Slums of KL
I knew it was going to be a great flight when I got the king seat…1A. I sat in the first row window seat staring out into the night for the entirety of the 40 minute flight from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur. The first thing that hit me when we descended upon the capital of Malaysia was how there appeared to be snakes of light everywhere. As we got lower to the ground I realized that the snakes were the highways lit up in the night. After we had landed and picked up our bags, we stopped at the bus counter on the way out to buy tickets into the city. A bus was waiting outside when we arrived at the station and soon we were on our way into Kuala Lumpur.
Rope bridge we had to cross to get to KL Tower
After a few near death turns when the bus almost capsized, we made it to KL’s Sentral Station. We avoided the barks of the taxi drivers outside offering us a ride and dipped into the station. After wandering around for a few minutes, we finally found a sign for the LRT metro. One station later, we hopped off and set out to find The Reggae Guesthouse 2. Within a matter of minutes we had dropped our stuff in our six bedroom dorm and were sitting in the common room watching the beginning of Inception with some other backpackers. Since it was already well past midnight, I called it quits before I tried to sit there and work through all the details of the movie.
The next morning we pulled ourselves out of bed for a free breakfast of toast and jelly.
Soon afterwards we headed into the city to take care of some logistics, namely trying to find the Air India Office to book our seats on the plane home and the East West Travel Office to try and make sense of the Indian railway system. After failing miserably to book Indian railway tickets through the main website, we hoped that the travel office would be our saving grace and walk us through the booking process step by step. I started out navigating since we had no map, but I had studied and written down directions from Google Maps. Well it wasn’t much help because I was lost the moment we stepped outside. Usually Derrick will look at a map before we leave and be able to direct us with ease. I, on the other hand, have absolutely no directional ability and usually always end up wandering in the wrong direction until Derrick calls me back.
Malaysian cultural center with model houses from the different regions
Luckily we found a map in the nearby Chinatown and reoriented ourselves towards the two Indian offices. Soon we were lost again and I had to pull out the map a number of times because confusing intersections seemed to pop up constantly. Not to mention that half of the roads don’t have crosswalks so you just look and book it if you think you can beat the car flying at you.
We had planned to go to the travel agency first and get the railway issue figured out, but all of a sudden Derrick noticed a sign for Air India on a building. Although we were thrown off because it was nowhere close to where Google Maps said it was located, we decided to give it a shot. We were directed upstairs where we spoke with a representative about trying to reserve window seats for the long plane ride home.
Chicken floss menu
After punching a few buttons on the computer, she informed us that we wouldn’t be able to reserve seats until the day of the flight at the check in counter. I guess we will be heading to the airport early in the morning then because I don’t think I can survive in a middle seat for 16 hours. Next, we set out to find the East West Travel Office. A few minutes later we walked in the door of the travel agency and asked if they sold Indrail passes. “No, we don’t” Strike two. We spent a few minutes talking with the agents asking how to reserve tickets for the Indian railways and the best advice they could give us was to find a travel agent when we got there and book the tickets through him or her. Well that won’t really work for us since we get in late on Monday night and have plans to leave at the crack of dawn on Tuesday to catch a train to Agra.
Temple right outside our hostel
Time to do some more research when we get back to the hostel. In the meantime since we were already on the other side of the city, we headed towards the KL Tower. I was surprised when the trek to the tower was through a jungle that surrounds the tall structure. Along the way we saw an 18 hole workout course, numerous forest trails, and even a rope bridge with wooden slats for us to walk on. Eventually we made it to the base of the tower and headed into the Malaysian Culture Center to see what was inside. I was impressed to find several full scale model houses, each constructed in the different styles from the different regions of Malaysia. After trying to play Malaysian games and failing miserably (specifically at the one where you had to walk on two coconut shells connected by a rope) we headed back down into the jungle.
