Sunday, 11 September 2016

Week 21.2 - Kuala Lumpur

The journey from Tanah Rata to Kuala Lumpur seemed to take forever. The coach slowly wound it’s way down the hills, and when we reached the highway this speed didn’t seem to increase…I’ll remember to book a mini bus next time! Though the coach was comfy, the seats are in a row of 2 and 1 making them much wider than your average chair. They also recline and have an adjustable foot support, a bit like your grandads favourite armchair. Driving into Kuala Lumpur I was shocked to notice how clean it was for a capital city, the skyscrapers are a brilliant white or a crisp grey, with uniformed houses surrounding them. The roadsides are clean and the flags in the middle are so new looking that it wouldn’t surprise me if someone didn’t change them each evening, ready for the next day. The people of Malaysia obviously take great pride in their country.

There was a little bit of confusion when the bus finally stopped, the first destination was the central station where we departed, however we thought it was the airport and didn’t know if we should stay on the bus. Anyway, after a quick chat with the local police officer and some taxi drivers we managed to get a private car for a good price to our new digs at the Rainforest Hotel. Located in China Town, our new home is a tiny twin room with shared bathroom. Thankfully, they’re clean and my stomachs better. 

After we checked in we were faced with the boring task of laundry, something which we haven’t done ourselves since Japan, and at least in Japan it wasn’t scorching and the laundrettes had air con. Still the machines were quick, and we made some friends at the Rainbow laundry as a few old men couldn’t get the change machine to work, but with Kyle’s help they were able to wash what looked like the whole streets clothing, they had so many bags! Once we had clean pants and fresh smelling socks we headed onto Petaling Street. The centre of China Town, which was once the Old Town but renamed after many Chinese settled in the area, Petaling Street is adorned with stalls selling fake bags, watches, sunglasses, shoes and clothes. It reminded me of Shanghai, all the rich Westerners pay to come to Kuala Lumpur with two extra suitcases, just to fill them with knock of gear and pretend it’s the real deal when they get home. Further walking took us to the food section, and we quickly pulled up a plastic chair on the front and did some people watching over my favourite, Chinese noodles.

We had a late night walking around and enjoying the sights and sounds of China Town, and though not as clean as the rest of the capital, there’s a nice feel and energy to the area. The next day, after a long lie in, we visited a local Indian Mosque and then crossed the street to see a Chinese Temple, just like George Town so many cultures again live happily in the same area, (has everywhere else sorted itself out yet?).

Whilst in Tanah Rata we were lucky enough to meet a couple that we actually got along with. Renske and Wes are from the Netherlands and are currently enjoying a mini vacation, they were nice enough to tell us about the free Heritage Walk in Kuala Lumpur and book us onto the evening tour with them. Our tour guide, Jane, met us at the Old Market Square where our walk would begin. As Jane got to talking, a local girl aged around 8, decided that she wanted to be the centre of attention and took to standing in the middle of our group pulling faces and dancing. Everyone else was mature enough to ignore her, but being the nice people that we are Kyle and I obviously laughed along and ended up playing games with her at the back of the group. Whoops!

The next stop of the tour was Masjid Jamek Mosque, the first brick mosque to be built in Kuala Lumpur by a British architect in 1909. It’s a beautiful building, but unfortunately not easy to access at the moment as they are currently improving the walkways and paths around the city. All the same we enjoyed the view, and got to hear an evening worship from over the river. Onwards took us to Bank Bumiputra, a former office of Radio Malaya (the first broadcasting station), this building is made to look like the front of a radio and has stonework to look like vinyl discs around the framework, and was one of my favourite buildings of the evening. Onwards walking took us to a local market, filled with stalls selling jewels, saris and headscarves, they were all brightly coloured and eye catching. Further into the market we saw the old council flats and a local food bazaar. The stall owners were so friendly, letting us try things like biscuits, fruits, nuts and pancakes…it was all delicious, apart from the jack fruit, I still can’t make up my mind on that one. Maybe it’s because I smelt it before I ate it?
Another great stop was the Coliseum, now showing Bollywood and Malay films, and the old bar and restaurant behind still has all the original fixtures and fittings. It was like a step back in time, we enjoyed a beer or two and met two men who had been working there for four generations. They told us how they spent a lot of their time teaching the new staff how to make the best steaks in town, to ensure that the restaurant kept it’s famous reputation. Our final stop was the Old City Hall, now a theatre showing Mud, a story of Malaysia, and something which I was desperate to see but couldn’t convince Kyle to go. It’s been hard enough to get him to agree to the Lion King when we get to New York!

