Meanwhile, on the other side of the world... Kris
We left England in the early hours of the 21st of January. We were meant to leave on the evening of the 20th, but a delay meant that we spent longer than we wanted to in Stansted airport and were rewarded with 15 quids worth of vouchers to fill our faces in Costa Coffee. Which we did.
Anyway, we finally landed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia sometime in the night. I'd like to say on what date or on which day, but it's hard to recall as our ability to separate days was knackered. It was dark. Actually, it was dark when we left England....then during the 14 hour flight the sun rose...and the cabin crew quickly pulled down all the window screens. We lost an entire dose of daylight and then it was night still when we arrived at our destination.
Nevermind. We managed to get to our hotel and get to bed by about 3am - but made sure we set our alarm for a reasonable time in the morning in order to avoid the worst of jet lag.
Chinatown and the birds
We wandered out on our first day back in Asia after a snowy Christmas in England and we were immedaitely assaulted by heat, humidity and noise. We stayed in China Town on Petaling Street at the D'Oreintal Hotel. We booked it online so we had somewhere to crash at the silly time we arrived and although relatively expensive it still offers small rooms with teeny windows. This seems to be a standard thing in Kuala Lumpur as we've experienced before, so we came to accept it.
Petaling Street in Chinatown is a sprawling mass of Chinese eateries, market stalls with persistent watch, t-shirt and pirate DVD vendors. At one end of the street are a load of restaurants jutting plastic chairs and tables onto an already very narrow thoroughfare with the waiters tempting weary travellers in with offers of giant bottles of Tiger Beer.
We strolled around a bit, allowing our bodies to cope with the climate change we'd forced them through yet again. Then we ate some laksa (kinda spicy noodle soup) and headed for the bird gardens. Kuala Lumpur basically has a bird zoo right on the edge of the city which you can easily walk
Kris looking for umpa lumpas
from the top of the KL tower. Surely they should stick out against the city with their bright orange bodies and green hair?
to from Chinatown - if you don't mind sweating. Being a keen sweater myself, this is what we did. It's like a big area of tropical gardens topped off with green netting populated by everything from cassowaries to emus and parrots to peacocks. It was worth a visit and we only had to take cover when the sky turned black and the wind picked up and a god-awful tropical downpour exploded across the sky.
The search for umpa lumpas Kate
When I told my Mum that I was going to KL, she asked for one thing: an umpa lumpa. Since Kuala lumpur sounds very much like umpa lumpa, she had decided that that must be where they came from. And, if you watch the newer of the two Charlie and the Chocolate Factory films - the one with Johnny Depp in it - the places where he treks to find the umpa lumpas does look a lot like Malaysia. She is a primary school teacher you see, and she thought that she could use an umpa lumpa for all kinds of activities with her 4-5 year olds.
So, we agreed to look around.
Beware nasty beasties.....
you may be 2 minutes from a taxi but don't be lulled into a false sense of security
But it wasn't that easy. I mean, what were we actually looking for? In the film with Gene Wilder, umpa lumpas are small and orange with bright green afros. That should be that difficult to spot. But then, in the second film they are simply short, slightly Asian looking men. Who all look the same. So what should we do? Approach every small Asian looking man and ask if he is an umpa lumpa? Or follow him around and see if he starts singing at the demise of a spoilt/overweight/tv addicted child? Both of these things could end up with us being locked up. Hum....
So we looked around. As you can see from the pictures we searched in jungle and from the top of tall buildings, but we didn't see either kind. Perhaps they all moved to the chocolate factory with Willy Wonka. Sorry Mum. You'll have to use another prop for this terms topic. How about Easter? Bunnies and chicks are easier to get hold of. Kris
The "rainforest in the city"
Kuala Lumpur also has a forest in the city, apparently. This is at the base of the KL Tower and
is basically a hill covered in frees with various paths and trails running through it. No matter where you are on the trails, you never far from a glimpse of a skyscraper or the sound of traffic. What sets it aside from a normal city park is that it has a load of monkeys....and allegedly giant biting centipedes and cobras. Lovely! The perfect place for stroll!
The first time we visited the place was sort of by accident, but Kate feared that as it was late in the day it would suddenly get dark and we'd be set upon by aforementioned giant centipedes and cobras. She clearly has no confidence in my survival skills - given we were still within sight of the Petronas Towers and could probably have hailed a taxi from a tree...
Anyway, the result was we made a day of it and decided to come back and visit the forest at the same time as visiting the tower. On our wander there we stopped at the forest conservation centre and a strange thing happened. This centre is more or less in the middle of the city on a very busy road. We managed to
cross the road and get to the door of the centre when, to our surprise, a small baby macaque appeared from nowhere and ran up Kate's leg. Withing a few seconds it had made it's way to her shoulder and proceeded to suck on her hair.
Thoughts wandered for a moment between - "Awww. How cute!" and "oh my god, it's probably got rabies"...but it seemed far from rabid and had soon sprung on to my shoulder too. In no time at all it had made it's way onto my lap and immediately started pulling the hairs out of my forearm. I mean that's the pot calling the kettle when a monkey calls you hairy. Eventually we managed to get away from the little fella in order to get into the forest centre without him claiming to be with us.
Anyway, all in all it was quite a bizarre and wonderful experience. I realised I'd never been that close to a primate cousin before. They're sorta weird really. The nearest description I can come up with is something like a human baby crossed with a puppy. Hmm. Now I've given that description it conjures up hideous images of
creatures very unlike my cute monkey friend. So I think I'll leave that experience there....if you wanna know more you need to meet your own monkey.
