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Published: April 5th 2014
I woke early and lay in bed, looking at the street lights filtering through the wooden shutters of our George Town hotel room window. We were heading back to Kuala Lumpur
this morning, and there was a twinge of sadness in leaving. Every now and again a place gets under your skin, and you begin to comfortable as you walk along familiar streets and lanes. George Town may be crowded, busy, smelly and exceptionally hot in the afternoon/early evening, but there’s something enchanting about the city’s core zone. The locals are friendly, the food is amazing and the atmosphere is heady. We could easily have stayed on, but a journey lay ahead of us, and we were looking forward to continuing our travels.
I snacked on fruit and yoghurt as we prepared to leave. We packed our sandwiches (provided by the hotel for the bus trip to KL) and checked out of Campbell House at 8.45am. We’re really going to miss this place. We walked to Banana Boutique Hotel to catch the transfer minibus we’d ordered a few days earlier. The driver dropped us at the Komtar bus depot, where we waited for our bus to KL.
It arrived at 10am. The bus interior was pretty worn and shabby, but the trip was comfortable. We ate our sandwiches and settled in for the ride.
I was sitting across the aisle from an overweight Indian guy who was listening to music on his tablet, clicking his fingers loudly in the air and tapping his feet. The only time he stopped was to take calls, during which he would talk loudly without the slightest hint of consideration for anyone else around him. I couldn’t decide which was the lesser of two evils, but by the end of the trip I was willing people to call him…anything to stop those clicking fingers!
We stopped for lunch at a roadside cafe around 2.30pm, where we freshened up with a self–serve teh tarik
(pulled sweet milky tea). After a 30 minute break, we continued our journey to KL. We arrived at KL Sentral around 4.30pm, and disembarking from the bus was like walking into an oven. We made our way to the taxi area, purchased a voucher, jumped into a taxi and headed to Anggun Boutique Hotel, our hotel for the next two days. We checked in, organised our laundry
and walked to Restaurant SK Corner for a teh tarik
– we were parched! The teh tarik
was fantastic and it revived our energy from the 6.5 hour bus trip. We were so tempted to eat at this fantastic street–front restaurant, but we decided to walk to Jalan Alor instead. We picked up some cold beer and cassava chips and walked back to the hotel to relax before dinner.
We headed out to Jalan Alor for dinner at 8pm, and opted for dim sum
at Restaurant Beh Brothers. It was great. We had crab meat dumplings, diced pork dumplings, diced prawn vegetable and pumpkin dumplings, spicy fish balls and barbeque pork buns. We sat outside and sipped calamansi lime juice while we waited. As we wandered back to the hotel, Ren sampled a small cone of coconut ice cream.
Our room at Anggun Boutique Hotel was fantastic. We had dressing gowns and slippers in the room. Such comfort! We settled on the bed, planned our next day with hot cups of tea and caught up on our travel writing. We crashed at 11.30pm.
We woke at 5.30am, caught up on news and our travel notes and headed
to the hotel’s rooftop terrace for breakfast at 7.45am. After snacking on guava juice, coffee, muesli, yoghurt and fruit, we headed out to explore the Batu Caves (about 13 km from KL). We walked to the Bukit Bintang monorail stop, crammed ourselves into the elevated monorail and made our way to KL Sentral, where we boarded a very slow train to the Batu Caves (13 km in 30 minutes). I could have ridden my bike faster. We arrived at 10.45am, and it was already incredibly hot. We wandered over to the steps leading up into the caves, and I was dripping with perspiration. An enormous golden statue of Lord Muruga stands at the base of the steps. What is it about gigantic statues, long flights of stairs, bat caves and Asia?
We began our long ascent upwards, avoiding mischievous monkeys and dirty old men asking to have their photo taken with any young(ish) looking women they could swindle. At least the monkeys were blatant in their attempts to steal water and clothing from the female tourists. We managed to get to the top of the stairs unscathed. As we entered the first enormous limestone cavern, a young woman started
screaming hysterically and running around in circles. A monkey had decided to chase her, as she had a bottle of water that he seemed to want. For some reason she decided to throw the bottle at him, which didn’t go down too well, so he started lunging at her and grabbing at her calves as she ran in circles. Her screams were amplified in the towering cavern. I know I shouldn’t have found this amusing, but I did. All of the swamis were struggling not to laugh, so I didn’t feel so bad. Everything eventually calmed down, the monkey got bored and the young woman made a hasty exit down the stairs with her friends (who I’m sure were laughing on the inside). We picked our moment to climb the next set of stairs, as a few monkeys were sitting on the stair rails and grabbing people’s clothing as they walked past. More screams; more laughter.
