Tag Archives: Kuala Lumpar

Day 186 – Why don’t we do it in the road?

One of the latest landmarks to appear in this wonderful pulsating metropolis (or to be precise urban megalopolis) is the striking Tokyo Sky Tree.

Celebrating its second birthday this month, the 634 metre tall structure is the second highest building in the world and is the current World Record Holder for tallest tower.

Similar to the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the base of this modern monolith is festooned with a plethora of retail and food outlets than can strip you of your Yen in next to no time.  This is particularly challenging when you realise that arriving at lunchtime on a Saturday means you are given a 3 hour virtual queue time!

After a few hours shopping that has us Googling BA’s weight allowances we return to a still lengthy queue, apparently caused by high winds reducing the frequency and speed of the lifts.  We decide that another 2 hours is too much and bail out to enjoy more of this captivating city and find that for the second time on the trip that crossing the road can be a tourist attraction.

In Vietnam, particularly Saigon, the whole leap of faith and closing your eyes approach to road crossing was no doubt fascinating and one of the the enduring memories of the country.  Tokyo takes the idea further with, as remarkable as it may seem, the interchange near Shibuya train station being actually listed in the Lonely Planet.  It even suggests a location (Starbucks second floor) from which to observe.

There are 5 marked crossings (each exit from the junction and a corner to corner option), and at peak times over a thousand people cross in the 45 second break in the traffic.  Watching from an elevated position they remind me of videos showing microbes swarming on a petri dish.

Film buffs will recognise it from the film Lost in Translation where Bill Murray’s head can be seen above the rest of the throng as he walks across.  We decide that it would be fun to try and recreate a similar scene and therefore I set about making myself look a little bit odd.

Basically I half cross the road, stand in the middle for the duration of the green man and then rush back.  I do this on a number of occasions. In the end the eccentric behaviour pays off with a great image for the album and any humiliation is quickly forgotten.

Wandering around nighttime Tokyo is a captivating experience, and it is definitely one of THE great cities of the world.  The place just pulsates with life in a quirky way that only the Japanese can pull off.

Pimped Japanese sports cars rev louder at red lights, giant screens flash incomprehensible advertisements, J-Pop (that make One Direction seem talented) blasts out of music shops, weird and wonderful clothing is everywhere, bird song is piped into subway stations, train announcements are preceded by jingles that belong in a Nintendo game, and the chop stick shops would look at home on Diagonally.

Tokyo is one of the places I have always wanted to visit ever since reading games magazines as a child and being captivated by the reports from this distant, neon and technological pulsating city.  Sometimes having such expectations can only lead to disappointment, but not this time.

We love Tokyo.

A lot.

 

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Day 99 – Unchained melody

And yet again it is airport time, yay!

By the end of this trip I think we could make a good start on a Rough Guide to Airports.  If we do, KL airport is not likely to score that highly.  Basic (though obviously not by Bolivian standards – though the bus shelter at the end of the road would compare well to a Bolivian airport) and relatively lacking in very much to do, but post card writing and looking at watches I cannot afford pass the time until we board the plane.

For the second time on the trip (but unlikely to be the last) we fly Air Asia.  This is the SE Asia equivalent of the European low cost airlines such as Ryan Air, Jet2 and Easyjet, and we read in their brochure that they have recently introduced ‘compression clothing’ for their cabin staff to help reduce the impacts of flying on the body.  From what we can see it is currently only being issued to young attractive female cabin staff.

We agree that Air Asia are probably a bit better than any of the European low cost airlines and this is backed up by the fact that today we are informed that they have just won the “World’s Best Low Cost Airline Award” for the 5th year running.  What makes this more memorable is that one of the cabin crew celebrates this fact by singing “Unchained Melody” live and unaccompanied over the intercom.  Based on his ability to hit the high notes he might want to request some compression clothing before trying again.

A mild panic at the airport over our visa application forms and desperate looking for some random flight information on the internet to fill in the card before we managed to safely get into Thailand .  A crazy taxi cost battle follows before the the longest ‘airport to hotel’ journey of the trip so far through Patong, the Blackpool of Thailand (home to lady boy and ping pong shows…) and then arrival at the hotel for a relaxing afternoon and evening.

