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I'm an Aussie who likes wandering all over the world but keeps coming back home to paradise and my family. If you are reading this on one of my travel blogs, I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed creating them. If you are reading the Diabetes and weight loss blog - I hope it helps in your battle with the beast. Cheers, Alan

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Travel Dates 10th-12th May, 16th May and 22nd-23rd May 2011.
Click on any picture to see a larger version.

Kuala Lumpur was a surprise. Once again my preconceptions were destroyed.

I was at Primary School in the period when Malaya was still a British colony, then at High School during its period of independence (1957) and the creation of Malaysia, which initially included Singapore as well as Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak. Singapore separated from the union a couple of years later. I suppose my mind was still fixed in the mid-20th century and I half expected to see rubber plantations, tin mines and a primary industry based economy.

Instead I found Kuala Lumpur to be a vibrant, bustling modern city. The inner city reminded me of Singapore or Hong Kong.

The outer suburbs, especially the new ones, could have been in Europe or Australia although Australians rarely develop suburbs with street after street of identical houses. I have only seen that happen to the degree it is occurring in Kuala Lumpur in The Nederlands and some areas of Eire. On the bus ride in from the LCCT airport I saw many square kilometres of such developments. The houses looked brand new, mostly unoccupied, and could have been punched out of giant cloning machines.

I stayed at the Bintang Fairlane Residences, booked via Agoda, and it turned out to be an excellent choice for both quality and location. It is an apartment building, not really a hotel, but the minor inconvenience of no room service was more than compensated by the convenience of a fully-equipped kitchenette, a washer-dryer and lots of space with a bedroom separate from the lounge/dining area. Reception is 24 hours. The layouts of the apartments vary a bit, so it is worth having a chat with reception on arrival to see what your choices are. There is a pool on the roof and a gym and spa on the floor below that. Below is the view from the roof; the night shots at the top of this post were also taken from the roof of the Fairlane Residences.

I liked the sense of humour of the person who found this use for an old LandRover. It was the nearest link I saw to the British rubber plantations of the past.

Unfortunately, one of the consequences of all the modernisation seemed to be a shortage of historical sites from the pre-independence era. But there are still some. Below is the Sultan Abdul Samad building, which was built originally to house British government offices but became the home of the Malaysian superior courts after independence. In the early 2000s most were shifted to the new seat of government at Putrajaya; now the building houses government offices again, but Malaysian this time. The building faces Merdeka Square, which was where the Union Jack was ceremonially replaced by the Malayan flag on 31 August 1957. As the square was previously the cricket ground for the restricted-membership Royal Selangor Club (natives need not apply) the choice of location was deliberately symbolic.

On arrival I used the very cheap airport bus from LCCT to travel to KL Sentral, which is a bus terminal in the inner city. There are several bus lines. The Skybus associated with AirAsia costs MYR9 and the others are MYR8. Approximate equivalents are MYR10 = AU$3.00 = £2. I used Skybus once and the opposition the other three times; I found the services identical. Cheap, comfortable and air-conditioned although all could have been a little cleaner. The trip takes a little over an hour if traffic is normal.

If you intend visiting Kuala Lumpur via LCCT make sure you allow at least 45 minutes for the inbound immigration check. The queues weren't really very long but the very small numbers of officials allocated to process people and the unusually long time they took for each person led to long delays on both my entries.

I made a mistake when I first booked a hotel for my transit night in Malaysia between India and the UK. I booked a nice hotel in the grounds of KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport). But my flights were using LCCT (Low Cost Carrier Terminal). On the map the two terminals appear to share the same airport, but it turns out that they are 20km apart by road and the shuttle between them is infrequent and stops mid-evening. As I was arriving at midnight that meant a very expensive cab fare to get to and from my hotel. When I realised the problem I managed to persuade the hotel to cancel the booking and I re-booked at the only hotel on the grounds at LCCT, the Tune Hotel. It is also owned by AirAsia. Their hotels follow the same philosophy as their airline; you literally get what you pay for. Extras aren't expensive but include many things most of us are used to seeing as automatic inclusions:
Addon Price
Air Conditioning (12 hours credit) MYR 13.62
Air Conditioning (24 hours credit) MYR 21.20
Towel Rental + Free Essentials toiletries kit (additional RM10 refundable deposit will be collected upon check-in) MYR 5.30
Wireless Internet Access (24 hour period) MYR 12.00
Hair Dryer (24 hour period ) MYR 1.00
Breakfast Set (for 1 set) MYR 6.00
Tune Hotels Insurance MYR 5.00

