR-CDG: 0905-1115

Our flight to Paris CDG was on time. Since we got our tickets at the last minute, we didn't get to seat together. I was seated behind Partner In Crime's row. It was a 1 hour 15 min flight. We opted for the vegetarian meal. We were given a pack containing mini danish, orange juice and bircher muesli. It was OK tu sustain us for a few hours. There was no in flight entertainment.

vege meal
London - Paris

Paris Charles De Gaule airport: 1115, France, Europe

We had to wait until almost 12 noon to get our luggage then quickly flagged a taxi from the designated area (we didn't want to take the taxis from touts who were preying on travellers arriving at the arrival hall). We wanted to catch the 1510 Royal Air Maroc flight to Marrakech from Paris Orly airport, which would take about 45 minutes by taxi. We originally wanted to take the bus which would be cheaper (EUR 20/person) but it would take slightly longer than 1 hour, and we had to wait for the 1230 bus so we didn't want to take the risk. The taxi used the meter (the driver I suspect is Vietnamese)  and was charged EUR 80 (double the cost of taking the bus).

Paris Orly airport: 1245, France, Europe

As mentioned in the previous post, MAS did not make the changes to our Royal Air Maroc ticket and we had to buy a new ticket. We still had time to check in although we had just purchased our tickets and we were seated together. Our flight was on time and took 3 hours 10 minutes. Our in flight meal looked something like vermicelli with chicken and it tasted nice to my hungry tummy. There was also no in-flight entertainment.

Royal Air Maroc meal
shared screen display

Marrakech Menara airport: 1715, Morocco, Africa

After all the drama, 13100km and 24 hours later (and technically still on the same day) from our departing point in KUL,we finally arrived at Marrakech. We had to walk on the tarmac to the terminal building and boy was it hot! Very much hotter than in KL. We quickly walked to the terminal where there was already a long queue at the immigration counter. After a very long journey, a hot shower was very much needed! Ah, hopefully our Riad (traditional Moroccan house converted into accommodation place) wouldn't disappoint.

Marrakech Menara airport
13100 km total journey

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The Unbelievable Journey to Morocco

Preparations to Morocco

It would be our first time to Morocco and I was looking forward to it although I didn't have much time to do thorough research due to the wedding preparations. Everything was booked online - flight and hotels. We would be crossing over to Tarifa, Spain via the ferry, but we would only buy the tickets from the jetty in Tangier. Being Malaysian, we had to apply for visa, but it was a breeze. We only had to fill in a form which you could download it online (in my case, the form was readily available at my office), prepare our travel itinerary, flight ticket, 2 pieces of passport sized photographs, letter of invitation (we did this through our office HR) and a valid passport of course. Although we didn't have our ticket out of Morocco (since we were planning to take the ferry), the travel itinerary and our return flight ticket was sufficient.

We walked to the Moroccan embassy in KL at Wisma Selangor Dredging Berhad, just across KLCC, next to Maya Hotel. The visa cost us RM88 per person. We collected our passports 12 days later with a 10 day visa pass (the visa days given follow strictly your travel itinerary - hence there is no chance for you to change your exit out of Morocco to a later date) . The delay in visa collection was due to the Hari Raya (Eid) public holidays and a public holiday of Morocco on 30 July (Eid Al-Ârch) or Enthronement Day.

Since there is no direct flight from Malaysia, we opted to fly in Morocco from Paris. We took Malaysia Airlines to Paris CDG, then changed airport to Paris Orly and took the Royal Air Maroc flight to Marrakech. There was no flight connection to Marrakech from Paris CDG (only to Casablanca), except for Easy Jet (budget airline). However, since the transit time would be too long (MAS flight arrives CDG at 6.30am, while Easy Jet leaves for Marrakech at 3.50pm), we opted for the earlier Royal Air Maroc at 1.15pm, but had to change airport to Paris Orly. We planned to take the bus from CDG to Orly (cost EUR20/person) which would take about 1 hour . We thought that 7 hours was ample time to connect from CDG to Orly in case of flight delay from KL.

Thurs, 14/8/14

The Unbelievable Journey

But this was not to be the case! Our flight to Paris CDG was delayed to THE NEXT DAY and we HAD NO IDEA ABOUT IT UNTIL WE ARRIVED AT KLIA to deposit our luggage. We had already done online check in the day before and there was NO NOTIFICATION whatsoever via SMS, email or call although MAS have all our contact details.

