Back in Nepal, we were reading our emails when Andy suddenly yelped and jumped a mile. No, it’s not one of his quirks; he’d just read an email from his brother Paul, casually dropping into the conversation that he and his wife Kenya were going on holiday to Kuala Lumpur within the next few weeks. After a short bout of email tennis (not helped by the time difference), we worked out a schedule whereby we could meet up with them, albeit just for one night. Our original plan was to travel south through Thailand, and then go by boat to the islands at the north west coast of Malaysia; instead, we would fly to Kuala Lumpur (or KL as we now call it in true jetsetting style), then reverse our schedule. Totally doable, and totally worth it to see big bro Jones and Mrs McKenzie-Jones.
Even though we were going from one big city (Bangkok) to another, there was stil an innate sense of excitement that comes from going to a completely new place. I only knew one person who’d been, and she’d come back with glowing reports (well, one at the time – it since transpires that my lovely friend Doireann from my last backpacking expedition has been here). It was new territory for us, but one that I was very excited about getting to. Due to its long, complex history that I will now clumsily attempt to narrow down to just one sentence, Malaysia has three large ethnic communities – Chinese, India, and Malay – each contributing massive amounts to the culture, architecture, customs, and (yay, yay and thrice yay) the food. We navigated our way easily enough from the airport on the fast, clean, cool (as in cold, we weren’t down with da kidz) airport express train, and after only a slight amount of driving round back streets, managed to get our taxi driver to take us to Back Home Hostel, a new hostel in China Town getting rave reviews. We didn’t have time straight away to check it out, we just had time to dump our stuff in the dorm room (the one downside to KL is expensive rooms, so back to the dorm for us), me to grab my new *cough* authentic Hermes handbag – listen, you would have too, when you hear where Paul and Kenya were staying – and work our way via the multiple confusing mass transit systems in KL to the RitzCarlton. Yep, that’s the RITZCARLTON. And we were in a backpackers. As Kelvin, the manager of the hostel asked Andy, “So, your brother’s in the RitzCarlton… dude, what went wrong?”
Feeling massively out of place but not letting this stop us, we waltzed in, up to the desk, and asked if they could call the room of Paul Jones to let him know we were here. After some checking, “Um sorry, there is no Paul Jones staying here”. Oh, it’ll be booked in Kenya’s name then. Can you try Kenya McKenzie, or Kenya Jones, or Kenya McKenzie-Jones? “Nope, sorry, no one by that name either”. Just as we had visions of them holed up in another Ritz somewhere on the other side of the city, I fortunately had one last brainwave. Paul is actually his middle name – the name on his birth certificate and, presumably his passport, is John. “Yes, we have a John Jones”. We held our breath while they called him – thankfully it was the right one. We had a wonderfully happy and emotional reunion with them, and then they led us to the holy grail, the bar in their hotel, where the cocktails were cold and the air con was colder.
The night continued much in the same vein – after more cocktails at their hotel, we had the guided tour of their wonderful place – plush doesn’t even come close to it – and nicked all their lovely freebies before hopping in a taxi, and all four of us heading to the Sky Bar at Traders Hotel, a wonderful bar in itself, even before you throw in the top notch views of the famous KL Petronas Twin Towers.
We finished up in there a good few cocktails to the wind – Raspberry Mojitos! If that’s not a drink of the gods, I don’t know what is – and headed for food, before Paul realised he’d lost his phone, somewhere along the way. We started desperately calling it and texting it, all to no avail. Unsurprisingly, it put a dampner on the evening, and we made one final trip back to the bar to see if it was there, but unfortunately it wasn’t. To save you worrying, and to cut a long story short, I’ll tell you now that, luckily, it was handed back to him the next day. We couldn’t quite get the full story, as the people returning it didn’t speak very much English, but suffice to say it’s yet another example that there are more good people in the world than bad.
Unfortunately, all too soon, the time came for us to say goodbye to the McKenzie-Joneses, as they were at the end of their holiday. The goodbyes were just as sad as last time, but with the silver lining that comes from such a serendipitous meeting; that we were in the same city at all was a wonderful, unexpected bonus, and although goodbye is always sad, surely this shows us that you never, ever know when you might see someone again. Perhaps it will be much sooner than you anticipated.
