24 April – Wednesday
Check out is not until midday, when Arun collects us for a city tour. After breakfast Tony heads over to the telephone store, and has a bit of difficulty getting things sorted. It takes some time to organise, but eventually gets across what he wants when the staff member opens the store website. Two sim cards cost MYR8 each ($3), and come with a MYR5 credit, Tony chooses those and hands over his passport. It takes over half an hour to set up the accounts, he is getting concerned at how long this is taking. Finally sorted, and now a plan is needed. We are only here another four days, but need internet on the go, and also need to make it cheap and easy to contact Arun. There is an internet plan that lasts for 7 days, MYR10 ($4) gets us 1.5Gb, with a bonus offer of 7.5Gb. It is a complicated process, we now have to go to a special machine to add credit to the phone accounts (Tony is adamant they are not getting his credit card details - this is an auto new plan). Tony hands over MYR10 to load five ringgit more on to each account, and is puzzled when the purchase for the plans won’t go through because of insufficient funds. He is getting pretty frustrated by now, and tells the girl that he gave her the money for it, so where did it go? He politely asks for her to sort it out now, as he has a bus to catch (fibber!). It turns out, that as with everything else sold here, there is a bloody tax to pay on top of the advertised price. So he hands over another MYR10 to add the minimum to each account. Finally the purchase goes through, and all is set. One phone down, now we just have to set Cynthea’s up. Tony gets the girl to write down how to process everything, and armed with instructions heads off to the hotel. It is after 11am, and he is thankful he packed before going out. Luckily it is a much quicker process setting up Cynthea’s number, and we are soon all set to go. All up, it only cost NZ$10 to sort phones for the rest of the week.
We head down to check out, and Arun arrives soon after. Today we are on a city sights tour before driving down to Melaka, a world heritage site 160km to the south of K.L.
First stop is the King’s Palace, Istana Negara, built in 2011 at a cost of MYR800million ($293million). The Monarchy here is largely symbolic, and the families of the nine royal sultans take turns in ruling, changing once every five years. There are thirteen states in Malaysia, but only nine have ruling Sultans because the Portuguese removed the royal families in the four states that they controlled at the time. The current system, unique to Malaysia, began in 1957 after British occupation of Malaysia ended.
We get out of an air-conditioned car into a furnace. Very hot and humid, around 33 degrees, not that hot, but we had just been sitting in the fridge. Squinty eyes will probably feature in the photos, the sun is so bright! We cannot enter the grounds of the palace, but we are welcome to take photos of the guards and the horsemen. We head off to the souvenir shop for an icecream, but they only have durian flavour. Yurk! There is an Aussie group here as well, and we run into them throughout the rest of the day.
The National Monument Plaza (Plaza Tugu Negara) is set in beautiful grounds with lots of sculptures, a group of art students is here studying them. The cenotaph recognises those killed in the three wars that Malaysia has been involved in, WWI, WWII and the local “Malayan Emergency (1948-1960), a war that saw the communists try to take control of the country.
The National Monument itself was designed by the same artist who designed the Iwo Jima Memorial, Felix de Weldon. At 15m high it is one of the largest bronze statues in the world. Completed in 1966, the monument suffered extensive damage from a communist terrorist in 1972, and is now under protective guard between sunset and sunrise. The sculpture features seven figures, five of the figures (holding the Malaysian flag, armed with a rifle and bayonet, armed with a machine gun, and a soldier tending to fifth wounded compatriot), representing the victorious allied forces while the other two figures that lie on the ground represent that of the defeated communist forces (there is a communist star on their hats). The monument is surrounded by a shallow lake, with lily fountains, and the covered walkways had the emblems of defence force units embedded in the ceiling.
We headed for the shop, time for an icecream, as long as it is not durian! And if you want to go for a piddle, it costs 20c (though not strictly enforced).
We head into the old part of town, to the sites of the old KTM Station (now a bus station), the old Railway Station, the Ibu Pejabat Ktm building (the Malaysian Railway HQ) and of the National Mosque. The mosque is closed to non-Muslim tourists until 3pm, so we can only view from the outside. At Independence Square we see the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, where Government Offices were houses during British colonial administration, including the superior courts of the country: the Federal Court of Malaysia, the Court of Appeals and the High Court of Malaya.
