Malaysia

Fake Plastic Trees – Kuala Lumpur

Monday 11th November
I made sure I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare because the last thing I wanted to do was to encounter any unexpected problems resulting in me losing one of my nights of much needed luxury in Kuala Lumpur.

Arriving at the airport a middle aged man from South Africa started a conversation with me because I suppose I looked like someone he’d have more chance of engaging with compared to our fellow passengers. This is not meant to sound disrespectful as I was actually surprised at how well English was understood in tourist areas and that most important signs were bilingual. Russia take note. London probably should as well…

He was slowly stressing out because he had a connecting flight and our flight was delayed by an hour. For me the delay just meant a little bit longer until I could have some proper down time. I could give an account of our 4 hours talking but it’s mostly forgotten and I think in hindsight I was probably talking in my sleep by the time we finally boarded after 2am.

I’d run out of jumpers in China which was a huge blessing because I was forced in to wearing a t shirt which i was grateful for when I landed at 9am in KL it was a very humid 29°c. I’d opted against rage against the train when I realised it would ‘only’ cost £6 more to get a taxi so by about 10.30am I was at the hotel. My room wasn’t ready but I left my bags and explored the surrounding area to find an ATM.

When I returned the room was ready and they asked if they could bring my bags up. It’s safe to say I’m not used to that level of service and when I saw the room the first thing I did was flop on the bed double bed which didn’t have any mould stains. Next I had a shower and noted the door actually closed.

First I text Victoria for some tips on how to spend my first day and reflected on the fact that by Thursday afternoon I would finally be in a timezone that was ahead! With some ideas in my head I set back out in to the welcoming warmth.

I did a tour of the city to familiarise myself with the key areas though I somewhat hilariously fell asleep thereby defeating the point in it. I did however wake up when the bus stopped to get pictures of the Royal Palace and later the KL Communications Tower.

Eventually I got off properly to explore the bird park. This was an absolutely huge free flight aviary – possibly the biggest in the world – where there were so money birds just walking and flying around many of which appeared as interested in me as I was in them. Sadly apart from pigeons, chickens and ducks I’m not much good at knowing the difference but the signs were in English and the place was rather tranquil.

Once I’d left I followed the main road down to Merdeka Square (independence square) which is also the historical area containing many of the old colonial buildings the centre of which is the old style village green that was once used for cricket. The highlight though is the giant Malayan flag which symbolises the event when the union flag was lowered in the square for the last time and the country was formally independent.

Boarding the bus again as it was getting dark I had the idea of going to the KL tower to get a birds eye view of the city. Unlike with the shard the top is fully open to the elements and I therefore had to sign a deceleration to confirm I wasn’t going to jump off.

It was quite expensive and perhaps in hindsight it would have been better to have had a better knowledge of what was below me but I managed to get some nice pictures of the Petronas twin towers and used the free binoculars to find my hotel.

Getting back to the ground I started the walk back to the hotel. I vaguely memorised the route as I didn’t want to look more like a tourist than I already did and despite having I later found out taken a slight detour I eventually sighted Zara and knew I was nearly home. Zara has actually become a reoccurring beacon – the same store helped me find my way home in St Petersburg.

Having worked out where I was I realised I was hungry as I hadn’t eaten since a bag of left over spicy crab crisps I had left over from China. Where to go? I was in the eating district of the Malaysian capital. I panicked – there was to much choice but having just left China I didn’t fancy another Chinese. I needed a home comfort but my decision to go to McDonalds made me feel disgusted at myself.

Tuesday 12th November
I woke fairly early as I had booked a tour to the Batu Caves, my main reason for wanting to visit the city. I hadn’t heard of these until last year when an old colleague visited and put a picture on Facebook. Almost immediately I’d added it to the list of places I wanted to see so when Kirsten found me flights via KL with a 2 night I couldn’t have been happier.

I took the decision to check out the all you can eat breakfast buffet in the hope it would keep me full up until dinner. I also ate fresh fruit for the first time since I’d sat in the business class lounge at Heathrow. It’s somewhat surprising I hadn’t developed scurvy so bad my lack of fresh food has been for the past 3 weeks.

Hunger satisfied and locked up for 12 hours I got on the mini bus where I got chatting to an American from Phoenix however then we arrived at a big depot and it became apparent we were on different tours. This was a shame because I was the only non couple person on my tour and this meant I fell asleep during the commentary like the day before.

