Category Archives: Malaysia

The Jungle Railway

From the Perhentians we had to make our way back to Kuala Lumpur in order to fly out to Northern Thailand, a trip that would take us from the North Eastern corner of Malaysia all the way back down to the south of the peninsula. One option was to get an overnight train direct from Kota Bharu and arrive in KL early the following morning, which would have been perfectly simple. But since the start of the trip we’d been hearing about the Jungle Railway, a slow train that snakes its way through the Taman Negara (the largest tract of protected forest on the Malaysian Peninsula), offering beautiful scenery and a more rewarding experience.

After a boat from the islands, a bus to Kota Bharu (the next big town), and another bus to Wakaf Baru (the train station just outside of town), we were happy to learn that, yes, the Jungle Railway would be running the following day, but that we would have to be back at the station by 3:30am, as the train chugs through anytime between then and 4am. Looking for somehwere to camper down for the next few hours and hopefully get some rest before the long journey ahead, we walked around the town looking for a guesthouse or hostel. After many hand-signalled enquiries we were directed to a closed junk shop with dusty windows. Our knocks brought a nervous face to the windown upstairs, and when we said ‘guesthouse?’ she showed us to wait and then disappeared. Ten minutes later, a tall stern man came stalking past and led us through the many security gates and decidedly creepy store to a door at the back, through which he then disappeared. Already a bit hesitant, we stood around listening to some shouting behind the door until our tall host returned and beckoned us to follow him up a small, dark staircase, where he showed us a room that looked as if it had come straight out of Norman Bates’ home in Psycho. We were both waiting for an old woman to jump out of the cupbourd and attack us. I think the host could see the consternation on our faces, as his stern countenance suddenly melted as he jumped onto the bed with a goofy grin, like a groom on his first night of honeymoon, and started patting the duvet next to him saying “hmmm, very comfortable!” In the end, we could not justify spending 50 Ringgit each (an extortionate price, even by KL standards) on a room that was actually too creepy to sleep in, so we thanked him and left. Relieved to get out with all our vital organs, we walked briskly to the bus station and made a little deal with fate; if the public bus heading into Kota Bharu (the big town) hadn’t arrived by 18:30, we would simply go and sleep in the station. Luckily, we were spared a night at the deserted station and got the bus into town where we easily found a completely uncreepy (but also unremarkable) hostel for the night.

Our "uncreepy spot" where we got a valuble 3hours sleep before the journey ahead.

After a 2:30am wake-up, we were back at the platform just after 3, waiting and watching as our fellow passengers filed in slowly. They were mostly middle-aged women carrying large bundles and packages whose contents will remain a mystery. Smiles were exchanged as people unloaded their parcels and took up waiting with the rest of us, and there was quite a bustling little crowd by the time the train rolled in. We took our seats and got comfy as there were still about three hours of darkness in which we could catch up on some sleep as our carriage slowy rocked through stop after stop. Soon the women with bundles were replaced by boisterous young schoolkids, and the carriage was filled with their lively chatter and the heady smells of their fried rice (with chilli and anchovies) breakfasts. They were deposited at the school stop shortly after it started getting light, and in their place we were joined by young mothers and a good mix of regular daily commuters.

As the morning became lighter, we were surrounded by increasingly dense forest, which broke only for each little village and their stations. Through our windows we watched a wonderful kaleidescope of people and snippets of their lives pass us by. Market bound old ladies shouted to one another under the burdens of their heavy loads, families gave happy welcomes, or said sad goodbyes and people of all ages sat around in the nearby noodle shops, waiting or simply passing the time.

The further we continued the more vivid the forest views became, as we chugged in and out of green canopies and marvelled at the enormous limestone formations that suddenly jumped out of the dense vegetation. Railway bridges ferried us across rushing rivers, and long dark tunnels helped us through  the mountains, and back into the verdent greens of the Taman Negara. Then all of a sudden it ended, and we were surrounded by barren orange hills covered with burned tree stumps and mounds of cleared vegetation. These soon became the vast palm and rubber plantations that were to flank us for the rest of the way to Kuala Lipis. It was a stark and alarming reminder of the rampant deforestation that has transformed the Malaysian Peninsula. It was a sobering reality check at the end of a magically beautiful journey.

