No, that is not a care package for a poor starving Malaysian village.
Julie and I began the next leg of our adventure on a gluttonous junk food binge during the train ride to Malacca thanks to Mustafa Centre (and my bulletproof self restraint when it comes to my sugar and salt vices).
At least Julie threw some fruit and veg into the mix (sweetened dried mangos still count as fruit right? And fried salted seaweed still counts as greens too correct?)…
Anyhoo, we’d heard from various travellers that Malacca was a destination worth visiting to see some classic architecture (a mashup of Portuguese, Dutch, British, Chinese, and Malay), and we figured it would be a good experience to see our
first second UNESCO (cultural) World Heritage Site, so we decided to check it out.
We didn’t have any expectations for Malaysia nor did we have anything we knew in advance we wanted to see other than Kuala Lumpur, and we’d previously discussed train travel in continental Southeast Asia as a way to both see the countryside and to save money, so the master planner went to work and laid out an itinerary for us.
This included a brief stop at Johor Bahru Sentral train station just after we’d crossed the border from Singapore to hit up a Malaysian ATM and to pick up tickets for the main journey in the local currency (Malaysian Ringgits), thereby saving us 12$CAD each (rather than if we’d purchased them in Singapore for a premium).
Unfortunately, this quick stop almost made us miss the only remaining onward train that day…
The train we’d taken from Singapore over the border (which was really only a 10-15 minute journey) was late getting in, so even though we thought we would have enough time to hop off the train and run said errands, we actually ended up having to sprint around the station with our luggage, accepting pity from people in line for the ticket booth who noticed how frantically we were behaving and the panicked look on our faces and who graciously let us cut to the front to purchase tickets with some of the ringgits I’d managed to pull out of the fourth or fifth ATM we’d tried (the others didn’t work for some reason… thanks Maybank!).
We made it to the train with less than 2 minutes to spare.
A harrowing experience to be sure…
The train took us through some of the rougher parts of the country
and gave us ample views of the rainforest clearcutting that is prevalent in Malaysia, the world’s second largest palm oil producer.
Five hours later, we encountered another harrowing experience when we found out that we would have to shell out almost 25$CAD (more than the cost of the train ride!) for a 40+ kilometre taxi to take us from the train station to our hostel.
To clarify, the train we were on didn’t actually go to Malacca City, and instead dumped us at the closest station which was actually in the middle of nowhere (Tampin).
To be fair, we knew about this in advance, but it was still a bit of a downer because we’d read that there was a public bus that serviced (close to) the train station which could have brought us the rest of the way into Malacca City proper for significantly less (4.3$MYR).
However, when we arrived (shortly after 7pm), we were told by the staff at the ticket counter (and another passenger too) that there were no more busses running and our only option was a taxi.
In hindsight, we might have been scammed, but I guess we didn’t do enough research about the bus in advance, and after a 5 hour train ride weren’t really in the mood to start exploring the boonies in the dark with our luggage on the first day in this new country (before I’d had a chance to learn even one word).
The taxi driver ended up being quite friendly, and spoke very good english, so we actually got a bit of information about the locale as we drove through it (he didn’t mind the questions, and volunteered some factoids tour-guide style a few times), and instead of dropping us at Melaka Sentral station (which would have been 50 or 60$MYR), took us right to Troka Prewar Residences where Julie had booked us a couple nights in an 8 bed dorm for 15$MYR pp/night.
After checking in, we grabbed dinner at a noodle soup place conveniently located right across the street for 17.60$MYR (~ 6$CAD total for two people, including drinks) and hit the very hot and muggy hay (no AC, and only 1 fan in an 8 bed dorm was quite painful, and neither of us got very much sleep that night).
We spent the next two days exploring Malacca on foot, finding out that there really wasn’t much going on other than some old buildings and a wasted waterfront.
We took a ton of pictures, and ate some cheap food, but by the time we checked out of our hostel on March 7th, we were ready to move on to Kuala Lumpur.
Instead of taking a taxi to the main bus station (Melaka Sentral), we looked up how to get there on the public bus which conveniently ran on the main street near our hostel, and for 1$MYR each (cash paid to the driver, for which we received an actual ticket as opposed to the money just going into his pocket), we had a nice modern air conditioned 16 minute ride to the terminal.
Julie had done her research beforehand (big surprise 😉 ), so it wasn’t long before we chose one of the multitude of bus companies offering ‘VIP express’ service to Kuala Lumpur (henceforth KL) and for 12.20$MYR (just over 4$CAD) each were on the next bus to the Garden City of Lights 150km to the northwest.