On a serious note, it was saddening to see stalls full of tourist junk in this impressive temple cave. People travel to the caves as a pilgrimage, and swamis offer blessings and sweet treats to anyone willing to receive them. Unfortunately, the caves
were littered with broken trestles, packaging and other paraphernalia that typically accompany commercial tourism ventures. Postcards, key rings, bubble machines, flying planes, gaudy statues…it reminded me of the coke machine fiasco on top of Uluru.
As we descended the long flight of stairs, we tried (in vain) to avoid ruining the photos of tourists on their way up. I think we’ll be appearing in many family snaps at Batu Caves. We wandered through a small shrine at the base of the stairs, where Ren was blessed by a swami and received a red marking on her forehead. The day was heating up and we were seeking shade wherever we could find it. We wandered through a few more shrines before jumping on the train back to KL Sentral. We arrived at 12.30pm and had to squeeze (literally) into the monorail to retrace our route back to Bukit Bintang.
We decided to try Lot 10 for lunch, as the entrance was beside the Bukit Bintang monorail stairs. We ordered dry pork ball noodle and wet pork ball noodle from the Imbi Road Original Pork Noodle stall, and we also tried a honey lemon juice. The dry pork noodle was
fantastic, but the wet pork soup was a little bland. On our way back to the hotel, Ren picked up a Kit Kat ice cream. We showered, relaxed and caught up on our travel notes. The early afternoon heat had exhausted us. A huge thunderstorm and subsequent deluge hit KL during the afternoon, and we were lucky not to get caught in it. When the downpour finally subsided, I ventured out to pick up our laundry.
We walked to Jalan Alor and sat at a table outside Restoran Sun Chui Yuen for dinner at 7.45pm. We decided on Sun Chui Yuen because it had no touts and it was full of locals. I ordered char kway teow
(flat wide rice noodles, prawns, Chinese sausage, egg, crispy sprouts and chilli) and Ren ordered hokkien mee with sambal belacan
. I had a few Ankor Strong beers and Ren had an iced tea (which literally was an iced tea – hot tea poured over lemon and then topped with ice – it arrived warm). The meal was sensational. We sat and watched the procession of tourists, locals and cars as they poured along Jalan Alor. Two middle aged guys wandered past our
table, and the entire Chinese population suddenly went into raptures, flocking to them from all directions for autographs and photos. Every other ethnic group in the street (including us) had no idea who they were, so we continued our meals and watched in bemusement as people sacrificed their tables (which are hard to come by in Jalan Alor on a Friday night) to have their photograph taken with the two guys. The guys eventually gave up, jumped into a huge black car with tinted windows and were whisked away. We finished our meal, sat and watched the world go by for a little longer and then wandered back to our hotel. We’d planned to get a good night’s sleep, but two things were against us – one good, one bad.
The bad involved a drunken hotel patron in the room above us. For some reason only known to him, he decided to sit out on his verandah (directly above ours) at 2am, and tell anyone who was listening how much he loved Malaysia. At the top of his voice. For about an hour. He also needed to smash a few bottles...
The good involved wok man. Our hotel
was right beside a small, 24 hour undercover Indian eatery. About every five minutes, a guy (who we named wok man) would prepare a dish, and the sound of his wok would drift up into our room. It wasn’t annoying in the least, and we quickly got used to the metallic clacking sound. I woke one morning at 4am and he was preparing a meal for someone. He clacked continually throughout our last night, and had our drunken neighbour not woken us up, I’m sure I would have slept through the sound of his cooking.
We woke reasonably late and headed to breakfast at 8.30am – the luxury of a sleep–in! I again opted for muesli and yoghurt while Ren went for the American breakfast. We had a 15 day tour ahead, and we needed to prepare.
