Well, I finally figured out how to get photos up on here, which I'm sure comes as a huge relief for those of you who like pictures and hate words. Oh, who like words but prefer them intermingled with images to look at. I've been running into all kinds of issues with blogging solely via Squarespace's app, which has been one of the reasons for the delay in having more imagery on here (the other reason: laziness). Anyhoo!
I took the bus from Malacca to Kuala Lumpur on Monday on the oldest, creakiest bus I've ever been on (and I've been on some old, creaky buses in Romania and Hungary, so that's saying something). Thankfully, the bus held together for the four-hour journey. We pulled into the southern bus station, which is quite a distance from the city center of Kuala Lumpur and looks like it was lifted from the sketches for a sci-fi film's space station. It was a mammoth, brand-new structure of glass and metal, rising up out of the ground with steep on-ramps going every which way; all that was missing was spaceships zooming in and out. Just as we got near the bus station, rain started that was the most torrential downpour I've ever witnessed. I thought the entire bus station might be swept away in a flash flood. Instead, I tried to figure out how I would get into Kuala Lumpur without wiping out wearing my flip flops on slippery tiles. I wandered around for a while and finally figured out that I needed a commuter train so I headed off via an overpass at a snail's pace. Going down the four flights of stairs to the station entrance, I was going step by step like an elderly woman, gripping on the handrail, for fear of my flip flops giving way. Two teenage girls clad in jeans, long-sleeved shirts and their headdresses came behind me on the stairs and watched me in horror as one of my shoes gave way and I ended up in the splits at the top of the stairs, trying to not lose my balance and topple all the way down (side note: if you think walking down slippery stairs wearing your giant backpack is an exercise in balance, try squatting to pee!).
The two girls stood to my side and looked terrified for me. I motioned for them to go around. "I'm all right!" I called out cheerily. "Good to go!" They stood on watching as I managed to regain my footing. "You go ahead!" I think they were genuinely worried for me and standing by on watch so they could run for help if I did fall down the stairs; they walked next to me the rest of the way to make sure I was OK.
The rest of the trip was easy-peasy; Malaysia's rail system could not be easier and rivals Singapore's in terms of cleanliness and efficiency.
I got my hostel and started talking to an Indonesian girl in the room. We set out to find see the famed Petronas Tower and get some food at the nearby shopping mall, which was MIND-BLOWING. It was five stories tall and filled with brands from all over the world, including many European stores that aren't in the U.S. Did you want tea at Harrod's? How about a spree at Bershka? Cheap department store clothes from Marks & Spencer? A Huawei phone? The options were endless and mindboggling. I enjoyed walking around pointing out every brand to my Indonesian friend and talking about which ones we had in the states and which ones were European or Asian. (Not sure if she had as much fun as me!)
We went to the perfectly manicured gardens just outside the mall to get a look at the Petronas Towers at dusk. They were incredible; the more the sky grew dark, the brighter they became and the more they glittered in the sky. We headed back in so I could continue to walk the perimeter of each floor of the mall and ooh and aah at the plethora of shopping choices.
The next day, I headed out to see the famed Batu Caves, a limestone hill in the north of Kuala Lumpur with a series of caves and cave temples devoted to various Hindu gods. At the entrance is Murugan, a Hindu diety and at 42.7m/140ft, it's the highest Murugan statue in the world (thank you, Wikipedia).
I'd read that there were aggressive monkeys at Batu Caves, and when I got there, I was grateful for the warning. The first thing I saw while exiting the train station into a row of hawkers just outside the entrance to grounds were Indian women selling "monkey food." Um, what!? Hmm, maybe if there's an aggressive monkey population, we shouldn't be encouraging feeding the monkeys?
I made my way to the 272 stairs leading to the main cave. Yes, it was true -- there were monkeys everywhere. Monkeys are cute in the zoo (and yes, they are cute to look at), but when there's about thirty mean monkeys hopping around, you realize that's they're not only very smart, shrewd creatures but fast too. One jumped super close to a young boy walking up with his brothers and sisters who coo'd in delight, so the little boy threw his candy to the monkey. "Oh my god, don't feed the thing!!!!" came out of my mouth before I could even think to keep my mouth shut.
Not wanting to find myself the victim of a monkey bite (which happens), I walked up those 272 stairs faster than I thought possible, clutching my backpack at my front out of terror that a monkey was going to come up and try to pull it off me -- the other advice I'd read was if they do grab your stuff, to not fight, just let it go. Which, btw, is the same advice you hear about what to do if you're, you know, mugged by a human being.
I got to the top and entered the cave, which was dark and smelly. Given the number of stairs and hand-railings, it's an indication that the temple gets very, very crowded at certain times (I'm guessing various Hindu religious holidays). It was not a very pleasant place to be given the smell (monkey poo?) so I walked quickly through it and up another small set of stairs to a clearing looking up at the sky.
Inside the clearing was this pretty little temple.