The bus was comfortable enough, with surprisingly generous legroom for a service catering, by the look of the passengers, mostly to the local populace,
(but we did spot a cockroach crawling around on the floor even though they seemed pretty strict about a ‘no food no drink’ policy on board), and before we knew it we were arriving at Terminal Bersepadu Selatan at Bandar Tasik Selatan station on the outskirts of KL
where we transferred to the Sri Petaling (Yellow) Line of RapidKL to take us the rest of the way to Pudu Sentral (within walking distance of the hostel Julie had found for us) for 1.70$MYR (~0.60$CAD) each.
A side note about mass transit in KL: it is not integrated, meaning that there are a number of private companies offering services alongside their public counterparts, and although this definitely encourages competition (in turn ensuring that fares are quite reasonable), quality of service is definitely not consistent from line to line, and the whole network is quite confusing for an outsider/first time rider to navigate.
You are lucky if your source and destination points happen to be on the same line, otherwise you can only reach the latter by transferring at one of a handful of interchange stations (each of which might have 3 or 4 separate companies operating therefrom) and paying a new fare.
As we walked to our hostel, we observed how grimy the city was, which was consistent with the conditions in the rest of Malaysia thus far.
By leaps and bounds it was the dirtiest country we’d been to yet, eclipsing Bali and Lombok Indonesia, and making Singapore look like the unadulterated conurbation we’d imagined it would be prior to visiting (and I won’t even bother comparing it to the likes of Australia or New Zealand, which by some secret method manage to stay miraculously clean).
We checked into the 24 bed dorm at Fernloft KL
grabbed dinner in adjacent chinatown
and after not sleeping much in the cauldron that was our previous couple nights’ abode, decided to stay in and luxuriate in the almost-too-cold AC for the rest of the evening.
I stupidly stayed up until 5am so I could finish my Kuta, Bali journal entry (if you haven’t read it yet, what the H are you waiting for!? The fruits of my labour should not be squandered!), and after a couple hours of sleep woke up feeling like @$$ in a bucket.
This late night would prove to be my undoing, and I proceeded to get seriously sick for the first time since leaving the
motherland fatherland homeland (does anyone know if Canada should be referred to as the motherland or fatherland? I tried doing some intense research which came up a bit short…), and although I was able to muster up enough energy for some light activities over the next few days
I was definitely in need of some serious R&R (further evidence that we were in reality not on vacation, but rather doing vacation’s Spartan second spouse: travelling [and alliterating concurrently]).
After spending March 8th more or less completely out of commission, on the 9th we explored on foot, heading in the direction of the city’s 5th most popular attraction (according to LP, so take that with a grain of salt or six), which was actually at the top of my list.
The Petronas Twin Towers definitely didn’t disappoint, and after an uplifting visit, we headed to the KL Tower (Menara KL is actually #2 on the LP list!) for sunset and to take in the night views of the city skyline from the observation deck (47$MYR each).
It was pretty impressive to see the Petronas Towers from 276m up, but unfortunately the glare on the glass from the inside and very well lit giftshop(s) made it somewhat difficult to see properly, and to make matters worse, the evening rainstorm was rolling in just when we ascended.
I tried taking some photos, but the glare, combined with the rain and my lack of tripod (stupid travelling light 😉 ) ensured that they didn’t turn out all that well.
We were able to use the free pole mounted binoculars though, and could quite clearly see a party going on inside one of the upper units of the Petronas Towers, and when the rain let up, we descended and walked back to the Petronas Towers for a closeup night view that was more impressive than it was during the day.
This is where we were, snapping off pics out front, when I was approached by a nice looking (read: super shady) local gent offering to sell me a nice looking iPhone 5 for 1200$MYR.
I politely said no, but he started coming down in price until he was ready to let it go for 550$MYR (185$CAD) which actually piqued my interest thanks to the fact that my own phone was currently doing it’s best brick impression and I wanted a replacement.
There was some back and forth as I ‘kicked the tires’ to determine the origin and quality of the device.
No, it isn’t fake I was assured, and it came with a box and the cords, but the serial number was suspiciously absent from the sim tray and the rear of the phone…
My brother (or whatever) works at the factory and he stole it before the serial numbers were put on it was the answer to that inquiry.
The physical device and the OS both seemed reasonably true to form Apple (although I’d never owned an iPhone 5, I’d handled them before and was a long time iPhone 3GS and shorter-time iPhone 4S owner), and the settings did indicate that the device did have an IMEI and a serial number, but without access to a computer I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do anything with it and get it working for me.
Also, the phone already had a ‘used feel’ to it, and a protective cover on the back, so my final assumption was that some poor sap in the adjacent mall had been recently relieved of it, and that the box and cords were knockoffs used to lubricate the resale process (I didn’t actually look too clearly at those items, just at the phone).