It was a great evening, and Jane was knowledgable and funny, though I wish we had squeezed in more sights, Kuala Lumpur has far too much to offer. If you want to do a free walk, just register your interest with the City Hall and they will advise you of the spaces available. I personally recommend going on an evening, just as the temperature (though not cold) may be a little more bearable. We wanted to finish our evening with one last drink before saying goodbye to Wes and Renske so made our way back to China Town, whilst there’s plenty of food on offer there’s not too many bars, this meant waking to the business district 10 minutes away. Upon arrival I felt like this part of the area was something which I didn’t want to see. Like Bar Street in Siem Reap, Cambodia and Khao San Road, Thailand, the street we found ourselves on was lined with loud bars, and drinks offers (though not as cheap as the rest of Asia). The one good thing about the bars was that the people inside were not all Western, and it was a good mix of people from around the globe, again mainly older like those I told you about that come for the knock off goods. It wasn’t a bad evening, we had a great time with our new friends and have planned to stay in touch and exchange future travel plans.

Today we planned to wake at 6am and catch a train to the Batu Caves, after getting in a little before 1am that early rise didn’t really happen. Instead we heaved ourselves out of bed just before 7am, grabbed a quick shower and caught the 8.13am train. Thankfully, the trains here are really easy to navigate and have English announcements, its reminded me a lot of Beijing’s underground. The Batu Caves are located just outside of Kuala Lumpur and the train journey takes a little over 20 minutes, it’s a bargain price at 5 ringgit for a return. (Many people opt to book a tour for crazy money, don’t, the train drops you right at the entrance and there’s no fee for the main cave). A limestone outcrop, the Batu caves home Hindu shrines and temples. The main cave has 272 narrow stone steps to climb to reach the inside, which are lined with cheeky monkeys…don’t take food with you, they will steal it! Once inside the cave we were overwhelmed with the size, it is huge! We were lucky enough to witness two religious ceremonies once inside, and I was taken aback by the commitment these people show to their religion. There were many people dressed in beautiful clothing, carrying gifts to the gods, and others who were not able to walk crawling up the stairs to pay their respects, another unbelievable sign of respect for their religion. 

We were sweating when we got back down, and at 9am it wasn’t even that hot! I would hate to go any later, what with the heat and the entourage of tourists which were slowly making their way in! There’s a cave to your left when you first exit the train, this one charges a 5 ringgit entry fee, but is filled with beautiful statues and a’s also a lot cooler so a perfect way to escape the heat. It was a good day, and a great sight to see, especially the huge golden god at the main stairs, but we had to take it with a pinch of salt. There’s A LOT of construction work going on all around and inside the caves, and there’s a lot of litter on site, hopefully in time once the work is finished this will all be cleared up too.

After a lazy afternoon, we were transported back to China when we used Kuala Lumpur’s underground system for the first time. It’s so simple and easy to use, like those in Beijing and China, that it felt like we’d gone back a few months. Our destination this evening was the KLCC and the Petronas Towers (which just make me think of Harry Potter, fellow nerds will know why). The KLCC is a huge designer shopping mall, complete with M&S which I am over the moon about as I now have some Percy Pigs, yummy! I also got caught short in the mall and made a mad dash to the loo, imagine my horror when they were squat! I’ve seen nicer toilets in the markets! I soon got over my tummy troubles so we could make our way outside to see the towers and skyscrapers lit up for the evening, it was a nice sight and surprisingly peaceful for how busy it was. I don’t think Kyle was a fan, he said looking up made his eyes hurt.

We’ve just arrived back at the hotel, and for once were packed and ready to go at 6.30 tomorrow morning. Our next stop Kuching, Borneo and the hunt for the orang-utans.

Love Carrie xxx

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