So, I’m currently in Kota Kunabari (KK) in Malaysia - it’s in the state of Sabah on the northern part of the island of Borneo. Yes, I’m in Borneo, I don’t know why the name has the aura of the romantic, of the exotic and tropical - but it does. Anyway, I’m in the Step In hostel in “KK” catching up on some blog time before the big trip tomorrow, the climb up Mount Kalinabaru - the highest mountain (4000 metres) between the Himalayas and New Guinea. We’re incredibly lucky to be doing it at all as accommodation up there is booked up months in advance. Let’s just say that AJ and myself are determined folk and know what we want.
Arand-Jan aka “AJ”
So I flew into Kuala Lumpur (or “KL” as it’s known to everyone) after a quick getaway from the Pahrentian islands. This time without AJ, for the first time since Saigon - three and half weeks earlier;. I considered it probably a good thing to take a break from each other’s company. Travelling together has been as near perfect as you can get for me; for sure there have been annoyances and personality traits that have annoyed
Fourth highest tower in the world.
me, but we’ve both been tolerant of each other and actually enjoy the same things in large amounts. It’s been uncanny how many times we’ve come to the same decision on where to stay, a restaurant to eat at, where we should go for the day. Perfect travel companions.
Kuala Lumpur and couch-surfing adventures with "Chris"
Anyway, I’d got to the airport at KL after about an hour’s flight from Kota Bahru. I hadn’t any accommodation sorted but I was hopeful that I could crash at someone’s place for free. Yes, you got that right, I’d managed to sign up for the free accommodation network whilst in the Parhentian Islands. I’d actually had someone contact me to see if I needed somewhere to stay, a guy named “Chris”, who was a graphic designer in KL. Before I left the island I quickly contacted him to see if at very short notice he could put me up. I needed to contact him again to see he could put me/put up with me.
I of course have a Thailand bought laptop, with a thin three pronged plug which I already have to use an adaptor for. But, to my surprise Malaysia
has the same plugs as us in the UK - the same goes for Singapore by the way. So, in the airport I had to buy *another* travel plug adaptor and then I then tried looking for wireless internet in the airport (you’d think, right?). Alas there was nothing going even at a coffee place so I had to pop on a bus to the city and wait until I could contact my couch surfer host ““Chris””.
It chucked it down on the hour long journey into the city and then at “Sentral Station” I had to grab a Starbucks and log on to the internet with the laptop. Happily, “Chris” (I'm calling him that to protect identities) had replied to my quick email and so I managed to call him via Skype and we were able to arrange a meeting (this was about 6pm).
I got on a train to the city, using the Monorail and immediately I was struck by how multicultural the city is, Indians, Malay, turbaned Sikhs, head-scarved women, Chinese girls posing as if models!
When I got to our meeting point at a huge shopping mall, “Chris” was waiting there along with two
Western guys with him. He introduced me to them as his other couch surfers (from Montana) who were leaving for London the next morning.
We went to the supermarket and the Americans picked up some cheap whisky to drink as it was their last night. It was a long car journey out of KL to “Chris”’s place, about 20-25 minutes. When we got to the place, it was like theh Truman Show, dozens of identical rows of new build houses. What greeted me at the gate was a Staffordshire Bull Terrier (with the pink nose) behind a gate, jumping up and down like a mad dog. Nice.
It was a lovely place actually, a nice modern lounge and three bathrooms, and as “Chris” lived alone he had lots of empty rooms. We all chatted all together at the kitchen table and had a few drinks which turned into an all night drinking session which was a lot of fun. Things went a bit weird
at the end; as I was sleeping on the couch and one of the other American counchsurfers decided to get frisky with me. I politely let him know that I wasn’t into that kind
of frisk, but that there were from my side at least, no “hard" feelings so to speak. I was a bit shocked to be honest as I didn’t think the guy was gay or even camp, but I guess he just wanted a last hurrah!
Anyway, I didn’t say anything to “Chris” in the morning, nor to his gruff-tough guy friend, who I'm sure might have been a tad surprised he was travelling with a homo-sexual as they say. We drove in with “Chris” to his work place at about 8.30am (yes, it was tough) and decided not to meet up with them all for lunch. I stayed again with "Chris" that night after having visited the KL Towers, the world’s fourth tallest telecommunications tower. A great view of the famous Petronas Towers but that’s about it. I did meet a nice Quebecoise girl called Nadine at the exit however, and it just so happened that she’d been to Burma and was even counchsurfing herself that night. Coincidence or what? Anyway, we went for a drink somewhere and flirted like mad, who wouldn’t with those tanned brown legs? As she was flying out to India early the next morning
and I had to meet up with “Chris” again we went by monorail together. “Chris” then took us to a local Chinese food stall nearby where we at chicken boiled in a coconut. Yes, a coconut.
That night, back at “Chris”’ place he suggested I go to the nearby town of Melaka - a UNESCO World Heritage site twinned with Georgetown (Penang). So the next morning, he dropped me off at work and I walked the short distance to Melaka. The journey took about two hours and from Melaka bus station I went to the town.
