By Jeremy Khalil on July 8, 2011
London, United Kingdom has always appealed to a large number of Malaysian population as one of the destinations that they love to visit since it has always been considered as the centre of the world since the days of the British Empire.
These days, London is still considered as one of the world’s foremost capitals that continues to draw large numbers of visitors and migrants from all corners of the globe. With its standing as the hub of the now-defunct empiredom, the Queen of England’s base and the source of Malaysia’s modern government and legal systems, many Malaysians still look up to London, if not the United Kingdom, for the grandeur of its historically majestic past, apart from wanting to savour the city’s world-renowned metropolitan experience.
First and foremost, when visiting London, budget is bound to be a major issue among many visitors due to the UK’s strong currency. Talking about budget, it is not recommended for visitors who hail from countries with weaker currencies like Malaysia to constantly multiply the British pound (£) by whatever the current exchange rate is at the moment (which is £1 = RM5). Visitors should instead be mindful of only on the amount they are bringing to the UK and allocate accordingly to their needs when in London. We are sure that if visitors are thrifty enough, they surely would be able to stretch their pound sterling as far as possible, even affording themselves the possibility of taking the London black cabs and photograph themselves silly when being inside (like what we did). Contrary to popular belief and based on UK citizens’ purchasing power, a ride on a London black cab is not too horribly expensive – the cost of taking the London cab from Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 3 to Zone 1 is £60 (around RM300), whereby one cab seats up to five persons including luggage.
Though in an instant it might seem that cost of living in London is astronomical if one were to directly convert the amount spent into RM, those who live there find that the cost of living in the city is cheaper and provide more value for money than Kuala Lumpur after taking into consideration UK’s purchasing power. A person who earns £1,500 per month could easily afford a far more comfortable life than a person earning RM1,500 in Kuala Lumpur because food items in the UK cost less than £1 per unit or pack, while in Malaysia almost no food item costs RM1 anymore and prices have been steadily increasing, but not salaries. Or if there are increases in salary, in most cases they still would not be enough to offset the price increases of food and essentials.
Since this is Gaya Travel team’s first trip to London, we made it a point to stay in an area close to the Paddington Metro station. It is advisable for a travelling group such as a family or a bunch of friends to seek serviced apartment accommodation than getting separate hotel rooms. For one week, a three-room serviced apartment like Chilworth Court Apartments (www.chilworth-court.co.uk), which can fit up to six adults, could set you back only £230 per day, totalling around £1,610 (approximately RM7,900 or SGD3,310) per week. Bearing in mind that London’s accommodation is among the most expensive in the world, that amount is actually value for money. On top of that, to further cut down expenses, the members of the travelling group could even decide to prepare their own meals at the apartment since each unit comes with a fully functioning kitchen.
For our readers intending to visit this cosmopolitan city for the first time, who neither have a friend’s place to put up at nor a guide to show them around, it is recommended that you stay within Zones 1 and 2, areas defined by Transport for London (TfL) that are situated at the heart of the city, well served by the London Metro (the city’s over-a-hundred-years-old mass rapid transit system, popularly known as the Tube) and bus systems. It is wise for visitors to readily buy Oyster cards (prepaid cards used for London’s mass transit system not unlike Hong Kong’s Octopus, Singapore’s EZ Link and Malaysia’s Touch ‘n’ Go). Alternatively, visitors can also buy one week’s worth of travel pass (if you are there for that duration) to access the Tube stations within Zones 1 and 2, costing around £30.25 per person. When deciding to use the Tube, readers are recommended to explore the city outside peak hours (after 9:30 a.m. and before 5:00 p.m.) during weekdays because contending with Londoners rushing aggressively to and from work would put you off.
Gaya Travel team simply loves taking the Tube when exploring London since it makes the city all the more accessible and pedestrian-friendly, apart from being one of the most efficient modes of public transport. However, since we can foresee that our readers may also be fond of taking the Tube, we must encourage you not to be too dependent on the system since it is prone to strikes by employees. Do not be alarmed if such incident happens when you are there – you should quickly divert your means through other modes like riding on the double-decker buses since they also cover major thoroughfares and attractions (all you need to do is to figure out which bus leads to where).
When being in London, Gaya Travel recommends our readers to be prepared to walk a great deal because London is indeed a pedestrian-friendly city. All visitors should treat walking from one place to another on foot throughout London as a form of exercise, which may not be normally done back home. We think that the most suitable times for visitors to comfortably walk around are Spring (late March-early May) and Autumn (mid-September – early December) since the climate during those periods save visitors from perspiring profusely. That fact is indeed a boon to the Gaya Travel team because our team members are all ardent walkers, especially the Editor, who did not have to sweat excessively and uncomfortably when walking around the city, unlike when in Kuala Lumpur.
Tourists must understand that of late, the government of the United Kingdom has been instituting austerity measures, resulting in a slew of cutbacks in terms of services for the public. As such, one area that might be affected is the Tube. When we were there, we received news that there may be fewer trains running and lesser personnel employed by TfL in 2011, probably leading to more crowded trains and less manned service at its stations. However, we are confident that come 2012, in time for the summer Olympics, London is bound to become far friendlier to pedestrians than before and maybe the most opportune time for our readers to see London at its best. Otherwise, any time of the year is just as good to visit London. But do take note that travellers might face obstacles when travelling during winter due to harsh weather conditions that affect transportation.
