Saturday, 4 April 2015

Welcome to Malaysia

We wake at 8 and are in the dining room by 9. Breakfast is very extensive, everything from pastries to curry and everything in between. Simon and Alex opt for curry while I decide to try some of the less familiar dishes. Chicken porridge is a hit, but salmon bread pudding is rather insipid. Alex says they’ve looked at British dishes and thought “I know what this needs – protein”; both the boys think I’m crazy for even trying them.

We set off around 10am for the Batu Caves, travelling by monorail and train. There is a ladies only waiting area on the platform and ladies’ carriages on the train. Batu caves are right next to the station and we start at the lower temple where there is some sort of ceremony. A band plays while monks place a garland around the neck of a boy who looks to be around 12. It can’t be a birthday, because a sign on the adjacent office says celebrating those is prohibited.
Stopping briefly to buy cold water and photograph the massive golden statue, we climb the 272 steps up to the caves – a feat of endurance in this heat. At the bottom a sign prohibits exercise – presumably expecting us to run Rocky-style up and down. There are macaques patrolling the steps looking for food, which they will snatch if it isn’t offered. The caves are in two parts – the first one houses a shop, a small temple, a couple of shrines and two random chickens. Up another set of steps there are more shrines, a water butt being used as a bath by a couple of pigeons plus another temple. The monkeys are here, too, and have littered the bottom of the walls with the packaging of food stolen from pilgrims and tourists.
On the way back down we branch off to the Dark Cave, which is home to bats and a rare trapdoor spider, but you can only explore with a guided tour and we aren’t sufficiently motivated for that. Walking back down the steps we retrace our steps and visit the lower cave. This is quite different to the others. There is a team of brass horses pulling a chariot through water outside and inside looks rather like a Disneyland experience. There are numerous scenes portrayed by brightly painted statues, including one of a reclining giant that looks like Gulliver at Lilliput. A long flight of steps leads up to a couple of chambers where there is a huge stalagmite and more natural features.
Coming out, Alex spots a tiny frog on the path and I stop to photograph a monkey that comes right up to me and stops to eat his bananas. We stop briefly so Alex can have a chilled coconut. The man slices it open with a panga and when Alex has finished the water inside chops the top off so he can get to the flesh.

We catch the train back to the old KL station, and are touched when a youth on the train asks our nationality, wishes us “Welcome to Malaysia” and then goes back to his music. Later he moves to another seat so that a mother and daughter can sit next to each other. The Malays seem generally to be very polite. KL station is an impressive piece of British-era architecture, and we then walk to Petaling Road, the centre of Chinatown. Here there are many traditional shophouses; two-storey buildings with the shop below and the home above. Most are now made from brick after their predecessors were destroyed by a fire followed by a flood. There are ornate Chinese temples in between them, too.

There is a large market in Petaling road, mostly selling clothing and shoes. We’re looking for somewhere to lunch and we end up in the Swiss Inn where we eat traditional hawker dishes and take advantage of good toilets and free wifi. We continue to the old market square where there are more traditional shop houses and Alex gets pooed on by a bird and we look across the river to a once impressive mosque that looks like it was abandoned partway through restoration. This looks like the place where the two rivers meet that give KL its name, which means “muddy confluence”.
Next we visit the covered market, another colonial relic, which has spilled out into the street beside it, and stop at a durian stall to buy Alex a durian juice. We upgrade twice during the transaction, taking the opportunity to buy a fridge magnet and a snow globe. The durian juice has an unusual taste, something like vanilla and lychee, but distinctively different too. Alex isn’t a fan but I find the more I drink the more I like it. We’re pretty hot and tired by this time but we decide to visit one more place, Sultan Abdul Samad Building. The road is closed and they appear to be setting up for a festival; the music is already blaring. On the opposite side is a cricket pitch with proper British grass and a mock-tudor pavilion.

We take the train and the monorail back to the hotel and while we are travelling the heavens open for another thunderstorm. By the time we get off it has stopped, and we retrace our steps from the evening before back to the Park Royal. There’s just time for a dip in the pool for Alex and me before we shower and change to go to KL tower to watch the sun set. Having done so much walking earlier we take a taxi to the tower and the driver helpfully informs us that we need to buy tickets at a different place, taking us there on the way. As we approach the tower he has to negotiate massive crowds of teenagers who have gathered for a gig at its base. Inside, we have to change the tickets we bought on the way for entry tickets then we take the lift up to the viewing platform. It’s 421m and our ears pop many times on the way up. It’s still light when we arrive and we walk around trying to spot our hotel and the places we’ve seen earlier in the day, then we buy some drinks and sit down to wait for sunset, watching the lights come on across the city as dusk falls. There’s some debate about walking or taking a taxi to the restaurant Simon has booked, but we decide to avoid the long, winding road that goes from the tower down to street level and book a taxi at the desk on the tower steps. There’s a problem – it seems the traffic is snarled up due to the gig and we have to wait ages before they will even take our money to book as they are unsure the taxi can get to us. Finally one arrives and once we are off the mound where the tower sits it’s a fairly clear run to Drift.

According to Tripadvisor, Drift is the 2nd best restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. We’re welcomed by a friendly bearded Aussie who explains the menu – everything is intended to be shared and it’s ordered tapas-style. We settle down with our drinks and pick our dishes. I’m tempted to list the whole selection, as everything is delicious, but I’m just going to give an honourable mention to the grilled halloumi with semi-dried tomatoes, spiced fried eggplant, tahini paste and mint which was possibly the most delicious thing I have ever tasted. We eat well but fail to convince Simon that we need a pet micro-pig (sorry, Leigh!).

We walk back to the hotel and finally discover the secret of the chaotic pedestrian crossings where the best you ever seem to get is a flashing amber light and none of the drivers seem inclined to stop. The trick seems to be to wait until enough pedestrians have assembled to gain critical mass and then surge forward en masse and force the drivers to stop. It seems to work, anyway. It’s too late for an early night, and we have an early start tomorrow. Unfortunately we have very noisy neighbours …

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