After some serious consideration, I decided against handing over 500$MYR+ in the hopes that I was avoiding buying a knockoff (albeit a very good one) or signing myself up for a good ol’ nighttime mugging shortly after the transaction (I really wasn’t sure how the local phone selling scams were being run and wanted to do some research before handing over that many bones [or kidneys for that matter 😉 ]).
I told the guy I was going to get cash from the ATM inside the mall to buy the phone, but went out a different entrance and headed away from the sticky situation (conflict resolution skills at work!).
It wasn’t really that late yet, so we walked over the river to the Muslim night market, which was supposedly now in full swing, but which we found to be pretty lousy compared to chinatown (although there were many many cats…).
See if you can count ’em all:
We’d planned on eating there and exploring the area a bit, but after walking around a couple of the supposed ‘main’ streets of the market, started to feel unsafe and not really all that interested in what was up for offer.
Even though we hadn’t eaten since 3pm that day, we decided to make our tummies wait a bit longer for dinner, and took the LRT back to our neighbourhood,
anticipating the more familiar and appealing sights, sounds, smells and tastes of KLs delightful chinatown, only to find that the station was full of homeless people sleeping
and that chinatown was more or less shuttered (it being past 11pm now, we didn’t realize they start closing down everything around 10/10:30pm nightly) dictating that we would hence have to subsist on snacks from our not-yet-fully-depleted junkfood stash.
Subsequent google research on the phone thing revealed no particular info on any specific scams other than a mention or two observing that there is usually ‘a guy’ out front of the Petronas Towers selling stolen iPhones, so I probably wasn’t in for the mugging, but regardless, I still didn’t have a great gut feeling about the whole thing and whenever I ignore my gut, things generally go belly up (pun intended) pretty quick.
I still wasn’t feeling all that great the following day, and it would appear that we’d come to KL during some sort of rainy season, so we stayed in and dry while one of the more impressive thunderstorms we’d witnessed proceeded to thrash the grimy city.
My theory is that since the bug-and-virus-freezing benefits of winter are a non-possiblity in this portion of carved out jungle, there needs to be a daily (or at least 3-4 times weekly) deluge in order for mother nature to keep any semblance of cleanliness in this particular room of her house, and she didn’t disappoint.
This gave us time to research the possibility of a trip inland to check out some less ravaged jungle in the form of a visit to the 130 million year old Taman Negara rainforest, which we decided was a good alternative to an also-discussed trip to Sabah which was (is?) currently in the middle of a civil war of sorts.
After settling on an itinerary and when it stopped raining, we grabbed some dinner and dragonfruit from chinatown
On the 11th, we boarded the KTM toward Batu Caves station for the round-trip and almost negligible sum of 2$MYR each were dropped off right in front of this extremely impressive natural wonder that has been a pilgrimage destination for millions of hindus for many years.
There was actually some confusion when we bought the KTM tickets, because the fare machines were old PsOS (def. #1) and would only allow us to buy tickets to ‘Sentul’ station, and even though the clerk at the ticket office said it would be ok, there was even further confusion when we got off the train and were told by another clerk that we would have to pay an additional 1$MYR each because our tickets were only valid for the trip to Sentul… Very confusing, but after some light arguing were let past and told to buy another ticket on the way back.
The surrounding area has been developed into a number of different temples and tourist trappy activities, but the main attraction is the 272 step climb up the side of a cliff into a giant cave that has been used as a temple, all the while staving off wild (well, just hungry and/or thirsty) monkeys.
It was truly impressive, and if it weren’t for yet another incredible display of lightning and thunder heralding the arrival of the next downpour, we’d have stayed a bit longer to marvel at the cave rather than get back on the train and travel back to the city proper.
KL offered a couple of free bus lines that operate on a set route around certain parts of the city, and we decided to take advantage of the GOKL Purple line
to get us to Bukit Bintang (Bintang Mountain!) which I was hoping meant the Indonesian beer, but which turned out to just be a massive shopping area complete with brand new luxury malls (Pavillion, which had the best food court we’d ever seen, and where we found the best donuts in the universe),
shady and rundown old plazas (Bintang Plaza, where it was impossible to use any of the too-few and disgusting toilets because they were all being used as convenient spots for a smoke break by anyone who didn’t want to bother taking the 11 extra steps to get them outside), another geektronics-only mall (similar to the Funan Digilife centre in Singapore), and of course a strip of massage parlours and hooker hangouts.
We spent some time exploring, and after being solicited to buy more iPhones (the majority of which were obvious fakes) and of course to come for a massage, we unsuccessfully attempted to take the free bus home from the immediate area and ended up walking the entire way back to our hostel in the dark.
I was still not 100% though, so after extending our hostel reservation another day, on 12th we booked flight to Phuket for March 18th, and then went for another walk, this time to Thean Hou Temple.
