There is no doubt that a city instantly becomes more appealing when a friend or relative moves there. Why wouldn’t it? Free accommodation with a built-in tour guide and a possible airport pick-up to boot. But what’s the best way to handle the scores of eager holiday makers arriving on your doorstep ready to sample your hospitality at Hotel Gratis? Susie Hogg gives us some advice.
Being based in Kuala Lumpur is a fine example of living in an alluring holiday location. Since we moved to this bustling city less than two years ago we have had a buxom total of 24 sets of guests. Granted, five lots stayed in hotels (on business), but the other 19 did in fact become temporary inhabitants of our spare room for the duration of their stay. That has equated to 19 welcome drinks on the balcony. 19 LRT user initiation sessions. 19 Chinatown-Merdeka Square-Little India walking tours. 19 cocktails in city rooftop bars. 19 trips to our favourite dumpling restaurant. 19 KLCC walkabouts. You get the 19 gists.
A colleague of mine far outstripped our fairly healthy guest record. I think at the last count she had greeted 44 eager sets of travellers on her doorstep, all in the space of only 20 months. Her secret, she admitted, is “throwing them a key and telling them to just get on with it”. Her laissez-faire approach is commendable when you consider how much food, space, money and time, visitors can take up: in fact, don’t consider this too carefully, it could get scary.
But hang on, don’t get me wrong, we love having guests. Truly we do. I mention this at the offset because I know that for some, even the thought of hosting guests makes them feel nauseous. I once heard a perfectly sane, and in fact very lovely, friend say that “…visitors are like fish, after a few days they begin to smell.” A bit harsh, I thought, but maybe we’ve been lucky and just had the most delightful of guests. Maybe the horrid ones stayed with my lovely friend instead. Either way, there are definitely rules to surviving, and more importantly enjoying, having visitors. Here are my unofficial, yet highly effective top 19 tips for happy campers and happy hosts:
- Gift giving. If, in advance of the trip, your guests ask if there is anything you want brought over to Malaysia, don’t feel bad to ask for those tasty staples you miss from home. Guests bearing thoughtful gifts such as “real” chocolate, Scottish cheese or thick sticks of beautiful Spanish chorizo are always favoured.
- Mi Casa es Su Casa. Show your guests around upon arrival and if you are happy to do so, tell them to help themselves to water/towels/TV. This means you know they won’t go hungry or feel awkward about grabbing a cold one from the fridge when they fancy. It should make everyone feel right at home.
- Go with the flow. It’s hard to know how guests will feel or what they’ll want to do when they arrive. By keeping your itinerary flexible you’ll eliminate the frustration of dragging them around the national museum when they’d much rather spend the day lazing by the pool combating jetlag.
- Lock ’n’ Lock. Give your guests a key, your mobile number and your address and pack ’em off out to explore while you go off to work / school run / grocery shopping. That way you’ll get some time to get on with everyday stuff and your guests will discover KL at their own pace.
- Book it. Have a copy of the latest Lonely Planet or Rough Guide handy for your guests to dip into when they are stuck for ideas.
- School Nights. On a weekday evening when your guests are urging you to have another beer as the wee small hours approach, striking a balance can be tricky. With strategic forward thinking, plan for a few late nights and arrange your schedule accordingly.
- Many hands make light work. The potential toil of catering and cleaning for guests can be nipped in the bud. Most (polite) guests usually offer to pitch in, so take them up on their offer to set the table or help with the dishes.
- Fresh pair of eyes. While we may have become au fait with deluxe apartments, cooling swimming pools, the majestic Twin Towers and the comforting heat of Malaysia, remember it’s all new to your guests. Revel in seeing it through their excited eyes and rejoice in the fact that you are lucky enough to live in such a wonderful place.
- Tootling about the town. KL’s LRT and KTM are a brilliant resource for guests day tripping to the usual tourist hotspots like Chinatown or Brickfields. Air conditioned, frequent, cheap and easy to navigate, it’s as easy as ‘touch’n’go’. Plus it’ll save you becoming Mr or Mrs Taxi for the duration of their stay.
- Diversity. It’s what Malaysia is all about, so celebrate it. Introduce your guests to the diverse cultures and customs by exploring the interesting temples and traditions. Let the American-style malls wait.
- Log on. Offer your internet for checking emails, especially if your guests are travelling extensively around the region and may need to book flights or accommodation as they go. It really helps your visitors being able to print out their boarding card or stay in touch with home without being under time pressure of a cyber café.
- Snack Attack. We’ve found that guests do enjoy a savoury snack and cheeky drink pre-dinner. Having a back-stock of crisps, nuts and rice crackers (and plenty of chilled tonic) keeps you topped up for such eventualities.
- Something new. It’s always fun to take guests to your favourite, well-tried and tested eateries around the city, but for a fun idea, pick somewhere new that neither you or your guests have ever been. Maybe somewhere you’ve been wanting to try. Share a new experience together – it’ll feel as if you’re on holiday too.
- Street Safe. It’s a sad reality that in any large city there’s always a possibility of petty theft or bag snatching, so savvy travellers shouldn’t be surprised that KL poses that risk too. Giving your visitors the lowdown on keeping money tucked away and not carrying bags road-side are worthwhile tips.
- Grub’s up. Kuala Lumpur’s culinary melting pot never fails to impress guests. Tuck in with your fingers to a banana leaf curry in Masjid Jamek or sample roasted cockles at Kampung Baru. Not forgetting the other end of the spectrum, it’d be rude not to splurge on a champagne brunch or savour some fine dining at Shangri La’s Lafite (especially if your guests offer to treat you…)
- Snapshots. It’s easy to forget how very Asian a family of five on a motorbike is, or the scene at a local market. They make fascinating holiday snaps so make sure to suggest great places to take photos and the best time of day to capture that winning shot.
- Off the beaten track. We all know the classic tourist track: the “hop-on-hop-off” bus; the towers: the National Mosque, etc. But from experience it’s always the quirky out-of-the-way hidden gems that our guests pen as highlights of their trip: tiny jam-packed ceramic-ware shops; outdoor food stalls at Wangsa Maju; kookie stores in BB Plaza; cityscapes from Melawati ridge.
- Solar Power. Sunbathing by the pool may seem a bit dull to us KL-ites, but remember that to (especially) British guests, this alone can be the height of luxury and relaxation opposed to racing around the city with a map.
- Have a blast! Relish seeing friends or family – how often do you see them, after all?