Day 98 – Bat out of hell

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.

Day 97 – Bring my family back

Our journey from the Tip of Borneo back to Kuala Lumpar continues today with yet another flight from KK to KL.  Airports are pretty much standard across the world with the usual collection of Duty Free, clothes, sunglasses, and electronics shops designed to remove you of your cash as you suddenly feel the urge to buy that ‘one thing’ that you have forgotten but you absolutely must have for your trip.

Which makes the presence of a frozen fish shop at KK airport a little remarkable (and presumably not much use if you are going long haul).  Another noticeable fact of our journey is that due to Malaysia being a Muslim country the ‘In Flight’ information screen includes a compass showing the location of Mecca.

Leaving Sabah highlights that it is, like Arequipa in Peru, a fiercely independent place whose people would consider themselves from Sabah more than Malaysia.  So much so that you have to go through passport control and get your passport stamps even if you are a Malaysian citizen, but we like passport stamps (something that the EU has taken away from most of our journeys) so this makes us happy.

Arriving at KL airport we grab some of the smallest and slowest fast food option ever at Hot n Roll (we had previously bailed from one of their queues due to the lack of pace in a mall the previous week – clearly we never learn). Not the greatest food ever but hunger took precedence after we skipped breakfast at the airport assuming we’d get it on the plane but then neither of us could face spicy chicken noodles as the first meal of the day.

On our drive to the hotel it is highlights a fact that we have noticed in our time in Malaysia, that there is a high proportion of Malaysian made cars. When you consider that in this sector a Proton is the ‘quality’ it seems inexplicable until you realise that the government has introduced a “protectionist” 200% import tax on foreign cars.  Makes you grateful for the EU.

At the hotel that we stayed at previously in KL we arrive in our room to find a large heart made of rose petals, which was lovely (although a little messy when getting into bed), and Niki’s parents waiting for us.  They have come out to join us for about a week and have treated us to the hotel room for our Christmas gift and mentioned it was out honeymoon.

Back in major civilisation allows us to do some chores again so we pop out and manage to do some shopping at the Apple bargain capital of the world…iPad mini retina?  That’ll do nicely.  We also pick up a Jawbone Up (similar to a FitBit or Nike Fuel band) and will be interested to see how much walking you do whilst traveling.

Finally I manage to get the worst haircut of the trip.  I foolishly ditched the tried and tested ‘photo’ formula from S.America and returned to the use of English language due to the fact that people in Asia speak it so well and came our looking a little like G.I.Joe.

Day 87 – Despair in the departure lounge

Another day of traveling involving 3 flights in a day (hurrah!) – we really need to start planning our trip a bit more I think.

Our plans require an early departure from our hotel that ordinarily would mean missing breakfast, but in an amazing piece of customer service they provide a high quality ‘packed lunch’ which is consumed in the taxi to the airport (omlette, fresh orange and a selection of pastries!).

Destination today is Borneo (the 3rd largest island in the world), and some rather dull facts of the day include that our second flight is probably the shortest flight either of us has ever taken, with about 15 minutes of total time in the air, and that Malaysia Airlines have the nicest dressed stewardesses of our trip so far.

The flights today are a mixture of ones we booked as part of the RTW ticket and one that we added ourselves recently.  A consequence of this is a 6 hour stay in Kota Kinabalu airport.  It is fair to say it is not the most glamorous of airports (far from it), and we spend a rather uninspired 6 hours at a table in KFC eking out two drinks of Pepsi and failing to get any real use out the intermittent and slow WiFi connection they provide.

Day 86 – Skyscraper

We were (as usual) under prepared for our time in Kuala Lumpar, and in fact Malaysia over all (in total we will be in here for 2 weeks), so what do you do in KL?

The biggest attraction, literally, is the famous Petronas Towers.  For a while the tallest buildings in the world, and still the tallest twin tower structure, these steel towers stand at an impressive 452m high dominating the skyline.

