09.03.2011 - 14.03.2011 30 °C
I took a train from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, first travelling over the causeway connecting the city state with Malaysia and the rest of mainland Asia. The train passed through some really rural communities on the way north to KL, the capital city.
I found Kuala Lumpur to be an ideal mixture of order and chaos. There is an LRT monorail/subway which, when you figure out how to use it, is a good way to get around.
Malaysia is a (fairly liberal) Muslim country and many of the buildings are Arab inspired, such as this one, outside the main post office.
Chinatown market. Loads of street food.
The old train station – very Islamic looking.
I visited the National Mosque – a very peaceful, thoughtful place built in a pleasing modern, geometric style.
As there is a dress code in mosques, they give visitors robes to borrow.
The iconic, 490m high Petronas Towers.
Reflections in the water feature outside the KLCC.
The Menara KL Tower has a viewing deck at 276m and an elevator takes you there in about 50 seconds. Views of the city from up here are second to none.
See the camel below…
…And from the ground.
My guesthouse in KL, Asrama Step Inn, was a friendly one. The staff were really helpful and I met some great people there. One of the owners went out fishing one day and cooked a whole group of us a free dinner. A lovely gesture, whilst the catfish (!) he cooked wasn’t tasty, the rest of the feast was excellent.
Yellow watermelon – never had that before. It’s like a regular one but sweeter and more flavoursome.
The terrace – a great place to sit and socialise. The range of interesting people one meets whilst backpacking is outstanding. On this very terrace I got to know an Australian couple who were on their way to Europe for the first time and wanted tips, a Ukrainian guy who fought in the Soviet Red Army, a French guy who lives in Indonesia working as a dive instructor, a Canadian girl who has been traveling her whole life (doing tattoos for people to fund it) and many more. It’s a great way of gaining insights into other cultures and lifestyles, which gives you a whole different outlook on your own lifestyle and broadens your thinking.
The Australian couple and I decided to make a daytrip to the Batu Caves, just north of KL. These natural limestone caves contain Hindu shrines and there is a massive gold Buddha outside – the largest one outside of India.
Hundreds of monkeys swarmed around the steps leading to the caves; they nest up in holes in the cliff walls and come down to scavenge food from stupid tourists. One such person thought a good way to make a monkey leave her alone would be to throw it a piece of banana. It clearly hadn’t occurred to her that now the monkey saw her as a source of food and intensified its pestering. Some people can be a bit thick. And no, throwing it a piece of banana skin was never going to work – that just pissed it off.
Outside the caves a traveling Yogi (Hindu holy man of very high religious status) was doing a ceremony surrounding a fire. He seemed to be burning offerings in the flames, and at one point practically lay in the fire. All of this was accompanied by almost hypnotic music and the three of us agreed afterwards that watching it sent us into a sort of trance. Whilst we didn’t really understand the spiritual meaning of the ritual, it certainly felt like something special.
After many goodbyes, I left KL and caught a night train to Butterworth, in north Malaysia. (A seat rather than a sleeper – not good.) From here I took the short ferry over to the island of Penang at about 6am. The sunrise painted the sky with many colours which were, in turn, reflected in the sea.
Georgetown, the capital of Penang, was a British settlement and has many examples of colonial architecture. One the other hand, nowadays the population is predominantly Chinese so there’s an interesting fusion of cultures.
There were a few things I had wanted to see and do on the island – the main one being the walk up to Penang Hill, from where one can see the whole island and across to the mainland clearly. However, I became aware of what I thought, at the time, could have been a potentially serious problem.
When I caught the train from Singapore to Malaysia, I was given an ‘exit’ passport stamp from Singapore, but no ‘entry’ stamp from Malaysia. I thought that this would be OK if I explained the situation. But, an old, miserable, crusty British guy took great satisfaction in telling me that, without my entry being officially logged, I was travelling as an “illegal alien” in Malaysia and would be detained when I tried to leave the country. Worried, I took a bus to the airport to speak to an immigration officer, but nobody there could help me out. So, I resigned myself to the fact that I may have had to some explaining to do at the Thai border, and possibly some ‘fines’ (bribes) to pay too.
However, after some trawling through travel forums on the internet, I learned that other people had faced the same situation as me, doing the same route, and that, on the border, it’s not a problem when you come to leave. It’s only by train from Singapore to Malaysia that you don’t get an entry stamp… Something to do with disputed territory over the railway track. I do think that the immigration people should tell you this, rather than just leave you to worry. I wasted a whole day trying to sort out a problem which didn’t exist.
So, that old bloke at my guesthouse was just trying to spook me – and succeeded. Thanks, jerk.
After all that bother, when a Chinese guy staying at my guesthouse asked me if I wanted to go out for a drink, you can guess my answer!