Kuala Lumpur fun (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

Paul is sleeping peacefully so I head out for a short run. Bukit Bintang is quiet and peaceful as I jog through the streets towards the Petronis Towers. Day has only just cracked her head out of night’s darkness and already it’s hot and sticky. I find my way to the KLCC Park. There’s other joggers here making rounds of the dedicated running track. I do a lap before heading back home. No phone. No camera. No music. No distractions. Just an easy jog.
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Paul is awake now so we chat a while before hitting the streets. I saw a busy local restaurant on my run and it doesn’t disappoint.  We order Chinese chicken noodle and wonton soup, fried noodles with pork, and Malaysia style tea and coffee. It’s the breakfast of champions. The bill comes in at 13RM ($AU4). That’s less than a single dish at the food street and this meal was fantastic. Paul asks whether the restaurant is open tonight. The lady looks at him blankly. “Buka malam?”  (“Open night”) I ask. Ten o’clock she signals with her hands. We’ll try something else on the memu tonight.

Bukit Bintang is Kuala Lumpur’s most modern commercial hub. Think neon signs, glittering shopping malls and suited up businesspeople. The shopping malls are connected by air conditoned subways and overpasses that save pedestrians from mingling with street traffic or the city’s humidity. It’s the easiest and most scenic way to walk from Bukit Bintang to the Petronis Towers. You can also shop in the most vast array of specialty stores along the way from dedicated Marvel Comic stores to Michael Korrs’ high end sunglass shop. You can stop at a shop that only sells brownies or a shop at which you can indulge in popcorn.  It’s all still so Asian in style despite the American influences.
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We promenade in KLCC Park. It’s an oasis. A rest from the busy streets, construction work and retail marketing noise. A place where children can swim in a man-made lagoon or play on a huge playground (security didn’t like me doing same). A place where banyon tree roots plait into knots. And couples sit close together deep in conversation. At night the fountains will dance with lights and music as tourists flock to photograph the famous twin towers.
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The heat starts to become more oppressive as we end our promenade. Continuing our international cinema habits seems quite sensible. The Mummy is about to commence at the TGV Cinema Suria. We settle in. It’s 21RM ($AU7) per ticket. The screen is massive – far larger than at home – and the surround sound really does surround us. The movie is great and I leave satisfied with the whole experience.

We meander back to our guesthouse to refresh. It’s sweaty work exploring Kuala Lumpur on foot. Not that I’m complaining.

Before long the massage street calls us. We decide to go back to the same place as last night with the uniformed staff who show no inclination to offer unwanted extras. That’s the thing about being a man in Asia – it’s not a question of whether you will be offered “ladies” but when. I hate it. It makes me feel cheap and dirty. I don’t care that prostitution exists nor that people use these services. However, I do hate that old men sidle up and offer ladies while bent over old women blatantly offer sex. Particularly in a country where one third of the women are covered. It plays into the fundamentalist stereotype.

It is a little late when we return to Restoran Beremi Meng Kee where we ate breakfast. We eat fried rice, noodles and stir fried vegetables. It’s the simple honest food I love most. It’s the flavours of my childhood: garlic, ginger amd sweet soy sauce. The flavours Mum cooked with at home from the flavours my Javenese grandmother must have cooked for her.
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It’s only 9.30pm. We walk some more and find ourselves at Berjaya Times Square.  It’s peak hour now as thousands of shop workers head home for the night. It’s like 5pm rush hour at home but just later. Streets are clogged as shutters descend on the day’s toil. Despicable M3 is playing at the Gold Screen Cinema. We buy tickets and create some minor chaos by sitting in the wrong seats. Allocated seating in KL means allocated seating. Even when there are other vacant seats one row in front or behind people actually want their seats. They don’t ask. They glare until you move. We just moved to one of the sixty odd other free seats. Note it depends on culture too: we noticed Chinese Malaysians had no difficulty asking people to move. A faux pas perhaps but what’s travel without a little cultural learning.
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And so, it’s after 1am by the time we’ve navigated our way home, declining countless offers of “ladies” on the way.