Melaka- yet another UNESCO site
AJ would have loved this place, because the main historic buildings are from the Dutch period when it ran the show here until the Brits took over after the Napoleonic Wars in 1800 sometime. I ended up staying in an up-market hostel in Chinatown, unique for all the shophouses as well as mosques and temples (Hindu and Chinese each on my street). There are some pretty cool vestiges of the Portugese (first settling here in the 16th Century) and Dutch existence here (attacked and kicked out the Portugese in the early 17th Century) including the for of “A
Famosa”- the famous
and the St Paul’s church on the hill which was part of the fort. Even the front gate of the fort has remained and where the new conquerors inscribed their date of conquest as well the Dutch East India company - in Dutch the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) on a breast plated figure. St Paul’s church on the top is very cool, with Portuguese style stone and architecture, gutted of course, but full of Dutch grave stones stood up against the wall. Even St Francis Xavier’s tomb is there having visited Melaka many times during his missionary travels to the East. However, his body was moved to Goa, because I’ve actually seen it still preserved!
Anyway, I only stayed one night in Melaka, getting in the night market in Chinatown which was lit up very nicely at night.
Coincidences yet again
I got back to KL the next morning but it just so happened that a couple of South Africans we’d briefly met in the Pahrentian Islands were sat behind me. We ended up chatting through the bus trip and as they were living in London (under British passports) we had a lot of things in
common. We ended up getting a hostel room together as I wasn’t meant to be meeting up with “Chris” as a couchsurfing. So there were three Saffas and me in a “dorm” getting on like a house on fire. The hostel happened to be on a busy bar street so we went to see the British Lions play South Africa in the rugby - what a time to meet some Saffas! The Lions lost right at the end in a pretty thrilling game, but it didn’t seem to matter because the conversation was going between Brad, Cat, Kim and myself.
AJ was in KL but I couldn’t get a hold of him on his mobile to discuss getting our backsides over to Borneo for the Mount Kinabalu and scuba at Sipadan thing. So, I decided to hang out with the Saffas instead. The guys had heard about some tropical park somewhere close to KL and it was a chance to see some jungle before they left for Bali. I tagged along and made up a four person group to go to PRIM, getting two trains and a taxi over to the park. Unfortunately we were not able to get
onto the canopy walkways over the jungle (denied at Penang also) but we do go for a two and a half hour trek into the jungle. Humid as ever but we chilled out afterwards in the spa, soaking our feet in a pool of fish, who just so happened to like dead skin and ate it all off. Very ticklish and Cat reacted as if she was being petted by an octopus!
Anyway, it was a cool day, but the evening in Kuala Lumpur (KL) was a bit hectic. AJ finally managed to leave me some messages for meeting up, so I told him which hotel I was at- however, he’d already come by the hotel during the day (uh oh, evening is best), but couldn’t find the place anyway. So, I facebooked him to say I’d pass by his hostel at 8pmish. In the meantime I was due to meet with Casper (who I hadn’t seen since I’d been in KL). So, off I went to Chinatown to look for AJ at his hostel room- but he wasn’t there and a guy in the room didn’t know what I was talking about. I just wasn’t meant to meet
up with this guy again.
So, off I went through busy Chinatown (is there a quiet Chinatown anywhere?) and found The Beatles bar where I was due to meet with Casper. I was a bit early so decided to internet a bit and Mr AJ said he’d be back at the hostel by 8.30, so off I traipsed again to his bloody hostel and finally managed to meet him and off we went to the Beatles Bar.
There was Casper and her friend Angie. Now Casper I know from a train journey I made from Dublin to London and she was sitting opposite me on the train back in October 2008. We’d kept in contact as I’d helped her get to the airport and now we were finally meeting up. Angie alongside her, coincidentally was friends with her but she was also on Couchsurfer and had been at the Couchsurfers event the previous night. Added to his coincidence mix, who turns up to the bar as a friend of Angies is the same guy in AJs room but who AJ had now moved from.
Anyway, we all went out together, Angie drove us to a very nice
bar called Lunar - another rooftop bar with a swimming pool no less! (following Saigon and Bangkok) overlooking the Petronas Towers and We had a cocktail and it was a pretty nice evening all in all.
The next day AJ and I did some errands; he finally bought his flight to Kota Kinabalu (KK) in Malaysian Borneo; and we had a proper internet session to research climbing the mountain and scuba operators (Pulau Sipadan is meant to be the top 3 dive spots in the world). We also bought our bus ticket to Singapore from where we were flying out from to KK - basically 40 quid return.
All in all, Malaysia has been thoroughly enjoyable place, and not boring as some travelers we’d met had said about it. In my experience anyway, Malaysians have been some of the nicest and friendlist people I’ve me on my travels. I just hope Borneo has the same stuff but with potent high adrenalin stuff to boot.
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