We checked out of Anggun Boutique Hotel at 12pm, jumped in taxi and headed to Ancasa Express, our hotel for one more night in KL before setting off again around the country. We checked in at 12.30pm and waited an hour for a room, which gave us time to go through a few photos for the blog. After settling in our
room, we walked through Chinatown to the renowned Old China Cafe for lunch. We shared a nasi lemak
(chicken curry, coconut rice, dried anchovies, spicy sambal, boiled egg, cucumber and peanuts) and nonya laksa lemak
(rice noodles in a curry coconut milk broth), and both were sensational. I had a teh tarik
and Ren tried an isotonic 100 Plus (which we’d need to drink a lot of over the next fortnight). Ren ordered a sago gula Melaka
(sago pudding in coconut milk) for dessert, which came with a small jug of palm sugar syrup – it was heavenly.
We walked back to the hotel, sorted out wifi and headed out to Platinum in Chinatown for dinner at 7.30pm. We ordered barbeque pork fried rice, sweet and sour chicken, kangkung belacan
(morning glory with shrimp paste) and butter prawns, which were an absolute standout. We walked through an absolute deluge to get to the restaurant, and while our raincoats kept us dry on top, our trousers were drenched by the time we arrived. We warmed up with a teh tarik
. It was still raining when we left at 8.30pm, but nowhere near as heavily. We got back to the hotel,
dried off and relaxed. SHE SAID...
We caught the bus from George Town in Penang to Kuala Lumpur
. It was supposed to be a five hour journey, but it took six and a half hours, as it stopped for an hour at a big bus station just outside George Town. Regardless, it was a pleasant journey, especially as we were able to spread out over two seats each. We were very sad to leave Penang, and we would have loved to have stayed a few days longer.
The lovely people at Campbell House packed us a breakfast the night before. We had the fruit and yogurt honey pots that morning, but saved the sandwiches of cheese, ham and toasted vegetables to have on the bus. It was unexpectedly delicious.
I was supposed to catch up on my writing on the bus trip, but no sooner had we started crossing the bridge to the mainland that I started drifting off. I woke up three hours later as the bus was pulling in for a lunch stop.
Bus break stops are places I usually try to avoid making eye contact with anyone, regardless of what country
it is. I was walking around while Andrew was in the toilet, and three separate people asked if I needed help to order a meal from the very local nasi kander
(rice and curry shop) set up. I have mentioned before how friendly everyone has been here, and almost every day something happens to confirms this.
When we arrived at KL Sentral at 4:30pm, it took me a few seconds to adjust my breathing as we left the air–conditioned bus and stepped into the thick humid wall of KL air. This second trip to KL has confirmed it – my hair and KL do not get along. I’m not someone who normally has hair issues, but the KL water and air made my hair so fluffy and curly that it almost looked like a perm gone wrong.
We had three days in KL before we started travelling again, and for two of those days we stayed at the Anggun Boutique Hotel in the Golden Triangle area. Two 1920s shop–houses have been converted into a very cute hotel space with an antique feel. We were greeted with peppermint scented cold towels and the most refreshing lemongrass and ginger drink.
We must have looked desperately thirsty as we drained our glasses with indecent haste, because they couldn’t refill our glasses quickly enough.
The hotel reviews all suggested the street–facing rooms were noisy, but that’s exactly why we picked our suite, because it had a balcony that overhung the thriving street of Tengkat Tong Shin below us. I loved watching and hearing the street come alive. There were a few cafes and restaurants on the tiny street, including the 24 hour Indian eatery two doors down from us whose wok action noise kept us company through all hours of the night. We became oddly fond of hearing the wok man’s cooking noises. The hotel rooftop bar and restaurant was a lovely little leafy oasis where we had breakfast. If it had air–conditioning we would have spent more time up there!
We picked this hotel specifically to give ourselves a feel for another part of KL (we had stayed in Chinatown two weeks ago), and also to be within walking distance of Jalan Alor and other food highlights. I loved this hotel very much; it’s exactly the kind of place we love – small, unpretentious but plush. With very nice
In the Golden Triangle, walking down Jalan Alor and listening to the jumble of food hawkers and street merchants plying their trade is quite entertaining. Even though the trendy cafes and bars in the Jalan Bukit Bintang area are a great place to make contact with modern Asian culture, personally I prefer the madness of Jalan Alor which is dripping with local street food and restaurants. On our first day had we had a teh tarik
at SK Corner a few doors along from us (a recommendation from the laundry guy). We had every intention of coming back for a nasi kandar
meal, but given the list of restaurants we’d come pre–armed with, we just didn’t make it. For dinner we had dim sum
at the stall within the Beh Brothers Restoran collective. It was the sort of dim sum
we’d had before – in a more Cantonese style. It was lovely, but not a patch on the dim sum
we had in Penang. On the way back to the hotel, I bought a cone of delicious freshly made coconut ice cream from a small cart.
