Thursday, July 31, 2008

Kuala Lumpur: Skyscrapers, Mosques, and Markets

Stats:
Destination: Kuala Lumpur (KL) Number of Days there: 5 Population: est. 4 million
Our Best of: PETRONAS Towers at night, strolling through the wet market in Chinatown, Little India despite the jet lag
One thing unexpected: Took in the New Batman movie one night
Times we took the: Bus: 2 Train/Subway: 7 Taxi/Car: 0
Estimated KM wal
ked: 18 - 20 Times we were “lost”: 3
Where we stayed: Tune Hotel - 96 RM/$30

26 days after leaving Denver, we wave a final
goodbye to family and board the plane bound for Kuala Lumpur. Forty hours later we arrive into Kuala Lumpur International at 7:50 am two calendar days later without a hitch. It always seems to amaze me that we have never had one problem with an international flight (yet of course) and quite often have a problem with domestic flights, but I think I have covered that at nausea so I digress. One thing of note is the Singapore airport has to be one of the nicest in the world and certainly the nicest we have ever been in. Complete with spas, a swimming pool, nice hotel rooms (so we hear), carpeted throughout (Tracy feels this makes an airport so much more comfortable feeling) as well as free massage chairs and lounges not to mention free Internet, this place has it all for the weary traveler. Sleeping in this airport will probably make some of the hostels in the near future seem like the bottom of the barrel.

Day 1: Cricket anyone?, Little India and little night market

Our first day in Kuala Lumpur was spent finding the hotel, checking in, walking through Little India and taking in the nearby night market. The hotel we chose was the Tune Hotel. It’s a spin off if you will of their sister company, Air Asia, which is the low cost air carrier in the region. Their hotels are operated similarly, “fares” start at $10 a night and go up from there based on availability and options you choose. The hotel comes standard with a bed, fan and hot shower (similar to a seat, snack, and reaching your destination). It costs extra for air-con, towels, and Wi-Fi. I like the concept and will probably be staying in another one in Kota Kinabalu when we go there. Little India was our first stop, mainly due to the fact it was close to our hotel and jet lag was really starting to set in. Stroll through the markets and shops and you get a true feel for the neighborhood. It’s a bustling section of town complete with a covered section of the market selling mainly perfume, purses, watches and designer clothing knockoffs. After walking a short distance we settled on a little restaurant and had our first meal in Malaysia – Indian. May sound strange, but the truth to anyone who has been here is that Malaysia is really a melting pot society. There are three main population segments – Malay, Chinese and Indian. Furthermore, that population is again segmented into several religious beliefs – Hindu, Buddhism, Christian and of course Islam. Despite all the differences in culture and dress code everyone really seems to get along just fine. After our meal we made our way down to Merdeka (Malay for Independence) Square, home of the world’s largest flag pole and the old British cricket grounds. The park seems to be appropriately named as the British are who they won independence from. After the square, we walked over to Majid Jamek, the Mosque right in the heart of KL, only to find visiting hours over for the day and then returned to our hotel, checked in, and decided to take a “quick” nap. Four hours later (not planned) we wake up, get ready and make our way over to the Malay night market before the shops close up for the night. Aside from a few food stalls, we were rather disappointed in the “Sunday” Market on Saturday night. Perhaps it was due to the light rain keeping people away but the market seemed dead with few stalls even there. After walking around for about twenty minutes, we decide to grab a quick bite and head back to the hotel for the night.

Day 2: All the stories that oil can buy, Towering Skyscrapers and my favorite pastime