At the River of Life, the (clearish) waters of the Gombak River mingle with the liquid mud of the Klang River – so dirty it looks like it is flowing upside down. Surprisingly there are fish in the river, though how they live in that we don’t know. In the past the Klang was a symbolic barrier between the British administration on the west bank, and the Asian commercial community on the East.
Where the two rivers meet is also the site of Masjid Jamek (Mosque), built in 1909, and the oldest Islamic place of worship in Kuala Lumpur.
At 421m the Menara KL Tower is impressive, currently the seventh tallest freestanding tower, going up in the lift our ears pop at around 200m, pretty much the only indicator that we are going up, it is that smooth a ride. The observation deck offers stunning views from 276m. We are able to pin-point where we have been today, and have fun spotting how many roof top pools there are to see.
The twin towers of Petronas are stunning in glass and stainless steel, 88 floors and about 450m, until 2004 was the tallest building in the world. We don’t go inside, but Arun stops the car in the middle of the road so we can get photos from a traffic island!
Not far from here we go to a chocolate factory outlet, the only place that you can buy this brand. We are given “visitor passes” at the door and are rushed in by the outlet staff. It was a really weird experience, we were rushed through tastings, and then presented to a woman who would organise our purchases. This would be the first time we have been given visitor passes to be able to shop somewhere, strange… We wander off on our own to have a less hurried look around. They have a premium range, which we were not shown on the (cough) tour, but we cannot find where to buy them (different flavours and shapes similar to the style we saw at the Great Ocean Rd chocolate factory shop). We buy a small bag of peanut cream chocolate, we would have liked to try more but this outfit is rigged for the Chinese market, buy in bulk - boxes of each flavour are prepacked in fours and fives at a “discounted” price, and although individual packs are priced, very few are readily available. Not that that bothers the Chinese shoppers, who are tossing 5-packs into baskets so quick it is almost a blur.
Oh, and if you get the chance the try Durian, don’t bother. Not even in chocolates, it is (insert inappropriate language here) disgusting. We asked to try it, we wish we hadn’t! And we had nothing to take the bloody awful taste away afterwards. Urk!
And with that we are off to Melaka, a world heritage site about 2 hours away. We will have two nights there, a wee way out of the city itself, in a place called Ayer Keroh, about 17km from the main port. The area was ruled by the Chinese in the early 15th century, Portuguese controlled from 1511, then the Dutch had a crack from 1641 to 1798 but they were not interested in developing it as a trading centre. Malacca was ceded to the British in the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 in exchange for Bencoolen on Sumatra. Due to dissatisfaction with British jurisdiction over Naning, Dol Said, a local chief, fought the East India Company in a war from 1831 to 1832, which resulted in a decisive British victory. It formed part of the Straits Settlements, together with Singapore and Penang. Malacca went briefly under the rule of Empire of Japan in 1942–1945 during World War II.
We arrive at the Mentra Square Hotel, and at reception ask if we are in the right place! Certainly not what we expected, and we are assured it is all ok. There is a lot of building going on here as this hotel is being renovated, and another, 5 star hotel, is being built next door. We enter our room on the 7th floor, and are blown away. Wow, wow, and WOW! It is all glass and mirrors, with shiny black surfaces (aka finger print magnet). We go through to the lounge, check the bathroom, and see that we have two single beds in the room (bugger). Then we notice the stairs, and Tony heads up to investigate. Even more blown away… a massive bedroom, with a mezzanine that looks down into the lounge below, the bathroom is also massive. Big bath, walk in shower, dressing room. Surely there is a mistake. Back downstairs is a message addressed to Tony apologising for the disruption and the lack of amenities, and inviting him to sample the new 5 star hotel. We are thinking that this must be the new hotel too, but a look around the site reveals we are where we were booked. On the table is a large bowl of fresh fruit, and a big jar of bikkies. Cynthea checks, and they are complimentary… didn’t want to get burned scoffing this lot and having to pay flash hotel prices for it! We need not have worried… Our driver Arun had not prearranged his accommodation, so Tony messages him and invites him back here, there is plenty of room, and everything is set for four people, including our breakfast vouchers. Arun politely declines, probably against company policy anyway (we wouldn’t have charged much).