There were a few local dogs on our street which we
hadn’t yet come across in Malaysia. There was one particular short–pawed friendly puppy who reminded us of our old dog Oscar. I wanted to buy him some treats, but not knowing the situation of the dogs, I thought it probably wasn’t a wise thing to do.
These few days in KL were mostly to regroup and relax before the start of our next two week trip. The only non–hotel or non–eating related activity we had planned was a quick half day trip to the Batu Caves on the second morning. We were tempted to be lazy and catch a taxi, but in the end we decided to catch the train instead. Even though the Batu Caves are only 13km north of KL, we crossed a state border and entered Selangor State (because KL is a special Territory).
We walked to the Bukit Bintang Monorail station and caught the monorail – KL’s dragon in the sky, and within minutes we had left the bustle of western style malls and arrived in noisy Brickfields. We crossed the road and walked to the main KL Sentral building to catch the KTM Komuter train (it cost 2RM each and took 30 minutes).
There’s a very imposing 42 metre gold statue of Lord Murugan (also called Lord Subramaniam) at the base of a very long flight of steps to the Temple Cave within the Batu Cave complex. It was hard enough to climb the 272 steps in the heat, without the added degree of difficulty of navigating uncontrolled human traffic while also fighting off troupes of frisky crab-eating or long-tailed macaque monkeys who had gathered for the food that the stooopid humans keep feeding them.
At the top, Temple Cave reportedly contains one of the most important Hindu shrines outside of India. Temple Cave is quite large and cavernous, and the small shrines dotted inside seem to help to accentuate how large it is. The monkeys seem to get free reign here and run around like idiots. We watched in part–horror, part–disbelief (amidst hysterical nervous laughter that it wasn’t us) as a young male monkey took real offence to one particular female tourist and chased she a fair way down the length of the cave. She was screaming the cave down as she ran, but the worst part was that the monkey caught her and tried to climb up her legs. I
haven’t heard shrieks like that outside of a horror film. There were a few other monkey–human encounters, but none of them came close to the tragicomedy of the first incident. I think the three golden rules of behaviour around wild monkeys served us well – don’t carry water they can see, don’t carry ANY food in your bags and don’t make eye contact.
I was expecting this holy place to have less gaudy shops and more spirituality. I was also disappointed at how dirty and disorganised everything seemed to be. In parts it felt like I was walking through a store room with piles of plastic chairs, broken tables and cardboard boxes randomly stacked around the place.
There were many bare chested swamis at each of the shrines, and some of them were very insistent on handing out sweet treats and blessings. One swami wanted me to hold out my hand for a sweet honey–like substance, and when I told him my hand was unsanitary to eat off, he pointed to the taps nearby. Sensing that he wasn’t going to give up until I had some, like the nerd that I am, I got my hand sanitiser out
and sanitised my hands while he waited with pot and ladle in hand. I must have looked like SUCH a tourist!
The Batu Caves consists of two other main caves – the Dark Cave and Cave Villa. Dark Cave is close to Temple Cave, but you could only gain access by doing a 45 minute guided tour along 2km of cave passages, which we had no interest in doing. Cave Villa (also called the Art Gallery Cave) is at the bottom of the steps and has a vast gallery of Hindu statues and paintings. The swamis in the temples kept trying to bless us by anointing our foreheads with red powder, but we kept politely refusing. However, there reached a point where I thought it was ruder to keep refusing than to take part in a religion that’s not mine, so I accepted a blessing which was given with a big grin. It was after he walked past me that I registered that the tray he was carrying had ringgit notes in it...I think I was supposed to give a donation for the blessing. Oh well.
On the way back, the KTM train was already in the station.
Not knowing when it was leaving, we ran to the first carriage in front of us. It wasn’t until we sat down that I realised there were lots of pink signs around, which on closer inspection clearly stated that we were in the women–only carriage! That accounted for the amused looks Andrew was getting from the group of girls near us. We changed carriages as quickly as we could. We have never come across that in our travels before.
