We woke up early since we knew we had a lot to see in just our one fully day and enjoyed breakfast in the hotel. Maybe 'enjoyed’ is a strong word, the breakfast was included in the room price which is always a bonus when traveling on a budget. It was held at the attached restaurant next door and was buffet –style with both Western and local foods.
Unfortunately, I guess we were too late in the morning (and it was Sunday so being a weekend was more crowded) as most of the hot food was cold and vice-versa. It had obviously been sitting out for quite a while and wasn’t really that good. But, the price was right I guess. It was so crowded that there were hardly any seats or tables left once we loaded up our plates so we asked an elderly couple if we could join their table. They were very nice and we got to talking with them as they are from Australia and just on their way home after a 5-week trip around SE Asia. They gave us some advice for Oz and for some things that we could do during the day today in KL (although I had already planned an exact day-tour using our Lonely Planet book and maps). We chatted quite a while so we headed out later than planned but when we went to leave for the day the hotel told us that we had to switch rooms because of planned maintenance in our current room. Unfortunately, our new room wasn’t ready yet. So we had to pack up, leave our bags in storage and check into our new room later in the day. We weren’t thrilled with this inconvenience but the hotel itself is so nice we don’t mind too much. All this out of the way it’s now much later than we planned to get started!
First on our itinerary was a visit to the Batu Caves. The limestone caves are 400 years old and since the 1800s have been one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside of India. The world's largest statue of Lord Murugan stands out front at over 42 meters high, made out of concrete and steel and painted with over 300 liters of gold paint. Our book told us that we could visit the caves via bus since they are 13km north of KL, but when looking at the LTR map we noticed we could take the metro directly there. Our Australian friends had also confirmed that the LTR will drop you right at the entrance to the caves. Our hotel was very conveniently located just a few short blocks from the Masjid Jamek LTR stop (named after the mosque Masjid Jamek) nearby so we hopped on to transfer to the right train.
Unfortunately, once we were on the KTM commuter headed outside of the city there was a significant delay so it took us well over an hour to finally reach the caves. We made it, though, and they were spectacular. What made them even more interesting was that it was Mother’s Day so there were heaps of Hindu extended families visiting to celebrate the holiday together. Although it was hot and humid (as usual here in SE Asia!), we headed straight to the largest cave for the 272 step hike to the top entrance of the caves. All the way up the steps there were monkeys playing on the rails, looking for food. There were entire monkey families, including moms carrying their babies. It was quite the hike to the top! Once inside, it was cooler and dark and there were loads of bats circling up top. There were alters and places of worship every few feet that were crowded with worshippers praying and singing.
We didn’t want to intrude too much so we didn’t stay up at the top all that long. We descended all the steps and explored a bit of the shops and eateries around the area before deciding to head back to the city on the LTR. Unfortunately, we had just missed the last train and the next one wasn’t for another half-hour so we had a bit of a wait. We finally made it to the major station downtown and had thought we could walk from there to the Lake Gardens, a park area around a lake that includes the National Mosque, Orchid Gardens and other parks dedicated to specific sights. It also included the Bird Park, the world’s largest free-flight walk-in aviary and anything with that introduction definitely goes on our list of must-sees.
Unfortunately, we found out that we had gotten off at the wrong LTR stop to be able to walk there so we hopped in a taxi instead. When we were almost pulling up to the entrance of the bird park one of the largest cockroaches I have ever seen started crawling next to me on the window. At first I thought it was outside the window but then realized it was inside the car headed for me so I scrambled on top of Dave and threw both of us out of the taxi. This caused a bit of commotion upon our arrival at the park and Dave wasn’t very happy with me but as you know from previous blog entries, cockroaches are not my thing.
Once safely inside the Bird Park I realize it’s about half past one in the afternoon and it’s hot. Like 95 degrees F, 100% humidity hot. Maybe spending 2 hours in the outdoor bird park during the hottest part of the day wasn’t the best idea we’ve ever had. But we’re here so…off we go! The first area inside the front gate is a free-flying area so there are loads of birds in bright colors flying all around your head. Dave tried to take a close-up picture of one and she flew past him and about knocked him over. I was already impressed, this was a very hands-on experience. We walked to a few other areas and all along the pathways there are peacocks and cranes and all other friendly-type birds wandering with you. We made it to the hornbill section which really impressed me – I don’t think I’ve ever seen hornbills of this size in the US before now.
One of them even hopped around on his bench when we got excited – I tried to video him hopping from one end to the other but didn’t catch it in time. There were heaps of species of birds that I’d never seen or heard of before and that were strikingly beautiful. Just as we’re headed to the swan section we see a Photo Booth and for a few Ringgit you can get your picture taken (or use your own camera) with several live and well-trained birds. I’ll be honest; I didn’t trust the birds at all and was not into being that close to them so Dave completed this detour challenge on his own. He was allowed to pick out 2 birds and have a few minutes with them perched on his shoulders and arms. We then passed through another parrot area where we’d just missed the live feeding but still saw them digging in and finished up the park at the waterfall and swan pond.