So, all alone in the vast metropolis that is Kuala Lumpur, what to do? We’d seen that there was a hop-on, hop-off shuttle bus around the major tourist sights, and so many factors led us to this option; it is scorching hot in Malaysia right now, with humidity in the high 90%s (yet another good hair day chez moi), KL is massive, and it’s also a pedestrian nightmare, with highways running right through the middle and crazy traffic, and it would save on us getting taxis or buses or monorails or undergrounds (with a separate ticket required for each leg of the journey, it seems that KLs public transport planners have been in conference with Manchester but that’s another soap box for another day…).
Our first stop was the bird park, where we spent a couple of hot but happy hours wandering round and admiring the many beautiful birds in this free-flying aviary
before heading off on the next bus to Merdeka Square, symbolic in particular as this was the site where Malaysia’s independence was delcared in 1957, and the day we visited was shortly before Independence Day. Old Colonial buildings surround the square, including the Church of St Mary, looking for all the world like an English country village church, private clubs, and a central field, used by the Brits in their time as a cricket pitch. It’s a wonderful place to see the many facets of modern Malaysian life, all shoulder to shoulder around this significant square.
After all this tramping about in the heat, our feet were weary and throbbing, so we bit the bullet and tried something that Paul and Kenya had told us about… a fish spa. Yep, you read it right, a fish spa. Does what it says on the tin, folks. Basically, you put your feet into a tank of water and lots of small fish come and nibble the dead skin off your feet. Sounds strange? It was. Possibly the most bizarre thing I’ve ever done (and a quick read through some old blog entries should confirm I’ve done some pretty strange things). For a committed sharkophobe, even this was a freaky step too far, and there was a moment after I put my feet in and the first nibbles were taking place, I thought I wouldn’t be able to carry on. But strangely, you get used to it, and it becomes almost theraputic. And my feet at the end of it were soft as a baby’s bottom.
The next morning, bouncing out of bed with feet as soft as marshmallows (am I making my point strongly enough?) we were up bright and early, ready to join a queue. The Petronas Towers gives out a few thousand tickets each day to go up to the skybridge in between the two, and although these tickets were only valid for 10 minutes at the top, they were free, and the backpacker in me couldn’t let a chance like this slip away. Although we were dubious about the size of the queue, after being the only two people in the queue at the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu, we were still there by about 8.15am. And were we glad that we were – even by that time, the queue was massive, so long that we were starting to doubt we’d even get tickets. Fortunately, more people flooded in behind us, so not being the last in the queue somehow brings a small bit of comfort. You are given a fixed time for the tour, and an electronic display shows what time tickets were being distributed for, in order of first come, first served. Our bets were on 3pm, but we’d done better than we anticipated, as we were given tickets for 12 noon. We filled the time in between leaving the queue and the tour by enjoying the mega mall at the bottom of the towers (malls are something that Malaysia does better than anywhere I’ve ever been – more in the next entry), and, after a short propaganda film by Petronas, the owners of the towers, all about THE WONDER THAT IS PETROL, we were heading up in a lift so quick and so advanced my ears didn’t even have time to pop.
The views from the top were stunning, and it was FREE, but the 10 minutes at the top went by way too quickly, and there was only enough time to snap a few photos.
Still, it was something pretty memorable and special, and I’d still recommend it to anyone going to KL. Did I mention it was free?
Another attraction at the bottom of the towers is the KL Aquarium. Last time I went to an Aquarium it was in Sydney, and my Shark Phobia was in full swing, so I was interested to guage my reaction this time. I’d had hypnotherapy (no laughing at the back) just before I came away to cure me of this daft thing that has plagued me on my travels, limiting the things I’d allow myself to do. I genuinely felt no fear, even as we watched divers get into the pool and feed the sharks. It was looking promising, but would only be tested fully when I was at the sea.
My trio of fishy encounters was complete later that evening. Malaysia’s food is best sampled at hawker stalls, plastic tabled, plastic chaired stalls that were set up on every street, each with a different speciality, most serving the cheapest beer in town, all with a fantastic atmosphere, being equally populated by locals and tourists, slurping up the amazing food and soaking up the atmosphere. One street in particular in KL is known as food street, and it was here that we headed later that night. I was finally able to satisfy my seafood craving -nothing at all to do with visiting the aquarium, honest – by having some of the most delicious salt and pepper squid I’d ever had.
A good way to end an altogether fishy couple of days.
Tags: 1, Malaysia, Travel