Before my current life of hot yoga, travel and fun I had a whole other one. in advertising and branding. I was fortunate enough to start in that career in the seventies. Think Mad Men and that sums it up. Fancy restaurants, lots of alcohol and five star everything so I was spoilt from a very, very young age. And in between all of the fun, there was a smattering of work. In those days, advertising was all about selling a dream. The reality sort of didn’t matter very much as, then, the power lay in the hands of the advertiser and if what the consumer got didn’t match that which there was very little the consumer could do about it. The decades past and the internet came along. Then social media. Then Trip Adviser. Then blogging.
And suddenly power changed hands.
No longer was advertising about selling a dream but about presenting truth as accurately as possible. Otherwise, beware – your reputation and your business could be destroyed in 140 characters.
Leaving Villa Samadhi was hard – it had been so truly magical there. We had spent our 3rd day just enjoying it and did not step foot outside its delicious boundaries. Instead we luxuriated in little treats brought to us throughout the day by the so so friendly staff as we read our Kindles, and dipped into the pool and just cherished every second.
My last memory was of the manager and one of the lovely staff waving us off and smiling.
The train journey to Butterworth was my first oriental train experience for over a decade. Then a friend and I journeyed from Delhi to Udaipur. I had booked a first class sleeper for us and had anticipated being served G&Ts from silver trays by men in flowing robes. Hmmmmmmm. How wrong had I been. The tracks were full of rats. Our cabin was shared with two others. The four of us were very snugly bundled into 4 bunks and there was no room to breathe – which was just as well considering the burping and farting that went on. The loo was so horrendous that I had to seriously exercise my pelvic muscles for the whole night. I decided there and then the experience was a one off, never to be repeated, so imagine my trepidation as we embarked on the trip yesterday.
But this time no such dramas. Everything was clean and efficient and perfect and on top of it all we were heading towards the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, where such wonderful writers such as Somerset Maugham and Herman Hesse had stayed and where the doormen are dressed in colonial style shorts and helmets.
My imagination was running wild from the romantic descriptions on the website.
It is now that the relevance of my first paragraph becomes obvious. The E&O had sold me a dream. But the reality was a million miles away. In days gone by, maybe they could get away with it. Nobody would know about the experience apart from maybe one or two friends I would tell when back at home. But today, we can warn you all!
I am going to stop here and let Nigel go into the detail of the horror. Let me say that the location is heavenly. Every window has the most breathtaking views of the sea. But inside is a whole different story.
Tuesday 16 January 2018, 3.00 pm: Wanderlust Junkies arrive Penang. Tuesday 16 January 2018, 4.30 pm: Wanderlust Junkies check in to the Eastern and Oriental Hotel. Wednesday 17 January 2018… Ooh the drama of it. Cue early black-and-white TV thriller music…
But first a jolly commercial break.
Sadly we bade farewell to the Villa Samadhi.
Staying there was a treat. Such a treat that on Monday 15 January 2018, 8.00 am we ate breakfast and… stayed in the hotel for the remainder of the day. Wanderlust Junkies were Wanderlust Lazies. What’s been great about travelling as a novice group à trois is that our thoughts and hunches and tastes actually do seem to coincide. “Would you mind terribly if we didn’t bother visiting the Islamic Art Museum,” I ventured. “No” (Maroulla). “No” (Lau). “I mean in the doing-absolutely-nothing sense of the word”. “Fine by me” (Maroulla). “Fine by me” (Lau). To tell you the truth, were it not for the fact of being in Kuala Lumpur, visiting an Islamic Art Museum wouldn’t even cross my mind. Call me a philistine, but when lolling in a divine little paradise for a day with no other guests present beckons – well, it’s a done deal.
It was one whole day of lolling
The highlights of the day included scratching the head of the Villa Samadhi’s giant house turtle and watching the gardener feed sardine kebabs to the two (apparently violent) turtles – one of which was positively dinosaur-like with erect fins down its spine. Then there was a Twilight Zone moment (cue the doo-doo-doo-doo theme) when a tiny bright red dragonfly landed on the screen of my MacBook right next to our own dragonfly logo like a (excuse the pretentiousness – but it’s my holiday – I’m allowed) tiny Buddhist blessing. Actually the next thing I remember – apart from the lolling and chatting and reading and swimming and drowsing – is the free happy hour cocktails at 6.30 (delectable G & Ts perked with kaffir lime leaves and elderflower), dinner, then chocolate and cognac on the bed in our pyjamas. Is that wrong?
Tuesday 16 January 2018, 9.30 and there we were in the waiting area of KL Central Railway Station, waiting for our 11.04 train to Butterworth (Penang). Everyone had claimed it would take the best part of one-and-a-half hours to reach the station in the ‘rush’ hour. It took all of 20 minutes.
So we nibbled cookies and sipped very good coffee from McDonald’s (don’t you love travelling to the Far East!), accompanied by an infuriating country-and-western rendition of ‘The Bare Necessities of Life’ on a loop tape, booming through the concourse.
We also chatted to a couple and their baby (well we more played with the baby rather than chatted) whom we’d met on the flight from Heathrow (now also travelling to Penang), until we were escorted down to the platform. Yes, a member of staff, like a tour guide bearing a placard with your train number on, directed the whole group of travellers to the correct platform in good time (but not TOO much time) to wait for the train. Great service.
The train was modern, clean and comfortable. Lau and Maroulla sat together. My neighbour was a very pleasant Sikh gentleman from Taiping, who from time to time pointed out sights and filled me in on various details – for example, how the palm-tree clad landscape that prevails through Malaysia used to be rubber-tree clad up until the 1970s, when the price of rubber fell.
1 train tip for any budding KL to Penang travellers. Take a sweater or jacket and a scarf or whatever. It may be sizzling and humid outside, but the air conditioning is so extremely chilly that we had all turned into Frosty the Snowman clones by the time we arrived at Butterworth Station.
But back to the drama. Jolly commercial break over…
Now it’s Tuesday 16 January and it’s 5.00 pm and we’ve checked in at the Eastern and Oriental Hotel and, all scrubbed up and smart for the evening, we proceed to the ‘Planters Lounge’ for our complimentary ‘cocktails and canapés’. Ooh la la! Not. We’d booked our stay here months and months ago, entranced by the sleek website – charming black and white photos colonially branding the hotel as Penang’s answer to the Raffles Hotels in Singapore or Phnom Penh. A con, if ever there was one. You know that dream when you’re walking down a street naked or in pyjamas surrounded by a fully-dressed crowd? That’s what it was like. Except we were dressed and everyone else almost wasn’t – trunks and sarongs and flip flops and heaven knows what – queuing and jostling to trough on indifferent snacks and overfilling their glasses with whisky and wine.
It wasn’t a dream – it was a NIGHTMARE! Torremolinos comes to Malaysia.
We had booked for a 7-night stay. Yes, admittedly, we were in the hotel’s annexe – but everything in the branding suggests an elegant experience in a historic hotel that needed to expand to accommodate more guests. But something much more cynical is at work. Death to misleading websites!
Tuesday 16 January, 6.00 pm (we needed the free plonk). A glum Nigel: “What would you say to not staying here after all?” Maroulla & Lau: “Fine by me.” With every day the bonds get more bonded. So it’s abracadabra…
Tuesday 16 January, 7.00 pm. We confirm our booking at the Seven Terraces. Thank you to the wonderful manager, R, for his creative conjuring and support – we feel good about this.
Wednesday 17 January, am. We will move!!!!!!!