All that glitters in Kuala Lumpur

Trip Start Sep 21, 2008
Trip End Jun 19, 2009

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Flag of Malaysia  , Wilayah Persekutuan,
Thursday, January 29, 2009

We got up early for our 5:45 am walk to the MRT (local train) -- about a 1-mile walk to the hostel.  Once we got off the train, we walked about the same distance again to the train station.  We could have taken a bus, but we enjoyed the walk despite our heavy packs.  We grabbed a snack at a bakery for breakfast, and then had just enough time for a coffee at the train station, but our time was cut short when we learned we had to go through preliminary Malaysian Customs and Immigration at the Singapore Train Station.  That meant slamming the coffee, filling out the paperwork and queuing up before boarding the train for our 7:40 departure.
We had second class train tickets, so we found our car and our seats and settled in for the 6+ hour train ride.  The second class car was a little worn, but we had seats in the front with plenty of leg room and a clear view of the widescreen TV.  Soon we were on our way, but less than an hour later we arrived at the Singapore/Malaysia border.  Everyone got off the train to relinquish Singapore immigration departure cards then lined up to reboard, and .then we were officially in Malaysia and on our way to Kuala Lumpur. 
The journey took us through small villages, and some larger towns.  There were many stops along the way, and many slow downs where they were doing track construction.  The scenery was tropical, looked dry for a lot of the journey - must have been waiting for the rainy season to get in full swing.  I stood in the doorway of our carriage for a while to take a few photos and stretch my legs.  Almost everybody waved as the train passed by rice paddies, palm plantations and villages.  It was nice.
We arrived in KL 1 hour and 20 minutes late.-and just in time for the afternoon downpour!  We negotiated for a cab, but then went inside and paid the standard cab fare instead.  Our cab driver took a lot of short cuts to our hostel, The Traveler's Palm.  When we arrived, we were very warmly greeted by our host, Suzie and shown the facilities and our room. 
We lucked out with the location.  Our hostel was centrally located to Bukit Bintang (the main shopping district), a monorail station and also Jalan (street) Alor, (an area lined with restaurants and food stalls).  Like the hostel in Singapore, we had wi-fi internet, so we spent some time in the afternoon catching up on email and planning our adventures in Kuala Lumpur and future destinations. 
In the evening, we ventured out to Jalan Alor to find food.  Rain looked like it was certain, so we took our raincoats and before we made it to the end of our street, we were caught in a torrential downpour.  We trudged on, peering through our raincoat hoods and sloshing through growing puddles to try to find an appealing food stall.  And I, in particular, was on a quest to find a good Laksa, which Malaysia is known for.  Unfortunately, most of the restaurants were traditional Chinese or food we didn't quite recognize or find appealing, so eventually we left the street and headed back to a little Indian restaurant Renee saw on the way.  It turned out to be pretty good, and we enjoyed it despite the constant curious stares from the locals. 
We got a late start the next morning, so by the time we left the hostel it was pretty warm and steamy outside.  But Chinatown was calling, so we took the 5-minute walk to the monorail and got off at the unpronounceable stop nearest Chinatown with some other tourists on the same mission.  We all bumbled through together and figured out which way to walk.  Along the way, there was a temple with interesting statuary on the outside, so we made a brief stop to have a look inside.  It was decorated for the Chinese New Year, and loaded with offerings like the others.  It was also adorned with Bonsai trees of all shapes and sizes which were little works of are in themselves.  It was a nice reprieve from the heat before we continued on our way.
Soon we approached Chinatown and the Petaling Street Markets.  Like Chinatown in Singapore, it was loaded with vendor stalls, but we didn't enjoy it half as much because basically it was Designer Knock Off Street.  Anything, any brand, nothing original, nothing genuine, nothing cheap, nothing our style.  Row after row of watches, shirts, and shoes were intermixed with an occasional food stall or fruit and vegetable stand.  And every vendor came out to greet you and try to convince you his stuff was the best.
We made a brief detour deep in the market area, where we found local meat, fish and vegetable vendors.  The chicken was about as fresh as you could get it, because there were cages of chickens with butcher blocks on top.  I guess you pick a chicken and the kill it and dress it right then and there for you!
We were done with Petaling Street pretty quickly, and headed further into Chinatown to find the Central Market - a handicraft mall.  On the way, we wandered the streets and found a Hindu Temple.  It was supposed to be as ornate as the ones we saw in Singapore.  However, it was under renovation, so all the ornate statues and carvings on the outside were shrouded in scaffolding and canvas.  But we did take a look inside, and it was quite impressive, with different prayer alcoves and Hindu god statues dispersed around the grounds.  There were lots of devotees inside praying, and leaving flower garlands and other offerings.  I guess it explains all the stalls we saw outside that were sewing fresh flower garlands of all sizes and colors!
We reached the Central Market without too much trouble and inside found 3 levels of handicrafts from all over Malaysia.  There were batik sarongs and clothing that filled almost an entire level.  Other levels included baskets and silk purses and scarves and carvings of all kinds.  There was a lot to see!
We also found the Malaysian food court on the second level of the mall, so we decided it was time to have lunch.  There was kiosk after kiosk with different Asian dishes - most of them costing about $2-$3 US.  It was a bit overwhelming deciding what to eat, and we took a lot of time walking from kiosk to kiosk to read the menus (and I was still looking for my Laksa).  We finally both settled on a dish (still no Laksa), and squeezed into a seat next to an American couple to eat.  The food court was pretty full, and the main clientele was Muslim women.  It was a unique experience looking across the seating area and seeing a sea of head scarves of every pattern and color in the rainbow!
