Jan 1, 2012
|Today I'm relaxing in the grassy courtyard of this very friendly guesthouse in Melaka, and finding some time to write.
Let's go back to Dec 28 (feels like a long time ago to me) when I landed in Kuala Lumpur in late afternoon. After the long immigration line and a one hour bus ride to the train station, I got into a cab as it started pouring rain and the streets quickly turned into rivers. I congratulated myself on the idea of taking a taxi instead of walking!
Fortunately, the next three days where mostly rain free so I could walk around. But given the constant hot and humid weather (I don't know if it's 33C or 35C but it's just HOT) the poor state of the sidewalks, the traffic and the crowds, this is not as pleasant as it sounds in a city like KL. There are three different rail options for going around the city and beyond: the monorail, running on elevated track, the LRT which is like a metro, and the KTM, a commuter train (like the GO train in Toronto). Unfortunately they are not integrated so you have to repay when you connect, and often they don't go where you need to go so you have to walk or take a taxi.
So anyway, I spent a lot of time going from one place to the next, but still managed to check out several attractions like Chinatown (did a free walking tour), The Petronas Towers, Batu Caves (a Hindu shrine just outside town), Islamic Arts Museum, Bird Park and Merdeka Square, which was being prepared for the New Year Eve's celebrations. See photos.
My main reason for visiting Kuala Lumpur was to see the Petronas Towers, until recently the tallest buildings in the world. Since 2010, the tallest building is now in Dubai. Go see the new Mission Impossible movie for a look! But the Petronas Towers still qualify as the tallest twin towers at 452 metres (88 floors). You can look at them from the outside for free (especially beautiful at night) but to get up to the skybridge and observation floor on the 86th level, you need to book a tour (about $17) in advance. I'm glad I finally got to see them since you never know what can happen... But isn't it interesting to think that the two tallest buildings in the world are now both in Muslim countries?
A little bit about the food: you can find everything from Chinese, Indian, Malay, Thai, Japanese, and what is broadly called "Western" food here. There are several coffee shops but they all seem to belong to chains. You can find Starbucks and a local outfit called "White Coffee". Espresso is more difficult to find, and they make it with condensed milk. Yuck. I've been eating a lot of noodles and chicken in flavourful and slightlyy spicy sauces, some Thai and Chinese food, but have stayed away from the "Western" stuff except yesterday when I had some oatmeal with fruit and yogurt. You can easily get freshly squeezed fruit juices like watermelon and pineapple, and some odder ones like fresh jelly grass. Imagine bubble tea with the round jelly bubbles replaced by stringy jelly bits, and you're close. Tiger beer is a local brand, but I find it very "dry" as a beer. There is also a crazy dessert called ice kachang (see photo) which has shaved ice, syrups, ice cream, jelly stringy bits, corn, red beans, peanuts, and who knows what else. After a few minutes it's all turned into some kind of soup. Very refreshing and tasty nonetheless. :)
I've met several travellers including a woman from Vancouver, a few American retirees, and young travellers from Europe.
My general impressions of Kuala Lumpur:
KL is a city in transition. Some areas are clean and modern (like the shopping mall below the Petronas Towers) and you could think you're in Singapore or New York. But outside the malls, the streets are littered with garbage (with the occasional dead kitten), the sidewalks are broken, you have to watch out not to step in the gutter, and you know you're not in a completely developped country. The cars look new and expensive though, so this is not a poor country either. Because of the hot and humid weather, KL is a culture of malls. People drive to malls, shop and eat in malls, and enjoy the air-conditioning that probably not everyone gets at home. It can get very tiring when you're trying to explore too fast (in typical tourist fashion) and the constant change between extreme heat and ultra-cool AC is probably what created my "allergy-like" problem of the last couple of days. I'm feeling better now.
As anticipated, the people are a mixture of Malay, Chinese and Indians. The Malays are muslim, which is the official religion of the country) and, I was told yesterday, enjoy some privileges not afforded to the other races. So even though this is a multi-cultural society, it is not necessarily equitable. When I filled out a form on the web to book a bus ticket, I was asked for my race. I qualified as "Other".
Tomorrow I leave for Cambodia, and will hopefully be able to update you on Melaka (where I am currently) while waiting for my flight. I'll also try to put captions on all the pictures. But now I've got to get out of my room as it's past 5 pm and the temperature is starting to drop, making it the best time for strolling around. I still have about 2 hours of daylight.