In Kuala Lipis we had to walk about 2km to the bus station, where it was quite easy to get the bus KL, and then it was the monorail and another bus to the airport. We booked our Air Asia (terrible service, but cheap-ish) flight to Chiang Mai for 7am the following morning, and since the airport is so far out of town, we decided to sleep there until we could check in at 5am. Our plan was to restuarant jump between all the places with wi-fi (McDonald’s, Starbucks, Old Town Coffee co.) and take it in turns to rest. But luck was not on our side, as this was the night that all the restaurants were undergoing a mandatory pest control activity. So at midnight, all of us restauarant hoppers were suddenly homeless, and within minutes, the area surrounding the terminals came to resemble a bomb shelter, with people occupying every available bit of floor/wall space.

Bleary eyed and exhausted, we finally boarded our plane the following morning. After three days of travelling we arrived in Chiang Mai, having taken a total of one boat, five busses, two taxis, two trains and one plane to get there.

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The Perhentians

It felt like we were leaving Sumatra too soon, but the flights were booked, so we had no choice but to spend a regrettable night in Medan (blood-stained sheets, broken windows, manic traffic, 4am calls to prayer) before making our way back to Malaysia, where Georgetown received us once more. We had already spent about a week there before our Sumatran journey, so it was comforting to get back to a familiar city for once. Georgetown is actually deserving of a post on its own – the heritage, the atmosphere and the food are all amazing and it is the kind of city where you imagine living, rather than just visiting. But, on our first night there (the first time), we bumped into some friends from home — absolutely by chance – and the next days were spent eating delicious food and catching up. So despite having a whale of a time eating waffles at a massive open air food court called Red Garden, trying all the local specialties, and spending long evenings at the deservingly famous Indian restaurants along Lebuh Chulia (Kapitan being a stand-out), we were not very good ‘tourists.’

We eventually got around to going up Penang Hill, which was a little disappointing, and visiting the Peranakan Mansion, which was beautiful and very interesting. However, the allure of Georgetown is more in merely being there; walking down the busy streets, marvelling at the restored heritage buildings, enjoying the gorgeous French toast breakfasts at quirky little galleries/eateries, and the prospect of more phenomenal food experiences throughout the day. It was a pleasure to soak it up in the company of good friends, but that’s about all we have to share. Our second visit was a quick transit as we got ourselves onto the first available night bus across country to Kuala Besut, the jumping off point for all travels to Malaysia’s Perhentian Islands. We made it just in time to catch the 7am high-speed ferry and were grateful to arrive on the smaller, more backpacker-friendly Island of Kecil in what was left of the relative cool of the morning 45minutes later.

Our friends had recommended a really good value place just off of Coral Beach (the quieter of the island’s two main beaches), but true to form, we had forgotten the name and couldn’t find where we had written it down. Luckily there is only one path that connects Coral Beach to the busier, party-oriented Long Beach, so we managed to find Ewan’s Place quite quickly. You really can’t beat this spot for value. Ewan (who started off as a painter with dreams of owning his own place) and his family are wonderful – so friendly and obliging – and our bungalow was immaculate! We happily got settled and headed off to explore our surrounds. Within minutes we’d had our first close encounter with one of the island’s many large monitor lizards and these enormous reptiles paid us a daily visit from then on. Walking over to Long beach, we realised why we’d heard some Phi Phi comparisons from other travellers. The bay was overrun by gung-ho motorboat drivers, the water was murky and the sand was littered with the remnants of the previous night’s party. But Coral Beach was much quieter, with a row of restaurants whose seating spilled out onto the sand, giving diners a great view of the aquamarine waters and the spectacular sunsets.