After I got us lost a couple times,
we did make it there safely, and just in time to avoid getting caught out in the open for, you guessed it: another torrential flood from the skies.
Julie and I both got our fortunes from the temple (mine was better then hers, but don’t bring it up, because she really didn’t like her fortune 😉 ) and sat at on a bench enjoying its beauty and the stunning vista from the terrace overlooking the city in the distance (when it wasn’t too covered by sheets of rain).
When it finally stopped raining, we took photo evidence of every angle of the temple and surrounding area
and walked back down the hill, but instead of walking the rest of the way (we were still pretty beat from the trek there), we decided to wait at the nearest bus stop to see if we could figure out how to get home the way the locals do.
We asked one of the people waiting which bus went to our desired station (in far fewer words, with more hand waving and pointing at a map and in the direction we wanted to go), and after figuring out we were in the right place, just had to wait for the right time and right bus, which when it came needed to be flagged down and which accepted cash only paid directly to the driver as a fare (yay corruption!).
The ride was quite reasonable, and in no time were back in chinatown looking for dinner at our favourite street seafood haunt before making use of the other GOKL line (the Green line)
to get us back to the Petronas towers (KLCC) for our last night view of their stunning beauty.
We spend March 13th doing research about the best way to do a trip to the Taman Negara rainforest, and after deciding to avoid doing a pre-packaged tour, went in search of a one way ticket to get us there along the scenic route.
The best and cheapest one we found turned out to be offered by a tour company Han Travel, so we picked that up from their office which was a few blocks from our hostel and went back to pack up our main bag which we were going to leave in the storage locker while we were away.
We then filled up on nutritious (I think) herbal drinks in chinatown
and spent the rest of the day exploring the area around the National Museum and botanical gardens (what a pain in the arse to get to! you have to play in traffic to get there and apparently that’s normal!).
We checked out at 8am the next morning and walked the 5 minutes back to the Han Travel office
(at 5 Elements hotel, which, taking a play from Singapore’s book, doesn’t allow durians either)
to board the bus which was supposed to depart at 8:30, but which didn’t end up leaving until almost 9:30 due to some apparent shenanigans with the bus driver and also a group of disheveled latecomers who’d obviously partied too hard the night before and decided it was ok to inconvenience an entire bus full of paying travellers by not only showing up an hour late, but then by being rude and obnoxious the entire journey (don’t do coke kids, it makes you act a douche).
Otherwise, the ride was relatively uneventful, the views consisting mostly of palm tree plantations that were previously rainforest,
but which have now been clearcut to make way for the palm oil industry… it was very very sad to see such huge swathes of land raped and pillaged in this manner (even the more established plantations were far from beautiful)
Oh, and innumerable mosques were evident all along the way.
Once we reached a town close to the national park, we had a quick bite at the Han Travel office at that end
paid our 1$MYR each entry permit (and a 5$MYR camera permit) at the office
and transferred to a longboat for a 3 hour ride upriver into the wilderness towards Kuala Tahan, the small town serving the main entrance to the park.
Now on our own (no tour for us seasoned travellers!), we scoured the town for a guesthouse, and after looking at a couple extremely unsatisfactory places
stumbled upon Yellow House which would be our home for the next 3 nights, and which was managed by the energetic and immensely helpful Halim.
We spent the next 3 days exploring the town, taking note of the sizable insect population
snapping off creeper pics of the local school kids (at my mother’s request),
and hiking in the rainforest, finally getting in touch with nature a bit for the first time since New Zealand and Australia.
It was truly a rewarding experience, and if we had more time and money, we’d have stayed for an ‘inner jungle trek’ which would require hiring a guide and spending a few nights in the rainforest exploring the regions further removed from society (where running into tigers and jaguars and other less friendly animals and reptiles was a distinct possibility).
Next time perhaps 🙂
Julie had done a bunch of research on how to get back to KL on our own, and with the reassurance of Halim that it was doable, we set out at the break of dawn on the 17th to wait for the public bus that would transfer us to Jerantut for a pittance, and where we could catch a regional bus back to KL for a fraction of what we’d paid to go the other direction.
We ran into a couple Malay girls we’d met in the jungle doing the same trip, so we had some nice conversation on the trip back
and before we knew it we were back at Fernloft for our last night in KL before our flight north the next day.
Only to find that they were fully booked!
We retrieved our luggage from the lockers and stealthily bogarted their wifi to lookup and quickly book another hostel around the corner, which turned out to be much nicer for only a couple extra ringgits.
The next afternoon we caught the Skybus to the budget carrier at the KL international airport,
and before we knew it we were in the skies and on the way to my most highly anticipated destination: