Thursday, December 28, 2017

Kuala Lumpur

Leaving Borneo was bittersweet; we'd seen so much, and I wanted to see so much more but I was also ready to see KL. We got in pretty late--the airport is an hour from the city, and I think it took us as long to cross the airport terminal as it did to get into town. We'd planned to check out the night markets but we had some trail mix and crashed. As in Singapore, we opted out of the overpriced hotel breakfast (the other hotel breakfasts, apart from in Sandakan when we were on our own and bought some snacks from the supermarket, were included as part of the various tours). We picked up some samosas and fried banana balls from a street vendor on the way to our walking tour.

We started the tour in KL City Gallery, where the guide told us about how KL came to be and evolved over the decades. We learned that KL didn't get plumbing until 1962--until then, there were still people paid to collect waste in buckets from homes and businesses. We learned about how the press evolved and paved the way for Malay independence, which was negotiated rather than fought.

A model of the city, inside the gallery

 We went onto the textile museum.

 And walked around the city center.

 And into the cathedral.

 The original stained glass was hidden during the war and never found.
 This is one of only two such organs in the world, the other in Victoria and Albert Hall (if I remember correctly).

We went on to the Royal Selangor Club. Our guide noted that not just anything can call itself royal in Malaysia; it was an honor to be bestowed by a sultan. The club was private and didn't allow women or children inside. We were allowed around the edges by virtue of the tour.

longest bar in Asia

View from the club
 That was the last stop, from which we made our way through Chinatown and its markets.

And the Sri Mariamman temple.

From there, we found lunch (this was the one time Happy Cow really came through) and tried to walk to the bird park until we realized we'd have to cab. You have the birds in the intro post so I'll just show you the orchids. Alex was over orchids by now, and though these were the least impressive of all the ones we'd seen on the trip (in Singapore, Kuching, and Kinabalu Park), they were still lovely.

From there, we headed to the Petronas Towers for our afternoon time slot.

 Then we headed back to our hotel and chilled at the pool, with a view of the towers.
After that, we headed out for dinner at Jalan Alor, which hosted an unbelievable street market. In my youth I probably would have stayed in this neighborhood, and I have mixed feelings about being past that.
 We stopped at a stall where you pick your own skewers, put them on a plate, and hand them to the people to grill for you. You pick spicy or not (we picked spicy) and they bring them to you with some sauces to a table behind the stall.

 We passed some other stalls. We got some spicy mango (not shown) and some coconut ice cream to put out the fire (also not shown, which is too bad because it was served in coconut half-shells).
 We couldn't figure out what this guy was doing--some sort of tacos but with canned corn and cornmeal--and were too full at this point to buy any of it to find out.
We took a stroll around the neighborhood, past some places offering massages. We were healthily skeptical but stopped at a place that looked legit. The massages were amazing. My masseuse knew to focus on my knottiest spots, and eventually just turned my neck until the knots cracked. We left very relaxed and headed to the monorail, from which we connected to the metro. It was late, again, and I saw a reflection of the sign that listed the next trains. The reflection showed an extra '1.'

A.: Fourteen minutes!? What is this, DC?
Alex: A.; Massages.
A.: Oh, I see, it's only four minutes.

We were back at the hotel in no time.

The next morning, we set off for Batu Caves, just north of the city. We'd planned to pick up samosas again around the train station (we metroed to KL Sentral, from which we'd catch the commuter train to the caves) but couldn't find any street vendors in the 20 minutes we had, so we settled for samosas 7-11. We're glad we got to the caves earlyish, though it was already kind of bananas and also hot.

We walked past some temples and tourist traps, including a Disneyish version of the caves apparently favored by tour groups, and past some chickens and monkeys, to got to the steps going up to Temple Cave.

There was a sign requesting that visitors help them with the restoration by carrying a pail of sand or some bricks up the steps, so I grabbed one. Alex took a picture, which I'll add to this post when he sends it to me. This is also when I put on my light pants under my dress, so I wouldn't have to wrap my legs in a sarong. Up the steps we went, past the monkeys and the tourists who had to catch their breath.

 At the top, more temples (and monkeys) inside the cave.

 And more on the way down.

After the caves, we waited for the next commuter train to the city and from there, headed to Thean Hou Temple, which was stunning and serene, and offered another stunning view of the city.



We left the temple for the ecoforest park, but didn't spend that much time there because it was boring. I don't know if we'd have been equally unimpressed if we'd seen it upon first getting to the region rather than after spending time in the actual rainforest, or if it was objectively unimpressive. We also opted out of Menara KL, which is not as tall as the Petronas Towers but offers a higher view as it starts from a higher elevation. We'd gotten plenty of views of the city, and we were starving. So we headed back to the monorail--not without asking a cab driver how much to take us to the mall to which Happy Cow directed us and balking when the response was 25 ringett ($6 but bitch, please)--to get lunch.

Having no sense of portion sizes and excited to not have to wonder what was vegan, we over-ordered. And thinking we were heading for another walking tour, I overate. It had cooled a bit by the time we stepped out to monorail to the walking tour of Kampong Bahru--the old neighborhood amid so much development--but by the time we got out, it was pouring down. I'd made the mistake of commenting about how we'd mostly lucked out on the weather--apart from once or twice, it rained when it didn't matter, i.e., at night or when we were inside for something. But this time, we were caught. We hopped from awning to awning and got within a few blocks of the tour meeting place, but we ended up stuck there (we think at some high school) for an hour and a half. It was also clear that there could be no walking tour to be had; it was really raining. And this is the one time we hadn't brought any raingear--no rain was predicted, or could be expected from looking at the sky. But everyone did say the weather was always unpredictable. We stood there watching the Petronas Towers fade out of view and back in, several times. Just when we thought it was letting up, it started pouring down even harder. Eventually, we had to move. We tried to go back through under the awnings and eaves, but eventually had to get out in the open and got a bit wet. We found a mall with a passageway to the monorail. We took the opportunity to clean up and air-dry what we could (e.g., my sun hat) in the hand-dryers. I was bummed to miss the cultural tour but it was what it was; I was ready to head back.

We popped into the supermarket in the mall connected to our hotel, but there wasn't much souvenir shopping to be had--it catered to people who wanted western stuff. I even just wanted to have one last serving of amazing tropical fruit, preferably papaya. The papaya and pineapple throughout the trip, but especially at the rainforest lodge, were out of this world. In Sandakan, I wondered out loud why there were no vegetables or fruit in the supermarket when Alex pointed out that they were sold fresh at street stands. This was less the case in KL, but in any case, the street fruit sellers had called it a day and there was no papaya for me. I got just enough cash to get us to the airport hotel that night and the airport the next morning, or so I thought, and we headed up to the hotel lounge for a drink to celebrate the trip.

It ended up costing more to get to the airport hotel than it did to get out from the airport, but luckily we'd negotiated down the price ahead of time and ended up giving the driver everything we had (still a bit less than came up on the meter, but still probably a better fare for him than taking someone through the city). There wasn't an airport shuttle that worked with our flight, but we were able to charge an overpriced (by local standards) shuttle at the crack of dawn. We slept surprisingly well in the over-airconditioned hotel that was the least nice of any we'd stayed in, because we were exhausted. We made it to the airport in time for coffee and shopping, and said goodbye to Malaysia.

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