We crash landed nice and safely in Kuala Lumpur, our home for the foreseeable future. Upon first impression, this was the most bustling street markety city vibe we had experienced, which took a bit of adapting. Our first night was spent in the area called Pasar Seni, where Chinatown is based, and food and clothes markets galore. A fruit juice store did its absolute best to entice us with their new Chinese New Year special drink, so much so that you got a lucky dip prize with the purchase. They had me at lychee, so I made the purchase then opened my mystery prize. It was a pretty big event, every staff member gathered round to see what level of victory I would achieve. It revealed a buy one get one free and everyone was delighted, Malaysians smiling at Malaysians smiling at us. The staff laughed and playfully shook their heads. It was a great moment. Days later we went back to claim the buy one get one free and we didn’t choose the Chinese New Year special. The smiles disappeared.
The next night it was time to catch up with an old uni bezzie, Agoston, who was now living in Malaysia. We headed over to his apartment where he was kind enough to let us stay. We met his flatmate, Marton, and his girlfriend, Kate, and went out for dinner to Jalan Alor. This was a popular spot for dinner and drinks which we would revisit a few more times. We harked back to Uni days spent together, getting wasted on Guinness and hosting house parties. Good times and good to see a friendly face the other side of the planet.
A market stall in Chow Kit
We were excited to try durian, the Malay’s local delicacy.
We couldn’t believe how much of it there was.
…particularly as it tasted like crap.
For two people on a budget travellers backpacking adventure, we never expected that in one day we would go for a dip and play squash on the 9th floor of an apartment block, then head to a bar on a helipad for cocktails with live music and insane views. As a bonus, there were firework displays going off everywhere, so we had the best view of those too. I have never looked down a firework before, which gives quite a cool alternative perspective. So, in all, a completely normal day for two backpackers…not! hahahahaha…ha.
We were fortunate enough to be in Kuala Lumpur for Thaipusam, one of the biggest Hindu festivals in the world, and celebrated at Batu Caves once a year. We decide to embrace a trillion people in a confined space. We arrived at Batu Caves and the first thing which caught our eye was the huge statue of Murugan, the Hindu deity, overseeing the entrance to the Temple Cave. At the feet of this architectural masterpiece were hundreds of people preparing to climb the 272 steps up to the cave’s entrance. But this wasn’t a casual stroll up some steps, because this wasn’t a normal festival. This was a festival where people stuck spikes through their cheeks and into their backs before carrying a huge shrine on their shoulders up to the temple. As we followed these lucky few who would make this journey impaled and weighed down, we walked past people unconscious up the stairs, others shaking with fatigue, yet denying water. We discovered that these people had fasted for a month beforehand, so had no energy to actually carry out their task. They were assisted by a group of helpers, so to speak, who were in charge of holding the person up, and they would gee the guy up before attacking each set of steps in a kind of Rocky Balboa style motivational speech. There were some people holding metal pots with milk on their heads who were also intermittently pausing for stops and breathers, some even fainted. I thought these guys may have been putting it on a bit as compared to the geezers with shrines on their heads, they had it pretty easy. The jury was out with the pot people.
This famous Aussie guy who has walked the steps for over 30 years.
Taking on the steps
A bloke with hooks in his back
A bloke coming up the steps with a shrine on his head.
The old Aussie guy coming up the steps
Ednora smashing some of the good stuff
One guy walked up the steps with a beam across his back
Digging in for the last steps!
Entrance to the cave
The impressive Statue outside the cave
We took the train back to Agoston’s place and noticed that when you exit, the train does a little jingle to say goodbye, which is lovely. Imagine the London Underground during rush hour as you fight your way past the armpits of hate-filled commuters, desperate to breathe polluted air rather than damp, sweaty air for the first time in half an hour, internally peeved that your journey is extortionately overpriced. Rather than 300 announcements telling you to ‘get off the train’ and ‘stand behind the line’ and ‘watch the slippery floor’ and ‘keep to the left’ and ‘let the passengers off the train before boarding’ and ‘this train is ready to depart’, perhaps a little jingle would make everything just that tiny bit better. It was then time to experience the other end of the Kuala Lumpur spectrum by heading over to the Petronas Towers to watch a concert by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra. Orsi, Agoston’s friend, was the Bassoonist, so we were lucky enough to catch a performance. We had gone from witnessing Indians impaled with hooks and spikes, passed out half way up the Batu Caves, to a live orchestra performance of Mahler’s Revelation. Standard.