Kuala Lumpur our old friend (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

We sit watching the runway at the Gold Coast Airport. A crewing issue has delayed our flight by an hour but it doesn’t bother us. We have a two night stopover in Kuala Lumpur so there’s no rush. Budget airlines call this small domestic and interns airport home: Air Asia X, Scoot and Jetstar planes stand on the tarmac waiting for passengers. Just one of each.
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The flight is full. Watching the other passengers is always fascinating. Some complain about everything from the leg room (surely everyone knows by now that leg room is non-existent when flying) to the change for purchases being paid in Malaysian Ringgit. The latter works in our favour because I found some Korean Won when I was packing our house. Not enough to exhange but too much to ignore. I use these to buy a cup of tea: the Ringgit I received as change are more useful to me than the Won. Paul passes the flight sleeping and listening to music while I sleep and watch movies. Oh how I love the convenience of smart phone technology and Netflix.
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The airport bus drops us at Kuala Lumpur Sentral.  We could easily take the monorail to Bukit Bintang but have been sitting all day. The 4km (1.5 mile) walk not only allows us to stretch our legs but also gives us more time “in” KL. Places now evoke memories for us: the shop where we bought sunglasses, the roundabout where we dices with death to get across, the corner where we ate a delicious meal and that spot where I threw a hunger tantrum. And new sights open up before our eyes: the gorgeous Church of the Holy Rosary and the Bukit Bintang food street.
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It’s hot and humid so we take a shower before heading out for dinner at 9pm. The market is an assault on the senses. The heady stench of durian fills the air around the many vendors selling this local delicacy. As much as I hate durian, the scent centres me here in Malaysia. Touts push menus in our faces, proclaiming their restaurant as the best, oldest or cheapest. Small stalls sell the knick knacks typical of any market in the world. Table to table vendors try to push figet spinners and wooden baskets onto the captive audience of diners. And local buskers sing for ringgit. The crowd is mainly a mix of Chinese locals and foreign tourists. But not exclusively. We eat fried rice with sticky sesame pork and spicy stir fried vegetables. What a way to reimmerse ourselves into South East Asia.

A one hour foot massage for RM50 ($AU15) rounds out the first day of our adventure. Paul suggests adding on a back massage but I’m exhausted. It’s only 11pm but my body us still on Brisbane time and it feels like 1am. Besides, we have a full day here tomorrow.

Two lazy days in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia)

We wake to an eerily quiet day in Kuala Lumpur. The city has been shut down due to a political demonstration that will take place today. It’s a good excuse to avoid public places and take it easy. The online news reports that most locals will stay home and maybe catch a movie to avoid the rallies. We decide to do the same.

Housekeeping comes to our room at 12:30pm so that’s when we finally get up. We watch The Accountant at Gold Screen Cinemas Pavilion. 

Downstairs at Pavilion is a massive Christmas display. At home thise who are overly politically correct try to dissuade us from celebrating Christmas in schools and shopping centres for fear of discriminating against Muslims but here Muslim families are quite happy to take photos of the children with Santa and to ride the Christmas themed merry-go-round. I think perhaps we’re creating unnecessary division at home. Rather than minimise Christmas, why not add Ramadan to our calendar like we do with Lunar New Year. 

We wander through the covered walkway to Suria Mall at the Twin Towers for a massage and dinner before catching Hell Or High Water at the Suria TGV cinema. You’re not supposed to bring in outside food but I had a hankering for M&Ms so we smuggle a packet in our pocket. They’re checking bags and taking items off people so we are lucky. 

On our second day we take it easy again. Our flight will depart at 11:10pm. We check out about five minutes before the midday cut off. The monorail takes us to the NU Sentral Mall where we watch Shut In at the Gold Screen Cinema. That makes for movies in three days. 

We’re both traveled out so eat McDonald’s for lunch before catching the bus to the airport where we laze in the movie lounge until our flight. 

Here’s some random photos from our last two days in Kuala Lumpur. 

It’s been an awesome trip. We’re ready for home but are looking forward to our Holland and Belgium trip at Christmas, just five weeks away. 

Phnom Penh to Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia)

The tuk tuk driver rouses himself from his slumber. It’s the slightly rude man who took us to the market last night. He’s probably just worn down from his labours in a hot and hectic city. To him we’re probably rich foreigners who sleep in a bed rather than a hammock strung across a tuk tuk. We’re not a prospect for repeat business so he doesn’t have to care. It’s understandable but still unpleasant. I resent having to pay him at the end of my ride. If he’d been friendly I would have given him the last of my Riel as a tip (about $US1.50 on top of a $US7 fare). But I don’t. I take them home because I cannot bring myself to encourage his approach. 

