This trip will be a little different as I have taken my 12-year-old grandson, Marco, with me to Malaysia for three weeks.
As usual, getting to SE Asia required some very long flights—we arrived in the Kuala Lampur airport on Saturday, June 20th. After getting our visas, and stopping at the ATM to get some ringgits, we boarded the express train to KL Sentral station from which we took a taxi to our 5-star Sheraton Imperial Hotel. This is a rare treat for me—courtesy of daughter, Claire, who earned points from business travel and made a gift of them to us for this purpose. (I think that there was also some comfort for Marco’s parents to think that we were in a ‘safe’ neighborhood and ‘safe’ hotel in the big city!)
After sleeping the clock around, on Sunday we took a rapid transit (LRT)to Chinatown. After getting quite lost we found our way and had lunch there. KL is not an easily walkable city but has many interesting mosques, art deco government buildings and many modern skyscrapers, the tallest of which are the twin Petronas towers, now the third-tallest in the world, which we could view from our 29th storey hotel window. There are also three (poorly connected) rapid transit systems with which we have become quite familiar as we spent five days in the city.
One excursion was to the Sunway Lagoon Water Park and Amusement Park, where Marco took many exciting water-slidy rides. I even managed one very high one in which the biggest challenge was climbing out of the inflatable raft-thing at the end! We also spent time in a big wave pool and other pools and rides. This was followed by the amusement park rides where Marco and I went on a quite creaky rollercoaster which ended overlooking a pair of real Bengal tigers in a large penned area!
When we went to the Petronas Towers, we waited in line for over an hour for a ticket to go up to the bridge between the two towers which is on the 41st floor, barely a third of the way up, but as high as a tourist can go.
Later, we visited an interactive science museum where Marco and I took a simulated helicopter ride to a Petronas oil rig (there was lots of Petronas Oil Company propaganda) which was followed by lunch in a food court (they are everywhere) and then a dinosaur display.The day’s highlight was a wonderful aquarium that had a tunnel which we walked through surrounded by lovely exotic and huge fish.
Kuala Lampur is a much more modern city than I anticipated. The cars are new, often powered by natural gas, and I haven’t even seen a tuk tuk, although I think they will be used in the smaller places. What a contrast with Dhaka, Bangladesh, my last trip. The weather is hot and humid with occasional showers which have occured either early or late so they haven’t interfered with our activities. While there are significant Chinese and Indian populations, the big majority is Malay. Many signs are in both Malay and English, at least in the tourist areas.
This is a Muslim country although quite secular. Many of the women wear headscarves and long coats/dresses but I haven’t seen any birkas, although a few faces are covered with just slits for the eyes. I have often been asked, “Is he your son?”
I answer, “My grandson.”
“Where’s your husband?”
“I don’t have a husband.”
“Then where’s your son?”
“He’s at home working.”
“Didn’t he come here with you?”
“No, my grandson and I are alone.” Looks of surprise.
Good luck followed us to the Batu Caves when we were able to board a rapid transit and then find the right bus without any delay. There are three large caves that have become a Hindu shrine with several temples and many brightly colored life-sized statues of various deities. We ascended 272 steps to get to the highest one, behind a hundred-foot high tall gold statue. In one cave there was a long array of caged Malaysian snakes and turtles. The whole thing was capped off with a peppy Indian dance presentation. More good luck, our #11 bus stood waiting for the 45 minute return trip to Chinatown. There we had a great lunch at the Old China Cafe–an old-time funky, traditional Chinese restaurant. In Chinatown Marco bought some souvenirs and I helped out with the bargaining!
Leaving KL, we took the LRT and then a bus to Kuala Selangor to see the fireflies. Fireflies? Yes, after dark you get a taxi, then go on a boat up a small river and there they are! The bushes alongside the river are completely loaded with flashing fireflies. Since the males synchronize their flashes every second and the females every three seconds, they really do look like blinking Christmas tree lights! We had met a Netherlands couple earlier in a restaurant and there they were—they invited us to share their boat (each holds four people) so we had a nice time with them. The Lonely Planet had said the fireflies were six cm long (2 1/2 inches) but that apparently was a misprint as they were tiny, like normal fireflies. In Malay they are called kelip, kelip.
In Kuala Selangor we stayed at the Taman Alam Selangor Nature Park in a rustic chalet. Here we used our mosquito nets. I tried out the 3M product of a hook that you can affix to the wall and remove without trouble—it worked perfectly. The problem with mosquito nets is often a lack of hooks to hang them on.
The next day was a long travel day but 12-year-old Marco is an awfully good sport. First we waited for an hour for our KL bus that didn’t come. Then we grabbed one going to another destination, which took us to the ‘new’ bus station where we got another bus to Klang. Here we got our third bus to the Puderaya bus station in KL. After brunch and a pit stop, we grabbed a bus going to Penang, an island up the western coast. After five hours of travel our bus stopped, joining many other buses and we were transferred to yet another bus. Apparently they divide up all the passengers at this point as to their final destination because there are several in close proximity.
When the driver asked me where we were going and I told him, he offered to taxi us from the destination bus depot to another depot where we could get our bus to Batu Ferringhi, a beach area on the island of Penang. So after all other passengers got out, there we were, alone in this great big red bus being taxied around this very crowded city—I gather a little scam for the bus driver. In fact at the end he attempted to collect 10 ringgit from EACH of us, but I declined to give him more than the agreed upon 10.
After deboarding the bus and asking around, we got our local bus for the hour’s drive to Batu Ferringhi, the backpackers beach area. But wait, there’s more! When we arrived we asked around but couldn’t find our niche of backpacker guesthouses. A bicycle rickshaw to the rescue—so we arrived at our guesthouse in it, the last of seven ‘buses’ that got us here.
It was just getting dark as we registered at Ali’s Guesthouse, then crossed the street to a bistro right on the sandy beach. That Tiger beer (in a colorfully decorated bottle) tasted good as did our very nice dinners.
It IS a small world. Yesterday morning I was listening to Tom Friedman’s book, “The World Is Flat,” on my iPod. He described how he researched exactly where all the components for his new Dell notebook computer came from. They were from many countries but it was assembled in Penang (where we are now!) and shipped to Nashville, Tennesee on a 747. I read it the very day we were going to Penang!
This morning we were called to prayer at 5:15 AM (!) but Marco slept on—we were both pretty tired.
Carol and Marco