Paris has its Eiffel, Big Ben in London, Statue of Liberty in New York and for Kuala Lumpur it’s the PETRONAS Towers. Certainly not as well known but that might all change in the near future as South East Asia and specifically Malaysia move more into the global economy. Once the largest building in the world (now passed by a tower in Dubai still being built) PETRONAS has 84 floors and towers over the rest of KL, which has its fair share of skyscrapers. The towers (still the largest twin towers) also houses an upscale mall, that we could never seem to stay out of for some reason, movie theater (Batman here we come), and is connected underground to the subway. Passing in between Tiffany’s and Prada brings you into the main hall leading to the towers. You have to get there before 9am to even think of getting a ticket to go to the bridge (located on the 42nd floor). We get there at 8:50 and were one of the last to get a ticket. While waiting for our time slot we decided to walk through the little park that is adjacent to the towers. The park serves as a little oasis in the middle of a compact city not only for tourists but locals enjoy the park as well. At one end of the park there are children and families playing in the water and at the other end young couples sit together at night admiring the bright lights of the towers at night. While the bridge I feel was worth it (free) a better view can be had from the KL Tower. An impressive structure in itself, the KL Tower was built in the 90’s as a communication tower as well as tourist trap of sorts that they have certainly tried to build on adding a Zip line on one side and a huge swing on the other. Non-the-less it is the best view to be had in the city. From the observation deck of the tower you really can tell just how high PETRONAS really is. After taking in the views of the city from both the Tower and the bridge of PETRONAS, we decided to waste no time in doing one of my favorite activities abroad – Grocery shopping. It may seem like an everyday chore to most, but to me, it is exploration time. We always like to do the picnic thing everywhere we go and KL did not disappoint. Being in the upscale mall where the affluent Malaysians like to shop, Isetan had a nice selection of take away. The three venues I thought were really cool and added a lot of theatre were the fire roasted cookies, fresh tofu stand and the individually wrapped sushi rolls. I snapped the picture of the two guys rolling and fire roasting these little cookies before I was told I could not, oh well! Hot fresh cookies, how can one resist! We passed though once and the guy was actually pressing out the tofu in this little room and then sealing it and cooling it in the tank of water below. Unfortunately when we passed by again he was gone for the day. The Sushi venue you could mix and match and the prices were not that bad considering the item, about $4 dollars for 6 veggie rolls and a mixture of 6 fish rolls. After sitting out and watching the “lighting” of the towers while chowing down, we decided to call it a night a little early still feeling a little jet lagged.

Day 3: A quick stop in Vietnam, some Cultural learning and I bet I can guess where you got those shoes

Since we have pretty much decided to move Bangkok/Thailand after Vietnam, we needed to get our Vietnamese Visas here in KL at the embassy. It’s a little more expensive, but not prohibitively, so we went ahead anyways considering the cost implications of waiting around in Thailand for one would be far greater than tacking on an extra day in KL. With the formalities out of the way for the moment, we headed over to the National Museum. Not
really worth the visit in my opinion. The video of the Grandpa telling the kids about Merdaka (Their independence day) was a little funny in a cheesy way and it shed a little light on the past history (Portuguese, then Dutch, then British all had a finger on Malaysia at one time or another) but otherwise a waste of time. In its defense, only half of the whole museum was open so perhaps when it is all open it will be worth it. After making a few wrong turns, we made our way over to the Islamic Art Museum. A definite upgrade from the history museum, the art museum was organized really well with separate rooms for each area of art (ex. Tapestry, Guns and Weaponry, etc.) The Architecture room was my personal favorite with all the important and famous Mosques in the world in scale sized models. It’s amazing that the main Mosque in Mecca can hold over 1 million people! We left the Museum and made our way up to the national mosque just in time for…visiting hours to be over. Still got a decent look at the outside including the one large minaret, largest in Malaysia. We then decided to walk back up to the other main Mosque – Majid Jamek but it too was closed to visitors. Alas the Mosques will wait for another day to explore. With our cultural windows of opportunity closed, we decided to duck down into Chinatown for a little “shopping” excursion. One of the many positives to having everything you own on your back is that the next thing you buy also goes there forcing you to think twice about that handmade this or that. Window shopping becomes the norm and actual purchases become rare. I certainly don’t mind this aspect but Tracy feels slightly different. After wandering through the Central Market and taking in a few regular, but still ornate, temples we begin our walk down the famed Chinatown market that runs the length of Petaling Street. There is but one word to describe it – chaos. Arriving there on the earlier side, 6:30pm, many were still setting up their wares. The ones set up were packed with potential shoppers and the ones not were filled with metal scaffolding with shop owners frantically putting the pieces together. Down what little path there is to begin with came more blue containers holding all the junk and precious treasures one could ever hope for. There was no real stopping and becoming trapped between a shop going up and a shop still on wheels running down the path was common place. One thing about this market that we have not really seen before in other markets was the large amount of shoe vendors. Practically every other booth was a shoe vender and they kept coming. At least a dozen or so men whizzed by us carrying large racks filled with shoes on their backs. We made it down half the way and decided that we should leave this for another time and ducked out of the main market into one of the food booths for supper. After another rather boring meal in the market, we head past one more temple on the way back to the Monorail and to the hotel.

