Asian malls


If you were stuck in a giant steam room for two hours you’d do whatever it takes to get out of it. That’s pretty much the justification I gave myself for visiting a ridiculous number of shopping malls during our time in Asia. As someone who avoids shopping wherever possible I never thought I’d spend so long in these vast commercial temples, yet day after day we ended up wandering willingly through the door of yet another mall.





It’s possible to avoid the air-conditioned lure of the Asian mall but it’s certainly not easy and quite frankly after a couple of hours in the heat and humidity they do have a strong appeal.




Shopping malls in Asia are cleverly designed to keep customers trapped within their confines for as long as possible. Maps are scarce or completely absent, designed to prevent you from just nipping into a shop to buy a single item. On one particular visit to the absurdly large Mall of Asia (it’s literally as big as a country, with the total area equivalent to that of the Vatican state) a search for a drugstore to buy a packet of plasters for a blister caused in no small part by trudging around too many malls, took us over 20 minutes.




The moment you enter any mall you feel the same Arctic blast from the all-powerful AC units. Look at the coats and jackets on sale in the many clothing stores and you suddenly realise that the mall is the only place where anyone can wear this type of clothing. So people go to malls to buy fashionable clothes that they then wear for going to the mall – commercial genius at its best.




If you’re after food that has a fair chance of having been prepared in a hygienic kitchen, the malls offer a bewildering variety and a samey, sterile but ultimately air-conditioned environment in which to enjoy your meal. Wander through the food court and you can easily forget where in the world you are (unless you see halo halo on offer, as no-one outside of the Philippines classes this blend of ice and strange things as real food).




Plot a walk between two points in the centre of Kuala Lumpur and the chances are that there will be at least one mall on your path. In some cases there are extensive walkways that allow you to cover long distances without ever emerging into the glaring heat. When heading to KL Sentral (the main transport hub of the city) we trekked from our hotel to the nearest monorail station on a route that took us through a couple of malls and allowed us to carry our backpacks for over a kilometre without getting sweaty.




If you think Asian malls are just about the shops and food courts, think again. We found an ice rink in Manila where people even brought their own skates (imagine owning a pair of ice skates in Manila) while in KL malls we passed on the opportunity to ride on a rollercoaster and visit a scientific discovery centre. It appears you can do pretty much everything in a mall apart from getting married – although I’d be surprised if that wasn’t possible too.


You can get KL and Manila included in the Navigator RTW



Weighing up Angkor: Temple travel advice



David Whitley hits Cambodia’s famous temples with a guide – and is mighty glad he spent the extra money doing so

Bunchay pulls us over to a relatively unpromising temple wall. A series of engravings run down the sandstone like a comic strip, but Bunchay points to one in particular. “Take a look – what do you think it is?” It looks like a stegosaurus. In fact, despite trying to reimagine it as anything but a stegosaurus, it still looks like a stegosaurus. On the walls of a newly built place of worship, this would be rather odd, but Ta Prohm was built under the orders of the great Angkorian god-king Jayavarman VII in the 12th century.

“No-one can explain it,” says Bunchay. “Some people think they must have found a fossil, but it seems unlikely.” Essentially, people who didn’t know dinosaurs ever existed have drawn what appears to be a dinosaur on a temple wall. And that’s quite an intriguing puzzle.

The temples of Angkor are justifiably Cambodia’s biggest draw card. To think of them as just a bunch of temples would be a major mistake – the sprawl takes in a large chunk of the country, and most of them are were cities in themselves. Angkor Thom, for example, covers nine square kilometres and contemporary Chinese scribes (albeit ones clearly prone to massive exaggeration) claimed one million people lived inside.

The three must sees are Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Angkor Thom, and all have very different qualities. Angkor Wat is the giant one on all the postcards, Ta Prohm is the one that the jungle is atmospherically entwining itself with and Angkor Thom is a complex full of ruins, with the fabulously weird Bayon temple in the middle. Frankly, enough words have been spilled across the web about all three without me having to needlessly throw a few adjectives on the mountain.

What I can offer is a bit of advice. If you’re visiting Angkor, it pays not to be cheap about it. By and large, Cambodia is a really cheap country to travel in. Food, drink, transport and accommodation are gloriously inexpensive by international standards, and there can be a tendency to see the country as a place for spending as little as possible in.

For one day, at least, an exception should be made for visiting the big hitters at Angkor. You have to pay US$20 to get in anyway (although three day passes are available for $40). Whilst it’s tempting to hop on the back of the cheapest motorbike you can find and make your own way round, a good, well-trained guide can make a phenomenal difference to your day (or two). And not just in pointing out anachronistic dino-pics.

Part of what makes the temples so extraordinary is the artwork on them. Sculptures, engravings and bas-reliefs on a Bayeux Tapestry scale are all over the place. Wander around by yourself, and you’ll probably not have a clue what’s going on. A good guide brings them to life, and gives context to the ancient building spree.

Bunchay is also something of a marvel when it comes to picking out good photo spots. He leads us away from the route ploughed by the tour group herds (it’s a little known fact that half the Korean population can be found at Angkor at any one time) through jungle paths and back entrances. We end up seeing the temples from very different perspectives. And, once inside them, he points out the best spots for framing the temples’ distinctive features – such as the heads on the towers at Bayon and the trees growing through the stone at Ta Prohm.

More to the point, the company Bunchay works for, About Asia Travel, has conducted impressive surveys on footfall at the temples. They know which places are heaving at which time of day, and plan the route accordingly. We end up at Ta Prohm early in the morning with nary a soul in sight. By the time we drive past later at 10am, it looks like a bus factory outside. I do feel sorry, as well, for the poor sods traipsing around Angkor Wat behind the herds in the middle of the inevitable 3.30pm offer a 3 day Treasures of Angkor tour from £169 More details here