Tuesday, July 5, 2011

London: Part 1: A New-Comer Guide to Surviving the Alpha City

Some of my friends said that this place is an overrated tourist location. It is as overrtaed as Mawi or the long standing disgraced ex-Deputy Prime Minister.

However, you cant deny that it is an interesting tourist spot.

Maybe for those who love the architecture, English Lit and History would find it fun to be in the city.

And I, with my minimal amount of income could reach the city, I thought the chances were astronomical.

So here I am, writing about the city to the sour grapes who believed that they could not go,

and this is also for those who dream to be in the city but they think that it is impossible

I present to you;

Part 1: A new comer guide to survive in the city

Step 1: Buy some glue, pluck some feathers, paste it to your arms and fly!

AirAsia: The stewardesses for the international flights are hotter, honest!

Okay people, learn from my mistakes. I bought the ticket only three months early, so My return ticket was RM 2500. I know it was still cheap compared to some other airlines, but you can save more money.

This is what you do, plan your holiday, but a year or at least 10 months early, you WILL get return ticket for at least RM 1500 with tax included. Seriously, no joke.

Don not go around summer, because even if you buy a year early, the tickets will be expensive.

My advice is for you to go in Spring.

However, AirAsia is clever too, cunning if you ask me. They will trick you with many hidden charges as you go along buying your ticket. So you need to be smart and say no to all of these things. (Do not pay for extra luggage space, you don't need it, pack light, England is not tropical like Malaysia, you wont sweat.)

Do not be luxurious, be smart. Do not complain of the cramped seats, it is wider then the local flights, if my 63 year old mother could survive the 14 hour flights with the so-called cramped seats, then all of you sniveling complainers can too!

Step 2: Catch some horses, saddle up and move.

Stansted Express or Airport Limo: If you decided that walking would waste your holiday

I don't know if you decided to use MAS, Royal Brunei, Singapore Airlines or the Garuda. But if you use AirAsia, you will land at the Airport with the cheapest tax - Stansted Airport. Also, arriving at Stansted will save you some time at the customs, because it is not as busy as Heathrow. Heathrow is the busiest airport in the UK, you will spend a lot of time waiting at the customs or even waiting for your bag.

Heathrow has its plus points too, apart from you having the chance to run into British Celebrities, you will also find it easy to commute from the airport to London. Using the famous train system in London - The London Underground, there is a station in Heathrow. (More about London Underground in Step 7)

Using Taxi to get out from Stansted

Now, if you are in Stansted, the problem will be getting out of the place. If you are in a group of 4 or 8 (take note, I worte 'or' nor 'more') or 12 or keep on adding 4. I would suggest you to use the Stansted Airport Limousine. This is a cosy van with large luggage space fit for four passengers. It will cost you 106 pounds (around RM 535) to get to Queensborough Terrace (I will explain why Queensborough Terrace in Step 3). But you need to remember that the 106 is only the cost for the Limo Company, the driver will need a tip from you. (All British services will consider you cheap and out-of-the-world if you does not give them tips, so if you want to fit in, fork out some money.) So it is advisable for you to give the driver 110 pounds (RM 550) so that he will keep the 4 pounds as his tip.

Since you are going to give him RM 20 tip, you may want to use him to the max. If you are lucky, you will get an understanding driver who will take you through the heart of London city to get to you destination, ask a bunch of questions about the sights, he will pleasently oblige.

How do you get a limo? After you have been cleared of customs, you will arrive in a Lobby of the airport, look for a cab/van booth and ask the nice lady about your destination. She will explain to you about the price and where to claim your driver. However, she will explain in a rapid jabbering of British accented English. You may want to swallow your ego and ask her to slow down because you are an innocent London first timer (Even if you are a TESL Graduate).

Too expensive you say?

Use the Stansted Express, this is a train that will usually cost you 21 pounds (RM 105), however the price is seaosanal, sometimes you will find that it will drop to 8 Pounds (RM 40).

This train will only get you to Liverpool Street, here you may need to find an Underground Station for you to get to whereever you want to go.

Step 3: Looking for a lump of hay to rest your head.

Malaysia Hall: Oh, and there is the Malaysian Flag, happily flying in London.

The cheapest, most Malaysian Abode

Well, the cheapest for all Malaysian is in Malaysia Hall of course, situated in the Queensborough Terrace . This will cost you 13.41 pounds per night. It is the cheapest in London. Other hotel prices (thousands of hotels are scattered all over London, you will have no problem finding a room, but the prices may kill you) vary from 25 pounds to 300 pounds. You can find hotels anywhere in London; Queensborough itself is a home for more than 40 hotels along the street.

Malaysia Hall: a HOSTEL fit for a King!

Malaysia Hall is a hostel. But it is a spacious two-bed bedroom with intact bathroom and toilets. It is a single sex hostel, so bad news for those newlyweds who plans to consummate their marriage in here.

