Day 1 – Perth to Kuala Lumpur 22 Feb 2010
We left Perth on an Air Asia flight at 6:30am following a 3am start. The flight was around 85% full but there were enough spare seats to quickly secure a bit of extra room to stretch out. Some movies on the iPhone, reading and working on the computer helped while away the 2604 miles at 544mph. The air temperature outside dropped to -72.4F so we stayed inside for the whole 5:30 hours of the trip. At one point, I noticed that we were a mere 5130 miles from Mecca, illustrating just how bored one can get on these flights. Arrival time was listed for 11:55am, Kuala Lumpur operating an hour behind Perth, which is strange because they are theoretically in the same time zone. Eventually, we worked out that the airline still has Perth operating on daylight saving, a problem with lots of Internet sites as well.
A highlight of the trip was passing over Exmouth. The air was amazingly clear and the view of the Murion Islands and the surrounding corals was breathtaking. I also looked longingly at Y Island, where we spent 3 enjoyable days anchored up last year. Seeing all that wonderful cruising water from the air made me determined to get back again later in the year for more.
Once on the ground, the job of finding the bus to KL began but proved easy enough. It didn’t take too much to avoid the taxi touts and get to the “Red Bus” for the hour long transfer. The country-side was dominated by Oil Palms. Everywhere one looked, the forest has been removed to make way for Oil Palms. Even from the air, as we flew over Malaysia, the whole landscape seemed to be made up of Oil Palm plantations or newly cleared land.
KL itself is more open and better planned than some other Asian cities and presents well on first impressions. The traffic flowed well and it was an easy trip to the KL Central rail and bus exchange. From there on, things turned difficult. There seemed to be a complete lack of English signage, even though half the people were speaking English. All we had was a hotel name. We searched in vain for a simple tourist map, getting very frustrated until we finally found a Malaysian Tourist Centre office where we were waved towards a free City Map. Armed with this, we sat down in a café and ordered lunch, giving us some much needed respite to plan our escape from the bus station. The backpacks were also proving uncomfortable, being a little out of condition as pack mules so we set up the little luggage trolleys.
Finally, we decided to catch the monorail. No go! We tried to buy a pass but made several wrong moves and had a few “half conversations” before deciding on a taxi. We left the building to find a taxi rank, did a total circumnavigation of the block to discover that you buy a “taxi ticket” at a counter not 20 metres from where we set off from. Our taxi driver didn’t like our luggage trolleys and made us take them apart. Blood pressure was 170/90 and rising fast. The taxi ride didn’t help! I think we killed three motor bike riders and destroyed four other taxis along the way. The drive matched previous taxi rides in Malaysia. At the last minute, the driver realised he was opposite our street but five lanes out so he just went left, across all lanes and left the carnage behind him to deposit us at the Hotel Capitol.
Once inside, things looked up in the form of a free room upgrade and magnificent views from the 15th floor across the Petronas Towers and KL Tower. We collapsed for a bit, cranked up the Internet to start researching a trip to Penang and Langkawi and opened a much needed red wine.
By 7pm, we were ready to face the World again and went out into the streets to find the monsoon was doing its thing. We had to scoot from shop to shop to keep dry. Most nearby shops seemed to be IT based but there were also lots of eating places. We delighted a chinese family by seeking refuge in their deserted restaurant and eating duck and claypot hokkien mee washed down with a couple of Tiger Beers. It was the most action they had seen for ages and they buzzed around us. The final damage bill was $A5 for food and $10 for beer (about the right ratio). My head had just hit the pillow when………
The next morning, Christine told me I had missed the fireworks, which rose up to around the same height we were living on. It would have taken a bigger bang than that to wake me up.
Day 2 – Kuala Lumpur 23 Feb 2010
After a long lazy sleep in, we walked a couple of hundred metres or so to the “One Stop Coffee House” to sample the eggs and baked bean breakfast. The standard was good and things were certainly cheap. While we were waiting for the meal, I saw a middle-aged guy approaching the nearby money changer. The guy himself was unremarkable but what caught my attention was the pistol-gripped sawn-off shot gun that he was trying to conceal under his jacket.
“That guy’s got a gun,” I whispered to Christine, who pretended not to hear over the traffic noise and wanted me to shout out so everyone could hear about the gun.
I got ready to duck as he approached the counter but he passed over a package instead. Turns out he was the money courier and local minder because he continued to hang around looking casual but with the muzzle hanging out from under the jacket. I decided not to try robbing the money changer.
