We’re back in the real world after catching our bus from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. Although I visited for work once before I stayed in the satellite city of Petaling Jaya with only brief forays into KL proper. This time we stayed in Pudu, near the central district of Bukit Bintang, and our crazy walk from the bus to the hotel on the first night (is that a road or a motorway? and where exactly are we supposed to cross it?) left a lasting impression of a city with a road layout which is neither friendly to pedestrians nor drivers. It’s also a huge place, and we didn’t even attempt to see everything in just a couple of days, but here are our highlights.
We started with a relaxed morning and a breakfast where I first encountered chicken floss. Ridiculous as it sounds, I had to look up whether this actually contained meat (after all, mince pies do not!) but yes, indeed it does. For lunch we took Nolan’s suggestion and headed to the basement of the Lot 10 mall, where the receipt for my meal came with the sage advice that “today’s wastage is tomorrow’s shortage”. (In case you were wondering, we seem to be stalking Nolan and Rebecca across Asia, always a couple of days behind.)
From here a strange and wonderful series of events occurred. I noticed on Google Maps that we were close to Kuala Lumpur’s ‘Upside Down House’ and made a snap decision that we had to visit it at once. On the way I tried to take a shortcut through a shopping centre, and while puzzling at a map someone suddenly asked if I was Katie Self’s brother. I am! We had somehow stumbled across Adrian, my sister’s friend from uni, in a city of millions. After grabbing a surprised selfie we let him get back to work but made plans to hang out together the night afterwards, when he took us out for Chinese food in Jalan Alor market and then a pitcher of sangria at a nearby bar.
The Upside Down House, which turned out to be part of the attractions at the KL Tower, was just as delightful as I had expected and it takes great self-control to use only one of the photos of us on this blog rather than all of the many, many upside down rooms we visited.
I am proud of the fact that although Grab (the Uber of Southeast Asia) is very, very cheap – and we did use it once – we were otherwise able to take public transport for both the short inner-city journeys and the longer commuter rail journey out to the Batu Caves. (Although we did mistime our journey out there which left us with a long wait for the next train, prompting an emergency visit to to the nearest museum which happened to be dedicated to Malaysia’s third Prime Minister. He was beloved by the people, apparently.)
The Batu Caves are perhaps the most prominent tourist attraction in Malaysia and the big change from my last visit is the painting of the steps in beautiful rainbow colours. The thieving monkeys (nicknamed the ‘mafia monkeys’ by our tour guide in the Cameron Highlands later on, which is very appropriate) were as out in force as ever, although it was quite amazing to watch the baby monkeys being carried along by their parents and just generally to watch their interactions with each other as they scampered up and down the cave walls.
And just like last time I was disappointed with the behaviour of some of the humans, especially the one who threw a plastic bottle at a monkey to get a reaction. It really doesn’t help our species’s image.
The other main landmark we visited in Kuala Lumpur was the National Mosque of Malaysia, which has some slightly unfortunate 60s architecture (not awful, but I preferred the Masjid Jamek Mosque which we passed at night) and has got so prepared for tourists that they print a #visitKL hashtag on the purple robes you are given to wear.
Finally, a word of appreciation for Kuala Lumpur’s bus terminal, Terminal Bersepadu Selatan. This is hands-down the best bus terminal I’ve ever used, partly because they have centralised the ticket sales and check-in counters for all of the bazillion bus companies so you don’t have to wander through looking for the right one. You also wait inside for your bus right up until it pulls up at the gate, which is a huge improvement on waiting on the kerb as you are slowly suffocated by exhaust fumes.
If I were constructing my ideal city out of little pieces of the real world, I certainly wouldn’t take Kuala Lumpur’s roads. But I would take its bus terminal.