Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Malaysia’s Capital city does not disappoint!

The view from our hotel room at the Concorde
As our bus wound its way closer to the centre of Kuala Lumpur, the contrast between Malaysia’s glitzy capital city and the quiet provincial town of Melaka we had left two hours before was dramatic. The buildings are so tall, I couldn’t see the top of them from inside the bus. Even on the outskirts of town, the apartment blocks seemed to disappear in the clouds.

Kuala Lumpur has several bus stations. And hundreds (it seems) of bus companies that all depart and arrive at different stations. As luck would have it (and it was completely a fluke as we had no idea of the multiple options when we booked our bus), we were let off at the newest and most amazingly modern bus terminal. We were able to hook up with the Rapid Transit Station directly from there which allowed us to transfer to the monorail line which had a stop half a block away from the Concorde Hotel where we were booked. Zooming through town on the monorail, the view below and above made us feel like we were in a futuristic movie in a city of tomorrow. All we were missing were flying cars maneuvering between the monorail, elevated trains and the sparkling, flashing billboards and highrise buildings!

We are learning as we go about hotel choices. There is an art to it and without Devora with us full-time, there will be some hit and misses! The Concorde is a beautiful hotel, well situated (as described in all of the reviews) close to the monorail and several elevated train lines. But unfortunately, unless you get on the monorail or the LRT, there isn’t a restaurant, convenience store or any sign that you are in Kuala Lumpur for about 2 kilometres. Our first night wandering around was a dismal failure and it started pouring about half way to any kind of commercial street. We soon found that walking anywhere in KL is a challenge. But with a transit map, and with a handy train-bus-monorail pass we were organized by day two.

The photo on the left is the Planetarium. I know, amazing!

All of these guys roam around freely in the park. It is the largest open air bird park in the world and it is truly something to see.

The park has a lot of water features including pools with huge fish and beautiful waterfalls.

KL is a big city but luckily, most of the tourist attractions are in a couple of concentrated areas. On our second day we hit the big green area on the map, where we visited the planetarium (just from the outside), the largest open air bird park (AMAZING!!), the Orchid Park (GORGEOUS) and Butterfly Sanctuary (UNBELIEVABLE – my camera ran out of battery just as we arrived so I don’t really have much to prove how great it was …). That was about 5 hours of walking in the sweltering heat and I was melting. There was still the Botanical Gardens to tackle, but we decided that we needed a cooler place to take a break, have some food and regroup.

My camera conked out after about three shots. There were literallythousands butterflies fluttering around of all sizes and colours.

Orchids of all colours and shapes everywhere!

We hopped in a cab to a covered shopping area called Central Market on the edge of China Town. It is like a three storey Richmond Night Market that got just a bit more upscale. On the top floor was a food fair which would be the Malaysian version of Singapore’s Hawker Markets. Food vendors selling every version of fried noodles mixed with prawns, chicken, beef or vegetables. And many, many other concoctions that neither of us had any idea what they were made of or spiced with. We made some choices (some better than others) and had a meal of sorts to regain some energy.

Just outside of this market place is the famous Petaling Street, where anyone looking for copies of designer handbags, watches, and sports equipment DVD’s or any kind of junk can find and bargain to their hearts content. We needed to find new head torches (note our acquired English influence picked up from fellow Commonwealth friends from our India trip) and a couple of other travel related items, so off we went to brave the sales people and have some fun. It goes on for blocks and blocks with (it seems) everyone selling exactly the same stuff. Some areas are so tight, that there is barely room for two people to squeeze by each other. In the midst of this, there are vendors trying to move through with wagons full of cold drinks covered in ice. Definitely an experience!

On day three, knowing our way around like pros, we headed off to Merdeka Square where several amazing historical buildings stand in stark contrast to the modern glass and brick high rise office buildings that share the city’s skyline. There are beautiful examples of Moorish architecture, Art Nouveau tile work and Tudor Style buildings. On one side of the square is a handsome building that once housed Government printing presses and now acts as City Gallery documenting the history of the city, and it’s architecture. An amazingly detailed miniature model of the entire city as seen at night is a highlight of the museum.

Every city has its challenges for us. In Singapore, we spent the entire visit looking for a laundromat. In KL we spent the whole visit looking for a proper Tourist Information Center. When we walked into the City Gallery, low and behold there was KL’s main Tourist Information Centre. But we soon found out that, in fact, we needed the Malaysia Tourist Centre and not the local KL version. The kind lady behind the desk let us know that the Office we needed was right around the corner from our hotel!!!

Before heading there, we decided to hit the backpacker’s area of town where I had found a hostel that arranges trips to Taman Negara National Park. We found ourselves in yet another really interesting part of town, full of massage parlors, street food vendors, and restaurants boasting lunch specials and happy hour deals. The streets were teaming with locals and tourists and there was the kind of energy that is infectious. We could imagine that if we were here with Dragoman, we would be staying at one of these hotels on a street like this and I would be sitting down about now to have a cold beer!

Finding the hostel was a challenge as I had only made a note of the location on the map, but had not written down the actual address or the name. It took a bit of detective work, but we found it and it ended up being an amazing find. The owner did have information about buses and booking accommodations for Taman Negara National Park, and we almost made a booking for the next morning, but then her son (we think it was her son), threw out a suggestion. “How much time do you have?” he asked. “All the time in the world” I answered casually. “Well, then why don’t you take a look at this brochure? There is this amazing eco resort less than two hours away from KL, only reachable by four wheel drive …”

Within half an hour we were booked to visit Tanah Aina Ferrah Soraya leaving the next morning by bus to Bentong, with a transfer by jeep to the resort. You can expect our reviews in a couple of days!

PS we returned to KL for one last day after our trip to the jungle and I found us a hotel in the “Golden Triangle” where all the action is. Simpler hotel but in a great location and our last day/night in KL was super great! We also found the one and only Laundromat in KL and met a great Australian that runs the place, who gave us all sorts of info on places to visit in Malaysia and tips for Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. I managed to have a cup of the famous Malaysian White Coffee they make here and we had a very tasty Thai meal.

The Golden Triangle is the centre of food, shopping and entertainment in KL. We spent our last night in the centre of things.

The view from the Capitol hotel int he Golden Triangel. Our room was on the 18th floor!

Yes, that is a rice dish in a pineapple (shrimp and pineapple mixed with yummy Thai spices! In the background is a green mango salad and vegi spring rolls. Marc had an amazing seafood noodle soup that blew his head off with spice. Add cold beer and it is heaven!
Not to worry, the jungle story will be coming soon!

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