The following day we rented a kayak and paddled ourselves over to the next little bay, known to the locals as ‘Romantic Beach’ and it took one glance to understand why. It was paradise. There was not a soul on the gleaming white sand and the crystalline waters house some extensive shallow reef which provides for a great day’s snorkelling. During our breaks from the water, we found shelter from the midday sun under a beautiful old tree that had coral and driftwood mobiles hanging off all its branches, and a rope swing to complete picture. Throughout the day we were joined by a total of six other people but, for the most part, we had it all to ourselves. It felt incredibly surreal to be in such a beautiful place without hordes of other people jostling to get a look.


After our wonderful day at romantic beach, we just had to see more, and so we signed up for a full day snorkelling tour around the islands. The one thing that separates the Perhentians from their unfortunate Thai counterparts like Phi Phi, is that a concerted effort has been made to reduce the damage done by visitors and boat traffic. So even though the damage of the past is still evident, simple practices such as respecting the ‘no boat zones’ and drifting, rather than anchoring on the coral, have allowed many of the reefs (outside of the two main bays) a chance to regenerate. We stopped at six different spots, and with amazing visibility, we were treated to the best snorkelling we’ve done so far. By the end of the day we’d seen a couple of black-tip reef sharks, a giant sea turtle, plenty of vibrant fish and some truly wondrous rehabilitated coral gardens.


Happy, exhausted, and burned to a crisp, we took our seats at one of the beach front cafes and sipped our iced milos, watching the local waterbabies splash around in the shallows until the sun bowed out in its usual ceremony of red, pink, and orange. The rest of our stay was spent in much the same way; blissful days of snorkelling around the nearby bays, and long, restful evenings lapping up the beauty of these extraordinary islands.


High(lands) Tea


We’re not sure whether it was the promise of a cool climate or the sprawling tea plantations amidst dramatic forest landscapes that really drew us to The Cameron Highlands, but we were very eager to get there. So after tearing ourselves away from the Melaka’s ample charms, we once again took on KL’s bus stations and wound up on a swashbuckling bus ride into the mountains. After more than a few hair-raising moments (apparently keeping the hooter blaring whilst you steer a 60seater bus into  hairpin bends at break-neck speeds is perfectly sufficient warning for all oncoming motorists to clear the way) on the amazingly scenic, but serpentine pass, we arrived in Tanah Rata relieved, and maybe just a little green in the face
But all memories of the bus ride were eradicated as soon as we stepped off it, and were welcomed by a strange sensation: cold. The Highlands air was crisp, and the wind was just chilled enough to inspire a mild dusting of goose-bumps. It was a delicious novelty after the heat, humidity and relentless mugginess of the past month. Tanah Ratah, itself, is a rather unremarkable town,  littered with severe looking block-ish buildings, all heavily beset with a creeping black mould. Luckily, our accommodation (Twin Pines) was a little more appealing, being only one storey and set back off the road in a lush garden.
Now, just a small bit of personal info is necessary here; Joff drinks copious amounts of tea. None of the herbal, fruit-infusion or spice variations, just a good ol’ cuppa of Joko, preferably with some cheap chocolate biscuits. Since arriving in South East Asia, he has not been able to get a ‘decent’ cup of tea anywhere, a fact that he bemoans at least once a day. Hence, the first thing on our agenda was to get to one of the Highlands’ numerous famed plantations so he could his fix. We were advised that it would be too wet and muddy to do the forest trail that led to the plantation we had in mind, taxis were extortionately expensive, and waiting for the one and only public bus could have taken over an hour, so our last option was just to walk the 11kms down the main road. About five minutes in, Joff stuck out a cheeky thumb, and within seconds a gentleman pulled over and offered us a ride as far as the turn off (from which it would only be a 2km walk).