Muslim visitors should not worry about getting halal food because London itself is home to an estimated one million Muslims, therefore halal eateries are abound, especially when visitors walk around Edgware Road, billed as London’s Little Arabia. There are also lists of halal restaurants in London available on the web that visitors can research prior to going to London. For Gaya Travel team’s meals, we frequented the Malaysian Hall near Bayswater or the quaint Bonda Cafe in Paddington, which prove to be reasonably priced. There is also another halal Malaysian restaurant in Paddington that we did not get to experience, named Tuk Din. The fact that it is not difficult to get halal food is indeed another plus point for London. It is no wonder then why scores of foreign-born Muslims who are smitten by the city’s charms and quality of life decide to stay put. After having said that, we think that it could even be you, my dear reader…
We must say that our one week visit to London is undeniably too short. Gaya Travel team decides to visit the city again to highlight to our readers more of our experience when being in this great city for your benefit
Some Worthy Attractions in London:
London Eye and River Cruise
Our top favourite in London is the iconic London Eye. At 135m, the London Eye is the world’s largest cantilevered observation wheel, conceived and designed by Marks Barfield Architects and was launched in 2000 in conjunction with the millennium celebrations. It has already won over 75 awards for national and international tourism, outstanding architectural quality and engineering achievement and has been welcoming over 39 million visitors to date and still counting. We recommend that our readers opt for the package that combines the ride on the London Eye and the cruise on River Thames, which cost us GBP17.95 per person. The ride along River Thames is almost like learning about London’s history, whereby visitors can observe all of the city’s important historical landmarks and monuments pointed out by the announcer on board.
Tate Modern is part of the Tate museums family comprising Tate Britain, Tate Liverpool and Tate St. Ives. This gallery is housed within the former power station at Bankside, which still retains much of its original character that consists of an awesome turbine hall that is 35 metres high and 152 metres long. The turbine hall became a dramatic entrance area, with ramped access from the west, as well as display space for large sculptural projects and commissions. Since opening in May 2000, the gallery has enjoyed more than 40 million visitors, averaging up to five million per year. It is one of the UK’s top three tourist attractions and generates an estimated £100m in economic benefits to London annually.
The monumental British Museum which boasts seven million historical objects representing the rich history of human cultures, mirroring the city of London’s global variety. We simply love to get lost in the museum due to its wide array of exhibits, from the stone age period all the way to modern times. Apart from artefacts representing the Greek and Roman periods, the museum also has an impressive collection from the ancient Persian and Egyptian civilisations. allowing visitors to be exposed to a wide range of historical wealth. Admission into the museum’s permanent collection is free, while special exhibitions will command a fee.
Victoria & Albert Museum
Victoria & Albert is considered as the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, housing a permanent collection of over 4.5 million objects. Named after Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, it was founded in 1852 and has now grown to cover 12.5 acres and 145 galleries. Its collection spans 5,000 years of art, from ancient times to the present day, in virtually every medium, from the cultures of Europe, North America, Asia and North Africa. Its holdings of ceramics, glass, textiles, costumes, silver, ironwork, jewellery, furniture, medieval objects, sculpture, prints and printmaking, drawings and photographs are among the largest and most comprehensive in the world.
Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens
Hyde Park is one of the largest parks in central London, England and one of the Royal Parks of London, famous for its Speakers’ Corner. The park is divided in two by the Serpentine. The park is contiguous with Kensington Gardens; although often still assumed to be part of Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens has been technically separate since 1728, when Queen Caroline made a division between the two. Hyde Park covers 142 hectares and Kensington Gardens covers 111 hectares, giving an overall area of 253 hectares, making the combined area larger than the Principality of Monaco (which is at 196 hectares), though smaller than New York City’s Central Park (spanning 341 hectares). To the southeast, outside of the park, is Hyde Park Corner. Although during daylight, the two parks merge seamlessly into each other, Kensington Gardens closes at dusk but Hyde Park remains open throughout the year from 5 am until midnight.
Oxford Street Shopping
Purchase clothes and accessories at Primark (budget fashion chain store where you can get £2 for five pairs of socks) due to its surprisingly affordable prices and Marks & Spencer’s (M&S) across the road for its wondrously dizzying array of bites and snacks that are bound to dazzle visitors with its downright low prices sold here compared to prices back home. M&S biscuits, for example, costs between RM8 and RM12 per pack in Malaysia, but it costs only somewhere around £1 (around RM5) or even less in London. No wonder M&S cashiers could easily tell if the purchasers of these snacks and bites are Malaysians – we normally would buy M&S snacks by the truckloads upon knowing that the prices in London are remarkably low.
Being one of the edgy sides of London, where visitors can observe Londoners with wilder streaks presenting themselves in non-conservative fashion, Camden Town brims with creative grassroot grit, manifested in the forms of interesting specialty shops that sell quirky items such as leatherbound books and vintage luggage, including limited edition clothing.