We retired back to the room for a few hours to watch Winter Olympics and wait for the city to wake up. Then it was off to find out how to buy a bus ticket to Penang. We found a travel agent, who wrote down he address for us, saying it was only a short walk to the bus station. Once back on the street, we located a Starbuck’s Coffee Shop so we could use the free WiFi to lock in the iPhone to local maps and get directions. The map soon showed us a 1.5km track that looked straight forward enough, and was after we made two false starts and went the wrong way.
The bus station is a huge complex and is totally surrounded by bus ticket touts, who grab you immediately and try to sell you everything but what you want. We finally settled on a luxury bus that promised a trip to Penang in 4.5 hours with refreshments and TV (probably in Malay) for the sum of $A18 each. With that all organised and two days to kill in KL, we set off to do the usual round of shops, markets and small eateries. The Bukit Bintang area of KL is like so many other Asian shopping areas but somehow seems a little less frantic. The street sellers are keen but laugh a lot and smile even when they realise you are not going to buy.
Christine was captivated by a miniature sewing machine, full featured yet only the size of a six pack and costing around $30. She badly wanted one but even at that size, it was unwelcome baggage at this stage. I pointed out that we had to come through KL on our way home. She did relent with a wooden snack bowl that folds down flat. This was purchased from a street seller over a meal. We beat him down from RM100 to RM40 then gave him RM50 anyway. I’m sure he was still laughing. Meanwhile, I bought a “genuine” Rolex and a “real” Omega for RM40. The man assured me they were quality pieces and not just Chinese rubbish. Of course, I believed him.
We headed back to our local Chinese restaurants for dinner, disappointing last night’s hosts by waving them off but delighting the next family on by accepting their cries of “duck for two?”
Day 3 – Kuala Lumpur 24 Feb 2010
We went back to the same breakfast spot and watched the gun man do his stuff once again. After brekky, we strolled down Jalan Bukit Bintang to check out all the lost cost hotels that are so common. They seemed OK but didn’t really match the great price we had on the Capitol through Asiarooms.com on the Internet. We returned to the hotel for a bit of a rest before setting out to tackle the world once more.
The main excursion was to China Town, which involved a trip on the mono-rail. By this time, we had the system figured out so it was really no problem at all. China Town was a major disappointment, however, with a great many stalls all selling the same T shirts, cheap watches, perfumes and fake hand bags. Seen one, seen them all. We walked and walked but saw little of real interest except the blessing of a shop by some dragon dancers as part of the Chinese New Year. So it was back to the hotel vicinity to find some lunch and another spell in the hotel.
Searching the Internet produced a useful looking cheap hotel across town next to Little India so we decided to be adventurous and caught the monorail then light rail system to locate it and have a look. Matching a map or iPhone GPS with reality can be an enormous challenge at times and we stopped a couple of times to compare notes with other tourists holding maps and looking puzzled. The hotel is close to the junction of 5 major roads and getting it all sorted took a while, though thankfully no wrong turns. The other issue was that not all the pedestrian cross lights work and standing at a busy intersection through two complete cycles of lights is very frustrating. Finally, you wait for a halt then make a bolt for it.
Once located, the Hotel Citin Masjid Jamek looked terrific value at only $A38 a night. It only opened last Sept so everything is fresh and modern. We might give it a go on our return to KL in 3 weeks. With a real thirst, we made the rail and mono-rail trip back to Bukit Bintang and sought out the usual Chinese café for a cooling Tiger Beer before heading down to the ultra modern Bukit Bintang Plaza. This huge shopping mall even dwarfs the typical Singapore offering and houses the biggest International food hall we have ever seen. It took ages just to decide which stall to choose, let alone which meal. It’s a good thing we walk so much given the food we consume.
One of our rules, exercise wise, is that we try not to use escalators, choosing to use stairs wherever possible. Sometimes, at the end of the day, the resolve weakens but we usually make the effort. Some places provide an escalator up but only steps down. This means that we tend to be climbing steps against an unrelenting tide of people flowing down. It becomes a test of wills to see who will hold the line the longest. They usually make way for the mad westerners in the end. We must look very amusing. Christine tends to run up the stairs while I find the steps are set too close together for my legs so I take them two at a time, thereby matching Christine’s speed.
Tomorrow, we head for Penang on the bus. We will see what that adventure brings.
Overall Impressions of KL
• A modern and beautiful city with some spectacular architecture and wonderful sense of space.
• Dirty and unkept compared to nearby Singapore
• Things that are broken don’t get fixed in a hurry
• Friendly people – even the hawkers and street sellers enjoy a joke and will take NO for an answer
• Fantastic food at fantastic prices
• Alcohol is not so cheap
• Shopping is very one dimensional – once you have seen three shops and four market stalls you have seen the lot.
• Worth a visit but not a full holiday