Kuala Lumpur and Kuching

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January 12th 2020
Published: January 12th 2020
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December 14, 2019. Moving on from George Town, we had one last delicious breakfast of French Toast and ice cream before heading to the airport for our short and cheap Air Asia flight to Kuala Lumpur. The airport is about 55km from the city center and it was significantly cheaper to get a GRAB taxi rather than take the train. Plus we got delivered right to door of the Verdant Hill Hotel in the Bukit Bintang district.

The weather gods had finally deserted us. The further south we travel in Malaysia, the worse the weather forecasts seem to be with thunderstorms and heavy rain predicted for every afternoon. So far we have mostly experienced (only) short lived monsoonal downpours, but today the rain appears ready to stay a while. One of the reasons we chose the Verdant Hill was its proximity to food - but we did not realise HOW close - “bar street” was a mere 100m away - this was a stretch of road lined on both sides with western style bars/restaurants that actively hustled for your patronage as you went by. Not my first choice for food but as we were starving (breakfast was 7 hours ago) it was the best option - and the burger and fires was really good - although darn expensive. The next three nights we ate at the well known Jalan Alor (food street) which was about a 15 minute walk away. I was expecting food stalls set up along the street in the evening like they were in Georgetown but this area is a bit more permanent with restaurants on either side of the wide road and with tables spreading out leaving a narrow walk way - all the better to be aggressively hustled as you walk by, trying to make a decision as to where to eat. Seafood was the majority choice but the extensive menus catered for all Asian food tastes. All the action is in the evening and most restaurants had some sort of covering for their seated areas if it was raining but none of it looked 100% waterproof. The best of the three meals we had there were BBQ ribs at the “Pandan Leaf” along with an amazing Butterfly Pea Flower Passionfruit Soda. This vibrant blue soda was brought to our table and we got to stir the passionfruit into it. Delicious! We had previously had a butterfly pea flower dessert in George Town - Blue food is so cool! The downside of eating in this area was that first we had to walk through the hustlers on “bar street”, then we had to ignore the massage parlour hustlers that were on the block before Jalan Alor (this used to a red light district so we did wonder what sort of massages were being offered - ha ha). One night took an alternative routethrough a back alley but decided we would rather brave the humans instead of the scurrying rats.

Top of the list for our sight seeing in KL was the Petronas Towers, which at 451.9m (88 floors) are the worlds largest twin towers. The evening we arrived, the rain finally stopped at 8pm so we decided to make the most of it and headed over to see the towers in all their lit up night time glory - so impressive. Right in front of the towers is the 10,000 sq ft man made Lake Symphony and each night there is a musical fountain and light show which we enjoyed at 9pm along with throngs of others. And we couldn’t leave the area without taking a stroll through the 1.17 million square feet Suria KLCC shopping mall - we have definitely left small town Asia behind.

Big city means big traffic and after slow (but cheap) cab rides to and from the Petronas Towers, we decided feet and public transit would be more sensible. Our first real day of sight seeing saw us walking to Merdeka Square (Independence Square) which is where the Union Jack was lowered and the Malaysian flag raised on August 31, 1957. On one side was historic Sultan Abdul Samad building and on the other was a huge green space (previously the colonial parade ground). The Petronas towers could be seen in the background and they did not look nearly as impressive in the day as they did all lit up the night before. From here it was a short walk to Central Market - This 2 storied, 70,000 sq feet covered market is aimed at tourists with decent quality arts and crafts. The ground floor was split into Indian, Chinese and Malay areas with mostly handicrafts while upstairs was clothing, fabric and a lot of Batik. Outside the main market were a lot of art stores and here we were tempted to buy was a lovely oil painting of stilt houses - but unfortunately it would be another few days before the paint was dry enough to transport. The original lunch plan was to eat at one of the Chinese Restaurants on Petaling St, Chinatown but quite frankly, the area was rather seedy and we had seen a lot of “chinatowns” already, so we headed to the Central Market where there was a great food fair with Malaysian, Chinese, Indonesian and Thai food stalls.

Once we returned to our hotel, Kelly realized he had left his cap in the park at Merdeka Square - an Indian tourist fellow there had insisted on having his photo taken with the tall white guy and had asked Kelly to take his cap off as it shaded his face. So he put it down and forgot it. A light rain was just starting so we borrowed umbrellas from the hotel and started out. You would have thought by now that we would know that a light rain would be followed by a monsoonal deluge within minutes. And sure enough it was not long before we had to take shelter under an overhanging roof - 30 minutes later we were still there and after realizing that there was a such a torrent of water on the roads and sidewalks, that we couldn’t proceed any further anyway, it was back to the hotel to dry out footwear and relax. Kelly’s cap is definitely gone!

Day 2 saw us catching the metro from Bukit Bintang to KL Sentra where we got a train (for a mere 70c) for the 11 km trip to see the Batu Caves on the outskirts of KL. The cave temple is accessed by 272 very colourful but steep stairs and is one of the most important Hindu temples outside India. Inside the main cave (where the ceiling is over 300 feet high and there are openings to the sky) are typically colourful Hindu idols and statues everywhere (and aggressive, thieving macaque monkeys) - one more “wow” place we have been lucky to see on this trip. The temple is dedicated to Lord Muragan (a Hindu god) and it is hard to miss the 42.7m gold painted statue of him at the base of the stairs. It was while trying to take some photos in the crowded square in front of Lord Muragan that I realized that we need to go to a “how to pose for photos” night school class. Quick, upright poses are not enough - numerous photos need to be taken of the subject - head this way, head that way, twirl this way, and then back again, make sure the feet are pointed just right - even if it is a head shot. Seriously??? Visit sites early in the morning or later in the afternoon if you intend monopolizing the view points. Back in KL, we ventured to Little India (in the Brickfields area) which was a short walk from KL Sentral. Lunch was a delicious buffet - which perfectly rounded out “India day”.

