x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Fun on an enforced stopover

Kuala Lumpur airport requires a minimum of three hours between flights to go through immigration and then check back in for the next flight; we had only one hour.

We messed up. Five hours before our 3am departure, my husband wondered aloud: will AirAsia check our bags all the way through to Phnom Penh, considering we bought two separate tickets, one to Kuala Lumpur and another from there to Phnom Penh? Hmmm, I said, barely masking the panic in my voice. Our toddler Iola was asleep and we were packing last-minute items. Twenty minutes later he'd called and found out that not only could our bags not transfer straight through, but we couldn't either.

The KL airport requires a minimum of three hours between flights to go through immigration and then check back in for the next flight; we had only one hour. We couldn't change the flight: no changes, no refunds, as it always says on the cheap flights. Our budget trip was getting expensive quickly. The man recommended John go to the airport and sort it out in person. I added that he should show Iola's passport first, with her cute one-month-old photo. It worked; he changed the Phnom Penh flight for US$100 (Dh367) per adult, which was $50 cheaper than getting a new ticket. John called from the airport and asked me to book a hotel in Kuala Lumpur, and all of a sudden it sounded like an adventure. At midnight I woke Iola, gathered the bags I hadn't sent with John and went outside to catch a taxi.

By the time we had checked in and were sitting at the gate, Iola was wide awake. On the plane she collapsed in a heap of crying - screaming, actually, but eventually fell asleep, and slept the next six hours until we landed in Malaysia. We checked into the Heritage Station Hotel, a grand old building that is not as creaky as one would expect for $26 per night. I was too hungry to even take a nap with Iola, who badly needed it, so we took a short walk to Chinatown and found a place with about nine vendors. Carrot juice from one, frog porridge from another, fish soup and noodle soup. The total bill came to about $9. I was revived. Iola took a nap in the sling carried by John, and we homed in on kid-friendly Lake Park, by the National Mosque.

We walked beneath enormous trees with birds calling to each other and the call to prayer in the background. We passed the Bird Park, the largest walk-in aviary in the world, and saw several women feeding jackfruit husks to a little band of monkeys. Iola was thrilled to see a baby monkey nursing. I sat down on the pavement and a monkey approached, which made me nervous so I quickly got up, at which it bared its teeth and made Iola cry.

For dinner we took a short taxi ride to a street famous for its food, crowded with stalls and people sampling the dishes. We started with Chinese buns and noodle soup, went on to a mango and fried fish dish with greens on the side, and ended with a banana roti. Iola is a fan of white rice and broth, but she was a good sport. We slept well that night, and woke only just in time to catch a cab to the airport for our Phnom Penh flight. I wouldn't have done it any other way. travel@thenational.ae