There is something about Southeast Asian cities that stand out from many of the Western cities that I have visited, and that is that there seems to be a lot more life to them than the cold, orderly, cities in the West. As I wander the streets of Melbourne people seem to go about their daily grind as if they were little more than drones, not thinking, not smiling, just simply doing what they have to do. Sure, there are sights and sounds in the cities of the West, but not in the same way that you see them elsewhere. Mainly you have the honking of horns, and the occasional screams from motorists and cyclists, namely to each other, but in many cases the cities which we live seem to be sterile.
This is not the case with Kuala Lumpar, or in fact many of the other cities in the neighbouring countries (though the only other proper city that I have visited was Bangkok). Sure, when you move into the city centre it becomes more, and more, like your average Western City, with skyscrapers, parks, and huge shopping malls, but head out onto the sidewalk and you will see a completely different side of the place. Okay, the sidewalks may be crumbling, and the traffic lights seem to favour the car as opposed to the pedestrian, and the torrential rain that hits every so often will no doubt cause water to pour out everywhere, but there is still something realistic and natural about this collection of humans from all walks of life.
We arrived in Kuala Lumpar by train – not many westerners do, they usually come through the airport, and there certainly appears to be a lot of development in that regard. There is a metro system, a so-called high speed rail line heading from the Thai border, through the capital, and all the way down to Gemas (which is about half-way to Singapore – they haven’t extended it all the way there yet, nor have the extended the line to Malacca – to get there you need to go by bus), and the first challenge that faced us was how to get to our hotel.
We ended up in Chinatown, which is by far and away the best part of the city to stay, if only for the night markets (I love those night markets, particularly the haggling that comes about when you are attempting to purchase something, and the best way to really knock the price down is to walk out of the store, because more likely than not you will have a shop keeper running out after you agreeing to final offer). These night markets are crowded, and you find yourself squeezing past people, and touts attempting to sell you anything and everything. Well, not quite everything, because postage stamps were a little hard to come across, but there are clothes, and trinkets, galore.
We ended up in a guest house, which was a bit of a shock, simply because I was expecting to have a hotel with private showers, which turned out wasn’t the case. I also pretty quickly discovered that putting beer in the fridge isn’t a wise move because you can be assured that it will disappear before you realise it. I guess the rule of thumb is that if you purchase beer, then make sure you drink it that night – saving a can for Ron (an Aussie term meaning ‘later on’), usually means that Ron is going to end up drinking it.
They certainly have a pretty brand new bus station, which is airconditioned, as are the coaches (we caught the bus to Malacca for the day, and silly me ended up going to a part of the town where there was nothing around, and more annoyingly, no taxis, simply to see a fort which, well, wasn’t much of a fort in the first place, and of course I forgot my umbrella – it usually always rains when I forget my umbrella, and this isn’t the annoying Melbourne drizzle type of rain, this is you are going to get soaking wet even with an umbrella type of rain).
But enough of Malacca, because I will return in another post, as I will with Georgetown. Here we are spending our time in Kuala Lumpar, and the one thing I should mention is the air-conditioning. Not surprisingly Malaysia is hot – really, really hot. However, step inside for a minute and you will be blasted not so much with air-conditioning, but arctic style freezing air-conditioning. This was really, really painful at times, since outside is shorts and t-shirt weather, while inside is jumper, jeans, and flanalette shirt style weather. In fact, since I had the air-conditioning powering on all night, I eventually caught a cold, something that I did not think was possible in South-east Asia.
In many ways, Kuala Lumpar is a mix of the modern and the traditional. Sure, Malaysia is a Muslim country, and you will see that, though it is nowhere near as strict as some places. Five times a day you might hear the call to prayer, and there are prayer rooms everywhere, as well as the hajib, but in reality Malaysia is in fact a multi-cultural country. Actually, once I crossed the border, the one thing that I noticed was that Malaysia actually felt like an extension of Singapore, minus the Anglos – the only Europeans that I encountered were tourists, however you certainly have a mix of Chinese, Indians, and of course Malay, no doubt a spill over from the days of the British Empire.