We enjoyed talking with the American couple and getting some advice on food from them, since they had been to Malaysia a few times before.  We got on the subject of Laksa and learned that each region of Malaysia has a different version of Laksa, and in fact the only kiosk we didn't go to at the food court had a Laksa available.  I couldn't resist, even though I was pretty full from my meal.  So I ordered a Laksa, my mouth watering at the thought of it.  I brought it back to the table and took a first bite, which tasted overwhelmingly of rotten fish!  Apparently this version of Laska used a strong fish stock as a base and it was just too much.  I tried another bite, and then left it.  It kind of ruined my taste for Laksa!
After lunch, we wandered around the Central Market a bit more so Renee could make sure she visited every store!  Then we decided we had enough and made the walk back to the monorail, then to our hostel.  Soon after we settled in at the hostel, the afternoon downpour arrived, so we were glad we got back when we did!
After the rain, we were on a mission to photograph the Petronas Towers (the tallest twin building in the world) at night.  We learned it was in walking distance, which was a better option than making two transfers on the monorail and subway to get there.  Our hostel host, Suzie, gave us great directions!  Walk past the monorail to the huge shopping mall, then turn left and head under the mall skybridges to the escalator then head straight down the road.  Eventually you arrive at the Exhibition Center.  Enter the Exhibition Center and take the escalator down to the basement, where there is a walkway underneath that takes you a park on the other side and the best view of the towers in the city.
We headed out into the Bikut Bintang district to make our way to the Towers.  Bikut Bintang is essentially KL's version of Times Square (and in fact has an area with that name).  There were lights and billboards everywhere, malls on every corner, and the streets were filled with people.  As we made our way on our designated route, we got glimpses of the Petronas Towers from between buildings.  At one point, they were in full view, so we stopped to take some photos, just in case they were the best we could get.
But when we finally arrived in the park, we understood why Suzie sent us there!  The towers glittered in the night sky like crystal.  They were really amazing.  They reflect the Islamic culture of Malaysia, and in fact the buildings take on the shape of the Rub el Hizb (essentially two overlapping squares taking on the shape of an eight-pointed star).  This is a common Islamic symbol found on emblems and flags.  We found the Petronas Towers to be a beautiful building and an appropriate tribute to the city!
We took a lot of photos from a lot of vantage points and angles.  When we were happy with our shots, we headed back toward the hostel with a new mission - to find dinner!  It was getting late, so we reached the shopping mall and found a massive food court on one of the lower levels.  It was like the Central Market food court on steroids and equally as cheap.  We each found another new Asian dish to try, with just a little time left before the mall closed.  (By the way, malls close here at 10pm!).  Renee had Claypot Chicken, which was really good!  Then we headed up to the gourmet ice cream store we had seen (and sampled) on the way to the Twin Towers.  It was some of the best ice cream we have had.  Mine was green apple/starfruit, and Renee had Banana.  Mmm Good!
The next day was our last in Kuala Lumpur - in fact we had late afternoon flight out to Bali.  We spent the morning getting flight details sorted, which was supposed to leave us more time to explore the Bikut Bintang shopping area.  But the flight sorting pushed to noon, so we barely had enough time to head to the mall to get another meal before it was time for us to head back to the hostel to gather our bags and make the monorail/walk/bus journey to the budget airport terminal for our first of many Air Asia flights.
But as we headed up the stairs from lunch, we realized the rains had begun again, and it was once again absolutely pouring.  We didn't bring our raincoats, so there was no way we could walk back to the hostel to get our bags.  And for that matter, there was no time to use public transportation to get to the bus station.  We decided to get a cab to the bus station instead.  So we weaved our way under awnings and outdoor cafes to the taxi stand, (and actually stayed pretty dry).  We ended up with a nice taxi driver who waited at our hostel as we collected our bags and said goodbye to Suzie.  And as the rains continued, we decided it was worth the extra money for the cab driver to just get us to the airport instead of taking the bus.  The rain has a way of tossing all best laid plans out the window! 
We arrived at the budget terminal.  Correction Air Asia terminal - the airline is so big now that they have their own terminal - and it was packed!  I guess cheap airfares have that impact!  We stood in line to check in, and when it was our turn, we discovered both our bags were 5 kg overweight!  We thought we had upgraded the luggage - but I guess it was on another airline.  So we had a mad scramble to rearrange our carryon bags to get as close to the 15kg/bag limit as possible.  We certainly didn't want to pay the $45USD overage fee!  (So that's why Air Asia fares are so cheap!)  We were a bit over, but the check in guy let in pass without charging us any fee.
Next it was time to head to our gate for boarding.  When we arrived, we looked at our ticket to see our seat number, only to learn that it is open seating - first in, best seat.  So the line started early - luckily we were close to the front.  When they opened the doors to board the plane, it was like a stampede.  People were running across the tarmac to the plane.  Luckily we are taller and have longer legs than most of the vertically challenged Asians around us, so we got to the plane with no problem and chose a nice row right in the front of the plane.  It was on to Bali now!
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