It was quite beautiful, actually, minus the garbage and the smells. However, there were about a hundred monkeys here, too, scaling the walls of the cave.
I took a few pictures, and finding it a pretty unpleasant place to stand around, headed back down the stairs, hissing at any monkey who tried to even venture in my direction. I'd read somewhere that monkeys consider teeth flashing to be a sign of aggressive, so my technique was to hiss while showing off my teeth ... not sure if that's approved by scientists, but they left me alone.
I walked down the stairs, avoiding one set that was dominated entirely by a monkey gang, and not seeing anything else around that was particularly enticing (like a nice place to eat or have a coffee), decided I'd make my way back into Kuala Lumpur.
I passed this statue of Hindu deity Hanuman on the way out. Hanuman, incidentally, is a monkey.
I jumped back on the train, making my trip to Batu Caves probably one of the fastest in all of tourism. There are other caves to visit, but unlike the main one, you have to pay to enter, and I decided I'd had enough monkey threats for a day.
I hopped off the train at KL Center and switched to the subway, getting off a stop later at the Central Market. There, I found dozens and dozens of local vendors selling all sorts of traditional items, like batik fabric, pottery, and other crafts and knick knacks. Outside were more stalls as well as some food options, so I had some Indian food for lunch, a big plate of rice and various curries served up to me by a jolly man. So far I found the people here to be very, very nice, just incredibly hospitable and kind to deal with, and the jolly lunch man was no exception. After eating, I went back inside the Central Market where I found a Famou Amos cookie shop.
I did not know that Famous Amos was a real person until I saw this poster at the Famous Amos shop; it turns out Famous Amos really was famous. Wallace "Wally" Amos was the first African-American agent at William Morris and repped the likes of Diana Ross and Simon & Garfunkel, woo'ing prospective clients with his delicious, homemade chocolate chip cookies. Now you know.
Back to the cookie: I haven't had a chocolate chip cookie since leaving on this trip, and it tasted like heaven. I had to pace myself eating it so I wouldn't cram the whole thing into my mouth à la Cookie Monster.
After my cookie, I walked up to the Textile Museum, which I'd read was quite good and also was one of my favorite things: free. I got caught in a big downpour on the way there, and spent a couple hours wandering around learning about batik, tie-dyeing, and traditional weaving methods from Malaysia as well as various tribes of Indonesia.
I decided to walk back to my hostel and got the most lost I've been so far on this trip. The map the hostel gave me to use was terrible (and I didn't have my guidebook with me). It was only through fortuitously having Google Maps work on my phone with fairly weak/slow cell phone service and a few nice people trying to point me in the direction that I managed to get back an hour later. I got so twisted around at one point and so confused, that I stopped to ask this man where a certain street was and he got really frustrated with me for not understanding what he was trying to do. He said at least three times that my hostel was in a certain direction, absolutely insisted. I walked away completely lost, only to suddenly realize that I was back at the bus terminal where I'd bought my ticket to the Cameron Highlands earlier that morning! He was absolutely right, my hostel was just up the road, it was just the twisting, turning streets going every which way that had thrown off my (usually pretty good) sense of direction (that and here, the cars drive on the other side of the street).
Soooooo for dinner, all I wanted to was to go back to the glorious, shiny mall. I know. I could have ventured off to this one street where there was meant to be endless vendors hawking various local fare for cheap. But what I was really craving was pasta. I hadn't had it since the first night I'd arrived fatigued and famished in Otres Village and Mama Clare fixed me dinner. I get these random cravings for Western food here, not every day, but my rationale is we hardly eat the exact same foods any more in our Western lives, we tend to eat a variety of stuff. I wandered around trying to decide on the best place to have some pasta, then noticed this café shining like a little jewel across the third floor of the mall.
Riding down the escalator, I saw something that looked like salad at someone's table and pasta at someone else's. Could it be? Could they have pasta and salad, the two things I wanted most in the whole wide world at that moment in time? I ran to the café and sure enough they did, for not a bad price, either -- I think I paid a total of $13 for the meal, which consisted of a salad of tomatoes, olives, cucumber, lettuce and bell pepper and a dish of pasta topped with a bolognese sauce and parmesan cheese, as well as a bottle of water. OK, it's not Vietnamese street food prices, but given I spent hardly any money that day, it was a worth-it indulgence. (The train/rail tickets were each around 1.50-3 ringgits, and it's about 3.5RM = $1; lunch at the Indian place was $4.)
After pasta, I wandered around the mall for a while more to digest and marvel at the abundance of shops, then headed back to the hostel to write some emails and get ready for my bus ride to the Cameron Highlands the next day.
I didn't get to spend enough time in Kuala Lumpur; I wanted to go to the Islamic Arts Museum, which I've heard has one of the best collection of decorative Islamic arts in the world, and I heard there is a great bird park, too. Given how wonderful Malaysia has been so far to visit, I have plenty of motivation to one day return!