Here's what happened:

Date & Time
14/08/14 at 2200 hrs
Arrive at KLIA
14/08/14 at 2205 hrs
Arrive at MAS bag drop counter. Already done web check in 1 day before.

Upon reaching the counter, was told by MAS officer Ms Aina (as per shown on her name badge) informed us of flight MH20 delay from 14/08/14 at 2340 to 15/08/14 at 0825 hrs
We informed Ms Aina that we have a connecting flight to Marrakech AT749 on 15/08/14 from Paris Orly via Royal Air Maroc at 1315 hrs

We were given the option to wait until the next morning for MH20 or re-route us to London and then Paris via MH 02 and BA306 respectively
We opted for the re-route to London and then Paris as we were only staying in Marrakech for 2 nights, hence option of waiting for MH20 on 15/08/14 will cause us to cut short our stay in Marrakech, therefore, was not a viable option. After 2 days in Marrakech we will be moving to another city - Imlil.

We also asked Ms Aina if she could change our Royal Air Maroc from ORY – RAK on 15/08/14 originally to depart at 1315 hrs to 15/08/14 at 1510 hrs as the BA306 flight from LHR-CDG will only arrive at CDG at 1115 hrs. This is not enough time to catch our connecting flight from Paris Orly (different airport) at 1315 hrs. Considering fastest transfer from Paris CDG to Paris ORY by taxi would take approximately 45 minutes and waiting time for luggage, we estimated to arrive at Paris Orly at around 1230 hrs. This is not enough time for 2 hours arrival at airport for international departure

14/08/14 at 2315 hrs
We received our boarding pass for MH02 KUL-LHR and BA306 LHR-CDG

However, Ms Aina informed us that she was not able to issue the new e-ticket for Royal Air Maroc 15/08/14 to depart at 1510 hrs. She mentioned that she had done the necessary changes and our new flight will be AT641

14/08/14 at 2330 hrs
We safely boarded  the MH02 flight to LHR. Prior to boarding, another MAS officer asked for our original Royal Air Maroc e-ticket no. to make the necessary changes.

15/08/14 at 0640 hrs
Safely arrived LHR. Waited to board BA306 to Paris

15/08/14 at 1115 hrs
Safely arrived CDG. Transferred to Paris Orly by taxi after receiving luggage

15/08/14 at 1245 hrs
Arrived at Paris Orly airport. Went straight to Royal Air Maroc check in counter to check in with original e-ticket no. believing that MAS has already done the changes
Was told by the Royal Air Maroc officer at counter that our ticket was not valid as the flight has already departed (AT749 at 1315 hrs)
We mentioned to the Royal Air Maroc officer that MAS has already done the changes
We were told to go the ticketing counter to double check

15/08/14 at 1313 hrs
We showed the ticketing officer our original Royal Air Maroc e-ticket and told him that MAS has done the changes to depart via AT641 at 1510 hrs
The ticketing officer checked in his system, but told us there was no change. He printed out the ticket and verified there was no change

To get to Marrakech, we had to purchase a new ticket
We had no other option, hence purchased 2 new tickets from ORY – RAK via AT641 at 1510

The new tickets fare were EUR 175 X 2 tickets = EUR 350

15/08/14 at 1715 hrs
We safely arrived Marrakech

To be fair to MAS, we were upgraded to Business Class on the KUL-LHR sector and their officers in KLIA did their best to accommodate us. But unfortunately, the necessary changes to the Royal Air Maroc ticket never materialized and we had to fork out additional money to buy new flight tickets. We are currently pursuing our refund claim for the missed flight to Marrakech. Hope to receive good news soon.

Lesson learnt for us:
1. Never make a connecting flight on the same day (for a holiday trip), if possible
2. Always keep on checking on your flight status starting from 2 days prior to departure in case of delays / cancelled flights. Knowing flight delays beforehand allows you to make necessary changes to your connecting flight (if applicable).

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Hello Kitty!

Wed 6 Aug - Tue 12 Aug 2014

I'm referring to the town of Kuching actually. Happy to be back here after 2 decades!

While doing some bunga telur shopping at Kuching town near the Waterfront, we stopped by at Bismillah Cafe for the yummy and famous Mee Kolok. There are a few types of the noodle, but today I had the Mee Kolok soup.

Bismillah cafe
Types of Mee Kolok

Mee Kolok soup

We passed by the stalls at the India Street Pedestrian Mall, selling clothes, tudung, and food, navigating our way through the narrow Indian Mosque lane which connects the mall and Gambier Road with the mosque in between. Walking a bit from India Street is Jalan Main Bazaar where there are many shops selling spices. I bought Masala tea spice and Mee Jawa paste for my mom here.