Time for a feed, so when we are over the shock of the situation, we head to the restaurant, and we are the only diners. The menu is sparse, a couple of things are not available, and that leaves only one dish that is not seafood (at least there is one!). Tony notices that there is no booze on the menu either, bugger, the place is dry (but the new hotel will have alcohol). Our waitress hovers nearby and we order, well we think we order. Tony wants chicken chop, Cynthea says she will just have the mushroom soup. Our waitress asks her to repeat the order, and is told just the soup. Unfortunately for Tony she took that literally… Cynthea’s soup is delivered, but nothing for Tony. At first we think that as it was an entrée, they are delivering the mains to Tony later… but later doesn’t come. Cynthea asks where Tony’s meal is, and she is horrified at the mix up and rushes off. Oops, that language barrier again. About half an hour later Tony gets his feed, in the meantime we are offered complimentary coffees. All is good. We go to pay, and their Visa machine is either not working, or they do not know how to work it, so we just charge the meal to the room.
We go for a walk around the area, check out the well furnished gym, the convenience store and we have a sticky beak at the new hotel. She is flash Trev. The receptionist from our hotel comes over while our noses are up against the door, and we think we are in for a scalding, but we are invited in to see the lobby and dining room. (Tony was hopeful that the dining room was open, he was planning to have tea here tomorrow night!). But the hotel is not due to open until July, so we will have to consider plan B, there is a pizza hut about a kilometre away… It is stifling hot here still, the temperature has not dropped much now that it is dark.
Back in the room we explore more, Cynthea cannot get the tv in the lounge to work (Tony is secretly pleased, but plugs in the aerial and it goes, albeit with fuzzy reception. There are a few things missing, like the handbasin upstairs is not connected to hot water, and the finish on the silicon around the bath is rough as guts, and we put that down to the room not being finished.
Each bathroom has two set of everything - shavers and shaving cream, tooth brushes and toothpaste, cotton buds, shower caps and more shower gel and shampoo than we should need. The “throw-away” slippers are too small for Tony’s big feet…
The bed is a bit on the hard side, but there is no problem sleeping…
25 April – Thursday
More surprises in store for us today. We are running a bit late for breakfast, but not too badly, and Tony goes ahead so he can have a decent feed at the buffet. There are about a dozen other people in the restaurant, and they are outnumbered by the staff. He is shown to a table, and as he goes to sit down a gentleman greets Tony by name and introduces himself as Bala Pillay, the general manager, and asks if he can join us for breakfast. Well, you really can’t say no to that, but Tony does wonder what is going on. Cynthea arrives, and we are inundated with staff. So much for a buffet, we are being waited on hand and foot, and this is taking some getting used to. We are brought plates of pastries, fresh fruit, meats and cheeses. Tony goes up to get some cereal, and as he heads back to the table is asked if he wants his coffee now (is the Pope a catholic?). The cooked breakfast is also available, but before going up to that Tony quickly messages our driver, telling Arun we delayed at breakfast, but that everything is good. This is just so amazing, Bala is great company, and has a wonderful sense of humour, we get on very well. He asks where we dined last night, and seems surprised that we ate here. We are expecting a grilling about how we are finding the hotel services, but that doesn’t happen either. He asks how the meal was, and does he have to sack the chef? We tell him everything was fine, and don’t mention the mix up with the orders last night. Bala asks where we are dining tonight, and Tony says we had not made plans (not likely going to tell him Pizza Hut, are we!, well actually…). He asks us to join him for dinner, and what do we want the chef to cook for us. Tony says almost anything is ok for Cynthea as long as it isn’t chilli-hot, that he doesn’t have seafood or fungus, and that he likes spicy food, but not too hot. Bala says he will arrange some local food to be prepared, and makes a dismissive comment about the menu that is being used (it will be replaced very soon, we are told later). We still cannot figure out if they have a case of mistaken identity, haha, and we do wonder if he knew about the mix up last night. Hmmm…
Arun picks us up for an early start, better now than in the heat of the day. We drive into the port area, and first stop is an old Dutch church from 1709, St Peter’s. We spend a bit of time here, and are touched that they felt for us following the attack on Christchurch in March. They had a special service following that incident, and another for the Sri Lankan attacks.
