48 Hours in Kuala Lumpur

Trip Start Jul 02, 2004
Trip End Sep 10, 2004

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Monday, August 16, 2004

So what does someone when they've got 48 hours to kill in Kuala Lumpur? Well actually quite a lot!

Kuala Lumpur is a backpackers paradise, it's got cheap accommodation, a good exchange rate, lots of bars, and markets to shop for the most convincing fake designer leather good and clothes.

I saw a lot of Westerners there on holiday, far more than those in Singapore so I'm assuming most of them were on the Asian backpackers trail through Thailand, Malaysia and pacific islands of Indonesia. But I was only there for 48 hours so it was literally like, "right check into the hotel and go out and explore... now!". Unfortunately, travelling around KL is really difficult by public transport, there are about 4 light rails serving the city, none of which interchange directly because they're run by private companies and good maps of the street are hard to come by too. So I had to try and figure out how to walk around to find the stations I wanted, some of which have had name changes too!

Petronas Twin Towers
I thought if I'm in Malaysia, the first thing I have to see is the Petronas Twin Towers, once the tallest buildings in the world, now the tallest free standing towers in the world, sorry Canada(!). They really impressive and are made entirely of glass and steel to form a chromatic display that scrapes the sky! Underneath are just a dazzling array of shops, cinemas and restaurants all seated under the tallest towers in the world - nice!

The shopping district of KL
Back to my area in an annexed part of the town that was like a mini-Chinatown, and so I found out, I was living in the shopping area of KL! Great stuff, and electronics and clothes are really cheap here too. All genuine of course, I was yet to see the fake stuff but you can't complain with prices for T-Shirts at just 5. I wasn't going to either. Malaysian's are big on electronics and some of the stalls I saw were more up to date with products than Singapore. It's actually more exciting buying stuff in KL, the people are just nicer than the rude attitude I got from shops in Singapore. People in KL just welcome your custom and even if you're just browsing, they don't mind filling you in with information about products and having a chat.

Seeking out the Veggies in Chinatown
According to my newly purchased, out of date guidebook on KL, I read about a restaurant serving what was supposed to be quality vegetarian cuisine and adapt for any meat lover since they used Soya replacement products to replace any meat in their recipes.

Only problem was that, KL is chaotic at the best of times and asking directions is less than easy. I had to snake through the packed shanty streets of Chinatown with a rough map of the place I drew on a hotel napkin, stopping off at every stall, hawker, canvasser and the odd tourist asking if they knew where this blasted restaurant was. In the end, the only landmarks that matched up to the map were the hotels and by using a bit of intuition and luck, wandered down a dark alley but also clearly marked by the 'Yuan Fau Yan' restaurant in it's meridian.

Inside, it was basically furnished, most people had left and a TV in the far corner beamed out uninteresting Malay documentaries that no one was watching but were forced to listen to due to its loud ambience through the restaurant. I was served quickly and ordered some Soya beef noodles and rice. Looking around, an Indian family were finishing up their meal and waiters mulled around the sides packing up the tables in a lazy fashion, choosing to sweep the floor, clear a table or try to find something interesting to fixate on the TV.

My food arrived red hot about 10 minutes later and I tucked in, having gained a ferocious appetite from my hour of walking in Chinatown. Looking around, I tried to ignore the presence of large cockroaches crawling by my table and the glancing stares of the chef coming out of the kitchen. But the food wasn't bad at all. In total, it came to around 4 with the iced lemon tea being the most expensive item.

Back on the street, having spent most of my money buying fake DVD's and watches in the market stalls whilst looking around for the restaurant, I rummaged around in my shallow pockets for some cash and found 10 Riggits, just enough to get a cab back home. Fortunately, the restaurant was located near a busy junction so it wasn't difficult to flag down a rusty cab to get back home.

The Mission on Monday
Armed with my newly purchased, out of date guidebook that I'd bought the previous day and a swift determination to get as much done on my last day, I booked a car from the hotel to see the 'Batu Caves'. These caves loom over the district of KL about 30 minutes drive away but are now spiritually annexed as a Hindu shrine.