Entrance to the Batu Caves
We were met with an exciting site halfway down the trail when we hit a grassy open area. Monkeys had come down out of the trees and were wrestling around on the ground! We sat and watched the monkeys frolic around for a good 15 minutes before continuing on our way. Eventually we dipped out of the jungle and were back on the busy streets of Kuala Lumpur. Derrick stopped to try the Malaysian version of Burger King, Ramly, while I waited to grab some food back in Chinatown. I searched around the stalls for something good when I came across a picture of a sandwich that said “chicken floss and egg”. I had no idea what chicken floss was, but it looked like shredded chicken so I went for it. Well it didn’t exactly taste like shredded chicken.
Monkeys hanging out on the steps
Actually it didn’t taste like chicken at all. It was composed of very thin strands with little taste and an unusual texture. I looked it up when I got back to the hostel and it is basically dried meat that has a “texture similar to coarse cotton” according to Wikipedia. And I’d have to say that’s a pretty accurate description. After a few bites, I wiped all the chicken cotton off my sandwich and just went for the egg and bun. We wandered through Chinatown for a little while before heading back to the hostel to try and research another means of getting tickets on the Indian railways.
After a few hours we finally made a breakthrough. We found a website that would allow us to view and book the seats for a small extra service charge since we didn’t have an Indian bank account.
I’ll take it. We searched through the train times and bought the three tickets we would need to travel between the three cities in the Golden Triangle – New Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. We were pretty hungry at that point so we headed to the nearby Reggae Guesthouse 1 for dinner since the hostel had given us 20% off coupons. We both ordered a Mojito to help us relax after the stress of trying to work out travel logistics and soon after we were enjoying our meals. After dinner we headed into the restaurant for one more drink and were greeted by some eclectic decorations. The walls were covered with pictures of Bob Marley as well as the names of previous customers who had decided to sign everything in sight, reggae music was blaring from the speakers, and the exit sign read “Love all, feed all”.
We made it to the top!
Needless to say, we enjoyed our last drink while peering around to find all the knick knacks hiding in the bar. When we were done, we headed back to the hostel and watched the A-team before heading to bed.
Derrick woke up with a fever the next day, so we decided to lay low and rest up at the hostel. We did take a break from vegging out to eat at the Reggae Guesthouse Restaurant again, however. I decided to go for a healthier option and order a caesar salad instead of something deep fried or full of carbs. All I can say is that The Reggae Guesthouse Restaurant desperately needs a Panera worker to fly over and teach them a thing or two about making caesar salads. It was smothered in some sauce that tasted nothing like caesar dressing, the croutons were mushy, and overall it just didn’t hit the spot.
Inside the caves
Afterwards I headed right down the street to order crab spring rolls from a street vendor. Unfortunately it was another disappointment. I’m not sure what kind of language barrier there was, but my crab spring rolls turned out to be awfully expensive fried pieces of tofu. After eating a few, I ditched the rest and decided that ramen was the way to go for dinner since I couldn’t afford another meal gone wrong. Back at the hostel, we napped, read, watched TV, sent emails, and figured out some more logistics for when we head to India. After a delicious dinner of Tom Yam (seafood soup) flavored ramen and chocolate milk from 7Eleven, I spent a few hours reading before heading to bed.
Ever since watching the No Reservations episode on Kuala Lumpur, I had been dying to go to the Batu Caves located north of the city.
One of our dorm mates from Taiwan had visited the caves the previous day and after seeing his pictures, I knew I was going to get there one way or another. Even though he still wasn’t feeling 100%, Derrick was convinced to come along as well. We headed out to the Old Kuala Lumpur Railway Station where we could take a 30 minute train to the caves according to our dorm mate’s instructions. Even though the railway station was only a few blocks away, it wasn’t the most accessible building. After wandering along the road our hostel is on, we headed up a flight of stairs only find ourselves alongside a highway. We dodged across the traffic to a small sidewalk, but saw that the sidewalk disappeared and that soon we would be fighting the cars for a place in line.