India Street
India street

stalls near India street

Masjid India

I noticed that vans are used as mode of transport in Kuching and are divided into zones since the city itself covers a vast area. Each Zone is dedicated to a designated area of Kuching. The nostalgic rectangle bus is also still in service.

Zone 1 van

Classic bus
Classic van schedule table

Crossing the street from the spice shop is the Waterfront promenade along the Santubong river, a popular place to hang out with friends and families and take photographs. We took our outdoor wedding shots here too, with people cheering and congratulating us. Sweet.


On the night before the kenduri we stopped by at Topspot, a food court on the top of a multi storey parking building; with mostly stalls selling seafood, just beside Ariva Gateway where my family were staying to have dinner with mom and my side of the family from KL.

Image taken from here

After the majlis kenduri (wedding reception) at the kampung, we spent a night in Kuching town with our good friends from KL, Mas, Ezad, baby Mishary and Liza who came all the way to Kuching. In fact, they attended both wedding receptions in KL and Kuching. We stayed at Merdeka Palace Hotel at Padang Merdeka Kuching. Our friends opted for the 2 room apartment while myself and Partner in Crime chose the hotel room.

The 2 room apartment is spacious with 3 bathrooms, a living room and kitchen with a view of the Padang Merdeka. However, the hotel room is a disappointment - very small, no view and has outdated deco (RM180/room/night with no breakfast).

Apartment master bedroom
Apartment room no. 2
Apartment kitchen
View from apartment

That evening we went for the Sunset River Cruise from 5.30pm - 7pm which include drinks, kek lapis and a short traditional dance performance onboard. The cruise cost RM60/person. Little Mishary also joined us on the cruise and he seemed to love it (and managed a nap too) with the cool breeze lapping. We passed by the Dewan Undangan Negeri, DUN (State Assembly) Astana (a palace, the official residence of the Yang di-Pertua Negeri Sarawak, or the Governor of Sarawak), Malay traditional water village, Kuching State Mosque, Fort Margherita (built in 1879 by Charles Brooke, Rajah of Sarawak) , Kampung Boyan/ Surabaya and Chief Minister's house, among others. The cruise ended with Sarawak traditional dance of the Iban, Bidayuh and Melanau.
before going onboard
u can sit inside
u can sit outside
Mishary loves it
Chief Minister's house
Brooke dockyard

traditional dance
Mishary ogling at the lady dancer. Naughty ;)

The next morning we had breakfast again at Bismillah cafe as I was still craving for Mee Kolok. Unfortunately, the Mee Kolok maker had to go to the dentist on the day of our visit -_-  We ended up having nasi lemak instead.

It was drizzling when we made our way to the Sarawak cat museum. Located at the Kuching North City Hall headquarters on top of a hill, it has a great view of the city. The entrance is free but we had to pay RM for a camera permit. The exhibition is all about cats but seemed dated and in need of new content. Nonetheless, the cat exhibits are indeed kawaii (cute) ^_^

Japanese painting
Cats Rock!

Spacey Cat
keep off my teddy bear!

We then made our way back to the Waterfront to take the sampan (or tambang) to cross the river and back. The return journey cost us RM1. Residents of the water village by the river regularly use this service for their daily transport.

tambang coming!
Pramugari tambang...Silakan Masuk...

It was then time to eat again! I wasn't about to give up yet on my mission to get good Mee Kolok and Laksa Sarawak. So we tried our luck again today at Mom's Laksa (they ran out of laksa the day before). We noticed that Mee Kolok and Laksa Sarawak are served for breakfast at most of the restaurants and tend to finish up by 11am.

Luckily the Laksa Sarawak was still available for lunch, but no Mee Kolok though. Some of us also tried the Meehoon Belacan, but it was so-so only. After the hearty lunch, we went to the nearby Kubah Ria, an integrated complex comprising of a food court and stalls selling local goods such as kuih lapis sarawak, laksa sarawak paste, ikan terubuk masin and beras bario, among others.

laksa sarawak
meehun belacan
laksa sarawak paste
food court

We then bade farewell to Mas, Ezad, Liza and baby Mishary. We would be doing our outdoor photoshoot that evening before going back to kampung and leaving for KL the next day. I would definitely be seeing Kuching again in the near future ;)

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