Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Malaysia Day One: A Bus Ride and Some Awesome Buildings
Bryan and I settled on Kuala Lumpur for our first venture out of Singapore. We had a long weekend last week (except not for Thanksgiving, but for a Muslim holiday called Hari Raya Haji), so we headed up to Kuala Lumpur. We booked bus tickets about a month in advance, as we'd been advised to arrange travel plans in advance for holiday weekends, when things fill up fast. We booked tickets through the Causeway Link Express, which leaves from the mall (IMM) within walking distance from our flat. We got up bright and early Friday morning, and our bus was pulling out by eight AM. The ride was interesting- lots of time hung up in traffic at the borders, where we had to get off the bus once to have our passports checked to get out of Singapore, and then again to have passports checked to get into Malaysia. Driving through Malaysia was pretty- some areas of lush, green jungle, but mostly lots and lots of palm plantations...and more palm plantations. I've never seen so many palm trees in my life. When we stopped at a store/food center for dinner, my first order of business was to buy a pack of grape Bubble Yum, which I proceeded to enthusiastically chew for the rest of the ride. After a few months gum-free, it was pretty tasty! We finally pulled into the city around 3 PM, where we promptly got stuck in traffic. About an hour later, after a short walk, we finally arrived at our lodgings for the long weekend- the quirky little Number Eight Guesthouse. The place is pretty artsy- black and white photos of KL on all the dark red walls, and a big plaster map of Southeast Asia behind the reception desk- but still with the same well-worn feel that hostels sometimes have. Our room was nice- very clean, air-conditioned, funky lighting, and with a private bathroom. We set out to explore the town and did a lot of wandering around. We happened upon KL Tower, the fourth-tallest tower in the world. It's a pretty neat structure, and it looks especially cool against a stormy sky, but I think it's fame has largely been eclipsed by the architectural feat of the far more well-known Petronas Towers. Right away, it was easy to see how different Malaysia is from Singapore, despite their close proximity and the fact that S'pore used to be part of Malaysia. For one thing, there is certainly more poverty in Malaysia. The city isn't as clean (although comparing it to S'pore hardly seems fair- S'pore is one of the cleanest cities I've ever seen), and KL seemed more dangerous, judging from the scamming taxi drivers and the various posted signs warning about pickpockets and "snatch thieves."We roamed around awhile, looking for tasty Indian food in Little India, but we were having trouble finding the kind that we really like (Bryan and I both love North Indian food, but aren't as fond of South Indian- I didn't even know there was a difference until we moved here, but now I'm afraid that we're turning into Indian food snobs...and the two types really are very different). Just as we were about to settle for South Indian, we found exactly what we were looking for at a great place called The Betel Leaf. Bryan was giddy, because our fallback plan had been the all-vegetarian place next door. The food was fantastic, and the atmosphere was nice too- the restaurant was full of Indian art.While walking around, we also found a department store selling Muslim wedding attire. Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country, so there were a lot of women walking around with headscarves, and some of the more conservative ones dressed all in black, with everything but their eyes covered. It seemed strange to me to see the women all in black, walking with their young daughters, who were decked out in the kind of little girl clothes I'm used to seeing- pink shoes, little jeans with ribbons and bows, glittery shirts and pigtails. It's my understanding that Muslim girls don't wear the traditional clothes around the time they hit puberty. In the meanwhile, the juxtaposition of these girly girls and their shrouded mothers is really striking.We finally headed for the Petronas Towers- the headquarters of the Petronas Oil Company (everytime I said "Petronas Towers" I felt an urge to yell "EXPECTOOOO PATROOOOONUM!!!" but I held it in, don't worry). The towers were previously the tallest building in the world, but were surpassed by a building in Taipei, and now they have to settle for just being the world's tallest twin towers. We'd been seeing them in the distance all day long- they really make the Kuala Lumpur skyline unique. It was pretty awesome to finally see them up close. They really seem to glow- I'm not sure what kind of crazy lights are blazing on those things, but they look like iridescent rocketships. We took sooo many pictures of them that even if I only shared my favorites, I could still probably post 10 or 20. But here are some of the highlights. The top one was taken from a distance earlier in the day, and I think it looks like one of those little trick optical illusions (which tower is taller? HA! They're both the same size!). The one second from the bottom is the view from the bottom of the tower, looking straight up.Outside the Towers was really beautiful- lots of fountains and a couple of sculptures.We went inside the towers as well. The main entrance leads into a fancy lobby, where I felt strangely underdressed with my backpack and Zelda t-shirt. There's a huge shopping center at the bottom of the towers, and inside was this geometric ceiling. If you looked through the oculus at the top, you could catch a glimpse of the towers looming overhead.After roaming the shopping center for awhile, we got a glass of wine at a little outdoor cafe overlooking the fountains on the other side of the tower, before finally heading back to our room to rest up for day two- Batu Caves and lots and lots of monkeys!