Ahhh…sweet Malaysia. I have spent the last week or so in beautiful Malaysia and have really enjoyed this gracious country. Not only are the people warm and friendly, but the cities are modern and full of sights. The Malay people have a lot to be proud of and it was so much more than I expected!
After a nice historical journey of Penang, arriving in Kuala Lampur (or “KL” as the locals call it) was a total change. We were staying in a hotel smack in the middle of China Town. I literally mean in the middle – you had to walk through a booth selling “Designer” handbags in order to get to the entrance. We were told it was a night market, but had recently started popping up earlier and earlier!
It was about 1:00 when we arrived after one of the nicest bus rides I have ever taken in my life! Seriously – when you consider taking a local bus in Malaysia, hop on! The seats were like recliners and the coach glided along smoothly on the well-maintained roads. I would prefer to spend hours on a bus like that than fly most places. After some of the buses I have taken in my journey, this was a nice change.
I was excited to start exploring so after a quick lunch we hopped on board a metro train to go see the Petronas Towers lit up in the night sky. We were not dissappointed my the view! What you may not know is that the base of the Malaysian twin towers are set firmly in a shopping mall. The mall is full of high end designer stores. The real stuff – not the China Town versions. We walked around the area to get some good shots of the beautiful towers as locals came jogging past us on the jogging track in the adjacent park area. I was really starting to like this city. The people were courteous and the city seemed modern and clean. We left the downtown area to return to China town to celebrate Anna’s birthday with a meal of chinese food and a local cake. I had big plans for the next day, so I heded off to bed after that.
The next morning began with a guided tour of the more prominent sites. It was pouring rain so our guide, Stevie, customized it for us so we would have the least opportunity to get soaked. Our first stop was KL’s National Mosque. In order to visit the mosque you were expected to cover up in traditional Malaysian style. So we were fitted with bright purple gowns and a head piece that covered everything but our faces. The head cover they gave me was comically small, but we still enjoyed seeing the beautiful Islamic architecture.
Still avoiding the torrential downpour we went over to Malaysia largest pewter factory, the Royal Selancor. The tour started with a large beer tankard out in front of the building. A good start in my opinion! I walked around to get a closer look at the tankard and discovered that it is a Guinness Book of World Record winner for the worlds largest tankard! Cheers! So why is pewter significant? Pewter is what brought many immigrants to KL and was a major industry here for hundreds of years. We went through a small museum showing some of the historical uses for pewter and then went to a work area where they showed us how the pewter is shaped and polished. We had an opportunity to try it ourselves. I had no idea how much work went into making a simple tankard!
As we went into the main factory area it was hard not to notice that the place was completely deserted. Turned out that we were in Malaysia on a historical day – the 11th King was being installed that day and it was a national holiday.
Royal Selancor is known for providing many famous trophies for major events – especially Formula 1 racing. We walked through a row of trophies that had been provided by this Malaysian company over the years. I spent a few minutes in the gift shop looking at the beautiful craftsmanship and designs and then we loaded back on the bus.
The rain had let up a bit, which I was thankful for, because our next stop required some outdoor time. We were heading to the famous Batu Cave Hindu temple. There were a long series of steps leading up to a cavern housing a temple. The steps and the views were the highlights for me. I have seen my fair share of Hindu temples having just come from India. Going up the stairs it was really fun to watch the monkeys stealing stuff from tourists and playing around.
The day went from rainy to hot and humid so we stopped for a cold drink and then proceeded over to our next stop, the National Monument. It was completed in 1966 to commemorate the soldiers that died to protect the sovereignty of Malaysia. The monument embodying seven bronze statues is meant to represent “the triumph of the forces of democracy over the forces of evil.”
Stevie, our tour guide, earned his moniker of “Stevie the Wonder Host” by offering to take us over to the botanical gardens after our tours ended. That was perfect for me since thats what I had planned on doing anyway. The KL Botanical Gardens are a large green area not far from the city center that houses a large bird park, a deer park, and several gardens dedicated to butterflies and orchids. It is a huge complex and we couldn’t hope to see it all in one afternoon, so we decided to focus on the most highly recommended part – the bird park.
This part was not like the bird part of a local zoo, it was set up into zones and most of the birds (large predatory birds excepted) we allowed to fly freely about. There were lots of tropical birds chirping and we got a chance to see a few talking parrots during a short bird show. It was now really hot and humid, so we went back to the hotel and relaxed before dinner.
Our full day started early the next day. We got up at 6:45 and started our walk over to the Petronas Towers to buy our tickets to go up. They begin selling them at 8:30 and only sell a few hundred a day, so we had to get there early. Unfortunately, a taxi driver sent us about 20 minutes in the wrong direction so when we arrived there was already a significant line. Our biggest concern was that we needed to be back at the hotel at 1:30 to depart for Melaka. Luckily, one of our fellow tour friends was in line already, having taken the metro train there. She was kind enough to buy me a ticket and when she came out with the tickets they were for 12:00. Wow – thats going to be tight! So we went back to the hotel, showered , and checked out. We were waiting to go up right at 12:00 and a little nervous about making it to the hotel in time we boarded the elevator to the skybridge.