No sooner than we jumped out of the friendly guy’s car, the rain started, so we pulled out our dorky disposable plastic raincoats and trudged on, thinking of how satisfying our rewards would be. But it wasn’t to be. With less than 1km to go, we bumped into another couple on their way back from the plantation, who reported that is was closed on Mondays. This meant we could go and look at the tea, but we could not actually drink any. A little more than disappointed, we turned around and braced ourselves for the 9 or so kilometres of uphill that we had just cruised down in a warm, dry Chrysler. As if on cue, the moment we turned back onto the main road, the drizzle turned into proper rain, and promptly washed the magic out of Joff’s cheeky thumb. For some reason, people are not that willing to pick up wet, sweaty tourists in dorky plastic ponchos.
Don’t get us wrong, the road is beautiful, and we were always surrounded by green canopies and undulating hills, but there’s just something about trekking up a tarred highway in the rain, trying to avoid the exhaust fumes of the logging truck that has just nearly nearly run you over, that puts a damper on a good view. And then we saw the sign, promising freshly brewed Highlands Tea only  5kms up the road, which kick-started the torturous process of counting down the kilometres, sign by sign, during which time the steady rain turned into a torrential downpour. For a while we sought cover in the forest, and Joff even considered crawling into a cement building cylinder, but we eventually decided that since we couldn’t possibly get any wetter, we may as well keep on until we could be totally drenched, but with the bonus of having those elusive cups of steaming tea in our hands. We actually ran the last kilometre, and then stood outside the tea-house for a good ten minutes, trying vainly to get ourselves halfway decent (dry) enough to walk in.
I don’t think a single cup of tea has ever felt that well-earned. We sat back, clutching our warm glasses, drinking in the delicious contents (as well as the view) whilst savouring our enormously decadent piece of chocolate cake (the closest thing to cheap biscuits available), and we didn’t think twice about calling a taxi for the rest of the trip back to Tanah Rata.

Since our misadventures the previous day had seen us spend a large amount of time and energy attempting to ‘do it ourselves’ with very little success, we just caved in and signed ourselves up for a whistle-stop tour on the Tuesday. This included a lucky packet mix of sights, namely; a Buddhist temple, a bee farm, a vegetable market, a strawberry farm, a butterfly/insect farm, a cactus/flower farm, and most importantly, a tea plantation. We got some good views from the flower/cactus farm, and there were some seriously beautiful (and creepy) specimens at the butterfly farm, but we always thought that the plantation would be the highlight, and it certainly did not disappoint. The BOH Tea label is one of the biggest brands in Malaysia. They harvest the equivalent of 80 000 cups of tea every day, and every leaf is hand-picked. Once again, we found ourselves enjoying two steaming cups of BOH’s finest while looking out over their vast rolling plantations and tucking into blueberry scones and chocolate brownies; happy as could be.




On our final day in the Highlands, we were determined to do one of the forest hikes, and luckily woke up to clear, sunny skies and reasonably dry ground. We set off on trail ’10’, hoping to join with ’12’ on the way back — that way we could summit the two highest peaks in the area, whilst getting a decent amount of time in the forest. Forest we got, as the first hour or two we found ourselves navigating through landscapes that  must have inspired the likes of James Cameron and Tim Burton. But, as a result of what seemed to be our Cameron Highlands curse, we took a wrong turn and the peaks eluded us. We eventually popped out of the forest at a power station, where one very excitable and obviously lonely man kept us chatting for ages before pointing us in the right direction back to town. At least we avoided the rain this time, as just as we sat down for our afternoon tea, it started up outside again. That night we savoured our last chilly evening, and tried not to think about how we were going to kick the 4pm tea and cake habit we’d  seemed to have picked up. But, considering that our next stop was Georgetown, a place that is legendary for one thing in particular – fantastic food – this should never have been a concern.



mmmMelaka!

 

We were not sure whether to make the trip down to Melaka at first. What a mistake it would have been to miss it! Luckily, a local we met in KL assured us that if we went over a weekend, we would definitely not be disappointed, and this was great advice, as the city really does seem to kick into gear from Friday afternoon onwards.
We arrived on Thursday and easily found our way from the striking red colonial facades of the town square to Discovery Cafe and Backpackers (about the only budget accommodation option that didn’t come with huge bed-bug warnings), where our room was everything we always thought a South East Asian backpackers would be; up an intimidatingly steep staircase, bright yellow in colour, a little musty, with a humming ceiling fan, big shuttered windows and doors opening out onto a narrow concrete balcony that overlooked a chaotic street of small shops and vendors. Our shared bathrooms were found on the adjacent (larger) balcony which meant great views over the river and town while we were brushing our teeth.