The streets of Phnom Penh are now less alien than when we arrived. I no longer feel as anxious as I did just twelve days ago. I had read so much bad press about Cambodia and its people. So much that turned out to be so untrue. Our bag was not snatched. Our pockets were not picked. Our belongings were not stolen from our guesthouse rooms (we didn’t stay in dives though – we paid $12-$25 per night for places with excellent reviews). I don’t know why I read up so much. Usually I don’t. Perhaps I’d lost my touch being back on our large island continent for ten months. I wish I hadn’t and I won’t in future. 

We experience the last of our Cambodian snow. That’s what Tony called the dust kicked up by traffic on the gravel roads outside Battambang. Next time I see snow I hope it’s the real stuff in Belgium or Holland at Christmas.

Airport officials make us reprint our boarding passes. Ours have bar codes but don’t look like the airline ones. Flexibility will take a little while to ease into officialdom here. 

It’s a short flight to Kuala Lumpur. Forty minutes over Cambodia, forty minutes over the sea and forty minutes over Peninsular Malaysia. Our captain plays tour guide. He clearly loves his job and it passes the time for us. 

We’re both quite tired and have both picked up stomach bugs in Kampong Chhnang. So we have a lazy afternoon in our room then catch a movie.

We eat at a local restaurant.

And have a short walk around our hotel before calling it a night. 

Kuala Lumpur stopover day 2 (Malaysia)

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The world is already awake outside our window but it’s still quiet. Kuala Lumpur is not an early riser, though nor are we. It’s probably already 8am by now and we’re not even thinking about going outside. There’s a 12pm checkout so why rush. And Paul is a night owl so I just know our best laid plans of an early bedtime will go out the window later today.
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It’s 9:30am by the time we sit down at Pak Ngah’s soup stall in the Pasar Chow Kit (Chow Kit Market). A friendly, modern and thoroughly organised young woman stands piling bowls of noodles and beef ready for customers. It looks so fresh and the beef soup (sup daging) base is bubbling away in a massive vat. There’s no stock cubes here, just big hunks of meat simmering in water (and probably some spices).