Lot 10 Hutong was the choice for lunch. We walked around looking at all the stalls and decided on some pork noodle soup from the well–known Imbi Road Original Pork Noodle stall. Andrew had his ‘dry’, while I had mine the normal soupy way. ‘Dry’ noodle came with the soup and dumplings on the side, and it allowed you to add as little or as much soup to the noodles as you wanted. Having them dry is definitely my preferred option, as the delicious sauces and porky bits in the noodles can sometimes get drowned out in the soup version of this dish.
We returned to the hotel with a kit kat ice cream in hand, and had a
lovely afternoon basking in our air–conditioned room. There had been a massive thunderstorm almost every afternoon, and the lead up to it always brought intense levels of humidity. It was a good time to luxuriate in our room.😊
That night we returned to Jalan Alor and chose Restoran Sun Chui Yuen for dinner. Andrew had char kway teow
(what a surprise 😊) and I had hokkien mee with sambal belacan
which was sensational. This was one of the best meals we’d had on Jalan Alor. The passing parade of tourists and locals is always fun to watch, but being a Friday night, there was more colour than usual. A group of trendy looking Chinese men left our restaurant and got mobbed on the street by what we can only assume were adoring female fans. We asked our waiter who they were, but she didn’t know. I was half tempted to ask for a photo with them too, but decided against it. What an absolutely relaxing day! 😊
That night I stayed up until midnight to catch up on my blog on Penang. At about 2am we were woken up by a very drunk and yelly guy wanting to
tell everyone that his life was ‘f*&^ing awweeesoomee’. We assumed he was on the street, but then realised that he was on the balcony in the room above us. We waited a while, but it didn’t look like he was going to stop, so I called reception. I could tell by the response from the young guy who answered that others had also complained, and there didn’t seem to be anything he could do about it. Andrew seemed to be able to sleep through it, but seeing as I was awake anyway, I decided to stay up and finish the Penang blog. By the time I finished at 4am, all was quiet, apart from the occasional wok noises from wok man.
The next morning we had a relaxing breakfast on the roof top of our hotel and started packing for the move to our next hotel. We could have walked from Anggun Hotel to Ancasa Hotel. However, my stomach was feeling a bit dicey (another reason for keeping our days in KL quiet), so we caught a taxi. We checked back into Ancasa Hotel, and unfortunately got one of the rooms on the railway track side of the hotel,
and the room was also nowhere near as clean as the last room we’d had at this hotel.
After we settled in, we walked to Old China Cafe for lunch. It felt like we had walked into a cafe in the 1930s. It’s an old–school coffee house with dark heavy decor, walls of old photos documenting the evolution of this part of KL, and ceiling fans that diffused and strobed the light (not great for food photos in an already dark restaurant). We ordered a nasi lemak
and a laksa lemak
to share. I know lots of people rave quite highly about this cafe, and I would have to agree with all the rave reviews – it was simply the most delicious food we’d eaten so far on this trip. I wasn’t terribly hungry when we walked in, but I suddenly had an urge to try everything on the menu! At the very least I had to have dessert. The sago and coconut pudding with gula Melaka
(palm sugar syrup from Melaka) was so delicious that I even found myself drinking the remaining syrup in the jug.
Our group meeting for the Best of Malaysia
Intrepid Travel trip
started that evening, and our group leader was Aldrin again. The rest of the group were Hassan and Nancy (US), Chris and Ewen (Aus), Doug and Di (Aus), Richard and Linda (UK), Wendy (UK), Anne–Louise (Aus) and us. During our group meeting, it had started to rain really hard and didn’t show any sign of easing up, so we changed our dinner plans from Jalan Alor to Chinatown. Even then, by the time we walked the three blocks to Platinum Restoran just off Jalan Sultan, we were dripping so much water that we left a small creek running through the restaurant as we walked to our table. The buttered prawns and kangkung belacan
(stir fried morning glory with shrimp paste) were delicious, but the other dishes we shared were quite average.
Our relentless daily routine of eating, drinking, eating and napping had started to take its toll, so we were really looking forward to the next leg of our journey (which will hopefully help us shift some of the kilos we’ve gained in the last two weeks).
Next we travel back to the state of Melaka for a brief visit to Melaka City!
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