Confused in Kuala Lumpur

The next step on our trip north was a brief stop in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s metropolis. Before coming to Kuala Lumpur, the only thing we familiar with was its twin skyscrapers, Petronas Towers. What we soon learned to find out was that there was a lot more to KL than tall buildings. Our bus dropped us off at “BTS”, which we thought (because we’re silly Americans) was acronym for Bus Terminal Station, we found out later that it translated into Bandar Tasik Selatan (of course). 

Our first task in Kuala Lumpur was to navigate the surprising confusing public transportation system. To get to our hostel we had to find the monorail. Kuala Lumpur doesn’t just have one central subway system/bus system, instead, it has a mix of subways, elevated lines, buses, rapid trains and monorails, all with different colored buttons on the ticket machines and signs with “corresponding” symbols that to us, definitely did not correspond to anything. First we tried looking for signs that resembled anything with the words or symbols for a monorail. Everything looked like monorails. If we were on Amazing Race, this would have been the moment that we would have fallen into last place. Next we decided to ask someone. We headed towards an information desk and asked how to get to our stop, she was helpful and pointed in the completely opposite direction of the way that we were headed. It looked like she was pointing upwards towards a mall, once on were on the escalator headed towards the destination, we realized that it was definitely a mall. It couldn’t be right. We headed back down the escalator. After a few more wrong turns (yes in this case, Ross was right – we are keeping a running count of who is right about directions and other decisions) we saw a sign resembling a monorail at the top of the escalator – in the mall! This was not the first time on our trip that public transportation locations have been located in malls. After following signs and passing by a few familiar stores (like Bath & Body Works and Prada) we arrived at the monorail station! Hurrah! We were confused again when the ticket machine spit out plastic coins instead of paper tickets. It is actually a great idea because when you exit the station, you deposit the coin in the entry machine and nothing goes to waste!

The heat hit us in the face like a balloon with the air being let out of it. Almost all of the sidewalks in Kuala Lumpur looked unfinished or that the speed of construction in the city didn’t catch up to the city’s infrastructure. The second stark difference we noticed in Kuala Lumpur was the impact of the Muslim faith. Not only was the National Mosque (constructed to look like the mosque in Mecca) in the city but also, most of the women were wearing head scarves, leaving Natalie, dressed in what she thought would be appropriate (a long black dress with a high neckline and no sleeves) feeling very exposed. We arrived at our hostel to find that no one was there. Sweating profusely we stood outside of the hostel waiting for someone to come get us. Finally a woman from a neighboring guest house came outside and told us that she would call the owner of our hostel. We waited another ten minutes and guests staying at the hostel came to the front and let us in the gate. They let us know that the owner should be there shortly to let us in. Another 10 minutes or so later we were greeted by a very confused hostel worker who couldn’t find our reservation. After another confused couple of minutes, we were greeted by the hostel owner, who could not have been sweeter. She upgraded us to a room with an ensuite and apologized for the mishap. It wasn’t like we didn’t have time (348 days to be exact)!

Our plan for the first day was to explore the main sights of KL including the Petronas Towers and the base of KL Tower; given our budget, we decided to go to the top of the cheaper of the two towers. Of course, we first had to sample the local cuisine. After consulting our handy Lonely Planet, we headed to Lot 10, a food court with curated food stalls in the air conditioned comfort of a mall. Ross had a clay pot bowl of thick noodles and chicken and Natalie had beef noodles from a Chinese stall who had been selling minced beef noodles for the last 40 years.

After about a 40 minute walk to base of KL tower, it started to sprinkle. Soon the sprinkle turned into a full blown rain storm. We hopped into a bus to take us to the top of the tower and realized that it would be $60RM to go to the top (over $20US which was steep for our budget). We opted to wait out the rain and think of a new game plan from the tower. After doing some digging on the free wifi, Ross found a rooftop bar that had no cover charge if you arrived between 6pm – 9pm, plus we could get a drink – win win. Once the rain subsided we headed to Helibar, a once active helicopter landing pad on the top of a skyscraper with views of KL tower and the Petronas Towers. We arrived early and seated ourselves with an epic view of the towers. We waited to see if the helicopter pad would open because of the rain. One lychee martini and one Johnny Walker Black later, we were ushered up to the roof. The view was breathtaking. If you took all the cool clubs in Vegas, combined all the good things about them, eliminated cover charges and safely restrictions, you would only come close to Helibar. The only thing separating us from the edge of the tower was a bouncer rope. So many selfies went down. With a small buzz, we headed back to our hostel.