Stomachs satisfied we return to our room to pack and check out. We leave Paul’s bag with reception so that we can wander the streets unburdened.
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At Merdeka Square there are marquees and people everywhere. We’ve arrived at a scooter and motorbike drag racing show. Who knew there was such a thing. Young and middle-aged men tinker with hotted up scooters and sales people show off big Japanese bikes that seem impossibly large for the traffic and style of riding that is generally done here.
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But the real action is down on the road in front of the iconic Sultan Abdul Samad Building. Here bikes with engines roaring (believe me, the engines of these little bikes roared like full sized Grand Prix racers) tore up the strip on a quarter mile track.
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Leaving the excitement of the drag races behind we enter the Music Museum. It’s free but holds a good display of local musical instruments and information. It also serves as a few minutes relief from the heat outside.
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Next door to the Music Museum is the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery. I join the other tourists taking photos at the I heart KL sign because it just wouldn’t be polite not to. Inside the gallery there are modern works by local artists and a batic display in a courtyard. But the real piece of interest here is the massive diorama of Kuala Lumpur and the information film that goes along with it. If you are in the city and have had a wander around, this is definitely worthwhile. It certainly gave us both a greater appreciation of the places we’ve been and the places we want to visit. It also shows the vision of Kuala Lumpur to become a major business and tourism city – apparently 300 new high rise buildings will be constructed over the next five years.
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Leaving Merdeka Square we cross under a road bridge where we start to notice we are entering the Muslim heartland of the city. Gorgeous geometric works of art adorn the underpass.
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The Masjid Negara (National Mosque) is currently closed to non-Muslims because it is 2pm. It is only open from 9am – 12pm, 3pm – 4pm and for a short period in the evening. I actually feel it is good that a place of worship is reserved for it’s respective faithful during prayer times because sometimes it must be difficult for people to pray / worship with hundreds of tourists milling around. I certainly know I’d be distracted if I wanted to go to Mass on Sunday (not that I have in a long time) while tourists dressed inappropriately flashed their cameras around. We will return on our way home to check out the interior and make do with looking at the exterior and its many geometric patterns.
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The disappointing thing about being in the area of the National Mosque are the inappropriately dressed backpackers we see all around. It’s disconcerting to come across this in such a conservative country. I’m not saying women should be covered or wearing a headscarf if they are visiting this city but to wear skimpy shorts that leave nothing to the imagination is barely acceptable at home in Australia and is quite offensive here in this land. It’s only a few weeks ago at the F1 that some Australian men were arrested for wearing speedos so why would anyone think it’s okay to wear shorts that barely cover the private area. It gives Westerners a bad name when they travel to conservative countries dressed in this way. Yes, sure, be a feminist but when traveling to conservative countries it’s important to remember that most of the population here won’t ever get to see our countries and our diversity. The only thing they know about Australia, America, Europe or the United States is what they see on television and the tourists who visit their cities. The message this clothing sends is that Westerners have low morals – a falsehood that cannot be explained away by words given the clothing some of us choose to wear. I think the key thing to remember is that as travelers we are ambassadors for our home cultures. What is the message we want to send?
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Not far from the National Mosque we visit the Museum of Islamic Arts. Entry is relatively expensive for tourists (14.85RM / $AU5) but the museum is a brilliant opportunity to learn more about the religion that dominates this part of the world. The museum houses a large collection of artifacts. There’s a fourteenth century embroidered map of Mecca from Northern India, many gorgeously gilded prayer books, a frightening amount of ivory and a weapons collection just to name some of the displays. We pass over an hour in the museum taking it all in. A more dedicated museum-goer could pass even more.
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There’s only one thing to do after all this sight seeing – eat a late lunch. We decide to check out the stalls and food courts over near the Petaling Street Markets and are not disappointed. We end up with an odd mix of Malaysian nasi goreng (fried rice), Indian tandoori chicken and garlic naan, and Chinese pork rib with white rice. As you can see from my face, I am enjoying the food here in Malaysia along with the cheap cost of purchasing it (this whole meal including drinks was about 25RM / $AU8).
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It’s late in the afternoon and we still have to collect Paul’s backpack and make our way to the airport. We have an early flight tomorrow so will spend the night at the Tune Hotel KLIA2 instead of making an early commute. Along our walk we come to the Pasar Malam Kuala Lumpur (Kuala Lumpur Night Market). Being a Saturday afternoon it’s busy here and you can buy almost anything you can imagine. We still have a fortnight of carrying our bags in Cambodia so restrain ourselves but who knows what happens on our way home. Paul isn’t frowning in this photo either – or I don’t think he is.

Our intention is to have an early night at the airport hotel but we don’t arrive until after 8:30pm and then there’s no wifi in our room so we head over to the airport proper to use the free wifi there. We want to download some maps of Phnom Penh, check the address of our hotel and upload some photos to social media. By the time we go to bed I’m cranky and exhausted with less than four hours until we need to get up for the flight. At least the bed is comfortable and the airconditioning cold.

Kuala Lumpur stop over day 1 (Malaysia)

It’s 4:30am and we’re disembarking from our eight hour red-eye. We’re finally back in Asia – we’ve been gone too long. We explore our options at the airport. The container hotel is fully booked out so that blows a catch up sleep and shower. We have hotel booked for tonight but check in isn’t until 2pm, some ten hours away. What to do? A taxi to the city costs 112RM, a train is 55RM per person but the bus is on 12RM per person so the bus to KL Sentral it is.

The 45 minute bus trip gives us time to sleep some more. We think we’ve booked Flora by Crossroads near the KL Tower. It looks like it’s only a few kilometres away and it’s still early so we set off on foot.

Walking allows us a fine reintroduction to this magnificent city. It’s a visual delight of colour and chaos, a cacophony of scooters and construction, and the ever present smell of cheap cigarettes and pollution.

We find ourselves at a Hindu temple but don’t enter because prayers are in full swing. The outside is brilliantly detailed and the scent of incense wafts through the street.

Behind the temple we follow a riverside cycleway. The homeless sh*t in plastic bags without privacy. It smells and I realise rivers are places of contrast all over the world. The rich buy waterfront views while the poor eke out their survival under bridges. It’s humanity at its core – desirous of pleasure but always at risk of doom.

It turns out we’re not staying at Flora by Crossroads but at Crossroads Hotel. It’s another 2km further up the road in Chow Kit. The lady at Flora organised is an early checkin at their sister hotel for an extra 50RM ($AU17). She’s shocked to hear we walked from KL Sentral and that we want to walk to our actual hotel instead of taking a taxi. But taking a taxi would mean missing out on the sights we see along the way: like this cat on a hot tin roof and our delicious breakfast (cost 5.40RM or $AU1.80 for two including tea and coffee). We arrive at our hotel around 8:30am, check in, shower, wash our flight clothes and lay on the bed for a couple of hours. This is worth every single ringett.

