A Tale of Two Towers

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Last week on the blog, Dean fled Singapore for the northern haven of Malaysia. On the way, he found some help from an unlikely ally. The Danes. Kristoffer, as the story goes, was following a very similar itinerary to Dean for several days and also fleeing the Singapore Slings and Arrows, a conspirational agency devoted to emptying wallets and unseating budgets. The pair snuck on to a bus bound for the far away city of Malacca, a city that had once sheltered kings and sultans and now, with any luck, would do the same for our heroes. The Dutch had founded their East India Trade empire here, the south seas had been tamed from here, and it was conveniently situated halfway between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. The bus ride was a three hour ordeal, encountering more than one border check, numerous attempts by evil forces aligned to repel all passers by, and still our adventurers found themselves at the throne of the once mighty Dutch empire, looking around, as they were, a bustling bus station. And that’s where, dear reader, the story of crossing Malaysia truly begins.

Selamat Datung Malacca. Welcome, that is, to Malacca (now anglicized as Melaka). Yes, it sounds like something to call an annoying Greek friend, and yes, it still made me turn my head as though I’d misheard something every time it was said. But aside from that, the town seemed quite nice and organized. In fact, the whole trip up I’d been expecting a much more Indonesian feel to the country but instead was greeted with clean, wide highways and interchanges. There was no doubt that Malaysia was doing significantly better, economically, than Indonesia. It showed everywhere. Kristoffer and I grabbed a bus from the station into the city and town square whereupon exiting we met up with an American named Marcus also looking for a place to hang his headband. The three of us wandered and made a few stops at the Discovery Café, Suma Suma Guesthouse, and one or two other places before we came to Ringo’s Foyer. The three of us split a room and we probably didn’t make as good a decision collectively since.

Ringo’s Foyer is not on the way to anything, and it sits on the edge of Chinatown, so we were lucky to find it. It was fortuitous that I remembered my Bahaa from Indonesia well enough to ask some locals fr directions and was pointed in that direction. It’s not in the Lonely Planet or any of the sources we have, but the owner is very, very, friendly and looked after us as though we were his personal guests. After settling in a bit, we borrowed some umbrellas from him and set out in the rain which has started hut as we walked into his hotel. Then we walked the streets, stopping in Chinatown for a much needed late lunch at Famosa, which I cannot recommend you avoid enough. We were lured in by what appeared to be a lot of locals eating there but was really just Asian tourists from Singapore and elsewhere making the same bad decision we did. We walked on, past town hall and a relic ship from the past before coming towards a more commercial strip. Nearby was a Holiday Inn towering over the city and we went up to the top floor of it to get a view of the city as night fell.

Leaving the Holiday Inn, we passed a food market and grabbed some dinner there, which was a much more inspired choice. I had laksa, which was excellent, we all had a bit of satay, Marcus had a pork bone soup, and Kristoffer had a sort of coconut rice porridge which wasn’t too bad either. We were hoping to hang out with some other travelers, but our efforts were unrewarded at the Discovery Café. We explored some more hoping to have better luck later and stumbled across a fair or something with a ferris wheel and lots of nice river lighting. In fact, most of the city is lit quite nicely in different colours and pretty to walk through at night. We also stumbled across a little party of locals – all beyond partying-prime – and had a drink with them. It was the most that was happening in town, so why not? Heck, Marcus even got a short massage out of the deal. We stayed for one drink and moved back to the Discovery Café. There was a table of girls and we felt that was all the incentive needed for one more drink, though moving closer it became clear that none of them had been called girls in some time. Another drink and back home for the night.

Ringo was really good to us with respect to checkout times in that he told us we could leave whenever we were ready. We went for breakfast – chicken rice – at a place Marcus had heard of and it was quite nice though small. We went for our second-breakfast (or elevensies if you’d prefer) shortly after, at the Chinese restaurant right beside Ringo’s and it was likewise delicious. Then, Ringo walked us to the bus stop and waited with us and we were off to Kuala Lumpur at 1:00. Travelling as I am with company for the first time in a long time, the bus rides are nice opportunities to relax, get a bit of reading done, and just have a bit of quiet time. Thus it was not long until we were driving through the city centre and the twin spires of the Petronas towers, once the world’s tallest building, were forming the KL skyline. We found a hostel in Chinatown, Backpackers’ Inn on Jalan Sultan, and wandered the area, through some really crowded and bustling rolling markets and beyond to Merdeka Square. The square is the centre of the old colonial district and also the place where Malaysian independence was claimed.