Wow – what a view! After 15 minutes of staring out the windows, we returned to the elevators to go to the top level. One we were at the top we were greeted by the adjacent tower and the huge cityscape behind it. I walked away feeling good about the high ticket price and we hurriedly grab a taxi back to the hotel.
The rest of the day was spent on a nice bus to Melaka. Melaka is a very charming port town that has become a popular tourist hub for the sights and shopping. We started our stay there with a walk from China Town where our hotel was located to the river side area filled with UNESCO preserved historical buildings and riverside restaurants. This town is so charming!! We walked past several museums, churches, and Dutch cemetaries.
We stopped by a Chinese buddhist temple and snapped a few pictures before continuing on throughout the city. After an hour or so of riding we arrived back at our hotel and Jess, my new friend from Australia, and I decided that we wanted to take a Segway tour of the city.
We had seen the Segways the night before and later found out that it was US sponsored program to promote tourism. We first received a lesson on riding, then we followed the tour guide throughout the small historical area. After our tour he took us to the adjacent Segway Race Track where we took a lap before hopping off the Segways. Those things are fun!! I want one!!
We walked around the city for a few hours and then made a stop at a revolving tower that resemples the Seattle Space Needle. We took a short ride to the top and it spun around a couple times to give us 360 degree views of the small port town. After going down we met up with the rest of our group for a river cruise. The river cruise gave us a unique perspective on the town. It was lined by historical buildings covered with beautiful murals showing life in Malaysia and addressing some cultural issues like energy usage and pollution.
On our way back to the docks we saw a HUGE Monitor Lizard clinging to a branch at the side of the river. Sometimes it’s easy to forget about the animals that are out there…it was a good reminder! I found out that these large lizards are also eaten in Malaysia because they are thought to be an aphrodisiac. I personally prefer chocolate…
After dinner we took a jaunt down “Jonker Street” which a major night market area. The end of the street is closed to vehicles and a large dragon greets you before you cruise down rows and rows of vendors selling everything from wind up roosters to hand painted high heels. It was a nice way to finish off a pleasant stay in this cute town.
The next morning we took a bus to Singapore that took up most of the day. When we arrived it was a rainy afternoon but you could see how clean and pretty the city was despite the cloudy sky. It is times like this that I was sad to be on a formal tour because I would have loved to spend additional time in Singapore. As it stood I only had a few hours that afternoon and then I had to get up early to catch a flight to Jakarta.
We took a rainy walk through part of the city to see the Merlion, the icon of Singapore, and the huge Marina Bay Sands shopping and casino complex. We passed a great looking art museum and the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel where the original Singapore Sling was invented – and is now sold for $26 – ouch!
The next morning I boarded a plane and arrived in Jakarta, Indonesia. Jakarta was a shock after being in clean and orderly Singapore. It reminded me a little of being back in Vietnam. Horns blaring, motorbikes dodging through traffic, and stores and houses built out of found objects lining the streets. I got checked into the hotel and met up with a few of the people from the past two weeks and got some new travel companions as well. We had a quick dinner of Indonesian food and called it a night.
Since we haven’t had a dose of wikipedia in a while, let me tell you about Indonesia for a minute! Indonesia is an archipelago comprising approximately 17,508 islands. It has 33 provinces with over 238 million people, and is the world’s fourth most populous country. Across its many islands, Indonesia consists of distinct ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups. The Javanese are the largest—and the politically dominant—ethnic group. Indonesia has developed a shared identity defined by a national language, ethnic diversity, religious pluralism within a majority Muslim population, and a history of colonialism and rebellion against it. Despite its large population and densely populated regions, Indonesia has vast areas of wilderness that support the world’s second highest level of biodiversity. The country is richly endowed with natural resources, yet poverty remains widespread.
The next morning we boarded a (day!) train to Bandung. Bandung was an overnight stopover point for our trip to Panandarang. The ground we covered from Jakarta to Bandung was lush green jungle interspersed with vast rice paddies and deep rivines. It was incredibly beautiful and a good reminder of this islands volcanic history.
When I was told Bandung was a stopover point, I was envisioning a small town, but I was very wrong. Bandung is the second largest metropolitan area in Malaysia with over 7.5 million residents. We took a short walking tour of the bustling city to see some of the prominent landmarks and, of course, a coffee roasting and retail shop. Java in Java!! The smell was amazing!
Our next stop was to a placed called Saung Angklung Udjo. It was one–stop cultural workshop, consists of : performance venue where were able to see the traditional instruments in use, bamboo handicraft centre, and bamboo instrument workshop. We browsed the grounds where they were making the traditional Angklungs and then watched a performance featuring all of the angklung students. It was a lot of fun and the last part of the show featured the audience learning how to play a few basics on the instrument.
The walking tour was followed by a very un-culturally rich trip to a shopping mall complete with Pizza Hut, KFC, and Wendys in the food court. After finding the one indonesian restaurant in the mall and grabbing dinner we headed home to rest up for our long road trip to the beach city of Pangandaran.
We just arrived an hour or so ago into Pangandaran and I will share more about Indonesia in a few days after I have had a chance to explore.
Till next time!