We were beginning to learn that museums were a good indicator for how awesome a country or region thought it was, and was an interesting insight into their opinions of other countries. The KL Museum was, all in all, slightly self-righteous, more or less implying that although they lost a majority of battles to the countries who colonised them, they fought gallantly until their final breath, yet, when the conniving, scheming (which is true) English negotiated their way into Malaysia, the Sultan was promised a new title fit for his people, and a wedge of cash. I feel ‘sold out’ should have been an appropriate description, but I suppose the English are slippery customers. Who knows what went on in those meetings/bribe-chats/death threats? It was then back to the present day and a trip to Chow Kit market where all the locals shopped for their food. This was the first time I had witnessed loads of chickens in a cage, about to be destroyed for the purpose of a human lust for tasting the flesh of a fellow creature, and it wasn’t the best thing to see, but I still would have had chicken that night. I’m a terrible person.
Evidence Agoston was with us!
No photograph allowed. We’re nutcases
Proof I was there
It was time to discover another part of Malaysia, so we headed south of the mainland to an old colonial port town, called Melaka. This quaint little spot was rich in history and old colonial architecture. It oozed a great sensation of local pride at their past. This place had an incredibly high number of museums per square metre, we were sure that there was one on every road. We got stuck into the maritime museum which was inside a big Portuguese ship, which was cool. Top Facts:
• The Portuguese colonised Melaka in 1511 and took control of all trade in the port. However, they greedily raised the taxes so high, merchants decided to ditch Melaka and trade elsewhere – namely Penang and Singapore – causing Melaka to end its reign as the biggest shipping port.
• Naturally, the British came in 1795 and took control of Melaka after the Napoleonic War, but were more interested in trading with China, so Melaka became obsolete.
• At Melaka’s height, 84 different languages were spoken in the town, boasting its rich culture.
That night we had dinner at a lovely restaurant with a jazz band, and water from an air conditioning vent dripping on my head, which gave a tropical experience.
The Maritime museum
Ednora climbing aboard
The Information Centre put on a free walking tour which we took advantage of. The key fact we learnt was that Melaka was named so after the Prince in the town watched three dogs lose a fight to a mouse deer. He loved what he had witnessed under a big Melaka tree, so decided to call the town Melaka.
It was then that I experienced my first ever massage. I’d seen it in the movies: candlelight, music, oils, sensual love making in a bubble bath with a thousand supermodels. Turns out all those porn movies lied to me, and it was in fact the most aggressive attack on my person I had ever experienced. Let’s forget the fact she had her knees on my back, and let’s forget the fact she used her elbow to press into my spine, but let’s not forget the fact the she placed my neck over the hole thingy my drooling face was pressed up against, turned my head, and then cracked my neck like a breadstick. She had my life in her unforgiving builder’s hands. I came out of the massage parlour completely traumatised. I had been attacked, but it felt fantastic. My body was refreshed and I was aware of muscles I didn’t even know I had, like my scrawny biceps. That evening we headed back to Kuala Lumpur.
A lovely guy we met who owned a vintage material shop and loved talking about Allah.
There were a few monkeys doing their thing
The government building in the town centre
Around the ancient Hindu temple
Back in KL
There was no rest for us, as the next day as we went on an epic hiking trip with Orsi up a mountain. It was pretty tough. We had to use ropes and each other to get through some sketchy climbs. Thank goodness for that massage; it helped me utilise my previously under-used arms to their full potential. A couple of days later we went back to the Batu Caves without the millions of people, and entered the Bat Cave – home to over 200,000 bats. The screeching sounds were incredible and worth the sensation to be standing under all those nocturnal creatures.
Back at Batu Caves