The day before my mom had let us know that the May issue of Budget Travel magazine had an article about the food in Malaysia and had listed some recommendations in KL. This was a very timely article as we happen to be there! We had taken down the name of a Hokkien-style coffee shop and took a taxi from the Bird Park directly there to save time. The Yut Kee coffee shop has been around for over 80 years in KL, serving traditional Hokkien style food. They are most famous for their roast pork that they make only on Friday and Sundays at 11am and when it’s sold out, it’s gone. We knew we’d be too late in the day to take advantage of this local specialty but we wanted to try the other food and experience this type of place. When you walk in, you just pick an empty table and even at 3pm on a Sunday the place was jammed.
It had old wooden ceiling fans and you could just imagine what it looked like 80 years ago when it opened. The waiter was really nice, helping us decide what to order since the roast pork was sold out. He suggested their next most famous item, the chicken chop and some spicy noodles. They were both delicious – the chicken chop was a breaded and fried piece of chicken covered in gravy and sliced into thick pieces. It wasn’t greasy and still tasted Chinese to me. The noodles were delicious as well, with pieces of fish and prawns and other mysterious ingredients. They are also famous for their Kaya Roll. Kaya is a coconut jam that you can only really get in Malaysia and Singapore and here they spread it on layers of bread and roll it up, kind of like a cinnamon roll in the States. Unfortunately, they were out of them as well so we didn’t get to enjoy them but have something for next time I guess.
On our way to pay at the checkout counter we meet a nice gentleman who introduces himself as Jack, the owner of the place. When we tell him we’re from the US he introduces us to his son who spent some time studying in Buffalo, NY. We told Mervyn that he and the restaurant were famous for just being in the BT article so we got to chatting for quite a while. He wanted to know how long we were in town so we could come back for their roast pork. He helped point us in the right direction on our map and gave us advice for our next stops. When we finally said goodbye we felt as though we had new friend!
At this point we weren’t far from the KL Tower and thought that we’d go up to the top for a good view of the city. It was a sunny and clear day so we knew the view would be good, and we’d heard from a few folks that the view of the city from the KL Tower is better than the view of the city from the Petronas Towers. At the Petronas Towers you can only go up to the 41st floor and you have to pick up tickets at 8am for later in the day which is not really convenient for touring on a tight time schedule. Anyway, it was a bit of hike up to the entrance of the KL Towers and we both looked like we had just taken showers.
We bought our tickets and took the elevator to the top and the trek was well-worth it. The views were indeed spectacular in every direction and the views of the Petronas Towers were really incredible. After a bit of a rest at the top and time enjoying the views we headed back down. Included in our tickets to the top was an after-experience called "F1 Simulator". We found the entrance to this right outside the KL Tower entrance, and you sit in a little model racecar with a video screen and are allowed to ‘drive’ for 2 laps around the track. Two people could enjoy this experience at a time so apparently I was racing Dave. I didn’t really pay attention to what was going on, just trying not to flip my car and turns out I came in 15th place (out of 16). Dave enjoyed the race immensely and came in 1st! I was very proud.
We headed back down and were going towards the LTR station when we passed by the Hard Rock Restaurant in the Concord Hotel. Dave’s brother likes to collect shot glasses from all the Hard Rock locations he’s visited so Dave got him one from KL to add to his collection. Let’s just hope it makes it home! We made it to the LTR station and took the train to one stop past our hotel, near Chinatown. We headed towards Petaling Street which we thought was the main center to Chinatown and the markets were just setting up and getting started. Most of the hostels are in this section along with many Chinese restaurants, temples and meeting houses.
We also enjoyed another street market of stalls selling copy goods. You had to be really careful here as the stalls and shops were very close to each other so that there’s only a tiny alleyway to walk through. If there are people walking in both directions it’s even more crowded and you can get pick-pocketed quite easily. Our Australian friends at breakfast let us know that their wallet went this way so we were sensitive to it. Luckily, we made it out of the market just as whole as we went in (save a few dollars in purchases) and we were beat. A full day of exploring in the heat just takes it out of you. We got a bit turned around but managed to make our way back to our hotel to check into our new room and relax in the air-con for a few hours.
Our hotel was a few blocks from Little India (just on the other side of the Saturday Night Market) so we decided to just run out for a quick bite to eat nearby. We found a sit-down restaurant where there were all locals, very little English and we got plenty of odd looks – my kind of restaurant! The waiter was really nice and we ordered pretty traditional Indian food although it was all Halal. I’ve never seen this combination before Malaysia and it’s so interesting. We enjoyed Tandoori Chicken, Chicken and rice and naan with curry – a feast! Dave gave up long before I did but I was able to carry the team and made a valiant effort in clearing our plates. The ethnic food just tastes better here than anywhere in the States. After dinner we were stuffed, exhausted from the long day and the heat and fully satisfied with our wonderful experience in KL!
Kuala Lumpur is one of my all-time favorite cities. It's a fantastic mix of Indian, Malay, and Chinese culture and Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Tao religions which means loads of great food, architecture, museums, sights and music. Although it’s a Muslim country there are loads of fun things to do (although most pack it in around 10pm) and explore. And even walking down the street you see women in full Burkas and head coverings, women in saris and those wearing Western clothes. I’m getting ahead of myself so let me start at the beginning of our fantastic day in KL, as the locals call it.