Since neither of us felt like going head to head with a two ton piece of metal, we turned around to find another way. Eventually we found a pedestrian underpass and a bridge that led us across the canal and into the old train station. The train station itself was immaculate from the outside, complete with large white Muslim domes like those found on many mosques. You could definitely tell that it was once a bustling center that served as a landmark of the city. We bought our tickets and were on the way 20 minutes later.
After arriving at the end of the line, we followed the other tourists in the direction of the caves. After passing the many flower vendors (for Hindus it is common to give a gift of flowers to the gods for good karma) we finally saw what we had been waiting for.
In front of us stood a 140 foot tall golden statue of a Hindu god, Lord Murugan. To the left of the statue were the 272 steps that led up to the Batu Caves. We started up the stairs, but it wasn’t too difficult to make it to the top because we had to stop every few minutes to take pictures of the monkeys. They were scampering all over the steps, scavenging for bits of bananas or other foods that tourists had either dropped or left for them. We eventually made it to the top and headed into the Batu Caves. At the begging of each year, there is a great Hindu celebration where thousands upon thousands of Hindus come to visit the caves. Luckily it was relatively empty when we were there so we had free reign to explore. There was one large closed cave that led to a smaller cave that was open to the sun outside.
Petronas Towers during the day
Both had Hindu shrines built into the sides of the caves as well as temples where priests would take offerings from the people and present them to the gods. After we swore we were done with taking pictures of monkeys (because of course they were allowed to frolic around the caves) we headed back down the 272 steps. We didn’t hold to our word very well though – we started snapping pictures of the first monkeys we saw on the way down. Who knows how many pictures later we had finally made it back to the base of the caves. We wandered around the shops and then headed back to the train station.
After printing our Indian rail tickets at a local internet café, I picked up a lunch of chocolate milk (my new go-to snack) and watermelon.
Petronas Towers lit up at night
We relaxed at the hostel for a little while, but left to go see the Petronas Towers in the early evening. A 20 minute walk later we were staring at the base of two of the tallest buildings in the world. After squatting on the ground so we could get the entire height of the buildings in a picture, we wandered into the smaller structure that connected the two buildings. We were surprised to find ourselves in a multi-level mall. After people watching for a while, we headed towards the back entrance. We were planning on walking outside when the most wonderful mall smell ever hit our noses…that’s right, Auntie Anne’s. We were just curious as to how expensive a pretzel would be, but when we found out that a single pretzel was less than a dollar we couldn’t say no.
Tourist prayer from our hostel
We wandered out the back entrance and into the Kuala Lumpur City Center with our Auntie Anne’s pretzels. The city center was complete with ample sitting room and a large pond. We watched the fountains spring up and down in varying patterns until nightfall came. Then we snapped one more picture of the towers lit up at night before making the trek back to the hostel. On the way we stopped to get dinner – two sticky buns for me and spicy chicken rice for Derrick. Sticky buns are basically balls of dough filled with meat or some type of paste on the inside. I stuck to the pork buns, but wasn’t too impressed when I discovered that there was more fat on the meat inside the buns than meat itself. Derrick couldn’t even finish his meal because his mouth was on fire from all the spices.
Pool at Le Meridien
After gearing up for India by watching No Reservations on the Rajasthan area, we were off to bed.
The next morning, I left to check out the nearby Central Market. Just like with my expectations for the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, I was totally off. Instead of stalls packed together and a loud outside environment, the inside of Central Market was just an air conditioned mall with store after store selling authentic Malaysian goods. After a little souvenir shopping, Derrick and I headed off to our favorite restaurant for lunch, the Reggae Guesthouse. We both ordered pizzas (who knew that we could get tired of eating oriental street food) and then headed back the hostel to pick up our bags.
Since Derrick had booked a certain number of nights using hotels.
