Eating “foreign” food as my Gran would have called it is something that we are all used to doing. Going out for an Italian, an Indian or a Chinese is an everyday experience for most people in the UK, and over the last couple of decades the range has extended to make popping out to a Thai, Vietnamese, Brazilian, Argentinian etc a very easy task if you live in or near a reasonable sized conurbation.
This social food activity is almost always conducted for dinner, or perhaps maybe lunch. Breakfast is however almost always a western meal, be it consumed in or our of the home. Consequently it is perhaps this meal more than any other, that gives you a more enlightening and characterful experience of local culture.
Our stay at the Park Royal hotel in KL provides a great example of this. A clearly international hotel in a country that has an extremely diverse cultural makeup creates an extraordinary range of breakfast choices that includes noodles, curry (complete with chapati), salmon sponge cake (?), teriyaki fish heads, stewed vegetables…..but it also had more Western pallet pleasing eggs, bread, pancakes, croissants etc. I go safe, though Nik does have Dhal and roti!
KL is predominantly a city for shopping, but a bit of research into some of the day trips offered by the hotel (plus a recommendation from a friend via FaceBook) highlighted that a trip to Batu Caves would be worthwhile (one letter away from being the coolest tourist attraction ever!).
Day trips offered by the hotel are in the £20-25 per head bracket, but there is no need to spend that kind of cash as it’s really easy to do your self. Less than £2 will get you the monorail and train tickets necessary to get there, and there is no entrance fee unless you want to visit the ‘Dark Cave’ (more on that in a bit).
The caves are a remarkable natural phenomenon that rise up from the normal ground level in spectacular fashion. They were first ‘discovered’ in the early to mid 1800s, where farmers used to scale the rocks to extract the guano (bat poop) for fertiliser, but from about 1960 onwards they have been used as a place to build Hindu temples.
For the first 60 years access to the temples was only via climbing the rocks (impressive devotion to worship), but from 1920 a wooden stair case was constructed that in the 1960s was converted to a concrete one which is the basis or the 272 step climb there is today. The ares has grown over time with more and more religious structures being built, the most recent a very imposing gold statue at the base that must stand 20m tall.
The view is impressive but the actual temples in the caves themselves were a bit average to be honest. It isn’t a tourist attraction, but instead a living breathing place of worship, but it feels a little grubby – there are animals walking round, litter, graffiti and lots of stalls selling a wide range of religious souvenir tat.
However on the right just after you have started to walk back down is the “Dark Cave”. A paid for attraction (about £7 each) to have around an hour guided tour into a natural cave that allows you to see the amazing natural cave ecosystem in all its glory.
Armed with a hard hat and torch, and accompanied by one of the most enthusiastic and funny guides we have had all trip we are taken into the darkness with the same advice we were given at Sepilok…”Don’t look up with your mouth open”.
This is particularly relevant here as the cave is home to some 200,000 bats, that have a digestive system that ‘functions’ every 20 minutes. As well as fleeting glimpses of bats above (no one is willing to look up for too long) we also are shown some amazing stone formations and insects, though sadly not a trapdoor spider (the rarest species in the world). We do however see some insects that have unusually long legs that have adapted to the conditions, and they act in the same manner as a white stick for a blind person.
My favourite insect was the cave cricket, that when unable to find food can resort to eating it’s own back legs! This must be one of the most short-sighted survival mechanisms ever, as surely it will be even harder to find your next meal if you have lost a significant proportion of your limbs.
For evening meal later in the day we head to a great outdoor restaurant that can seat up to 1000 people on plastic garden chairs. Might not sound great, particularly when you add in the nonchalant (at best) service, but the food was amazing and the value for money superb. Outside the mall next to the restaurant we saw a Rolls-Royce and about 20 police motorcycles and after asking someone found out it was the King of Thailand who had come to the cinema.
I hope he liked Robocop.