Visitor numbers are limited, but booking online is straight-forward and we have slots for the early morning 9am tour and we even get a free lift from our hotel.  The tour doesn’t amount to much more than a couple of lift rides, one to the Skybridge that links the towers on the 41st and 42nd floors, and then a second that takes you the observation deck on the 86th floor, but the building and views are impressive.  Normally at the top of this type of attraction (the highest building in a city is a common tourist attraction round the world) you are used to looking down on everything else, but the town tower design means that you can see an exact copy of the building you are stood in out of the window.

Up close the design of the towers is beautiful, having an almost art deco style to the mass of steel that they are constructed with (more steel was used to build them than any other building in the world).

The base of the towers is filled with a very expensive shopping centre packed full of shops selling genuine designer products at genuine designer prices.  In fact the biggest attraction in KL is the shopping from what we can tell.  Locals and tourists alike come here to shop, shop and shop.

KL is home to an extraordinary number of shopping malls.  Glistening structures of glass and metal, stretching up into the clear blue skies, covered with large screens perpetually running technicoloured advertisements for everything you could possible need (and some that you don’t).

We head for one called the Low Yat Plaza, the largest IT shopping collection I have ever seen.  6 floors of shops that are totally dedicated to selling electronics.  Cameras, mobile phones, tablets, laptops are everywhere – and the place is filled with consumers trying to get a bargain.  With our time in Asia likely to include more beach locations than S.America we grab ourselves an underwater camera (and later play around with it in the hotel pool) and then make a dangerous discovery…..Malaysia is the cheapest place in the world to buy Apple products.

My experience was that generally Apple products are a fixed price, that is no amount of shopping around online gets them any cheaper in the UK.  Also generally when I have looked abroad they are not any cheaper, but that is not the case here, where there is between 25-33% saving over UK prices.  I can definitely get an iPad Mini in our luggage but the 27” iMac is proving a little more problematic…

Day 85 – The Real Thing

Arriving anywhere at 3am is not ideal.  Thankfully our Kuala Lumpar (or KL as it appears to often referred to locally) hotel allows us to check in early and manage to grab a few hours sleep and eat the homemade cheese and crisp sandwiches that Mandy made us for breakfast.

Malaysia is a relatively easy transition into S.E.Asia.  It became independent from the UK in the last 1950s, but English is still widely spoken, they drive on the left and even share the same power supply system.

Heading into downtown KL, the climate is hot and humid, and we have a bit of a wander following a walking tour we got off Trip Advisor.  During which we pass some beautiful religious buildings from a range of faiths (Hindu, Buddist, Islam and Christian) which highlights the diverse make-up of the population.  Malaysia is a part of the word that was colonised by many different people, and the population is made up of 50% Malaysians, 35% Chinese, 10% Indians, and you can see the distinctions in the people as we walk around.

We head to China Town for some lunch and a wander round the markets.  The markets are reminiscent of the markets we saw in Honk Kong a year or so back, and they are stocked with stalls selling designer and fashion brands at knock down prices.

Perfume, headphones, sunglasses, watches, and clothing all bearing the world’s most desirable brand names are for sale at a fraction of the cost.  Rayban sunglasses for less than £10? Dr Dre Beats headphones for less than £20? Perfume for a fiver?  A less than trusting person may question whether these bargains are the real thing.

We decide to make a couple of purchases, though I avoided the sunglasses as I suspect that do not provide the UV protection they claim – though they would be OK for use back home.  Making a purchase involves getting into ‘haggle’ mode, we were advised by the stewardesses on the way over to make an opening offer of at the most 50% of the asking price.

In the end Niki makes a Nike hat purchase for £2.35 (complete with ‘genuine holographic sticker’) and I buy an ‘Ice’ watch for a bank-busting £1.81.  It will be interesting to see how well it keeps time, but after the fact that after an hour of wearing it in the humidity it had steamed up I decide not to test its stated 5ATM water resistance in the hotel during a late afternoon swim…