Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ah, Not So Much

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was the next random destination simply because cheap flights from Myanmar are limited to KL or Bangkok, and I couldn't bare going through Bangkok a 4th time in weeks.

I arrived close to midnight and found a taxi that of course had NO idea where the Rainforest B&B was located, despite the fact that I kept telling him to turn as he passed the street and building time after time--- not funny at 1am!

Rested I decided to walk ALL over town and see the sites. I soon realized they don't really have many sites and it isn't so easy to walk as it often seemed I was crossing small highways to get where I needed to go.

I first headed in the direction of Chinatown's Petaling Street Market-- pretty much like all the other Chinatown markets with lots of stalls selling a variety of random cheap stuff to tourists. That didn't hold my interest for long, just long enough to cool down in a building since KL is steamy!

I did stumble upon the Central Market, originally used as the main wet market built in 1888, which well exceeded expectations since unlike ever other market it actually had things worth buying. I just had some lunch (and a chocolate chip cookie), walking past the beautiful pink and cream colored old mosque, Masjid Jamek (1907), on route to Merdeka Square where independence was declared in 1957.

Next up a walk through Lake Gardens Park which is chock full of activities. I didn't have too much interest in the Bird Park, but did stop at the orchid garden (which was just okay since they seemed to be in the process of planting).

The highlight of KL was really the Islamic Art Museum. Not only is it housed in a magnificent building, but also had some interesting exhibits on everything from mosque architecture, to jewelry, calligraphy, textiles, etc. organized by region.

After these few attractions I realized the only thing left was malls--- KL is a city of mega malls, most of them very upscale. The Christmas decorations were funny and over-the-top, especially given this is a Muslim country, and the food and movies (I saw "Unstoppable") were nice, but I really needed to get out of town before I started shopping.

One last thing before fleeing--- go to the top of the Petronas Towers, the 451.9m twin towers built in 1998, formerly the world's tallest buildings before the Taipai 101 Tower went up in 2003 (and most recently the Burj Dubai Tower). Unfortunately tickets were already sold out for the day. Fortunately, it soon started pouring down rain so I wouldn't have been able to see anything anyway, and it wasn't cheap!

The bad part-- of course the Towers have a mall attached so I had to reinvest my time in shopping and spending too much money. On the plus side you will get to see me in different outfits in the photos ;-)

For whatever reason the bus station is a good 45 minutes drive from the city. Since it was raining I took at cab for 50 Ringgit to the station to then be hurried into a bus that was "leaving right now!" (for 12 Ringgit- I don't get the pricing here!) Yeah, the bus left a hour later as I got more and more annoyed being stuck inside with no snack or water. Ugh!

In a couple hours I was in Malacca (which seems to be spelled three different ways), yet another World Heritage City. First settled by the Chinese, followed by the Portuguese in 1509, then the Dutch in 1641 and the Brits in 1795, all were trying to stake claim to the Asian trade routes.

Again I walked all over town (getting a wee lost once) and saw all the old colonial buildings in Dutch Square, including Stadthuys (1660) and Christ Church (1753), the oldest protestant church in Malaysia. All the old buildings are painted a red color- rumor is that dirt kept staining the buildings so the Brits decided it was easier to paint the buildings that color so they would always look nice (the other theory- to mask stains left from the constant spitting by passers-by- ewwwwhhhh!)

The charming little town, with the river separating the Chinese and European areas, was really adorable, but again not much to do and absolutely no nightlife. The main amusement came from the garishly decorated trishaws that blasted bad American pop music-- bazaar!

Old Malacca, aka Chinatown, is the residential area west of the river with tons of cute shops, cafes and restaurants (which never seemed open). Harmony Street was cool in that it contains the houses of worship for Malaysia's three main faiths - the Cheng Hoon Teng Chinese temple, the Sri Poyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Hindu Temple and the Kampung Kling Mosque.

The best part is that Malaysians are known for their good food, and I did eat well in both KL and Malacca. The Indian food at Pak Putra Tandoori and Naan Restaurant, sitting in plastic chairs street side, was the best I've ever had. Sure, the other attempts at food were a little frustrating since the town appeared deserted after 8pm-- not sure why nothing was open, but I guess there weren't any customers beating down their doors besides me.

After a few nights here (a whopping four in Malaysia) with nothing to do other than hang out and Thanksgiving approaching, it was time to head in a new direction.

(I had intended to return to Malaysia to visit Penang and Langkawi, but it never happened. Next time!)

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