Discovery Cafe and Backpackers

 

No matter what day of the week you’re there, the old town square will always be humming with tourists, so we got settled, found a map and headed straight out again to take in some of the town’s rich heritage. Because of its significance as a trading stronghold and a meeting point between East and West for over 500 years, Melaka (along with Georgetown)was named a ‘World Heritage City’ by UNESCO in 2008 so there really is plenty to see. We narrowed our focus to the comprehensive displays of the the old Dutch ‘Stadthuys’ Museum, which chronicles the history of Melaka, St. Paul’s Hill (and church), and the the remains of the Portuguese’s A Formosa.



After losing each other in the Stadthuys, I (Hails) was alarmed to see them locking up before Joff had resurfaced from its depths. Frantically trying to keep the austere looking guard from locking my boyfriend in a rather creepy museum for the night, I was reassured that there was nobody left inside so I began searching, only to find Joff down on the square below, enthralled by a Japanese busking duo.
Haiwairia is made up of Ayako and Shoji who hail from “near Fukushima” and “near Hiroshima” respectively. Against the backdrop of the Victorian Era fountain, the surrounding trees and sunset, their simple, soulful sounds kept us captivated till the end of their set, when we were able to chat for a while. They were such rad people and we really wanted to get to know them a little better so we agreed to meet up the next day so Joff could do some filming and maybe do a music video for them. This is the result.


We’re really hoping to meet up with them along the way again.
Friday morning woke us with a buzz in the air, and as soon as we presented ourselves for breakfast, one of the bubbly ladies at the reception/bar rattled off a quick list of attractions that we should see and excitedly mentioned a ‘festival’ that we shouldn’t miss. We misunderstood, thinking that she was talking about the famed Jonker Street Weekend market that runs on Friday and Saturday evenings, so we headed over there to find a rather quiet, very un-marketlike shopping street. It was still a good walk and we made sure to weave our way around all the the historical Chinatown buildings as we went along.

Before coming to Melaka we had read about Selvam Restaurant and their 12 dish vegetarian ‘banana leaf’ Friday lunch special, so we made our way over as soon as the clock struck a decent lunch hour. The place was humming and before even opening our mouths we were ushered to a table and gruffly asked one thing: “Banana Leaf?!” From then on, it became a matter of either nodding or shaking one’s head as a steady flow of waitrons passed by with bowls, buckets, ladels, packets and tins of some of the most delicious food imaginable, barely stopping as they spooned the dishes onto our ample beds of rice and moved on. We just lapped it all up; the food, the mango lassi, the atmosphere. It was a definitive eating experience.

Leaving Selvam we were so totally satisfied, full and lazy that further sightseeing in the afternoon sun just seemed like a terrible idea. We had spied a public swimming pool the previous day, and not having swum since our stay in Koh Lanta, an arvie’s worth of intermittent reading and dipping was exactly what we were up for. Imagine our heartbreak, then, when we were refused entry by the pool’s grunting gatemaster. Heartbreak soon dissolved into disbelief and sheer frustration as he revealed the reason we were not allowed to enjoy the cool respite we had be dreaming of. It was Joff’s boardshorts, which are apparently deemed ‘inappropriate swimming attire.’ Melaka’s public swimming pool is a speedo only zone: that’s right, men may only make use of the facility if they are happily sporting a banana hammock. So women may wear whatever they desire, skimpy bikinis included, but men who wish to cover more (let’s be honest, what does a Speedo really cover?) than their bare essentials are ‘indecent.’ Ridiculous. Defeated, we drowned our sorrows in Melaka’s well air-conditioned Maritime Museum which definitely wasn’t a bad way to spend the afternoon, especially since part of it is set up in a life-size replica of  the Portuguese ship “Flora De La Mar” which sank off the straights carrying half of Melaka’s wealth after the first invasion.
After our time with our lovely Haiwaraia friends, we headed back to the hostel, only to find them preparing for what looked to be like a serious celebration. When we enquired at the bar/reception, the response was an emphatic “yes, big party, free food, we celebrate Hungry Ghost, you must join us, it’s for everyone!” A bit hesitant at first, we went back down after 7pm as instructed and joined a long table of equally confused foreigners. Before long, we were all handed wads of multi-coloured ‘money’ in  all different shapes and sizes, and herded around to a bonfire that had been lit in the street behind the hostel. Once there, everyone started burning the money, which we then noticed was emblazoned with the title “BANK OF HELL.” Thoroughly intrigued by what it all stood for, we eventually learned that in Chinese culture (both Buddhists and Taoists celebrate a form of the Ghost festival at the same time every year) the seventh lunar month of each year is ‘Ghost month’ where the divide between Earth and the ‘lower realm’ (Hell) dissolves and the ghosts of their ancestors can roam the Earth looking for nourishment and entertainment. Hence, various forms of ‘currency’ are burned, and food offerings are made as gifts for the ancestors to ease their sufferings.
After we burned the notes, it was time to feast, and there was so much food – people were invited off the street to join in the festivities, regardless of their nationality, culture, age, or religious affiliations. It seemed like the more people came, the more food there was, and this carried on until the early hours.

