When our old friends, Karen and Mike Powell, said they wanted to visit us in Malaysia we were delighted. We first met them in Stavanger, in 1996, and their two boys had been good friends with ours ever since. Even though they have lived in Texas for over a decade and we have lived in the Netherlands we’ve made an effort to see each other most years. Friendships made overseas get deep fast and when Karen and I met on a chilly bench outside a reception class just before her Simon and our Sam started their first days at school, I suppose it was inevitable that, 18 years later, we’d still find ourselves side by side on a wooden bench with our children alongside us. But, back then, I’d never have guessed that the bench would be beside an infinity pool, overlooking a sunny valley an hour outside of Kuala Lumpur.
They were only able to spend three nights with us and we all wanted to make the most of it, so we decided to book a cabin somewhere in the hills and close to home. We chose Bukit Pantai, not too far from Seremban and found a cabin that would sleep seven adults thanks to Cabinzecottage. Julie and Kevin’s instructions said that, provided we took the E21 and not the E2 we’d cover the 80 or so kilometres in just over an hour. The Powells were bravely going to grab a taxi from KLIA2 and so I emailed them the frighteningly brief instructions we’d been sent as well as a PDF of the route courtesy of Google Maps and the phone number of the place we were going. They had just 56 km to cover. We both had the address and we had a SatNav. It should have been so easy.
My friend Jen had visited Cabinz before and warned me that if we didn’t take the right road our journey time could be doubled, as theirs had been. So, as Karen and co landed in KLIA2 we jumped in the car.
“I’ll just punch the address into the Garmin,” Ian said as Josh and I settled down into our seats.
Ten minutes later Ian’s muttering had not improved. It seemed that not one of the items in the address we’d been sent could be found on the SatNav. Google maps had found it alright, so why was it not there?
“Well, it’s not far from Seremban. Punch that in and I’ll call Cabinz while we are en route,” I said. We had a few maps in the car, surely we’d find the place on one of them?
Ian wasn’t convinced, despite the fact that normally, as readers will know, he likes to tidy maps up and out of the car. He is definitely a SatNav kind of guy.
“Shall I print us a Google map?” I suggested and went back to the flat, turned on the computer and printed a map. I did consider taking another 10 minutes to key in Google directions and print them too but decided against it, after all, we did have a satnav. The Powells were now definitely beating us to it and we needed to hit the road.
Well, to cut a long story short we learned the following that day:
· The majority of Malaysian addresses, villages and towns seem not to be included in the satnav’s index.
· When you visit a place in the hills, you will find your destination may only have sporadic phone signal, so you can’t really phone them from the road.
· All the maps they sell at the largest shop at the railway station are such a silly little scale that even with your glasses on you probably wont be able to read the placenames.
· If you can’t find the right road, your journey may take three times longer and your guests will arrive before you and be prostrate from thirst by the time you arrive with the coolbox.
· That our satnav had the option of finding our destination on a map, sticking in a pin and obeying a ‘Go’ instruction. If only we had known about that before we spent 40 minutes driving in circles in Seremban, or indeed before we’d left home.
· Taxi drivers may not have a map or a satnav nor have ever heard of the place you are going, but they can at least get out and ask in the local language.
· It is always worth taking an extra ten minutes to print out Google directions.
And so, we never did find the E21, the Powells spent an hour waiting at a bus stop while they tried to get a phone signal and call Cabinz but they still managed to do so on their US phone and beat us there by well over an hour.
Once we were there, though, the welcome was warm, the pool cool and the view and environment nigh on perfect. The Malay dinner we had pre-ordered was great and we had the entire pool and deck area to ourselves all weekend. The following morning our hosts had booked us a local guide to lead us the hour and a half trek through the rainforest to a beautiful waterfall and despite Ian getting leeched, Josh losing his lens cap and a few too many mozzie bites, it was definitely worth that long, hot drive from hell the day before.
On the way back to KL, our hosts generously offered to lead us to the E21 and indeed, we were home in just over an hour.
Next time we’ll print out those Google directions and yes, there will definitely be a next time.