A Season Of Firsts part IV: A day in South East Asia – Kuala Lumpur

The ‘A Season Of Firsts’ series of blogs is me accounting my experience of relocating from New Zealand to the United Kingdom to work and travel.

I’m now five days into my travels and two hours from landing in London, writing this entry from my quite comfortable Emirates economy seat – complete with wifi and plus for my laptop. Having slept most of the last flight from KL to Dubai, I continued my sleep quest in order to be as rested as possible by the time the plane lands in Gatwick. It was one of those strange post-REM sleep phases, where dreams are vivid and sleep feels more like indulgent dozing than necessary rest. Never the less, the eight hour trip from Dubai to London flew by and I was quite happy to be awoken by one of the flight attendants for breakfast. Although in my groggy state, I took the word omelet to mean the same thing as a croissant, and not wanting a bread item for breakfast I ordered the Scrambled Eggs instead. The eggs were not bad, but who knows how good that omelet could have been.

Any fears I’ve had regarding air travel have been largely rendered unwarranted, as flying both Royal Brunei and Emirates were fine experiences. Emirates lived up to it’s reputation and was the cushier of the airlines, the multi-region charging plugs and wifi being greatly appreciated. Due to all the sleep I didn’t experience a great deal of in-flight entertainment, but there is a lot to choose from. I briefly watched Blazing Saddles during dinner and a few days ago on Royal Brunei watched the original film adaptation of Anastasia with Ingrid Bergman. A novel experience watching such an old film 10,000 feat in the air, but probably not that entertaining an adaptation.

It’s all been a bit of a gimmick so far, seeing new places and things, such as being able to tell people as I landed in Kuala Lumpur a few days ago that this was my first time out of Australasia (minus the hour stop of in Brunei just previous to that). My short lived and slightly frantic tour of one South East Asia metropolis was fun, but not without it’s hiccups. I was under the assumption that the hotel I’d booked was close to the airport and of a decent quality for the money I was paying. Turns out that close to the airport was still 20 minutes away, and no matter how comfortable the bed was and how polished the interiors looked, the cockroaches that crawled the hallway and my room before sleep would be the lasting impression. I had hoped to get into the city on my one night in Kuala Lumpur, but the hotel was in the opposite direction from the city and the only way to get in there would have been to go back to the airport. Things were not all bad and the experience was unique at least. The hotel was right beside Palm Oil farms, and so felt as if it was the hangout point for local workers. There featured a selection of independent fast food stalls as well as a KFC and Pizza hut, and the men and boys sat around smoking, drinking tea and watching TV movies, projected ohto screens surrounding the area like a drive in movie. I hung out with these people for a bit, wandered the grounds of the area that surrounded the hotel, tried a little bit of Malaysian KFC featuring a soy style seasoning before giving up on my adventures for the night and heading to sleep. Just after destroying my cockroach friend from before.

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My hotel choice, while interesting, was probably not the complete Kuala Lumpur experience, so the next day, against the advice of an Australian engineer I met at the hotel I headed off to the airport to catch a train to town. At this stage I had also lost one of Debit cards (thankfully I have both a Visa and a Mastercard), so spent the first hour of the day trying to call Westpac at the airport to cancel that card. Turns out you can cancel these cards online, which I preceded to do using the Airport Wifi, and after storing my bags at the airport for a reasonable 60 MYR, I found my way to the city train-line and headed off towards KL Sentral. KL Sentral is the main train meeting up in Kuala Lumpur and from there I was to catch another train, of which the last stop was the Batu Caves. I knew not much about these Caves, except that they are a Hindu sacred place of some sort, and that they were commonly rated a top place to visit in KL on the usual lists. Seemed like a good enough mission for my one day in the Malaysian Metropolis.

It was easier and faster than expected to train out to the Batu Caves, and on the way I met a Canadian couple who had been traveling South East Asia and seemed to know more about what the caves were than me. I followed them off the last train stop and found the Caves to be right there. The rumour that Monkeys were roaming freely around the Batu caves area was true, to my delight, and the next two hours were taken up taken videos and photos of nearly every Monkey I saw. They were quite the characters, ruthlessly stealing tourists’ bags if in reaching distance, mostly looking for food however and uninterested in material possessions

Leading up to the caves were a steep set of steps and a giant gold Hindu statue. The Australian man’s claim from earlier that the steps would take half an hour to climb were also untrue, but were quite an impressive and spectacular experience. Inside the caves were sacred Hindu worshiping areas, that I mostly avoided, although earlier I had walked through a scared area wearing shoes – a Taboo. Not intentionally a disrespectful traveler, but it happens.

Before leaving the Caves I took time to visit a dark area, which are a conservation area stripped of the lights, monkeys and statues that inhabit the other caves. The donation given to enter these caves goes directly into supporting the conservation of these caves, and inside a tour guide took us through areas containing massive stalactites, spiders, rare a-sexual worms and the highlight for me – bats. Although the bats were fairly hard to see, one or two swooped by which was thrilling in of itself.

Now just past midday, tired but feeling accomplished in my tourist adventures, I ate a nice vegetarian curry from a restaurant just beside the caves and then headed back to town. I meet a new friend on the way, a man from Uruguay who had also just arrived in KL after traveling Asia for months. We shared stories and then departed, after exchanging Facebook details of course. I still had a few hours left before I had to check in for my next flight, so in one last tourist quest, took another train-line to KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Central perhaps?) in order to see a bit man made structure, the Petronas towers. They are indeed large towers but I couldn’t figure out how to get to the sky walk. Having experienced such things at the Skytower viewing point in Auckland I instead opted to pay 2 MYR to use a fancy toilet that came complete with a selection of perfumes. Smelling better I then wandered Kuala Lumpur streets for a little bit, taking a few more photos, shooting a few more music video shots in front of the towers (video to come) before finally deciding it was time to take my exhausted self back to the airport.

After a low amount of sleep the night before, and the adventures of that day in the fairly hot South East Asian climate, I was pretty much ready to crash by the time I had gotten to the airport. I struggled my way through check-in and a few more security checks, nearly had a breakdown as I couldn’t figure out where to buy a travel pillow amongst the huge amounts of Duty Free stores and then finally made my way to the gate where I collapsed in a fatigued but accomplished state. My first Asian experience was a good one, and just seeing new trees, animals, communities and types of food was a massive thrill. I’d chosen Kuala Lumpur on a whim, because it was a cheaper Asian stop-over than many, and because I’d once had a random dream about stopping over in a large unknown Asian country. It turned out worthwhile, if just as disorganized as I would expect. Next I will tell you of my four hour Dubai stop-over rampage (that took place a mere six hours after leaving KL) and of my introduction to London.

Hamish, shutting up for now.

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