First we went to pewter-ware demonstration centre which was fairly interesting as we got to see inside the factory. This is also the original industry that was responsible for the growth of Kuala Lumpur. We also went to a batik factory, though calling what we saw a factory felt an exaggeration. This was basically just a shop and 5 minutes in to the designated 40 I opted to get back on the air conditioned coach to have a nap.

Finally we were on our way to the caves and the truly massive statue of Murugan towered over everyone. Walking up the stairs I encountered my first monkey though luckily it decided to jump on the person in front and not me. The next I saw was eating a coconut and just after I passed chucked it down. After this they obviously decided I wasn’t a threat because they just watched me.

The 276 steps wasn’t much of a challenge in the heat compared to the Great Wall but the heat and humidity meant I was dripping by the top. Luckily the caves were cool though they still seemed to be melting which meant I had to be on alert to dodge deepish puddles and dripping water.

There were a number of temples at the top but the caves themselves were smaller than I imagined. We only had about 50 minutes to explore and I did feel we could/should have spent less time at ‘the shop’ as the caves were the main point.

it was about 2 when I arrived back at the hotel in KL so I decided to charge my camera and my own batteries before heading out a couple of hours later. I wanted to do the Petrona towers however annoyingly the towers were fully booked so I arranged a time for the following day. I also wanted to check how easy it was to find the start of my street food tour.

One thing I quickly noticed about KL is that signs would point you in one direction and then vanish. I was therefore glad I checked in advance because a journey that took 30 minutes when I knew where I was going took well over 2 hours when I didn’t. I was starting to feel fatigued at constantly feeling a bit lost and my mood hadn’t been helped when I got caught in a torrential thunderstorm. It was however fairly exciting to see the fork of lightning hit about 1 second away when I was on the monorail.

Back at the hotel I freshened up and headed back out to explore the street food. On my way I briefly considered a foot massage as I’d been told the street I was on was famous for them. Unfortunately no one had told me which ‘store’ to go for. As I walked along the strip I quickly decided there would be no massage as I was asked by what felt like over 50 girls some even shouting “happy ending” as I kept my head down and quickened the pace. Sorry feet!

I’m sure most love the street food experience but for me it was a bit overwhelming. Also I’d just arrived from China so had probably overdosed on that type of food and yet that appeared to be was all that was on offer. I’d hoped to find curry puffs as Victoria had recommended them to me but everywhere I tried only had curry rice or curry noodles. I will however say that the meal I opted for ‘king chicken special with rice’ was delicious.

Wednesday 13th November
There was no hotel breakfast this morning because I was going on a mini food tour and I wanted to save my appetite. Arriving at the location I met the others before our guide Charles turned up. First we had a refreshing sugar cane drink which was much needed because whilst it was only 11am it was already hot and humid.

Next we walked through ‘Brickfiields’ known locally as Little India. Here we saw a number of the older buildings that have not yet been brought by the developers that are no doubt eager to move in. Here we had a banana leaf chicken curry which to be honest would have been better as the main course but I wasn’t complaining!

Having left we went to a stand selling a variety of different fried chip snacks, the equivalent in the UK would be Bombay mix, and I particularly liked the slightly sweeter masala mix.

Next up I finally got my hands on a curry puff and such had been my enthusiasm I was taken round the back so I could see a batch being prepared. We also had the opportunity to enjoy a savoury doughnut and to try a lentil biscuit which was a bit dry for such a hot day.

I think the guide realised we were flagging in the humidity so he took us to another stall to get a drink. This time it was milk with ice shavings and sugar, just what we needed. Slightly rehydrated we got some more deep fried snacks but by now I was full and I didn’t really enjoy the yam filling.

Finally we got the monorail for a short trip to China town. Again i still wasn’t totally feeling the idea of another Chinese meal but I was convinced this would be Malaysian Chinese which is different. I’m glad I was because the worryingly named rats tail noodles were actually very nice but by now I had been defeated. Food had won.

Returning back to the monorail I had 35 minutes to get to the towers for my tour which I just made in time for check in. First we visited the bridge which connects the two towers and then went up to the 86th floor, however high that is. It felt high and I was able to make out a few of the key landmarks I’d visited down below. Arriving back at the hotel I realised my taxi had arrived early so I headed off to the airport even earlier than planned.

All in all I had a great time in Kuala Lumpur. The city did feel a bit artificial due to all the modern developments but it does show what can be achieved if development plans are made logically. Much as I love London Its gradual evolution must make it a nightmare for those that are new to the city with streets and lines appearing to go where ever with no real logic. Next up New Zealand (or ‘New Sea Land’ as I understand the Dutch named it!)

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