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Published: June 15th 2008
Putting it on with a trowel
Have I overdone the eyeliner?
Send In The Heavies
Friday night, 9pm, and as Kota Kinabulu heated up for a three day harvest festival (Gawai) we boarded our Air Asia flight to Johur Baru. Mind you, we were pretty hot ourselves. Air Asia has a 15kg luggage limit... not good when your whole life is in your backpack... so we had stuffed our carry-on bags to the limit and were wearing our hiking boots and thermal clothing. Given it was still 30 degrees we probably looked like a Monty Python sketch, but it worked. Our two packs sneaked in at 29.4 kilos avoiding the excess weight fine. Of course, given that Dave probably weighs twice as much as your average Malaysian the whole concept of excess luggage is bonkers anyway. There are probably 100 million Americans sweating nervously for the day that airlines manage rising fuel costs by weighing the TOTAL weight of passage!
Johur Baru is the southernmost city of mainland Malaysia and the overland gateway to Singapore. Like many border towns it makes its living by offering what those across the border can't get. In this case, cheap booze, casinos and a weak exchange rate. Apparently 60,000 people cross this
Even TWO umbrellas can't get Dave off the ground and in to Chinatown
border every day. Malaysians go south to work and Singaporeans go north to gamble, spit and litter. At least, that is the opinion of the owner of (quite possibly) the worst hostel we have stayed in. Due to our late evening arrival the double bed we had booked had been given to someone else and our only option was to sleep on a tatty mattress on the floor amongst the many cats, fleas, stinky shoes and god knows what else. We also arrived in the middle of a party with the strangest cast of characters including "Silent Steve" (real name unknown) an old Australian hippie who didn't speak once and a Korean man who at random times would shout out "I'm not gay" and then collapse into a fit of giggles.
To be fair to the owner he was repeatedly and drunkenly apologetic and after our brief, itchy sleep he got up early (still apologising and drunk) and drove us to the border for free.
Malaysia is joined to Singapore by a kilometre long causeway and man were we happy we took the bus. The border was rammed with thousands of cars and motorcycles but buses get their
All the tiny streets looked beautiful at night
own lane. (Top tip!) Unfortunately immigration was also packed, but after an hour of boredom we were back on a bus and heading for downtown.
I Love The Smell of Money In the Morning
Once you are in Singapore it takes only 30 seconds to appreciate that you are in a very rich country. The motorway is immaculate, the sky scrapers are huge and the whole place is clean, green and very organised. We even passed our first "Pony and Country Club"... pretty funny given it was smack bang in the middle of a country that is just one big city. Perhaps it should be called the "Ponies Who Dream Of The Country Club".
We had booked a hostel in the suburb of Little India so after a short walk (avoiding the now criminal activity of jaywalking) we arrived sweaty, hot and tired. This place was the polar opposite of our Johur Baru fiasco. It was big, clean and very organised... so organised in fact that after grabbing some free breakfast (yeah!) we found ourselves straight back out on a free tour to a Buddhist temple. This was really interesting, partly because of the temple,
but mostly because our guide had rather a lot to say about the country and the government. At times it was difficult to determine whether we were on a guided tour or a political rally.
Back at the hostel we showered and did a very rare thing.... we got our NICE clothes out... the ones that live in a plastic bag at the bottom of our backpacks in order to stay free from dirt and fleas. You see, not content with simply experiencing religious diversity we were also broadening our musical minds and going to the Opera (cue collective gasp from all who know us). And not just your bog standard fat Italian warbling type opera but some world class Chinese opera.
We had absolutely no idea what to expect. As it was, it turned out to be really interesting. Instead of actually going to a whole opera we had booked a dinner and Chinese opera appreciation night at a small theatre in Chinatown. Run by a world famous Chinese opera star the night featured dinner, an hour of learning about the intricacies of Chinese opera and then a performance. Afterwards there was
There's no place like home
time for questions and answers and photo taking.
The next day we walked and walked and walked. Singapore is very easy to get around and with map in hand we explored the old colonial district (beautiful old buildings), the business district (shiny new buildings), Chinatown and Fort Canning which was built by the British to protect the harbour from attack. We also visited the world famous Raffles Hotel, once the very heart of Britishness in this strange Asian world, and the place where the Singapore Sling cocktail was invented. We were going to treat ourselves to a lunchtime tipple but two Slings cost more than our entire day's budget so we gave it a miss. Instead we wiled away the afternoon in the air conditioned bliss of the Asian Civilisations Museum. If you are ever in Singapore this place is a must.
For dinner we headed back to Little India then packed and slept for an early start. We were booked on the train from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. In a quirk of immigration/border dispute/disorganisation the train stopped while all passengers were stamped OUT of Singapore...but did not pause so we could be stamped
People in Glass Houses
Maybe they'll use the rising cost of fuel to pay for an extension
IN to Malaysia. Tracey was excited to have to give her fingerprint on the swanky Singapore side until she realised they were searching for a match on an escaped 5 foot 2, male Asian gang member. David also got fingerprinted so they really must have been clutching at straws to find the guy. And so, after a slow but scenic 7 hours we arrived in KL as illegal aliens.
Back in Malaysia Again... Again
KL is like Singapore, only dirtier, with an excellent new train station and really easy transit links. Once again we found ourselves heading towards Chinatown and Little India, seemingly consistent locations for budget backpacker accommodation.
Our plan was to spend the next day in KL before leaving Malaysia all together to head to Bangkok. As usual we didn't actually have "a plan" in the traditional sense. We had absolutely no idea how we were going to get there. The words bus, boat, train and plane had been bandied around but not with any actual investigation. In the end it was good old 15kg Air Asia that we booked ourselves back onto. The train/bus combination was going to take forever and wasn't
Anyone got a marshmallow?
much cheaper anyway. We also gave ourselves an extra day to explore KL.
Not too much more to report from here. Tracey got a cold, Dave got a haircut from a roadside barber in Chinatown and then we walked and walked, eating different foods every few hours and taking in the sights. The biggest site of all was KL's pride and joy, The Petronas Towers. Petronas is an oil and gas company and to display their enormous wealth they built the tallest twin towers in the world with the added spice of having a walkway that links the two towers half way up. Rather nicely the trip to the walkway is free but tickets are limitted. You have to queue up early to get a ticket with an allotted time. Once your time arrives you are sheparded through to an information centre, then you watch a short propaganda film about how nice Petronas really is and how wonderful for the whole world oil and gas is. There is also a pretty fancy display to show us why we won't die if the building is hit by lightning. Finally, you are allowed up to the walkway for 15 minutes. The
The amazing fountains outside the Petronas Towers
skybridge is made entirely of glass, just like the outside of the whole building. From 43 storeys up the views are great but the smog is terrible.
A Fountain Of Joy
Finally, like a little farewell performance from Malaysia we sat and watched the largest and most amazingly choreographed fountain we had ever seen. We must have watched it for half on hour. It's possible that this show was for other people too but after 5 weeks in, then out, then in, then out, then back into Malaysia, the ins and outs of all the water on display seemed liked a fitting farewell.
Tomorrow, if they let us out... we head for Bangkok. Although it's highly unlikely we will be visiting any of Thailand's famous ins and outs!
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