Welcoming the Dragon

Trip Start Nov 01, 2011
Trip End Apr 12, 2013

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Flag of Malaysia  , Kuala Lumpur,
Thursday, January 26, 2012

It was time to make the epic trip even further South, and an occasion for adding another coveted passport stamp! Our destination; Kuala Lumpur, capital city of Malaysia.

We left Khao Sok by minibus heading to the coastal town of Suratthani, which was where our ticket ended. We were hoping to be able to secure onward travel there, but it proved to be a particularly nervous morning, worrying about how far South we could make it, and discussing what to do if we had to stay a night in some ramshackle town along the way. Happily, our worries didn't amount to anything, and we managed to book a joint ticket all the way to KL.

24 hours later, we arrived around 5am, having swapped buses a total of three times in various rundown place. Classically, we had to change buses due to an electrical fault, just at the time I started to fall asleep. Had to happen.

Unusually for us we had booked accommodation in advance, knowing we’d be arriving in the mega sprawl early morning, and wanting to avoid the stress of navigating in a new city at that time. We managed to check in to our quirky guesthouse, with a vibrant Asian decor and situated in the backpacker mainstay of Chinatown. Admittedly it could have done with a good clean, but budget accommodation was scarce, so it would have to do! It was off to bed for a couple hours of much needed sleep, and then up again to see what the pride of Malaysia had to offer us!

From the offset we were hugely impressed. We were presented with a bustling and crowded city, modern and innovative, boasting a hefty ratio of greenery, a sophisticated, reliable transport network, and a truly breathtaking skyline. It’s a multicultural melting pot, brimming with all manner of religions, races and traditions. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and many fringe religions all coexist in surprising harmony. There were whole areas teeming with certain ethnicities, from the intoxicating sights and smells of the cobbled streets in Chinatown, to Little India, home to a vast array of mouth-watering curries and tonnes of stalls selling traditional crafts and garb.

The main thing which we found so appealing was simple; we felt safe there. Unlike the hassles of Phnom Penh, Hanoi or Bangkok, we could trust the transport systems, and didn’t feel constantly under threat of scammers and rip-off merchants.

On our first morning we explored Petaling Street and its surroundings, the hub of Chinatown. Thanks to some brilliant timing, we had actually arrived midway through the Chinese New Year festivities, as the whole city gave a warm welcome to the Year of the Dragon. This also happened to coincide with the year Abi and I were born, perfect! This led to a huge increase in the population of visitors to the city, and helped add to an already bouncing atmosphere.

Some spurious, questionable foods were given a wide berth, but I did feast on some famous claypot chicken that evening, which was a real treat. After this we visited Merdeka Square, site of the proclamation of Malaysia’s independence in 1957, and now a square bedecked with sumptuous colonial architecture. As with most places in the city centre, the iconic skyline dominated the backdrop, getting us very excited for visiting a few mammoth skyscrapers in the coming days.

We spent the early afternoon strolling in an inner-city garden district called the Lake Gardens. This was one of many scenic areas in KL which offered a respite from the exhaustive heat and concrete sentinels. We even came across a massive play park and spent a while making childish fools of ourselves in front of the locals, but loving every immature minute!

From here it was time to grab some late lunch in Little India. By now we’d been craving a good Indian curry for a while, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. We visited a flea-bitten little restaurant, packed with Indian immigrants, always a good sign! As seems to be the case in Asia, the more rundown the decor, the more genuine and tasty the food is! We feasted on some phenomenal curry, biryiani rice and some freshly cooked naan. Simply sublime.

The night was spent quietly, as we both had a lot to experience the next day, we planned to vigorously attack some of KL’s positively gargantuan shopping malls. Safe to say Abi was a freakishly excited mess at the prospect!

We caught the efficient monorail from near our place to a mall we had been recommended by fellow travellers; Berjaya Times Square. I’ve been in some pretty big shopping centres in my time, but this beggared belief! The mall was situated inside a vast hotel, with ten stories of shopping heaven encompassed within. The place was so giant it even had a theme park inside! Hell yes. Thanks to our good timing the place was resplendent with decorations celebrating the Year of the Dragon.

We spent a long time indeed wandering the shops, and a few hours in the theme park, which was of surprisingly high quality. Abi was very nearly sick after the first ride chucked us upside down far too many times! As a sympathetic method of recovery I dragged her on to a monstrous rollercoaster, the great boyfriend I am! Despite this shaky experience, Abi was impressed with the scale of the mall, but still refused to admit it was better than her beloved Metro Centre back home!

The next day, it was time to visit one of the most iconic buildings in the world; the Petronas Towers. Formerly the world’s tallest skyscrapers, and visible from every direction for miles on end, we knew we’d be blown away. We spent a while capturing the usual tourist shots, and craning our necks up at the towers. However, we decided not to ascend to the skybridge on the 41st storey, as we had discovered that a neighbouring leviathan offered a viewing experience an impressive 100m higher than there. This was situated in the Menara Kuala Lumpur, also known as the KL Tower. The soaring communication tower is perched on top of a forested hill, with a viewing deck 276m high, affording commanding 360 degree views of the city. From that height, we could really appreciate the splendour of KL, from every angle there was stunning architecture to be viewed, and the ratio of parks and green areas was remarkable.

A fantastic day of city life was rounded off nicely by visiting the magnificent Suria KLCC mall, slap-bang at the feet of the Petronas Towers. The prime location is definitely not wasted here. The Suria may not have matched the scale of Berjaya Times Square, but it made up for it with the sheer quality of shopping. Top couture labels like Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Versace, Miu Miu and so on abounded. Of course Abi and I could only window shop and slovenly dream from the outside!

On our last day there we devoted a few hours to sitting in the 20 acre parkland built below the Petronas Towers. It was a serenely peaceful place to reflect on just what we had been up to in Asia so far, as we prepared to move on to Indonesia the following day. We also happened upon a traditional drum exhibition in yet another shopping mall, the Pavilion, in the trendy Golden Triangle area of the city. By now we I had grown weary of traipsing through impossibly large shopping malls, but I got the feeling Abi could have went on forever! I somehow managed to peel her away from the shops, and we went to Little India for a farewell curry.

We couldn’t help but have a return visit to the Petronas Towers at night time also, to see them perfectly eliminated and shining like beacons through the night sky. After dark, KL really came to life, and we wandered around many districts practically speechless, attempting to take in the myriad sights before our eyes. Eventually we decided we’d had enough, and headed back for a final sleep in KL.

And so it was time to say goodbye to Malaysia already, the fifth delicacy on our global menu. It was a fleeting visit to be sure, but one we couldn’t have enjoyed more. Kuala Lumpur is without a doubt our favourite city of the trip so far, and we can’t recommend it highly enough. One thing we won’t miss was the fairly grubby room in our guesthouse though, and we leave behind a graveyard of dead cockroaches on the floor as our legacy!

Our next course promised much also, it was time to get airborne once again, and make our way into the Southern Hemisphere, for the first time in my life. Indonesia, you gon’ get it!
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