From there, we were off to the KL Tower, which was quite tall indeed, especially situated as it is on a hill. We didn’t pay the 20 RM to go to the top, and probably we should have in retrospect, but we did have a look around and a detour through the jungle of the surrounding hillside trying to find a way down. Finally, we reached our destination just as the sky was darkening into a beautiful cobalt and the towers were beginning to sparkle, feeding on the darkness like stars in the night sky. They really were breathtaking, more so than I ever expected. I was hypnotized, I really was. We spent over a half hour just looking up and gawking at the towers as the sky grew darker and the buildings shone ever more. Well, gawking and taking photos. We did manage to tear ourselves away from them and have dinner nearby which was, again, terrific, but even as we walked home my eyes kept looking back for them. They are marvels in every sense that something manmade can be. The lighting, the surroundings, the architecture, the symbolism, the engineering, the immensity, and the delicacy are perfectly balanced. But I’m raving now.

We got back to our hostel after the customary post-busy-day-beer and the boys went to bed while I went up and hung out at the rooftop bar with some travelers from Scandinavia and Poland. I wound up staying up far too late, 3:30 to be precise, chatting with a really nice guy and girl from Toronto and London respectively. This should have made it impossible to rouse me at 7 AM that morning to get to the skybridge of the Petronas Towers, but au contraire. Yes, I could hardly keep my eyes open (it helped not a bit that I’d slept with my contacts in), but I was raring to go. Especially after the especially cold shower that is compulsory in most of the budget places we’ve been staying. We got to the towers just in time for the line to start being processed, 8:30 AM, and within an hour had our tickets to go up to the 41st storey sky bridge (it’s actually two storeys but the second is reserved for workers) and have a look. The view was nice, KL is actually a beautiful city surrounded by some pretty hills.

After our trip up the towers we were back down and grabbed lunch which was the first food I’d not enjoyed in three days, and my stomach being a bit off didn’t help. The boys went to the Batu caves but I had to decline as a result, though I might have just grinned and borne it if I’d really been interested in the caves. Still, I had a bit of down time, a light read/nap, and felt 100 times better two hours later. We met up, got some internet done, and went for dinner in Chinatown. Several times. Sometimes I feel like I’m at the Ex here, at a food fair. We just went from stall to stall and sampled anything that looked good or unique or interesting. I had some sort of veggie roll, we all had some excellent satay, and we all tried each others’ dishes, too. I also had a shaved ice and coconut milk and brown sugar and sweet noodle concoction that was delicious and only fifty cents. I’ve been pretty good about avoiding sweets and junk food in the last little while. That, I suspect, is going to change after seeing some of the options.

We had a beer and people-watched for awhile and then all retired to the rooftop bar and had a long conversation or two until late that night. I’m not sure conversation was the right word as my Swedish friend did all the talking, but it did get interesting briefly when he attempted to draw parallels between Jesus and Hitler. Or rather, highlight differences. I’m not sure what he was attempting to conclude, but the gist of it was that Jesus taught peace and ended up nailed to the cross where Hitler preached war and almost ruled the world. Yeah. Tiger beer is a dangerous commodity in Scandinavian hands. We said goodnight and left Kuala Lumpur and, sadly, Marcus the next morning. It was tough to break up the fellowship, he was a good guy to travel with, very laid back and very interesting, but I suspect we’ll meet again on the Asian trails. Kristoffer and I have made it up to the Cameron Highlands now, an area of tea growing, jungle, and cooler temperature (10-21 Celsius year-round). It seems nice up here and I’m sure will be a good start to the beginnings of northern Malaysia.

Malaysia Photos

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