A word of caution for most Malaysians, the toilet is off Hardwood Floors. So you cannot spill water when you are cleaning your - er... - backside after you have finished doing your - er... - business. This is when your creativity comes into play, be as imaginative as you can.

They will provide a beaker in every toilet, if you can't find any, you MUST go down to the receptionist and her to provide you one. Again, swallow your ego, this is for your well being. For the rest of the Malaysians who depend on toilet papers, no problem for you - there are loads here.

You will need to familiarize yourself with the use of the heater in your room. If it proved to be ineffective, you MUST go down to the receptionist and made this problem known because you will desperately need your heater. Even in the hot summer, the nights are chillingly cold.

Since that it is a hostel, the woman at the counter is NOT affable (like all other government based services), so don't waste your breath trying to tell her how excited you are that you finally got the chance to travel, she will only stare at you. True Story.

You would need to pay everyday if you plan to stay here for more than one night. They don't entertain 'I want to stay for three nights' kind of things. Pay every morning to ensure that you have a pillow to sleep on.

Also, if you decide to sty here in the months of September to December, DON'T. Malaysia Hall is closed to give way for students who are starting their studies here. Heed my advice, again, go in the Spring, the city is prettier and Malaysia Hall is emptier.

Have craving for a more luxurious stay?

If you decide to sleep on a plusher, more expensive pillows, just walk into a hotel, ask for an empty single/double/family/executive suite and tell them the duration of your stays. Politely give them your last name (or any names if you have bin or binti) and take your keys and go.

If you want to be wise, since most hotels will charge you per head and not per room. Send one of your most charismatic friends to the counter and ask him/her to book a family room. This will usually cost you 80 to 100 pounds. After the transaction is done, ask your friend to cleverly smuggle you with the excuse 'Oh, they are just visiting.' to the suspicious receptionist and share the cost of the room among yourselves. This will not be an easy thing to do, ration the large luggage of your group between yourselves so that the receptionist wont get suspicious that the people you claimed to be 'just visiting' are in fact people who want to spend the night.

Be careful and creative.

Step 4: Read the Sun and Stars, stick to your way of life and pray

For Muslims, England is a country where the sun is extremely and constantly fickle. Sometimes you may get 8 hours of light or sometimes you may get 18 hours of light. So it is only natural that the prayers time will constantly change.

Compass: Bring one, so even in a stranger's land, you will feel at home

The case of Islamophobia

However, despite the 2010 minuscule, but extremely fascist, movement of Islamophobia in London, the city turned out for me to be one of the most Muslim friendly cities in the world, even friendlier than Singapore. This is in the sense that there are thousands of Muslims here, you can find Halal food anywhere, and there is a famous mosque near the Barbican.

Take note that even when the Muslim-haters movement is on the move, you need to know that it is not a popular belief, the whites in London proved to be extremely friendly and welcoming to my Hijab-clad sister and mother when we were there in 2010.

When I was there in the month of May, 2010. The Queen of England had just gave a peerage to the first Muslim senator in London.

So there is no serious problem of Islamophobia in London.

Prayer times

You can get the prayer timetable in the Malaysia Hall itself or the Mosque in Shoreditch. The Malaysia Hall itself has a big Surau underneath, right next to the canteen.

Step 5: Put the letter in the bottle, throw into the sea, hope for your loved ones to get it.

You may need some groceries such as bread and nutella to help you ration your money in this budget trip. You may want to buy sim cards for you to call home and tell you mommy that you have safely arrived or brag to your friends of the fact that you are in London and they are still in Parit Sonto sipping coconut juice nursing their envy.

Queensway: Everything you need from filthy keychains to knock-off designer bags.

Just two streets away from the Queensborough Terrace is the Queensway: a street full of shops with everything you need. There is a Tesco near the Bayswater underground station and here they sell halal food. Stock yourselves up with bread, butter, jam or even chicken sandwiches.

You may be surprised with the cheap prices here, a bag of 6, extremely sweet apples will cost you around 90 pence (like our cents) or 1.20 pounds. At the end of the road is an Alamanda-sized shopping mall called the Whiteleys. You can shop here too. There is also a cinema in Whiteleys in case you want to watch some movies.

Along the Queensway Road, there are numerous shops that sell hand phones and you can buy your sim cards here. A fair warning on sim cards, they will tell you a thousand and one offers but you will always be to shy to ask them how to use it. The Malaysian hand phone will sometimes be as giddy as you with the excitement of being in London.

There would be some codes for you to enter before you can use the sim cards, but you may dont know this and you will resort the conslusion that the seller had coned you. Again, swallow your ego and ask the seller about the sim card until he is annoyed at your existence.

Step 6: Grind some meat, pick the eggs, shoot the ducks and eat.

Breakfast: Nothing beats the large European portion of Food.