Attempting to wash my clothes in the tub
com, he got a free hotel night wherever he wanted. When we were planning the trip, we decided that the last night in Kuala Lumpur was a good opportunity to use his free room. So we gathered our bags and took the metro from Pasar Seni back to Sentral Station. We crossed the street and there we were – Le Meridien. I’m pretty sure the receptionists and guests were all judging me as I walked into the hotel and lunged for the free plate of Mentos candies on the front desk. Yea, I’m not used to this kind of treatment. After exploring all the ins and outs of the room – I was especially excited about the free toiletries and master control panel for all the lights by the bed – we headed down to the pool. Le Meridien and the Hilton are joined on the 8thfloor so we shared the pool, restaurant, and gym with the residents of the Hilton. Good thing the pool was huge…it even had its own waterslide! After trying out the water slide and relaxing in the hot tub, I reclined in the afternoon sun and read my book until sunset. Eventually I made it down to the gym where I got a full body workout for the first time on the trip. O boy am I going to be sore for the next few days.
After I had showered, it was time to try a new idea. Instead of trying to find a washer and dryer to use, I decided to make my own. I filled the tub with hot water, threw all my clothes in, dumped some shower gel and shampoo in, and agitated the whole mixture with my hands. After agitating for a while, I picked up each piece of clothing, rubbed some bar soap over it, and used the side of the tub like a washboard. I then wrung each piece of clothing out and hung it up to dry. I was thoroughly exhausted after acting as a human washing machine and passed out within minutes of heading to bed. The next morning I woke to an unwelcome surprise. My air dry idea hadn’t worked exactly as planned – aka every single piece of my clothing was still wet. I put this problem behind me long enough to go eat the free complimentary breakfast downstairs. So far most of the complimentary breakfasts we have had consist of bread and cereal. We were definitely not prepared for Le Meridien’s complimentary breakfast -it was the breakfast buffet of all breakfast buffets. Everything you could ever imagine in a breakfast buffet was there along with Chinese, Malaysian, and Japanese specialties as well. A quarter of a waffle, slice of potato and onion quiche, cup of yogurt, piece of spice bread, three slices of cheese, one raspberry smoothie, six California rolls, and multiple pastries later I felt like an Oompa Loompa. Probably not the best idea since my stomach had been hurting for the past few days. After running to the bathroom a few minutes afterwards, I was ready to start drying my clothes. I whipped out the hair dryer and ran over each piece of clothing individually. It didn’t turn out to be too efficient. Eventually I just secured the hair dryer in the closet and pointed it at the clothes – time to let the machine do the work. Two hours later, most of the clothes were dry and it was time to check out of our luxurious hotel. After making a few last minute changes to our plans in India, we were off to find the bus to the airport. Luckily Le Meridien was located right across from Sentral Station which was where the bus stopped to pick people up. I thought the bus would come to the entrance right across from the entrance to Le Meridien, but since it’s a large station Derrick had to remind me that we had gotten off the bus at a different entrance. We rushed to the entrance we had been dropped off at by the bus a few days earlier, but no bus was in sight. Eventually Derrick found someone who told him that the bus picked up at a different location than it dropped off. Of course it can never be as easy as we think. We headed to where we were told the bus picked up and hopped on a bus that was already loading people on. An hour later, the bus dropped us off at the airport where we checked in before going through immigration and security. After spending our last ringgits on a few sandwiches to last us through the six hour flight, we headed into the boarding area and waited until it was time to board.
India is the next and final stop of our 10 week adventure. We are planning to hit what is known as the Golden Triangle – New Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. Although we have heard horror stories about the traffic and crowds, we have also heard great stories about the culture and people. I’m hoping we make it through the next seven days without and bumps in the road, but then again what’s the fun in that?
In summary, what I learned about KL: I love kale which is a good thing because it is used in almost every Asian dish I’ve had so far, it is home to two of the tallest buildings in the world – the Petronas Towers, if you see a gap in traffic run for it because most intersections don’t have crosswalks, every road has numerous twists and turns so it is almost impossible to orient yourself, Ramly is the foreign version of Burger King, there is a mall in between the Petronas Towers, one moment you can be in the city and the next a jungle, the monkeys at the Batu Caves are some of the most entertaining animals on the planet, each room in Le Meridien hotel has its own doorbell, and it’s probably worth it to fork over the money to do laundry rather than trying to do it yourself in a bathtub.