October 15th, 2008
We arrived in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, or KL as it’s known to locals. After catching an express bus to our hotel, we were quite tired. After checking in and finding out that Internet wasn’t free or cheap, we went to our room. This room was a closet and a dirty one at that! We called our online booking agent to upgrade our room and after moving there, this too was filthy! Blood-stained sheets, for crying out loud! The porter who helped us move our stuff told us that the previous room was not supposed to be rented out (officially). So we complained to the front desk and demanded to speak to a manager. Housekeeping, in the meantime, came to do their thing but did such a poor job that Karthik had to take over at one point and finish vacuuming the place himself! Finally, we got a call from the manager who was quite apologetic and assured us that Internet and dinner would be on the house. Satisfied with that, we ordered a local dish we’d been eager to try – Roti Canai, which was a thinly rolled roti served with dhal. It was yummy! At this point, we were too tired to do anything so we just went to sleep.
We headed out today to explore the vicinity since Little India (or Masjid Jemek as it’s known here) was just nearby. The streets lively with the hustle and bustle of Diwali shopping and decorations were abound. It was a strange mix of Malay, Tamil, and Muslim cultures all jumbled in one place. We hung around a local mall and got bored of the many sari and cloth shops, so we moved on to our main destination – the Petronas Towers, the symbol of Malaysia. On our way to the transit station, we passed by the rest of Little India and noticed several more local restaurants, offering anything and everything from North and South Indian to Malaysian cuisine. We also passed by a bazaar which sold all sorts of cheap souvenirs, knick-knacks, and trinkets.
KL has no singular interconnected transit system; rather it was a bunch of separate transit lines of above-ground, under-ground, and monorail trains. The overall infrastructure was quite modern and resembled more of Singapore than Jakarta. We arrived at the KLCC (Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre) stop, which served the Petronas Towers, the main Suria KLCC mall, and the Convention Centre itself. It was a large complex and we started off at the towers themselves. It was quite the sight! These large buildings were just too damn impressive – in height, in there being two of them, and in the way they were designed! The architecture was spectacular – symmetry, beauty, and originality all-in-one. We found out we could head up to the level of the bridge connecting the towers to get a view of the surrounding area. The SkyBridge visitation was done for the day; however we somehow managed to score two tickets because of a cancellation. We went up the elevator and saw the towers from up close. They were just out-of-this-world, especially from seeing them at this level – with steel and glass artfully blended to create a unique design. We got to see quite a bit of the KL skyline and it was certainly worth the trip up.
We then headed off to the Suria KLCC mall, which was connected to the towers at the base and explored around for a while. A lot of big-name stores and glitzy brands – it seemed like globalization had definitely come to Malaysia in a grand way. We wandered into the huge park surrounding the towers and the convention centre, and got a look at the towers from further afield. They were more impressive at this distance and we knew we had to see them at night as well. So we just hung around at the mall for some more time, and by this time, it had begun to pour like crazy outside. It was like monsoon and seemed relentless! At one point when the rain let up, we made it out to the park again and camped ourselves in a gazebo to await the sun going down. It took longer than expected and the rain began again, so we were just inside the gazebo killing time with a groundskeeper who was also caught in the rain.
Finally, as it got dark, the towers lit up – and this time, it was like seeing something from a dream. Such brightness and illumination we didn’t expect – it was truly spectacular. The towers were completely glowing in the sky. We braved the rain to take pictures with our tripod as best we could and just as the rain stopped, we delayed our trip back to the hotel to just admire the towers some more! Finally, we had our fill and made it back by taxi.
October 17th, 2008
We stayed in yesterday, mostly cuz it had been raining all day and we were a bit bummed out in spirits. So we caught up on work and caught up on our Daily Show and Colbert Report, something we couldn’t do in Bali as we had a poor connection and we were paying by the megabyte.
Today, we explored more of KL’s modern side and checked out the Bukit Bintang area – an area of many large shopping malls and market streets. It had been raining intermittently all day, but it wasn’t as bad as yesterday so was alright walking about plus we’d bought a cheap umbrella from Little India earlier. We had stopped by the curio bazaar on our way through Little India and bought a souvenir of the Petronas Towers for a bargain. At Bukit Bintang, we were walking along the main road and not really interested in shopping in any of these ‘usual’ malls, we just wanted to see what it was all about.
