kuala lumpur

Posted from Cheras, Selangor, Malaysia.

I have been wanting to go to Kuala Lumpur for years, a desire that was glamourized by my BASE jumping friends and their Petronas Towers expeditions. I have zero desire to jump off them, but it was a mythical land far far away I only knew by video that I had to see.

Initially I was going to go to the Cameron Highlands after Georgetown, but my heart was still crying for more urbanity, more city hustle, more smog and smelly sewers – I needed to see people in their natural habitat – and I couldn’t deny that I would be miserable in the countryside if all I could think about were subway rides, busy streets and looming towers. Who really likes tea plantations, anyway?

How awesome is this? Hey Greyhound - take note.

How awesome is this? Hey Greyhound – take note.

For an all-in 35 Ringgit fare I got a lift from my hostel to the bus station where I transferred to the best bus I have ridden in all of Southeast Asia. The Malaysians know how to travel! Instead of four seats to a row, there are three. There’s heaps of legroom, enough for the guy in front of you to recline to 45º and you have a foot recliner as well. It was heaven. I’ve heard there’s a bus that has seatback TV screens and serves an in-transit meal like the airlines used to. Wonder how long that’ll last.

Some of the scenery on the way to KL. Most of the trees were in uniform rows - planted.

Some of the scenery on the way to KL. Most of the trees were in uniform rows – planted.

The whole ride to KL all I could do was stare dreamily out the window wondering why I am venturing through a Muslim country on my own – and why it made my journey even more exciting. And why I spent so damn long in Thailand. If I ever return to SEA, I’ll be spending much more time in Malaysia.

After six hours we entered the city. The roadsides were manicured with plants and artistic water troughs, and urban art occupied odd spaces amongst the concrete. What struck my heart even more gleefully was the lack of rubbish along the roads. Malaysia – you have won me over.

Welcome to KL. A very clean and modern city.

Welcome to KL. A very clean and modern city.

The bus dropped me off at Pudu Sentral, the main bus station near Chinatown. My hostel, Fernloft, was only a 10-minute walk from there, but having no map and no clue which direction I arrived from, I walked the wrong way for about five minutes before I stopped another tourist and asked for directions. I do this often.

Fernloft is a basic hostel. My room had 24 beds, the most I’ve had in one room since Siem Reap, but worth it at $7.50/night. The hallway smelled like mold and B.O., but at least the windows were opened everyday and the AC kept the odors down to a minimum in the room – when it was on. I only encountered one whistly snorer who pushed me to find my earplugs, lest murder them, and one nasty riser who at 9:30 a.m. scolded me and a dude for talking in the room, calling us inconsiderate of the four people who were still trying to sleep. Honestly.

the Chinatown markets operate late into the evening.

the Chinatown markets operate late into the evening.

All it took was a brief stroll through Chinatown to see the gazillion rats on the food counters, coming from the ceilings, hanging out with the chickens and playing cards with the locals to realize I was never going to eat there. Food would prove to be a contemplative event for me in this city.

KL feels safe, unlike some big cities. Perhaps the worst place to be at night is Chinatown – right where the hostel is. But the city is very accessible, with eight subway/LRT lines, which are dirt cheap to ride. There’s also a free bus that is meant to follow a set route – unless you get on the wrong one and end up going in circles for an hour like some people I know.

This is KL Sentral stration - a subway interchange. It's immense.

This is KL Sentral stration – a subway interchange. It’s immense.

There’s lots to do and see, the towers, the KL tower, huge botanical gardens, heaps of mosques and temples, numerous odd museums, homeless people, rats and tons and tons of shopping. I continue to get approached by men here. At one restaurant a waiter from Bangladesh wanted me to help him get into Canada. I believe he was proposing.

There are over 200 steps to the caves. These are crawling with dangerous pests - also known as monkeys.

There are over 200 steps to the caves. These are crawling with dangerous pests – also known as monkeys.

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The Batu Caves are at the end of the A-line LRT. It’s a very sacred Hindu shrine in the earth, with numerous temples on the inside and, Hindu or not, everyone has the opportunity to visit, and it’s free. People have gone to the caves in some way or form for thousands of years. Also in the caves are thousands of birds, tons of bird poop and monkeys. Stealing, sneaky monkeys. It costs about $1 return trip to get to the caves from downtown KL.

Hello KL.

Hello KL.

Oh yes. The towers.

I went and saw the towers the evening I got there. So having seen the towers at night, I had to go again during the day. If you’re on a limited timeframe, go at night – it’s far more spectacular. There’s a water fountain outside that is lit up and the windows in the buildings offer a beautiful photo-taking landscape.

Everyone needs one of these shots.

Everyone needs one of these shots.

The ride to the top costs about 80 Ringgit (2013) so we opted out of this option, despite having looked forward to this for years. I just couldn’t stomach $25 to see KL from up high. I like the city, but I hardly know it enough to spend that kind of money on it. Maybe if it bought me a drink first.

I did go see a movie in the shopping center beneath the towers. I was looking forward to viewing The Host, but the real entertainment came when the kissing scenes kept getting edited out. Right. Muslim country.

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Whilst in KL I also had to get my Twinrix booster – a Hep A and B vaccine. I had the first two done in San Diego. It’s a three shot dealio over six months. The first two shots, done one month apart, cover you for one year. The last shot, done six months after the first, covers you for 10 years. I had heard of KL being a medical destination, but finding a place to do this proved more difficult then I thought.  I went on a wild goose chase for two hours, from clinic to clinic, until eventually I ended up at a private hospital, Tung Shin, which was one block from the main bus station, coincidentally the starting point of my search. I paid 151 Ringgit (or $43 [OK – $53 when I check my bank statement]) to get the jab.

I spent a lot of my three days walking around the markets of Chinatown and surrounding areas. Also, I spent a lot of time hanging out with no one in particular, doing whatever. What I really enjoyed was being in a big city again. Modern. Amenities. People living together in relative harmony, for the most part.

Sometimes you know you will remember a place for a lifetime, whether it is the things you do or the people you meet – something stands out in your mind. Kuala Lumpur made an impression on me. I shant forget it.

From here I head to Melaka – my final stop in Malaysia before I head to Singapore.

10 Responses to kuala lumpur

  1. I am really enjoying reading everything you have written!, so interesting! Safe travels! Penny

    Penny Watier April 23, 2013 at 12:50 am Reply
    • Thanks Penny. I’m having a great time. Thanks for the support.

      Sheri April 23, 2013 at 12:22 pm Reply

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