For all Muslims, here is a good news for you, Halal food is scattered all over London. It is not hard for you to find Halal food. Even some of the western food are halal too.

If you are on your way to the Queensway from Queensborough Terrace, you will find a petite restaurant wedged between a money-changing office and souvenir shop, it is overlooking the Bayswater road, here you can have your English food with heavenly hot chocolate for under 10 pounds. (Look at the picture, that is the food that you will get if you eat here.)

Fancy a more exotic meal? Near the Tesco which i had explained in Step 5, there is a Pakistani Kebab restaurant called 'Halal', you will not miss this shop since they put the word 'Halal' on top of the shop in red neon light.

Or if you miss Malaysian Food for God-knows-what-reason, you can always eat in Malaysia Hall canteen back in Queensborough Terrace. They serve the usual Nasi Campur. A little hint on the taste though because they dont have the similar ingredient like they have in Malaysia, so your 'Teh Tarik' will taste a little powdery since they use creamer and not the run-of-the-mill F&N milk.

But a good thing about food in London is that it is off the European Proportion. Meaning to say that it is LARGE! You may find yourself full for the whole day after you had force yourself through a large plate of Chicken Burger with fries at breakfast.

For all fast food chains, they are non-halal, but for the non-Muslims, of course there is no problem for you. Plus, the prices for the meals are all around 1 to 3 pounds per meal. So knock yourself out.

If you decide to go the fine dining restaurants (there are only one or two that is Halal, try 'Angsana', it is a Malaysian Food restaurant) make sure that you have more than 50 pounds in your pocket because the price on the menus will gouge your ayes out. What is more, you need to hand in a 25% tip for your waiter. Heed my advice, unless you are a son of a money spinning Datuk, or you have a money-spinning Datuk or Datin for your sugar mommies or daddies, or you are a money-spinning datuk yourself, do NOT eat in a fine dining restaurant.

Note: The only Halal KFC that I found was in Coventry.

Step 7: Clean your horseshoe, resaddle your horses and canter around.

Now there is always a question of how to move about in London, take note that you are in a city with the most efficient underground trains.

They have at least a station in nearly all streets in London. So you can cover a lot of touristic spots using the Underground.

London Underground: You'd think that I dont take pictures in Public Transport

You need to buy Travel cards rather than Oyster Card or paying at every stations. With only 6.40 pounds per day, you can travel all around region 1 & 2 (these two regions are London, you dont need to travel as far as region 8) and re-use the cards again and again and again.

Go to any Shops in Queensway that says 'Travel Cards Available' and but it for 6.40 pounds. The next thing that you need is the underground map, do not be too traumatised with the Kuala Lumpur KTM/Komuter/Star/LRT map that you distrust the Underground Map, it is actually very efficient. First, find out a station nearest to your Touristic Location on your map, look for the station in the underground map and look at the lines that connects the station nearest to you and the station nearest to the location, board the train and enjoy.

For example, if you are now at the Queensway, you have two stations on you, either the Queensway or the Bayswater, if you decide to go to the Tower Hill station, Bayswater has a direct line (circle line, yellow in colour on your map) to Tower Hill, make sure you board the right train, for example, if you are going to the tower hill using the circle line (because London underground has more than ten lines), on your map, they mark the circle line with yellow colour, so make sure you board the train with yellow poles in it. Simple as that.

London underground is highly efficient, do not worry if you miss a train, they have a train available in every 2 minutes.

If you want to understand more how to use the Underground for touristic spots, wait for Part 2 of this post.

Step 8: Break a twig, pick a stone, some trinkets for you to bring back home.

Of course you would want to buy some souvenirs for your friends to further rub it in to their faces with all their envy.

Queesnway is strewn with shops that sells souvenirs, from Teddy bears to key chains. If you are as popular as Brad Pitt, but not as rich, you might want to buy just key chains for your friends, because mugs and t-shirts cost around 5 - 25 pounds.

Dont worry about your friends, they will aprreciate it that you think of them when you are having the time of your life, if they say lame/cheap/boring/hmph! to the key chains that you have at least spent nearly RM 10 on, you know who to disinvite to your wedding.

Seriously, their currency is nearly 5 to 6 times compared to Malaysian Ringgit, so economise yourself, spend more for your families, that is justified, but not when you have the family with the size of families in Ant hills.

And tha is the end of Part 1, in ppart 2, I will explain to you where to go and what to do at the coolest sights in London.


  1. mak datuk, shakespear terberak bace p0st nih... selain uk negara lain xde? hehe... :P

  2. ko nak negara apa ed?

    aku penah pi UK je... nanti la masa depan aku pi Morocco ke Egypt ke Bulgaria ke... aku update la..

  3. This is one comprehensive and hilarious traveling guide I've ever read! And I tell you man, just can't wait to set my foot there! *and swallow the large portion of fries, steaks and burgers!

  4. well written..very informative! thanks :)