Seeing a sign for travel agencies that dealt with Vietnam and having to buy some domestic tickets for our travels there, we went into this small office building and took a tiny elevator up to the floor of the agency. Not happy with the ticket prices, we headed back down in this elevator when all the lights went out, the fan stopped and it seemed like the elevator was dead. We panicked and being in this rickety elevator with no power was just an insane experience! We banged on the door, shouted loudly for help, and pressed all the buttons on the board. FINALLY, it came back to life and we got off at the floor we were already on and just walked down the stairs, hearts pumping fast and knees feeling weak. Shaken up, we walked slowly to another huge mall called the Times Square. Nothing interesting, but we stopped by a Starbucks to grab a bite and some coffee and relax our jittered nerves.
We left for Petaling Street, which was in Chinatown – a major market area for tourists. We took another transit train which was crammed to the brink this time since it was rush hour. We had to let a few trains go before we were actually able to cram ourselves in! Walking over to Chinatown from the train station was something else – the streets were filthy and smelt like nothing we recognized as being good and wholesome. There were ‘hourly’ hotels and strange characters wandering about muttering to themselves, with garbage strewn about everywhere! We stopped by a local Hindu temple in Chinatown, which was supposed to be a major attraction, however weren’t too keen on doing anything more than looking at it from outside. It seemed like it was an unfortunate area for the temple to be in. Finally, as the sun set, we walked along Petaling Street, a long street that was covered with a roof that had Chinese lanterns dangling from it, and filled with tiny vendor stalls that sold everything from clothes and watches to bags and DVDs.
We bought some cool T-shirts, and Karthik got himself a neat Japanese anime DVD called Afro Samurai. We also scored some shaved mango slices being sold in plastic bags! Finally, done with this scene, we made our way back to the hotel and enjoyed some free dinner.
October 18th, 2008
We went to visit another KL attraction today – the Batu caves. This is supposedly the biggest draw for Hindus outside of India, although we wanted to check it out because it was built in a network of caves inside a large mountain. We took a local bus that showed us other parts of KL we wouldn’t have otherwise seen, including a large suburban area with lots and lots of condominiums. This city definitely was a huge and expanding one. At the caves, we immediately noticed the large, golden statue of the Hindu deity Murugan – a South Indian deity that was the son of Shiva and brother of Ganesh. It was simply huge in stature and stood in front of the caves themselves.
We grabbed a quick bite – some delicious Roti Canai, Dosa, and Vadas with Sambar, before we headed up the 272 steps leading to the entrance of the caves. It was quite the climb and we were greeted by the hordes of monkeys that call these caves their home. They were doing their monkey thing, climbing, jumping, playing, and fighting, much like back in the forest in Ubud. Upon entering the caves, we were in a huge cavernous room surrounding by natural rock formations and outcroppings. There were some temples and religious statues inside and it was dripping from the ceiling as it had rained recently. It was just a huge area. There were some more steps to climb further ahead that led to another large clearing within the mountain. We were basically inside this large mountain and we could see the ‘roof’ above, which was an opening along the ceiling of the cave. It was certainly an interesting place to be, however it wasn’t one to spend too much time at.
We made our way back down the steps just as it had started to rain and waited it out at a cafe nearby over some coffee and sweets. It was still raining; however we had to take the bus back to KL. The bus ride back was a crazy one since this driver was clearly ‘on something.’ The bus was headed to the Central Market, a place we had wanted to go to but had decided against since we were done with markets.
Thinking we could take this bus to our hotel on its return trip to the Caves, we stayed on. Alas, its final stop was the Market.
So we got off and explored the Market, which was just a large building that housed a collection of souvenir shops. We went out to find a bus back to the hotel, and were lead in different directions by different people towards different buses. After a while wandering around, we decided to just walk it back. We got to the hotel, relaxed for a while, and went to Little India to grab something to eat. It was a colourful and busy sight, with shops selling religious paraphernalia, sweets, decorations, and the miscellaneous stuff needed for Diwali. We brought back some more Roti Canai and some Pakoras, and Kebabs, as well as some sweets we had bought from one of the many impromptu stalls set up to sell stuff for Diwali.
After a while, Karthik headed out to bring back some more Roti Canai – we just can’t get enough of this stuff. Finally, we did some packing and going to get some much-needed rest. Tomorrow, we fly out to the ‘Far East’ – starting with Hong Kong.