Sunday, November 15, 2009

3 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

It was a stomach-turning, Malaysian pop music-filled, four-hour van ride down from the Cameron Highlands and we were greeted by a steamy day in Kuala Lumpur. First we settled in to our delightfully airconditioned room at the Mayview Glory. The hotel was excellently located across the street from the bus station, next door to inexpensive and reliable Restaurant Aji (where we would eat many a meal of curry mee), and just a few blocks away from KL's famous Chinatown. At Mayview Glory we came to terms with the fact that our Malaysia itinerary was not very original, as we ran into four people from our Cameron Highlands tour group the day before. It turns out that the tourist trail is a very worn, fixed route and this wasn't the only time we would spot familiar faces from past cities.

It wasn't long before we headed over to Petaling Street, Chinatown's main drag, which is closed off to traffic and completely taken over by a maze of stalls selling clothing, watches, and purses. Katrina took a turn refreshing her tired wardrobe, haggling for a Lacoste shirt and a pair of the ubertrendy Aladdin pants we'd seen everywhere since first landing in Paris. Just a few blocks north, representing another of Malaysia's primary ethnic groups, is Little India. It was a bit difficult for Patrick to return to the sights, sounds, and particularly smells of India--even in miniature.

We walked every corner of KL during our three-day stay--though sometimes it felt more like swimming through the dense humidity and scattered showers. We visited the strikingly modern National Mosque and the more classic Masjid Jamek, sprawling Merdeka Square, and the cold indoor bliss of Central Market (who cares what they were selling inside). On the far side of town we enjoyed the National Museum and the lovely orchid and hibiscus gardens just outside. Hibiscus is Malaysia's national flower and we'd be happy to trade them for the boring old rose anytime. Of course we couldn't leave town without a trip up the iconic Petronas Towers. Visitors get to go only as far as the skybridge that connects the two towers, a little less than halfway up, which is amazing since it's 42 stories high! It was incredible to think that the Prudential Building, which makes such a mark on the Boston skyline, would be a runt next to the Petronas Towers. Admission is free but we had to claim first come, first serve tickets in the morning for an afternoon visit and were made to watch a seven minute "3D" (Patrick says more like 2.5D) advertisement for Petronas before our ascent.

About an hour ride on local bus #11 took us to the Batu Caves outside downtown KL. We climbed 272 steps to get to the mouth and entered to find a scattered collection of Hindu temples built in to the nooks and crannies. Quite a dramatic setting for worship! There was also a large population of monkeys climbing around, playing with trash, and posing for pictures. We had way too much fun watching them eat bananas and drink soda from the can.

KL was full of fun opportunities to try new things. Our favorite was definitely the fish spa: a popular pedicure substitute where you stick your feet in a tank and special fish eat the dead skin off your body. There are separate tubs for small, medium, and large fish, and we were free to hop between them. The first nibbles had us giggling and squirming, but as time passed the weird and ticklish sensation turned into something very soothing and refreshing. Katrina even worked her way up to the big fish! By the time our 20 minutes was up we didn't want to leave.
Less of a hit was our experience with durian. We saw that the large, spiky, very pungent fruit was banned in our hotel and many other public places, so obviously our curiosity was piqued. Durian is not hard to find on the streets of Kuala Lumpur since you can smell its funky odor from blocks away. Unfortunately for durian and for us it tastes exactly like it smells...which is a weird mixture of sweetness, cheese, and old trash. We wish we could say we learned our lesson, but Patrick insisted on giving the offensive fruit another try in popsicle form. As you can tell from his expression in this picture, this was the end of our fleeting affair with durian.

View more pictures from Kuala Lumpur here.

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