We then visit the town hall, the Dutch built Stadthuys. It is now a museum, entry was MYR20 (about $7), and we spent a lot of time in here looking at the local history. In the museum shop Cynthea buys a fan, and Tony gets a telescopic back scratcher. Then we head up the hill to the Church of Our Lady of Mount, where (St) Francis Xavier was temporarily buried in March 1553.
We continue on our walking tour, visiting Chinatown, Jonker Street (for shopping – no, no, no, no. No Shopping! ), and the Cheng Hoon Teng temple. Chinatown is as noisy as expected, with garishly decorated trishaws blaring out “music” as full volume as they whizz past. Pikachu, Hello Kitty and Spiderman are some of the themes on the trishaws. We pass by the back doors of some eating houses, and decide we will not be eating here. In one a young girl is “washing” plates in a big tub of cold water that when we saw it more resembled soup. Yuk, it is a wonder we haven’t got sick before now! We just have to try not to think about this when we eat from now on, haha.
It is very hot and humid, so we head back for the sanctuary of the car, where the 21 degrees inside feels like the inside of a chiller compared to the 34 degrees outside. The rain promised for today has yet to come, but the brolly is good for keeping the sun off.
Our last stop is at the “floating mosque”, it doesn’t actually float but Melaka Straits Mosque is built out over the sea.
Back to our hotel for a rest, walking in this heat took its’ toll. There is another huge bowl of fresh fruit (apples, mangos, starfruit, plums, grapes) and another jar of biscuits for us. There is time for a soak in the bath, to do some laundry, and then it is time for tea. We walk into the dining room, and again are the only guests, other than Bala. We are joined by Shelly Chai, the Director of Sales (in charge of filling the new commercial premises associated with the renovations here and at the new hotel), and Sedrick, the assistant manager who has only recently joined the company. We are still wondering if there is a reason for this, and ask a few questions to see if we can draw anything out… but no, this is just dinner with new friends.
Our waitress from last night is here again and attends to every need, plates are whipped away before you can even put your cutlery down. The meal is exquisite, starting with a spicy chicken soup, then another four courses, all beautifully presented. The main meal is buffet style, with a range of local foods to sample.
We briefly talk about plans for the company (5000 new rooms over three local locations in three years). Bala has overseen seventeen new hotel builds in 35 years, and was brought out of retirement to oversee this one after the project ran into trouble. Tony mentions the lack of alcohol on the menu, and is told that it to encourage the large local Muslim population to support the business. The renovated hotel will be more family orientated, and the new one next door will cater for businesses (and have a bar). The subject of the current menu comes up again, and Tony mentions that it is missing a few things, like the desserts. There is a display cabinet in the restaurant foyer with cakes, muffins and sandwiches, but none of these are on the menu. He also says it is just as well for his waistline!
The rest of the evening is spent discussing a variety of subjects, and it is all very pleasant. Bala apologises for leaving early as he has to be in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow morning. He suggests that Shelly joins us for breakfast, and then we will get a grand tour of the new hotel. We are looking forward to that, it will be stunning if what we have seen already is anything to go by. As we leave the restaurant the dessert cabinet s opened, and we get given carrot cake and a mocha muffin, not that we needed more to eat! Shelly makes a comment about Tony liking coffee, and says she will send a special one over to the room. She turns up a few minutes later with a VERY special coffee, “Bird’s Nest Coffee”. Now that stuff is bloody expensive, and not something that Tony would have bought himself, but he is blown away by the generosity. He was not sure about trying this, but couldn’t not do so. The taste was “different”, hard to describe. He probably wouldn’t have it again, but it was not unpleasant to taste. The thought that it is made from bird spit however…. Well we won’t go there.
A storm is brewing, there is thunder and lightning, and it is fair persisting down. Hopefully it will be over by morning.