Refreshed but still fatigued we walk to the Sunway Putra Mall to catch Doctor Strange at the beanie (beanbag) cinema. I love the casual seats but they are not made for tall people so it’s less comfortable for Paul. At least we’re continuing our practice of seeing movies everywhere we go. And this time it was in a unique cinema style. The movie was entertaining and engaging too – our 28th movie in less than six months.

We both have or second wind so set off on foot to explore more of what Kuala Lumpur has to offer. But not before I have a bit of shopping centre fun with some of the displays. (That’s how I know I’m feeling good again – I’m being playful and spontaneous).

Paul has seen a reflexology shop on our walk to the cinema so insists we stop. Walking upstairs I can’t help but hope we’re not walking into another front for a brothel. It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve been tricked by a legitimate looking sign. The car seats say it all really – as does the television blaring in the corner. The ugly ladies (they genuinely were physically ugly) try to entice us to have more than a foot massage but we strongly decline. Mine keeps trying to work up past my knees to my groin and I push her firmly away each time. We pay for half hour but don’t get any extra foot massage for the ten minutes they have allotted to the happy ending. I don’t begrudge the women their living not judge them. But I do wish we wouldn’t get tricked by legitimate looking signs.

Back on the street we decide to take a random route to the Petronas Twin Towers. Random because we just walk towards them without checking where we go. First there’s the Pasar (Market) Chow Kit.

Then we find ourselves on the wrong side of the river in KL’s suburbs. The juxtaposition of old and new is so stark here. Locals go about their lives as we meander through the streets and lanes on our way to the next river crossing some two kilometres away. And no we didn’t buy any durian – I can’t understand how anyone can eat it.

Crossing the river we enter a massive hive of construction activity. High tide apartments and office towers are going up all around the Twin Towers. We were here in April 2015 and already the area is so different. I can’t imagine what the next five years will bring to KL. It’s already 3pm and we haven’t eaten anything but some fruit I bought at the market. So we settle on the food court for some Malaysian rice dishes. Downstairs on level C there’s an amazing massage place we visited last year so Paul decided we’re going back. It’s genuine, professional and relaxing. 150RM ($AU48) buys 90 minutes of reflexology, back, hand and head massage. That’s good value for us Aussies.

Our day is not over yet though. We watch the fountain show along with thousands of people from all over the world. At a time when the media and governments of the world are focused on encouraging people to hate, it’s amazing to be in a place where people come from all over the world to enjoy the simplicity of music and colour. No wonder our government at home wants to discourage funding and valuing of the arts – because it is the arts that bring all humans together as one. And bringing people together as one is the only thing that can prevent the war that we are on the brink of enduring. So I pray the artists, musicians, writers and other creatives of the world keep on doing what they do to create art, music, stories and other opportunities for humans to come together in awe.

We finally end our day walking back to Chow Kit where we have dinner around 9:30pm at a street stall. It’s no surprise to me that I am asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow. We’ve crammed a truckload into our first day.

And we’re off – Cambodia trip 2016

Paul and I tied the knot on Monday night at our Halloween themed, non-government-sanctioned wedding ceremony. I don’t play the divisive and demeaning “commitment ceremony” game. While marriage equality is yet to occur in Australia (not for lack of public support), we don’t need some official government suit to recognise our relationship because 100 of our closest family and friends have (including their own certificate to recognise our union). 

Our wedding was amazing and an incredibly happy event. And I am blessed to have a kindred spirit as my husband. 

So now we’re off on our honeymoon to Cambodia. It’s the first trip where I can leave my laptop at home because I no longer work online. Sure, I now don’t get paid when I travel (I work casually) but boy will it be fantastic to just relax, explore, read and laugh without needing to make time to think. And this also means my 32L pack is half empty 🙂 .

Tonight we fly to Kuala Lumpur, arriving at 4am tomorrow morning. We have two days in magnificent KL before we continue on to Phnom Penh. Stay tuned for some stories from the road.

It’s been 10 months since we traveled together and we’ve both missed it. This will change moving forward, starting right now.