Day 4: Chinatown Pt. 2, Batu Caves, third time’s a charm and we get lazy already

Now here’s where Chinatown and a lot of markets redeem themselves – the wet market. To find this little area of any market, follow the locals early in the morning, turn down the dingiest, darkest ally, go past that and there it will be in all its glory. This is where the magic really happens. These merchants mean business. Armed with machetes, clubs, hatchets and sometimes even the smallest of paring knifes, they wield their tools of the trade as if it were an extension of their arm itself. Chopping up chickens and separating the bones from the meat and skin, Pork butchered down to bacon, fish sometimes clubbed to death right there (at least you know it’s fresh when it’s still twitching!) and then promptly filleted. You might wonder where the refrigeration is (none), where the bleach to sanitize with (I have never seen any), and gloves…surely you gest. Fish are sometimes on ice and that’s about it. And yet this is where most people and restaurants come to shop on a daily basis. The reality is that entire market will sell out in the day; nothing is carried over to the next. Fresh slaughter/caught and cut all in the same day or two. Who needs refrigeration when the chicken (yep right underneath there) will be making its way to the top of that coop real soon and find its way to the numerous Indian buffets around town for lunch? I love it no matter how disgusting it may seem, it’s how it done. It’s the same process in the US, only on a much larger scale, perhaps more sanitary, but no where’s near as fresh. After exiting the market, we made our way to the bus station for a quick trip out of town to the Batu Caves. With 272 steps to the entrance, it’s a workout. To aid you on your quest to the top, you are flanked to the right by the Hindu god Murugan (yep, you guessed it, largest one of those in the world) and the seemingly endless supply of monkeys. Once to the top, it’s a rather unimpressive temple inside and the cave itself, while the roof is really high, is really nothing to special as far as caves are concerned. The only real draw here seems to be the monkeys, unless of course you are Hindu and coming here on a spiritual quest, which a million do for a weekend festival in February dedicated to Murugan. Back in KL, we get lost, then turn around and make our way back for the third time to Mosque Majid Jamek and this time we are successful in hitting the right time window! Once inside a Mosque you are really limited in what you can see and do if you are not Muslim. You can only walk the grounds and cannot enter any buildings. Somewhat considered a letdown, we still relished in our accomplishment and decided to go celebrate by watching the new Batman Movie – The Dark Knight. I won’t go into detail on that, but it was an excellent flick, cost half the price as it does in the US and the popcorn is Caramel instead of butter.

Day 5: The visa, the crafts, the card, and the bus
We arose on day five and made a return trip over to Vietnam to retrieve our visa. I truly believe that they do absolutely nothing with your visa application until you return on the date you paid to have it ready. Honestly, what could possibly take three days much less seven? They have the stamps; they swiped our Passports on day one. Are they waiting three more days to see if we do anything drastic? Perhaps we commit some sort of crime in that length of time that we would otherwise not commit? Whatever the reason for the slight hassle, we hear Vietnam is well worth it and are definitely looking forward to visiting in November. Since we have some time to kill, we run down to the crafts market. Not expecting too much, it ends up being quite rewarding. Not only did we get to see local artisans carving on some wood or making scarf’s and sarongs, but the market also housed the best meal we have had so far. Down in the basement in the corner (and I believe it was also called the Corner) had the best Nee soup and only about $1.20 to boot! We finished that off, grabbed some fruit and headed back to the Hotel to wait for the package. Not only were we waiting in KL for our visas, but we also were waiting on the Debit card to be sent to us from Capital One. Word to the wise – they certainly have the best deal for international travelers that we could find (no ATM fees, 2.75% interest earned + miles, and practically unlimited use of the card) but plan on jumping through numerous hoops to get it. We signed up over a month and half prior to departure date, and still had to have family send us the card via FedEx. A huge thanks to Dad and Darlene for making that happen along with Uncle Danny for keeping us in the loop via e-mail. The card arrived with about an 1.5 hours to go till the last bus out of town.

For more pictures of Kuala Lumpur please visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/28401320@N03/sets/72157606470329233.

We load up and pull out, card and visa in hand, to our next destination…the Cameron Highlands for a little cooler (temp wise) vistas.

3 comments:

Krista said...

So jealous! Hope you guys are having a blast!

Jamie Wood said...

Jason and Tracy I am living vicariously through you both! The pics are amazing, wish I was there (if I was I would have to chase Emma, she would be trying to catch a monkey!)

Justin said...

awsome pictures J&T really makes the naration come to full view. Its almost like being there! I hope you continue finding kick ass places to experience, and share with all of your fans.

Love Justin @ Mother

PS. wHERE jealous as well

Love Yall!!