The next day we headed out to explore Kuala Lumpur’s most popular spiritual attraction outside of the city, Batu Caves. On the train, we met another couple from Melbourne (where Nat had lived for four years) who had sold all of their personal belongings and their home (aside from one box) to travel the world for a year (or two, they hadn’t decided yet). The Batu Caves are a series of three caves, reached to by an epic vertical hill of 272 steps. Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the cave is the 42.7 meter tall golden statue of Murugan, a Hindu goddess who guards the cave. The Caves themselves were beautiful but perhaps the best part of the trip (at least for Natalie) were the hundreds of monkeys who also live at Batu Caves. The little cheeky monkeys steal most of the attention and the food offerings. We saw one man coming to the shrine to pray try to hide his offerings (which include bananas, how can you tempt the monkeys like that?) and the monkey saw straight through his hiding place. After a showdown style stare off the monkey made his move and crawled up the mans leg to his belly and snatched both of the man’s offerings. 

After the caves, we set out to see a few of the cities mosques and temples. After a few wrong turns we found out that the National Mosque was not open until 3pm and it was 1pm. After hearing all of the hype about durians (that stinky fruit that was forbidden on public transportation in Singapore), we decided that the best method of tasting the fruit was in the form of a popscile. Ross took the first bite and through his face, we could tell that “tasty” might be the last word used to describe the taste. Although being Ross, he was a trooper and finished the whole ice cream stick. Natalie on the other hand took one bite and could not find a way to rinse out the taste for the rest of the day and insisted that Ross also tasted like durian for the rest of the day (even though in KL kissing definitely translates into lewd behavior). Still on the search for more cultural sights, we set out to tour the Jamek Mosque, again we got confused about how to get there on the public transportation – was it a monorail? A bus? Or a train? We both have lived in large cities for the majority of our lives and this was quite possibly the most confusing transit map of any that we had encountered. Finally, after looking like lost children, we figured out that the train we needed was through an underground tunnel. After popping out right in front of the mosque we learned that Mondays are not the best days to be in KL. Most of the city closes on Monday, including this mosque that was actually closed for three months to be renovated. 

Also closed, were the insanely expensive Petronas Towers ($80RM) so instead of going up the towers, we decided to admire the tall skyscrapers from below. We popped out where we thought the stop for the towers was and looked up expecting to see the glistening towers from the train stop. We were lost again but this time in a concrete jungle of equally tall skyscrapers. We consulted again and realized that it had to be somewhere close, or we were sitting on top of it. We panned in all directions and soon noticed that two of the towers were taller than the others – so tall indeed that we could not see the tops. We were at the base of the Petronas Towers. Sitting beneath the monolithic buildings not only made us feel small but forced us to reflect on how lucky we were to be on this trip. Many people only read about these places in books but in the next year, we would see so many of them. 

On the way back to our hostel we saw a street full of hawkers. Although the street wasn’t closed off, hawkers took up every space of sidewalk and people filled every inch of the street. Just walking down Arab Street (aka the Food Street, we later learned) meant that we were yelled at every couple of minutes to try authentic Malay food, fish head stew or dumplings. After seeing and smelling so many delicious offerings down the street; we settled on a small stall selling dumplings for $1RM a piece – sold. We ate our fill of dumplings and drank a large Tiger beer while we watched the world go by, or in this case, hungry tourists and locals. After dinner, we stopped at an ice cream stall that sold ice creams in shape of Darth Vader and mustaches for a very expensive (the price of our whole meal) for dessert. Hot tip – ask for the price before you decide on a tasty food option. 

Every day on our way home we passed foot massage venues. Outside, the owners and workers would try to coax you into picking their massage location over others with “special deal, just for you” offers and we both vowed that if we did enough walking we would reward ourselves with a special foot rub and today was that day! Overwhelmed by the shear selection of foot rub vendors, we bypassed all of them and took refuge in our room. Once we regained confidence and our bargaining skills, we attempted to pick a foot spa once again. After some serious bartering (who are we kidding, we just ended up spending too much on the novelty ice creams) we selected a spot – of course the one with all of the rainbow and neon signs. We settled in and let the experts work out all the kinks in our tired toes. 

It was the best $30 RM we spent all trip. 

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