Of course, one of the first things that I did when I arrived, other than finding a pub and having a beer (which turned out wasn’t all that easy, because there were only two pubs in the local area, the place where all the pubs were located was closer to the commercial district), was to wander through the Markets, and of course purchase a t-shirt (of which I ended up getting two, as well as a pair of jeans, but they didn’t have a pair of shoes in my size, which was unfortunate). I ended up wandering through the markets multiple times, simply due to the beauty of the place.
Of course there is the food, and you certainly can’t go past the Laksha. Well, they also have traditional Chinese and Indian food as well, though when I mention Indian food I am referring to the more traditional styles as opposed to what you tend to mind in your local Indian takeaway. Yet, I’m not sure if there is anything particularly traditional about Malaysian food, since it seems to be a mix from all over the place. It certainly is a lot more spicier than you will find in China, but I suspect that is also the Thai influence.
Yet there is also the more modern part of the city, that still has its chaotic charm about the place. For some reason the Petronas Towers are a place to visit, but honestly, you can see buildings at a lot of places, so traveling to Kuala Lumpar just to see another couple, even if they are the tallest twin towers in the world, probably doesn’t do the place justice. However, we wandered through the park, and then found ourselves on an elevated walkway that took us all the way to a mega mall – and this certainly was a mega mall, though they had divided it into different sections. Like many in Australia, they have a food court, but the nature of the food court has changed a lot over the years, and has now become a restaurant strip – all three levels of it. There were certainly an awful lot of restaurants to choose from, as well as a couple of bars. Further more there was a cinema on the upper level, where once again I got to see a movie before it was released in Australia (not that it was a particularly good one).
I should mention something about the cinemas here though, because they operate slightly differently to those in Australia. In Australia, once you have finished watching the movie, you head out the way you came, however here everybody heads down to the front of the cinema where the exits are located, and the ushers will actually heard people down there. I remember a time when that happened in Australia, and it was back when I was a kid. I loved going out the back entrance, into the maze of passages that eventually led you outside, however that is simply not the case anymore – everybody simply goes out the way they came in.
Like Singapore, there is a huge mix of cultures here, and this is particularly noticeable with the temples that are everywhere. Sure, there are Mosques, and Churches, but alongside that you also have Hindu and Buddhist temples. In fact we caught the train to a particularly large Buddhist Temple known as Batu Caves. You step off the train and find yourself immediately in an Indian street market, and further along you will discover a huge flight of stairs heading up a cliff face to the entrance to a temple. Halfway up the stairs is also an entrance to some natural caves, but due to the wait time, we decided to give it a miss, and I promised to take my brother to see some caves back in Australia.
Obviously there is a element of modesty and respect in these temples, and the signs clearly state ‘no shorts’. I’m not sure if that is just for the females of whether it applies across the board. I understand that with Buddhist temples, women need to dress modestly, and aren’t even permitted to touch a monk, but I wasn’t all that sure with this one. In any case, many of these strictures apply only to the inner sanctum, so if you are in shorts (and didn’t rent a sarong at the bottom of the stairs), you can still enter the caves and wander around.
I should finish off with the Botanic Gardens, which is quite large. The museum is also located nearby, but on the otherside of a freeway. Interestingly there is quite a lot to do in the gardens, much more than simply wandering around a looking at plants (though that is always a pleasant thing to do nonetheless). Not only will you find the planetarium (which, while open, wasn’t all that spectacular, since the best thing about observatories is actually seeing stars and planets, though it is always hit or miss in relation to cloud cover – I was very fortunate that when I went to the Sydney observatory it was a perfect night).
However, they also have a bird park and a butterfly park (and do offer concessions to the disabled). After visiting the bird park in Singapore I simply could not imagine that you could top that. Well, it didn’t, but it certainly was still worth it. In a way, unlike the one in Singapore, you got a lot more up close and personal with the birds. There were quite a few peacocks wandering around, and every so often they would show their plumage. They also had some horn bills here as well, but they were in cages, namely because they tend to be fairly aggressive – then again the parrot that bit me because it didn’t want to get off my shoulder wasn’t all that fun either.
Oh, and then there are the monkeys – they are everywhere. Well, not quite, but there were a number of them at the bird park, and a horde of them at the temple. I’m a bit funny with monkeys though, because they actually come across quite nasty. Sure, they’re thieves, but in many cases they are pretty wild, and they definitely bite (though I didn’t discover that through first hand experience). Still, it was pretty cool ascending those stairs and seeing the monkeys running about everywhere.
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