Kuala Lumpur's high points
They like tall buildings in Kuala Lumpur. Just glance across the skyline and you get the feeling that different companies are competing to have the tallest office and stick their name and logo on the peak. But wherever you are in the city you can usually catch a glimpse of the city icons - the Petronas Twin towers (the tallest twin towers in the world, no less) and the KL Tower. The KL Tower
The tower is taller than the Petronas Towers by virtue of it being on a big hill. To the picky this may be considered cheating in the tall building stakes, but it does mean you get a better view from the top. Particularly as you can only go halfway up the Twin Towers - but more on that later.
So...as mentioned above, in the middle of KL there's a hillcovered in forestinhabited by monkeys and cobras and giant centipedes....and on the top of this hill is an enormous telecommunications tower
that boasts an observation deck, a revolving restaurant and innumerable gift shops selling tack. It sounds an odd concept, but the view from the top is pretty amazing.
As you wander around the observation deck a personal audio guide tells you what you're seeing from each window. There are also powerfull binoculars so you can peer at people on the streets below like looking down a microscope at ants. Persoanlly I scoured the backstreets and buildings searching for a crime in process. Sadly, I relaised the only crime happening was being perpetrated by me looking into people's windows with binoculars.
After fending off the people selling KL Tower t-shirts and mugs we whooshed down in the lift to the foot of the tower and the various attractions there. Firstly there was the animal zone. A mini-zoo containing a bizarre range of animals - many not native to Malaysia and certainly none in any way related to tall buildings. After that it was on to the F1 racing simulator, which was basically a computer game played while sitting in a pretend F1 car. It was quite good fun though and the game came free when you bought a ticket
for the Tower. FREE nature walk
The attractions don't end there. There are free guided nature walks around the forested hill the Tower sits on several times a day. Obviously, being such nature-lovers (and also lovers of free stuff) we needed no more persuasion. Our guide was a Malaysian from Sarawak on Borneo and the tour started in the carpark. As he pointed out certain tree species on one side of a fence, bus-fulls of tourists trundled in on the other. Then, out of no where a fluffy little leaf monkey appeared on a branch. Then another...and another. This was before we even got into the trees. We watched the monkeys for a while until the guide hurried us on to the forest path.
The walk was really good and the guide was a fountain of knowledge on plants and animals. Who knew that dental fillings came from the sap of a certain species of tropical tree? Not me. It was generally hard to believe that we were in the middle of a major city minutes from some of the world's tallest buildings, but it was nice to be able to buy a cold can of
The Petronas towers
you can visit the bridge between them for free, but it involves getting up early to queue for tickets. So we didn't.
Coke after our intrepid jungle adventure. The Petronas Twin Towers
The KL Tower may be higher (because of aforementioned hill) but the Petronas Towers win on aesthetics. The two shafts of glass and steel shoot up into the sky looking very much futuristic. Weren't we all supposed to be living in buildings like that by 2010? That and wearing silver clothes and driving around in flying cars? Oh well, maybe next year.
Anyway, to cut a long story short - we didn't go up the Twin Towers. We chose the KL Tower on height alone. Plus, allegedly to go up you need to be there early to pick one of a limited number of free tickets. If that wasn't enough you don't get to go to the top! Seriously. Halfway up only, to a platform that links the towers together. I can only imagine what goes on in the top of the towers. I'd like to think there's an evil business tycoon's office up there where he sits smoking cigars in a big leather chair and laughs over the city as another million dollars enters his bank account. But it's probably more likely there's just a
Kris in his astronaut bed
in the Petrosains museum. Dunno what it had to do with Petronas oil....
unless it powers spaceships?
water tank or something...
Anyway, we did go to the shopping centre at the base of the towers, which was nice. We climbed all the way to the 4th floor and visited the Petronas science centre. All you ever wanted to know about oil, you say?? Count me in! It was actually pretty cool. Although some of the exhibits had little or nothing to do with oil, they did have a lot to do with flashing lights and pressing buttons, so we were satisfied. There was also a helicopter ride simulator over Malaysia and out to a Petronas oil rig. I particularly liked the commentary - "Look below, the beauty of nature! A virgin rainforest!" followed by "Oh and what's this? Why, it's a shimmering Petronas oil refinery!". I'm paraphrasing obviously, but I'm sure it went something like that (but what's better - a rainforest or an oil refinery? There's only one way to find out - FIGHT!).
After being seduced by the wonders of the Petronas petrochemicals company it was time to go on to the other attraction - the aquarium. We spent the rest of the day oo-ing and ah-ing at monstrous sand tiger sharks and
cute little poisonous puffer fish. Tacky Petronas Towers stuff
The Petronas Towers look stunning and it's not hard to see why they have become an icon for the city of Kuala Lumpur. Inevitably, this leads to the market for souvenirs. And what a range. You can get Twin Towers t-shirts, Twin Towers mugs, pens, rubbers, hats and ornaments. You can even get Twin Towers themed giant pencils of the sort I used to buy when I was a kid on any school trip I ever went on. In fact, such was the abundance of Twin Towers-shaped bottle openers that I wondered if the initial design was actually just meant to be a bottle opener and that someone looked at the prototype as they cracked open a Tiger Beer and exclaimed - "Hey! This would make a great skyscraper!". Sadly, none of this stuff was anything you'd want to own. Having said that, I like to think that that business tycoon in the office in the tower peak is festooned with the stuff. Proudly lighting his cigar with a Twin Towers novelty lighter and signing cheques with a giant, illuminous, bendy Twin Towers novelty pen.
This trip to KL was our 4th, but certainly our most extensive! Previously we just passed through, but this time, while waiting for our Vietnamese visa to be processed, we decided to get to know the city better. I have to say we were impressed. KL is very, very varied. There are skyscrapers, there are patches of forest, there's chinatown and little India, there are shopping malls and buzzing street markets. I'd definitely recommend it and I'm sure we'll be back soon.
Meanwhile, it was time to go "home".
Back to Vietnam....
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