I bought a 20 ringgit pre-paid monorail ticket and used that to wander around the inner city area that system covers. I think I used the ticket half a dozen times on my first day but I still had lots of credit left on it when I returned to Kuala Lumpur on the way home six weeks later. I did not get time to travel on the other city metro rail lines.

On the first trip I walked with my bags to the monorail terminal and used that to get to Bukit Bintang. I did not do that again. It is not that long a walk, but there are no lifts or escalators at the monorail terminals and far too many stairs to lug bags up and down. For the subsequent airport trips I took a cab to and from KL Sentral to Bukit Bintang. It cost about MYR10 on the meter going to KL Sentral but 20 outbound; the difference is something to do with vouchers and boundaries. That's still very good value for the trip and a darn sight easier than carrying bags upstairs.

Although there were occasional older crowded apartment blocks and poor districts the majority of housing appeared to be modern, clean and air-conditioned. Similarly most of the multi-storey office blocks looked modern. All the cars I saw seemed very new with the exception of most of the taxi-cabs; the ones I travelled in were clean but old.

With rare exceptions the food choices in Kuala Lumpur were excellent and cheap. One of the exceptions was this Laksa, which had a wonderful curry base but the tofu tasted like coarse foam rubber. The other picture is a combination I chose in a food court smorgasbord: chicken, fish, pork and a hot bean sprouts and vegetables mix. Delicious and less than MYR10.

Petaling Street is a famous shopping area; rumour has it that some of the goods are not quite kosher but I'm sure that the MYR10 Casio watch I bought for a cheap backup and the MYR150 Rolex watches I saw displayed were absolutely genuine. Yeah, right. But there were also lots of good quality goods on sale. For range and quality of goods it was one of the better market districts I have wandered through on my travels. A refreshing change was minimal harassment by vendors. There were a few that were persistent, but nothing like the touting that occurs in places like Cairo or Delhi.

I took a cab to Kuala Lumpur Tower and paid to go to the viewing platform. Unfortunately the platform is fully enclosed so the photos have some reflections, but the view is still spectacular; it would have been even better on a clear smog-free day, but those seem to be rare.

The ticket included a choice of various options for kids or a visit to a small zoo at the foot of the tower. The zoo was educational, but a bit startling as you enter between the giant snakes and giant spiders. Eerie. I doubt that the RSPCA would be impressed at some of the living conditions, but it was certainly interesting. To give an idea of the sizes, the tight circle made by the python in the bottom picture is about a metre or more than three feet across. Some of the spiders in those glass cases are more than 15cm (6") from foot-pad to foot-pad.

The Chan She Shu Yuen Chinese Temple has some fascinatingly ornate and intricate figures on the outside walls, unfortunately there was a ceremony in progress and I was not allowed in on the day.

I enjoyed my time in the city and I will probably return. For that reason I'll be a little circumspect about commenting on the political situation. Let me put it this way. The newspapers I read were full of glowing reports about the government, its leaders, its officials and the economic and diplomatic successes of Malaysia. It was also full of news reports of the peccadilloes, court appearances and jailing of other politicians, all of whom appeared to be from the opposition. On the day I left there was a long news report of a protest march likely to occur in the near future by three different groups. A police spokesman said that any who marched without a permit would be arrested. On another page a different spokesman stated that no groups intending to protest would be issued with a permit. On another was a discussion of whether certain books should or should not be banned.

There appear to be several forms of democracy in the world; some more democratic than others.

PS, added 14th July 2011.

This news report on the BBC is relevant to my final couple of paragraphs:

Breezes of change in Malaysia

Protesters on the streets of Kuala Lumpur were met by police in full riot gear and clouds of tear gas

Read the rest on the BBC page.

Cheers, Alan

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