Hoards of tourists buzzed around the entrance, gazing at the very large, steep, 240 steps that lead up to the caves. Nearby, a statue of Vishnu was being renovated, and was obscured by sticks of scaffolding and drilling from within. I tried to brush past the various kitsch vendors and Japanese tourists to begin my ascent; determined to rid my chest of the wicked cough I got in Melbourne, I managed to stagger to the top without stopping, occasionally looking up to glance at the groups of pilgrims and tourists who'd stopped at the various flights for a rest.

The caves themselves are quite impressive though the shrines located inside were small, darkly lit and empty in most cases. Birds fluttered above my head around the cave top which seemed to be nearly 100ft high and monkeys raced around the caves, trying to scavenge pieces of offering that some of the Hindu devotees had bought up for the shrines. One guy held a giant python snake for picture purposes and stored a very large lizard on his table, presumably for the same purpose. Another guy had a stall selling cold drinks at highly inflated prices; I can imagine his business was quite good.

Occasionally, water would drip onto people's heads as they gazed around them, but this was one of the few occasions I wish I had my proper camera with me because some of the views of the caves crevasse's and the light filtering through them was truly spectacular.

I wandered back down the stairs which seemed harder to walk down than climb. Again, hoards of devotees and tourists kept climbing up as I was walking down and at the bottom, I had to give in to exhaustion and buy a bottle of water and an ice cream.

Murky ponds surround the base of the caves and there was a lot of renovation going on to expand the resident art gallery on the side of it. The driver took me around to see an immense, white statue of Haruman, the Hindu monkey God with his hands clasped in a fist. It looked quite comical with Haruman's face almost resembling a frowned, human face.

Driving back into town, I told the drive to drop me back at the 'KL Tower', 400ft communications tower that supplies Malaysia with its satellite, telecoms and mobile capacities. At the top, is a 360 degree viewing gallery and combined with a mandatory audio tour, provided a very upstart opinion of KL, complete with commentaries from the various architects of the tower and the Malaysian national anthem. Naturally the Twin Towers had the most worshippers gathered around it's viewing window. It was easy to tell that the KL Tower provided a better view of KL since the viewing gallery for the Twin Towers only goes up to the footbridge that links the towers together that is at a lower altitude to the KL Tower.

Doing well for time, I decided to complete a walking tour of the old, Malay area of KL. I was advised by my completely out of date guide book that it was located on the main Sultan bin Ismail Road just off the station by the same name. The problem here was that the map accompanying the book, showed two stations of the same name on different light rail lines! So it had to be pot luck which station I picked and guess what, I picked the wrong one. I'd spent an hour trekking down the wrong part of the road, in the wrong direction. Fortunately a kind Malay pointed me towards a station on the right line I needed and I paid the fee to get on the metro line.

Finally finding the Malay area, there wasn't much to see. Some interesting, motor mechanic garages dotted one area of the street where people came to get their mopeds fixed. Further on, the buildings became very drab and old fashioned, some in disrepair and others renovated into 7/11's, banks, and a KFC. I decided to have lunch in an outdoor, canvassed restaurant serving authentic Malay food on a buffet.

Picking out a curried fish, rich, spicy vegetable curry and sauce, it was hard to stomach due to the abundance of hot spices but I couldn't complain at the 1.20 price tag including drinks. There's a picture of the food on the picture gallery if you want to see what it looked like!

Last night in Malaysia
Back to the hotel, I rested and packed since I was leaving early the next morning for Singapore and wanted to spend the evening in Chinatown to patronise an outdoor, hawker restaurant. The atmosphere around the street was fairly electric with droves of tourists and locals walking down being hassled by the various restaurant touts waving menus in their faces, urging them to eat at their restaurant. I just settled for a random table at the edge of the road. I didn't realise that cars would also be driving down this street, some of them, coming within inches of my table!

Ordering the sizzling beef, I really did get sizzling beef! The waiter bought the customary beef tray covered with a metal lid. In his hand, he held a bowl of vegetables; he lifted the lid up and tipped the veggies in and closed the lid. The sizzling beef tray suddenly came to life making a tremendous roar, bellowing out copious amounts of steam and spit whilst people in the opposite restaurant just stared out at it, some of them asked the waiter to get them the same thing purely for the novelty aspect!

All in all, it was a nice end to 48 hours of KL. I'm definitely going to go back there one day and do the backpackers trail around Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore (if I can stomach it again) and Indonesia.
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