Hot and Humid

Trip Start Nov 29, 2008
Trip End Jan 18, 2009

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Flag of Malaysia  , Wilayah Persekutuan,
Sunday, December 14, 2008

I slept in late my first day in KL, then walked all the way to the KL Tower where I took in the panoramic view of the city. After that, off to the Petronas towers, which I learned are open to visitors on a first come/ first serve basis, so if you're not there by 8:30, forget it. I checked out the large park in the city by the Convention Center, and even got to see hundreds of people gathered at the mosque for Friday services, where the imam could be heard over the loudspeaker. Quite an experience.

After lunch, I headed off to the southwest part of the city. I walked past the historic Pudu Jail and the Chan See Shu Yuen Temple before wandering onto Petaling Street, the hawker center of the city. No souvenirs for me though-most of it was junk. I'll have to grab something before I leave Malaysia. I was exhausted and drenched in sweat and about to catch the monorail back to my hotel when I saw a sign pointing to the National Mosque. Well, I can't resist another tourist site, can I? So I walked in that direction. I passed a gorgeous building with classic Islamic architecture. Surely this was the National Mosque? Nope, just a posh hotel. After that, another building even more elaborate than the first. The Mosque? No, the historic Malaysian Railway HQ Building. Finally, the Mosque. A beautiful building (although not as nice as the RR HQ), but unfortunately closed to visitors during the time I was there. Not a major loss--the insides of mosques are rarely as impressive as the architecture.

Funny story-while at the mosque, I chatted with an Australian tourist. When she mentioned the heat, I gestured to my sweat-soaked shirt to agree with her about how stifling it was. She said "Well, that's not all sweat is it?" Oh, no, I'm afraid it is! No dousing with a bottle of water here!

So, at five, I finally begin my trek back to the metro station, making it back to my hotel past six, soaked in sweat and with a sore right foot. But it was a productive day.

My well laid plan to get up early for another full day of exploration went agley when presented with the enticing alternative of sleeping in late to rest my sore body. So after grabbing a late breakfast, I didn't make it out to the Caves until almost 11 . This time, just a few minutes of walking was enough to soak my shirt through and through. But the caves are well worth a visit. A giant statue of the son of Shiva (whose name I forget) stands at ground level, guarding the 272 steep steps one must climb to reach the main temple cave. The path up is overrun with friendly monkeys, who no doubt feast on both the offerings left to the gods and the gifts of friendly tourists. The central cave itself is damp and dark, but there is an opening in the back which lets in natural light. Several shrines jostle for space with concession booths selling snacks and souvenirs-I don't think Hinduism has ever had a problem with moneychangers in the temples. The whole thing doesn't take more than an hour to see. I'm sure it's an even more interesting experience during the annual festival, when thousands of pilgrims swarm over the place, many having pierced and mutilated themselves in devotional rituals.

I cabbed back to my hotel, where I changed out of my sweaty shirt and relaxed in my air conditioned room for almost an hour. But there are sights to be seen, so I'm off again! Except, maybe I should have checked the weather first. Clear skies at the hotel had become a light drizzle by the time I disembarked at Masjid Jamek station. But a little rain is not enough to discourage this intrepid explorer, so I trudged on to photograph the Central Square and the adjacent Sultan Abdul Samad Building. It was past two, so I ducked into a local Indian restaurant for a quick lunch before reemerging, planning on visiting the National Monument and Parliament House. But the rain, which had subsided slightly, returned stronger than ever. I sought temporary shelter under an overhang in the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, but it became clear that this was going to last long enough that I'd have no choice but to call it a day and return to my hotel, and probably get soaked doing so.

And get soaked I did. Almost every square inch of clothing was saturated by the time I made it back to my room. So I changed into my third outfit of the day, and lay in my hotel room bed for the next several hours, reading and watching TV. Not the optimal way to spend an afternoon in KL, but when the weather doesn't cooperate, what choice do you have?

On my final day in KL, I did manage to get up bright and early to snag free tickets to the bridge connecting the Petronas Towers. Compared to the KL Tower, this was a nightmare. When I got to the office and 8:00, there were already several hundred people in line for tours that didn't start until 9:00. The process is to simply wait in line until the office opens at 8:30, at which point they start handing out tickets to those first in line. A sign informs you of the current time for which they are issuing tickets. By the time I got to the front of the line after over an hour, it was up to 11:15.

And here's where it gets even screwier. I had been talking in line to this Chinese woman the whole time. When I'm next in line, I hear the guy in front of me say that he wants to get a ticket for after lunch. OK, I guess this makes sense-you can buy a later ticket if you want. But when I go for my ticket, the vendor doesn't ask me what time I'd like or anything-just hands me a ticket for 11:15. I wanted the earliest one I could get anyway, but why did the other guy get to request a time and I didn't? But then, the Chinese lady behind me gets here ticket for 10:00! She said the lady just asked her if she wanted an earlier time, she said yes, and got it! There were two vendors, so those lucky enough to get the female vendor apparently got all sorts of choices while those of us with the guy got none.
It's already 9:15 at this point, so there's clearly no time to go anywhere else and make it back in 2 hours, especially since I still need to grab breakfast. But fortunately, the building between the two towers in a tremendous mall, so I was able to eat and window shop for an hour before going back. One shop in the mall sold just jigsaw puzzles-I love buying games and puzzles from everywhere I go, so this should be perfect, right? I asked the clerk if they had any puzzles of Malaysia. Nope, not one. A whole store devoted to jigsaw puzzles, located in the most iconic building in the country, and not a single puzzle featuring the towers, or the KL skyline, or the Penang beaches, or anything! So much for that. I ended up buying an overpriced deck of round playing cards at another shop.

On to the tour itself: You're forced to sit through a ten minute video extolling the wonders of the Petronas corporation before piling into an elevator and going to the 41st floor, where you have ten minutes to wander freely before having to go back down. The view was nice and it's certainly a unique experience, but overall a big disappointment. It takes up an entire morning, consists of tons of wasted time waiting in line, and you go down the same tower you came up in! (I wasn't expecting anything different for this, but how much cooler would it be to ascend Tower 2, cross the bridge, and descend Tower 1?)

So I made it back to my hotel just before 1:00 today, which gave me enough time to eat lunch and do this blogging before catching a taxi to the airport at 3 for my (alleged) 5:30 flight. Of course, my Air Asia flight was predictably late, but at least the airport had free wifi, allowing me to post this.
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