After politely declining numerous offers for second, third and forth helpings, we thanked our host heartily and excused ourselves so that we could catch the real Jonker Street Market (the one we had been 10 hours early for that morning), which was very festive. The stalls were much more of the same hawker style things we had seen in most towns, but the great exception was the food. Chinese Nonya cuisine is famous in Melaka, and for good reason. Our favourite discovery was Nonya Pineapple tarts: gorgeous buttery biscuit pastry balls filled with sweet, chewy pineapple jam. They are dangerously more-ish, and before we  knew it, we had polished off a pack of twelve before we’d even reached the end of the street.
With stomachs full to the point of bursting, we relished our beautiful walk back along the lamp-lit river and marvelled that we had ever considered skipping this wonderful city. All that was left for us to do was thank the wandering spirits for guiding us to Melaka!



Time blurs in Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur (affectionately dubbed ‘KL’by travellers and residents) is the Southern heart of South East Asia. There are direct routes that run from there to just about everywhere, and because it is the home of Air Asia, “the world’s best low cost carrier,” flying anywhere from there is about half the price. As a result, it is a hub for travellers-in-transit and it seems that the most many people see of KL is either the airport or one of its numerous (and confusing) inter-city bus stations. It was the logical first step for our explorations of Malaysia, but we didn’t just want to pass through, so after arriving on a characteristically humid, stormy evening, we checked into Tropical Guesthouse with high hopes of doing some Bangkok-style, high intensity sightseeing. But the truth is, there’s not all that much to see in KL, unless you’re really into glitzy shopping malls (one is ten storeys high and has an in-house theme park with a roller-coaster) and full days of maxing out the credit card. That said, it definitely has its charms and we ended up spending five nights, even though one could really do everything we did in about three days (with some advanced planning).


On our first breakfast run in the city, we were introduced to some really delicious South Indian options which involved rice rotis and some mystery dipping sauces (the ever-present, soupy Dhal being the only recognisable one). This was accompanied by what has become a staple with all our meals in Malaysia so far: deliciously refreshing iced Milo. For the price of RM 2.50  (roughly R7) we were totally full off a local meal for probably the first time since arriving in South East Asia. Scrumptious as it it is, Thai food just didn’t seem to fill us, though it is very likely that the portioning and meat/starch content of South African diets is to blame, rather than the Thai food itself.
Anyhow, bellies full, we moved on to the Museum Negara (National Museum) to get a good idea of Malaysian history and tradition, which is really a good idea if you want to understand the cultural melting pot that is Malaysia. It actually reads similarly to South African history. A strategically placed coastal area on a busy trade route, already inhabited by developed and intricately nuanced local communities, is repeatedly colonised by successive European powers (Portuguese, Dutch, British). But, in addition, there is an influx of traders from the Middle East, merchants from India and China, and partial Japanese occupation during the Second World War. As a result of all this, the Malay people are an incredibly diverse populace (once again, like South Africa), but from our limited experience so far, they are totally accepting of one another’s religious, cultural and ancestral differences and the country seems to celebrate this rich diversity with unparalleled vigour. Granted, we are here during their independence month, so national pride is reaching a fever pitch, but it is still really very refreshing for a couple of South Africans.