Day 3 and we were still on a hunt for art work - so we took a fairly long metro ride to the Leisure Mall in Taman Bukit Segar where there was supposedly a store owned by the same artist whose painting we had liked at Central Market. Unfortunately we had gotten outdated information. On the plus side I managed to buy a nice looking pair of plastic sandals for rain walking. Footwear that is waterproof for walking through puddles is NOT waterproof when rain water is pouring down your legs.

We have been booking hotels using booking.com and Kelly researches each hotels thoroughly, reading reviews (ad nauseam sometimes) before making a decision. Verdant Hill had a few negative comments about the breakfast and we could not understand why unless the complaints were because the only “western food” was omelettes and toast. Otherwise, it was a huge buffet with choices ranging from Chinese dumplings, to Nasi Lemak to Indian curries. Then there was fresh fruit, baked goods and a few weird things like chicken bacon. It was the last hotel we stayed out where breakfast was included.

Our final afternoon we visited Kuala Lumpur Tower (KL tower) which is a communications tower and including the antenna, has a height of 421 m, making it among the tallest free standing towers in the world. The observation deck is 276 m above the ground and provides great views of the city - we could even see as far as Lord Muragan. Additional decks (eg a glass in skybox) have been added but admission prices are ridiculous. There was a very interesting movie which described the building and the islamic elements that were included in the design.

December 18 and on to Kuching, Sarawak and the Kuala Lumpur airport and Air Asia continued to entertain. On arrival a few days earlier, there was a bit of a scary cross wind attempt at landing followed by a go round and successful second attempt. And now on departure, the gate attendant sent those up us sitting in the back of the plane to the front stairs while she sent the front row passengers to the back stairs. So it was a bit of a gong show inside the plane.

We included Kuching in our itinerary because we wanted to see some Orangutans in the wild. While the ideal place is in Sabah, there was a travel advisory for the area (pirates and terroism) and it was full in the face of the seasonal monsoon. On the other hand, there was an Orangutan sanctuary close to Kuching and as this area also was normally affected by the monsoon, we allowed ourselves 4 days in the hope we would get some dry weather. Well, as luck would have it, the weather was AWESOME for the first three days.

From the Semenggoh Wildlife Sanctuary website: “Semenggoh’s main attraction for visitors is its Wildlife Centre, where endangered species, once kept illegally as pets, are trained on how to fend for themselves before being released into the forest. Over the years, a number of orangutans have been trained and released and now form a semi-wild colony in the reserve.

As regular as clockwork, the orangutans swing down from the trees for a free handout of fruit. It is one of the few places in the world where humans can interact with their shy jungle cousins. However, when food are aplenty in the forest during fruiting season, they might not come down for the handouts at all.”

As luck would have it, our visit DID coincide with fruiting season but we were lucky enough that one beautiful orangutan did show up for the 9am feeding time. Apparently none had showed up on the previous days. We were entertained for about twenty minutes before he slowly swung up some vines and disappeared.

The second thing we were hoping to be able to see was the rafflesia flower (which is a parasitic plant whose flowers can grow up to a meter in diameter). The flower “found in relative abundance in SE Asia” (define relative abundance) flowers for only 4 to 5 days. At the time we were there, only one bud had been found in Gunang Gading National Park and as it has a 9 month budding period, was not due to bloom until sometime in May 2020!

Onto number three in the list - the Probiscus monkey (the male has a huge pendulous nose and a pot belly) which is found in Baku National Park. When we first mentioned to the tour desk at the hotel that we intended going to this park, we were met with a horrified look from the agent - access to the park was by boat through some open water that was rough at this of the year. After Kelly looked at the forecast, we decided that the third day in Kuching looked fairly decent, we gave it a go. A GRAB taxi took us to Kampung Bako where we paid for 2 seats in an open boat that would drop us at Park HQ. There was a sign at the boat ramp saying the waters were calm - after thumping over a bunch of waves at the River mouth and beyond, I wonder what “moderate” or “rough” waters are. However, I am sure the boat captains know what they are doing, so the ride was exhilarating rather than scary. After we registered with HQ, we set out to hike the route (Telok Patu trail) where you are most likely to see the Probiscus monkey (if you are there at dawn or dusk when they come to feed in the mango trees). Obviously we not see any, although we did see some slivered leaf monkeys and some macaques. And we get to see a few Bornean Bearded Pigs which have to be the ugliest pig on the planet. The mangrove swamps were great for watching the tiny blue fiddler crabs (the males have one large claw). The trails through the rain forest are very well marked but it is slow going due to the number of roots you have to climb over, not to mention the slippery ness of everything. And as soon as the trails enter the forest, the humidity levels skyrocket so that sweat is dripping off within moments.

More on Kuching to follow


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