inconsistent news from southeast asia

Malaysia-Travelogue  |  Travel time: September 2005 - March 2006  |  by Matthew Audley

Kuala Lumpur

Day 147, we left for Kuala Lumpur. The bus was like nothing I've ever seen before and the ride was correspondingly smooth and quick. Lots of palm plantations on the way to KL, winding little rivers and dusty paths alongside. KL, of course, was quite the contrast after staring out the window at these idyllic surrounds for four or five hours.

KL is all about the contrasts.

KL is all about the contrasts.

We pulled into KL around 3:30 in the afternoon and I was immediately impressed with the city, from a visual standpoint at least. Lots of contrasts between old and ultra-modern, dingy and glossy. There was a brief, typical struggle to find the cheapest GH around, but we ended up at a really nice place and at the cheapest rates around (which are substantially higher than Thailand's rates).

Hindu Temple, Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur.

Hindu Temple, Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur.

Day 148 (Feb. 8th), we decided to head to the Islamic Arts Museum. It ended up being an epically crappy day, however, largely thanks to the fact that we tried to use an awful photocopied map to get around a dense, confusing city. Maybe I won't go into details.

Late in the afternoon, we headed to the largest hindu temple in the city (which actually isn't all that BIG, physically, but is quite ancient.) We arrived just in time for 5:30 Pooja, which was quite the experience. Just two musicians, on drum and .. ummm, i should know, but I don't. A double-reed. Really interesting music and a small procession around to all the shrines in the building. We immediately vowed to come back for another Pooja, but never did manage to. So that redeemed the day a little.

The Petronas towers.

The Petronas towers.

Day 149 we wandered off towards KL's little India and instead ended up seeing the Petronas towers. Thankfully, it was overcast: makes for some really moody gotham city pictures. No, actually, it relived some of the preposterous heat we'd been suffering from. The heat was oppresive to a degree we just hadn't had to deal with before, even in the middle of the night. The next few days it rained on and off and we were thankful.

Right, the Petronas towers. The tallest TWIN towers in the world as well as the fouth tallest building in the world, at 88 stories. It stands as a testament to Malaysia's place in the contemporary world even though it was designed by an American and built by Japanese and Koreans. And it's owned by an oil company. That being said, I'm actually a big fan of the building. It looks quite spectacular, especially at night.

The view from the walkway.

The view from the walkway.

We got to go up to the walkway between the two towers on the 41st floor. Quite an interesting engineering feat and a great view of the city. And hey, it was FREE.

This is a parade that was the earliest event in the Hindu Thaipusam festival.  (more later.)

This is a parade that was the earliest event in the Hindu Thaipusam festival. (more later.)

Day 150 (oooh!), we saw KL's National History Museum, which was fairly well done, but a bit dry, as museums will be. It covered as far back as prehistoric Malaysia and the important specimens of early man found in the area all the way through the various colonial forces acting in Malaysia and the issuing battle for independence. Then there was some propaganda about how fantastic Malaysia is nowadays. Whee.

The view from the National History Museum.

The view from the National History Museum.

Day 151 (Feb. 11) was a big exciting day. Thaipusam Festival at the Batu Caves, just outside KL. We'd intended to get up early, but the buses whizzing by our window ALL night long prevented much sleeping and therefore getting up was substantially later than anticipated. There was still lots to see there by the time we got there around 1:00, though.

So, how to descrive the scene. Well, apparently about 1.5 million people went through the area over the course of the day, but given that it was pretty well organized. The event consists mostly of men carrying huge, heavy shrines up the hill to the large cave at the top. They are often pierced with hooks attached to the shrines or to bells or limes hanging from them. (no, I don't know why limes). Little kids often get little shrines and lots of people bring big heavy bowls of fresh milk, too. Beyond the people more actively involved in the glory-hogging events, there are of course, huge crowds of pilgrims come to watch and make donations.

This guy looks way happier than most of them did: he was a fresh substitute carrier, I think.  Yes, they cheated.

This guy looks way happier than most of them did: he was a fresh substitute carrier, I think. Yes, they cheated.

The progress up the stairs was slow and crowded, of course, but there was always plenty to see. The shrine carriers progressed up the stairs in short bursts, accompanied by rhythmic chanting and surrounded by six or seven other men supporting them. Loudspeakers blared words I couldn't understand, but kept harping on the same ones. The odd devotee had a back covered in hooks with bells on them.

He's selling camphor tablets to throw in the fire.  Quite the smell, but I'm not sure about the environmental effects of such a thing.

He's selling camphor tablets to throw in the fire. Quite the smell, but I'm not sure about the environmental effects of such a thing.

At the top, more music, more altars. Shrine carriers fainting dramtically and hawkers and dancing and monkeys. I'm amazed how un-impressed the monkeys were with the huge crowd. They were getting fed, I guess.

In Batu Cave.

In Batu Cave.

We headed back down the hill and were on our way in the space of a few hours, but it was quite the experience. It's purely a coincidence we were in town for the festival, but I'm certainly glad we were.

Hot dog stand, Bus Station, KL.  This is one of those photos that I really love and expect no one else to.

Hot dog stand, Bus Station, KL. This is one of those photos that I really love and expect no one else to.

Well, what now? Feb. 12th we went to see the HUGE islamic arts museum and bought our tickets back to Thailand. The museum was very impressive and I learned a lot, but it was a bit much to take in in one day. Needless to say, there's a fair bit of ground to cover.

Feb. 13th we headed to Hat Yai and we spent two nights there. It was a long but easy trip on a very nice bus (again). I'm gonna have to get re-adjusted to Thailand's busses after that.

Not much in Hat Yai. Lots of shopping. Bought an orange T-shirt.

Alright, now it's the 15th and we're in Krabi town. Tomorrow we're going back to Ton Sai to do the proper relaxing we should have done last time. I'm think maybe I'll do a half day rock climbing course. The point is, though, that we'll be out of touch for a week. You wouldn't believe what internet access costs there.

That is all.

© Matthew Audley, 2005
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The trip
 
Description:
Leaving for bangkok on Sept. 12. Where we go from there is anyone's guess. Hoping to see Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos. Be back in six months or so if everything goes well. There really isn't much of a route planned - we'll see what happens.
Details:
Start of journey: Sep 12, 2005
Duration: 6 months
End of journey: Mar 19, 2006
Travelled countries: Thailand
Canada
Laos
Vietnam
Cambodia
Southeastern Asia
Malaysia
The Author
 
Matthew Audley is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 13 years.
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