The Malaysian flag hanging from the building in the background in preparation for Independence Day

One of the best things about Kuala Lumpur is that it is a very walk-able city, as most of the interesting things to see and do are located centrally in either the Chinatown area, or the Golden Triangle. So after just a few detours we found our way to the beautiful botanical gardens, and on the other side of that, the historical Central Market. Once a thriving gambling house, it is now basically a glorified flea-market, but there are some interesting things to browse and the building is worth seeing. The uber-colonial administrative center of Merdeka Square is just a short walk down the road, and in addition to the architecture, you can also see the highest flagpole in the world flying an enormous Malaysian flag right over the city’s old cricket pitch, which is quite a nice juxtaposition.
Chinatown’s bustling Petaling Street is also a hive of activity, and runs through some historically significant areas, so it warranted a stroll, but again, it is mainly a proliferation of hawker stalls selling cheap-ish knock-offs and various kinds of satay. We enjoyed the atmosphere more than the sightseeing and the shopping.

Entrance to Jalan Petaling

Historical district of China Town

Our hostel was situated near Bukit Bintang, a major shopping hub near the KL business district, where the Petronas Towers dominate the skyline. This meant that wherever we couldn’t walk, we could just catch the very affordable and efficient monorail. The Petronas Towers were a marvel to look at but the queues to get up to the skybridge were ridiculous so we just contented ourselves with oggling it from ground level. Being near Bukit Bintang also meant heavenly food options including the most enticing doughnut and sweet shops we have ever laid eyes on. One shop specialised in muffin-tops – and no, we’re not talking about too-tight pants that make your love handles flow over the waistline like a cascading flesh-waterfall – we’re talking about only the most delicious, crispy, top half of the muffin; the part that you always regret eating first when you’re left with a rather boring, stodgy ‘muffin bottom’ in a soggy paper wrapper. But at a premium 5 Ringgit per ‘top,’ we could only admire the genius from the other side of the counter. Testing all the different doughnuts, on the other hand, (cream cheese and oreo, pistachio and white chocolate, etc.) became something that worked itself into our daily budgets and after all the walking it was almost an entirely guilt-free indulgence.

Monorail running through the city

Perhaps the highlight of our Kuala Lumpur experience was FRIM (Forestry Research Institute of Malaysia). Located abot 16km uoutside of the city, they have successfully regenerated hundreds of hectares of Kuala Lumpur’s erstwhile tropical forest for conservation and research purposes. Most travellers go there for the Canopy Walkway – a series of rope bridges and wooden platforms suspended 30meters above the ground, in line with the treetops. Despite being quite petrifying initially, the bridges are actually very sturdy so once you get used to the bouncing and swaying, it is an exhilarating trek over pristine forest, with some truly amazing views. The hike through the forest to the canopy platform and back could be an attraction in itself as we saw some breathtaking plant and animal life on our way. It is a wonderful (literal) breathe of fresh air after a couple of days in the city.

Hot, sweaty and pretty knackered, we decided to forge on and make a day of it, heading straight to Batu Caves, also on the city limits. The largest of the three caves houses a Hindu Temple, which draws over a million pilgrims each year, most notably during the festival of Thaipusam, when the seriously devout pierce themselves and carry large wooden canopies up the 272 steps to worship. Besides the caves and the view, there is also a very mischievous troop of monkeys who saunter up and down the stairs, niftily relieving unsuspecting visitors of their burdensome snacks and drinks as they make the trek. We found them endlessly entertaining, but their antics sent many a visitor screaming in either direction, minus a few possessions. We knew it was time to move on from the spectacle when they caused a truly hysterical Chinese boy to crap his pants on about the 70th stair.


All in all, we know we’ll be back in Kuala Lumpur before long, spending longer than we meant to, and enjoying the sound of thermal thunderstorms in the evening, while we sip our iced milo and discuss the day’s explorations over a plate of whatever abundantly cheap, delicious food we happen to  find.