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Malaysia, the fool's story

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

It's quiet, too quiet...our entry into Malaysia was disconcerting. There was something wrong, something missing...the trip from the airport was lacking in some way; the car was fine, the driver was nice, we had our bags but still there was something absent. We finally realised halfway to the hotel, no-one was beeping their horn. Nothing. Just people driving. After 3 months of constant noise in India the sudden calm had an unnerving effect , like the calm before the storm. Lucky for us we had booked 5 star, the Swish Gardens awaited us.

On our arrival the air conditioning hit us like a slap in the face from the angel of Fonzie, it was cool, ayyyyyee! Backpacking realigns the values: the beds were firm, the pillows were soft, the sheets were smooth...and clean; something we'd not had for months. It was expensive but it was worth it. We spent our 5 star week lounging, and we even saw a bit of the city, not much admitedly, we knew we were coming back, how many times we didn't know, but we knew we would return...

We had been planning to do some serious planning in Kuala Lumpur, the conditions were perfect. We had maps, we had books, we had a buffet breakfast, there was nothing on TV...the conditions were perfect. There was only one flaw in the plan, Delaney's. The staff were friendly and the bean-tastic snacks were plentiful, but we digress...and we did. After 2 days they knew our faces, after 3 they knew our order, after 5 they knew the songs we wanted the band to play. Luckily we had one more valid distraction, Thaipusam.

Thaipusam (yet another Hindu festival) is either a show of great devotion or a parade of masochism, depending on your point of view. For the faithful it involves piercing the back, face, cheeks (facial cheeks that is) tongue and anywhere else you fancy with some vicious, and to our unenlightened eyes, frankly unsanitory hooks and spikes and carrying pandals and urns filled with milk for the 13km from Kuala central and up the 272 steps to the shrines held within the Batu Caves. Our main reason for leaving India at the time we did was to see this and film it with our brand new spanky video camera, however, our stupidity prevailed and we hadn't charged the battery so it cut out after 5 minutes of dreary, uneventful footage moments before the gruesome spectacle unfolded. This thing is actually banned in India, not exactly the most health and safety conscious country on the planet, so how it's allowed in Malaysia is a mystery.

We decided that we had had enough of the five star life and the hotel agreed so after dragging us kicking and screaming from the buffet we headed South to the cleanest place on the planet, Singapore. Afetr a rigorous customs check to ensure that we had no illegal substances (like drugs, daggers and chewing gum) we breezed our way into the city, as did the monsoon rain. Seeking refuge from the torrential downpour we dived into the nearest bar (always our favourite kind of refuge) before diving out again when we saw the price of the beer. 2 hours later we had finally found a bar within our budget, a hawker centre (surpisingly bereft of birds of prey, but full of canny locals) so we settled down to enjoy our Tiger and watch the city boys splashing the cash at the more upmarket venues on the street opposite. Though concerned for our cash we did manage to prise our wallets open long enough (and wide enough) to catch some live Jazz @ Southbridge, a bar full of cool, black-clad beatniks clicking fingers and nodding to the music. We even managed to get a song played, dedicated to a 'lovely couple', as we couldn't see one behind us we figured they had made the all too common mistake and thought that we were a pair. We are considering getting some T-Shirts printed to avoid the confusion - we figure "I'm not with stupid" should do the trick.

After 3 enjoyable but costly rain and jazz filled days we headed back up to the peninsular to Melaka (if you speak Greek you may find that funny). Our hotel had a midnight curfew which we almost missed on our first night. After dashing through the streets we arrived with seconds to spare to be greeted by the amused looking owner, Mister Yen. When we explained that we had run back to avoid being locked out he laughed and promptly took us out around the town's seedier bars for an all night drinking, pool and karaoke session. Mr Yen is well known in the area and we were treated with the upmost respect, despite Will's singing and Becca's distinct lack of pool skills. Back at the hotel at 5am for a night cap we found out that this was partly due to the fact that he is a kung-fu master and he regaled us with stories of his training and various arse-kickings he had administered in his younger days. We managed to prise ourselves away some time after dawn broke and spent our first full day sleeping off the effects. When we finally rose, desperate for sustenance, we made our way to the mall for some traditional Malaysian Burger King. After filling our stomachs we headed back into the air conditioning inside and stumbled accross a promotional stand for massage chairs. As we relaxed into our 30 minute free pummelling session we smiled and lied to the staff about our intentions to buy, even checking import costs for the UK and New Zealand. To be honest we were actually seriously considering the possibility but the 8000 Ringit (about £1200) price tag snapped us out of it and we headed off to find a disguise to get another free trial.

A couple of days later it was time for the main attraction in Melaka (as far as we were concerned) Intrudu, a water throwing festival held every year, which involves alot of water...being thrown. We had checked on the Melaka tourist information site for times and they had insisted that last years festival (no mention of this year's) started at high (not dry) noon. We rocked up in swim gear, with a change clothes and everything wrapped in special waterproof bags to find a big, wet, empty square where the event was supposed to take place. After wandering around we were somewhat disappointed to learn that the festival does in fact start at 9am and finish at 12, a big round of applause to the tourist board there. In our experience this is a common problem in Malaysia, they have a big tourist industry but don't bother to tell anyone about it. There is infuriatingly little information in the country about what is going on, where it's going on and even if it's going on. But we did know about one thing which was definitely coming up, Chinese New Year - Gong Xi Fa Cai!!

Where better for Chinese New Year than the capital? Well, apparently nearly everywhere except the capital where people celebrate by closing all the businesses and going to their home provinces, namely Melaka. Foiled again! We did manage to catch a big street festival involving dragon and lion dances followed by speeches (in Bahasa Malayan) by the Prime Minister, the minister for culture and the head of the Chinese community in Malaysia - party time! All the time in the city had made us eager to get somewhere a bit more natural and we soon headed off to the oldest rainforest in the world, Taman Negara.

We decided on an early night on our first day there as we were eager to hit the jungle trail early the next morning. Instead of sleeping we had to spend the night cowering under multiple mosquito nets to avoid the barrage of outsized insect life intent on sharing our blankets. Undeterred we headed out into the forest the next day and after a couple of hours eager to explore and spot the wildlife which is so abundant, but not so apparent. Also not apparent were fellow travellers to make up the minimum numbers for the various tours and activities in the park. We're not sure but Taman Negara may translate as minimum 4 persons. We had to settle for some gruelling self guided treks up a couple of Bukits - that's hills to you folks back home. After reaching the top and resting for a few minutes to avoid the impending heart attacks we looked out from the lookout. You can see for miles from the top of the Bukit, miles and miles of trees, they're everywhere. If you like trees, you'll love Taman Negara - as long as there are at least 3 other people with you. We took the scenic route back to the bus. 60kms on a boat looking at yet more trees, and torrents of other travellers who'd obviously been in hiding or on the tours we had tried and failed to get on.

Now we're back in KL (for the fourth time!) but getting ready to leave for Thailand. Malaysia is nice, it's clean, it's safe, it has a rollercoaster inside a shopping centre and the 'best bar in Asia' amongst many other distractions making it a very easy place to waste time, and because of the high price of beer (especially after India!) a very easy place to waste money, but we're not wasters (stop laughing!) so now we are going to go do something more challenging, more adventurous, more dangerous, we're off to the beach!

permalink written by  BecnWill on February 17, 2008 from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
from the travel blog: The World By Knight
tagged Singapore, KualaLumpur, Melaka, Lion, TamanNegara, ChineseNewYear, Dragon and Thaipusam

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