Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
One Kuala, in fact, and it is Lumpur. KL, pretty much everyone calls it, and I’ll join in eventually; for now it seems to pretend an acquaintance with the place I don’t feel as yet.
I booked my ticket yesterday. I’d planned to get the train, and double the cost (to under £30) by going first class, but there were no tickets available. So rather than pay that much, have to walk to the river and catch the ferry to Butterworth then sit on a train for 7-8 hours, and perhaps longer on prior experience, I was picked up at the hostel and whisked to the bus station then put on a luxury bus that took only 6 hours. It can be quicker – 4-5, they quote – but with a huge seat and my own on-demand video system I can’t say I was complaining. Significantly better than first class train travel, for the price of second class. Some of the train travel, with the benefit of some knowledge, seems mad. For example, on my friend seat61.com, he suggests that travelling to the Cameron Highlands might involve a train ride to Ipoh, then a 3-4 hour bus ride to Tanah Rata, though the connections are uncertain. Um, right. Or just get a bus straight there in 3-4 hours. You’d have to really love the train travel to do it – which he does, I know, but as a resource for advising others, it seems odd. Just bear in mind that in Malaysia, the bus is often quicker and can be more comfortable, other than your being at another’s whim for loo stops. My bus had no more than 20 seats upstairs, all with entertainment, and the seats were reclining massage chairs with footrests (albeit without a working massage bit). The same is true of the journey to Singapore. I’d still have taken the train were it an option, but it’s 8 hours (and full) as against a starting offer of 5 by bus.
Yesterday was hot, and I walked and walked. I had a vague goal of reaching Penang Hill. The hill itself comes into view early, as it’s right there on the edge of Georgetown, but I was aiming for the part with a funicular railway. Halfway to the spot I’d picked – a road marked as ‘Penang hill’ – I was hot, and conscious that I’d not actually checked where this thing was, though I’d overheard parts of a conversation that suggested it wasn’t close. Reaching a main road that was even less pedestrian friendly than those so far, I aborted, heading round the top of town, past the turf club, heading for the botanical gardens. It was hot. I had eaten, but needed a drink and there, after a long line of relatively well-to-do houses – older than the estate I’d run through the other day – was a nice outdoor cafe. The owner smiled, so I was sold. He joined me, and was impressed/shocked that I’d walked from town. I didn’t give him the full lunacy of my journey; he was telling me about the buses that would take me to, say, the cable car, and would have brought me to here. Stuff that, but at least from the former I was reassured I had been on the right route. It had been okay to trust my sense that I knew where i was headed. He was surprised I was not married, and thought I should as a result take care. I should also be careful of my kindle (computer, to him), as someone might have it away on their scooter. I shouldn’t drink too much, or I might get taken to a remote place and robbed. And should generally beware. In fact, if this had been my first travelling experience, talking to him might have been enough to see me on the first plane back – crikey, I’ve heard of these things happening in bad places, but if this seemingly friendly place, where the worst problem is the tendency of shopkeepers to come and stand right by you as soon as you pause, and to lose any friendliness as soon as money changes hands, is actually a den of iniquity, imagine how bad a more imposing place might be?
I made it to the gardens, heading in on the river walk rather than via the main entrance and thereby not having to turn down any offers of tours. The botanical gardens are free, and fairly lovely, though not so big that you’d feel swamped by options. More interesting paths than the road through the middle head off to the sides. I ignored the Waterfall cafe next to the park, thought I had a minute before the bus left and so walked into the Hawker Centre. Wait, that’s in Kingston – ‘Komplex Penjaja’, or Hawkers’ Complex, it was in fact. Calling a spade a spade, there. I’d also liked the ‘Lotus Old Folks home’ I’d seen on the way. The fruity cafe there do a fantastic range of fruit smoothies, complete with spoon for digging out the mixed fruits inside. And the number 10 bus took me back into town – it seemed a long way because it went round and round, but much easier than walking despite the length of the journey giving a false impression. I ate in the food court again, and settled into a much quieter dorm, all the others having moved. 30 minutes later Rainier said hi – he’d actually just gone next door, in search of a lower bunk, but we didn’t get to chat for long. I could check that their room was the same – yep, no windows there, either. Apart from that, Kimberley house was a nice hostel, lots of shared space, sofas in every one and huge high ceilings making it airy, if hot without air conditioning. After the large reception area, the TV room is another big room, staircases off either side, and Rainier and I had watched some hideous film, with Robert de Niro as an American and John Travolta as a Serb. Slightly surreal.
Today’s bus was at 9.30 – in fact, mine left at 9.20. Two of us were taken from the hostel to the station, the bloke before me had his receipt checked and was told to wait, I was asked if I wanted to go now, so I said yes, and might have been put on the earlier bus. Was that my airline upgrade moment? Maybe I should try wearing, as I was this time, an “I heart *your town*” t-shirt elsewhere. KL at 2.30, hostel walking distance and after waiting inside for a huge rain storm I had a wander round the partially pedestrian friendly streets, making it to another Botanical gardens. A walk after a storm is always good, the temperature is typically still mid 20s but it feels a bit cooler and fresher than normally, so I’m glad I took advantage. I also had a quick look in our local mall, which looks to have some good hooky gear, as does the night market to which I wandered after another heavy shower at 9. I’ve replaced the t-shirts that were disintegrating, but I have a hankering for an Osaka top (seen them, like them, been there) and one of the union jack*(seen them, like them, from there) ones for which I’ve finally found some shops. I kept spotting them in other countries, thinking I’d found countrymen and realising these were just for fashion, but never seeing them for sale. Bet they’re everywhere; cousin Ali will remember our game in Venice after I said from my previous experience ‘there are hardly any cashpoints’. I think she won 150-128 in the end. Shopping and sight-seeing, then I’ll end my current run drought (strangely painful ankle is recovering slowly) with the race on Sunday – 2xu, 15km at 6am.