Though this won’t be posted for another two weeks or so I’m writing from my hostel in Kuala lumpur. I feel slightly delirious, a kind of light headed feeling much like being intoxicated, but I haven’t had a chance to enjoy a single beer on my last night in this charming city. No, this feeling comes from a mix of painkillers and concussion, as I’ve had the privilege of spending most of my evening in the emergency clinic at the city hospital. But before I get to that I should back track several days to when I left Cambodia.
After saying goodbye to my Welsh traveling companions Owen and Chantel, my next stop after Siem Reap should have been somewhere in Laos. Instead of spending two days on buses on the long haul through southern Laos to Vientiene I decided to strike out on my own again and spend a bit of money to fly. The cheapest way to do with was to use the budget airlines; Jetstar, who fly to Singapore; and Air Asia, who fly from Kuala lumpur. I was lucky to find some specials so including taxes baggage and everything my two flights, Siem Reap to Singapore, KL to Vientiane, ended up costing $150 AUD and gave me four days to explore two of the most developed cities in south east Asia. Sadly my little sojourn didn’t work out quite as it should have.
The plan then was to spend one night in Singapore then get a sleeper train to Kuala Lumpur, where I would stay another 2 nights before leaving behind first world luxuries to return to Loas. I had heard Singapore was expensive so all I really wanted to see was the zoo and night safari. After a pleasant flight and being awed by Singapore’s amazing airport and metro system I found a nice hostel in Chinatown that was super expensive by SE Asia standards ($20 a night!) but a good bed, clean sheets, air conditioning, and clean bathroom with hot water were truly luxuries after Cambodia. So was being able to drink tap water again. After asking the helpful girl at the hostel receptions about the night safari I was told it took around an hour an a half by subway and buses to get to there. So unfortunately that scratched that option from my to do list pretty quickly. I was still feeling under the weather after Siem Reap; my head cold had moved into my chest; so I decided to go to the train station and book my ticket to KL and then just explore the colonial district and some museums instead. I made my way to the train station, a hike in itself from the nearest subway station and not particularly pleasant in the humidity, only to find the sleeper train was full. Thus I got an earlier train, leaving at 1pm the next day meaning I missed out on my full day in Singapore. This also meant I now had no time to visit the zoo. So much for my plans in Singapore. I also found out the price, it was supposed to be 34 malaysian dollars if you went KL to SG but because I was booking in Singapore it was 34 Singapore dollars, about two and a half times times the price! I should have got the bus (which is much cheaper and takes 5-6 hours), but I had heard the train was a nice relaxing 7 hour trip so I booked it anyway. Defeated I headed to the Colonial district to explore and visit some museums.
After leaving the Asian Cultures Museum and Singspore Museum I headed to Orchid Road in the evening to witness the shopping mecca of Singapore. This place was ridiculous, like a cross between 5th Avenue, Manhattan and Shibuya, Tokyo. Monolithic shopping malls towered over the road as far as my eyes could see, gigantic electronic billboards were beaming advertisements into every passing retina, and the sidewalk shopfronts laughed at my poor backpackers wallet with gleaming stores selling Prada, Armani, Louis Vutton, Gucci etc. I walked for a while soaking it up before heading into the blissfully air conditioned basement of one of the shopping centres to find the food court and partake in the one affordable aspect of Singapore, good cheap food.
For my second day I didn’t have much time to explore as I had to leave for the train station at midday. I wandered Chinatown and Little India, both felt a little too clean and orderly to really live up to their names. The most interesting thing was walking through a Hindu temple in Little India as it was completely alien to my western sensibilities, and nothing like the typical Buddhist temples usually found in South East Asia. After a grueling march with 20kgs of luggage through the midday Singapore humidity I made it to the train station sweaty and exhausted. I got my passport stamped and found my 2nd class seat on the train. The train was quite old, but still far more comfortable than any bus I’ve taken over here. I settled in prepared to read Che Guevara’s The Motorcycle Diaries and catch up on my blog on the long train trip. I got halfway through the short book when I started getting a headache. After the headache came the muscle aches, then the chills, then a slight fever. I felt miserable and still had 5 hours left of the trip. I curled up in my seat listening to The National, letting Berninger’s deep baritone voice sooth my hurts as I tried to sleep. In tune to their song I lingered half awake in a fake empire as the train rumbled through the Malaysian jungle.
Finally after what felt like a small eternity I made it to KL. With a throbbing head and a solid case of dehydration I stumbled around and eventually located the monorail terminal and followed my instructions to a hostel in the Golden Triangle district of the city. The Golden Triangle is the upmarket business/shopping district, full of shining skyscrapers and bright electronic billboards, kind of a mini Orchard Rd. I walked through slightly bedazzled in my present state by all the visual stimulation and found my hostel, Pujangga Homestay, in a back street. The hostel was actually very nice, nicer even than the Singapore one and only a third the price. Immediately after checking in I gobbled some Panadol, showered and went to bed.
The following morning I woke feeling much better. My fever and aches were gone, so I guess no H1N1, and my cold had returned to a loose cough that could be kept in check with a little Ventalin. I had been told the one thing to do in KL was see the Batu Cave, a large cave 15km from the city which houses a Hindu temple and a load of monkeys, so I headed to Chinatown to get a bus there. On the bus there I met a Kiwi, Tristan, who had just flown in from Paris where he had been working until recently quitting his job to go traveling. The caves were kind of disappointing. They were big, but the temple wasn’t as iterating as the one I saw in Singapore, mostly because there was no one using it, only tourists. The most interesting thing to watch were the monkeys. These critters were everywhere, and were ridiculously brazen in their attacks on any tourist who looked like they may have had food. I witnessed a couple from my bus have a plastic bag full of food for a picnic torn out of their hands, and they watched on shocked as the monkeys tore it open and started rummaging through the food within. They were saved when another tourist, an Indian man, ran over and kicked the monkeys away.
With the “one thing” I was to do in KL done I got some lunch then headed with Tristen to the Patronas towers, which until recently were the tallest buildings in the world. These two monstrosities rise out of a 6 story shopping mall and foror a small fee you can visit the skybidge connecting them about halfway up, if you can procure a ticket. Unfortunately for us all the days tickets were sold out, and the people at the desk didn’t believe Tristan’s tale of us being robbed and our tickets stolen. Instead we hiked the short distance over to KL tower and went up to it’s observation deck which actually gives a better view of KL, including a nice view of the patronas towers. Our ticket also included a visit to a “zoo”, and a Formula 1 simulation. The later was a bad Playstation game in a little car shaped console, much like Those old Daytona USA games only not fun, the former was more like a pet store full of creepy crawlies; snakes, spiders and lizards mostly. Anyone who says they are scared of coming to Australia because of our spiders, I have news for you: never go to Asia or South/Cental America. Our funnel webs may have extremely deadly venom, but the beastly spiders from these other parts of the world were the size of small kittens. Kittens with 8 furry legs. They made our guys look like cute little insects.
While at the Zoo, I got talking to two Dutch girls there, Mel and Inges, and we made plans to meet up in Chinatown later for dinner and drinks. We ended up at a place called Reggae bar, which made some potent long island iced teas, and spent the evening watching Tristen get obsessed with the pool table. It was a pretty fun night out, but I ran out of money early on due to blowing my limited finances in the market and not having an ATM card with me. I also met a cool Argentinian guy called Nacho who was heading to Indonesia the next day for a surf trip. I ran over to him and drunkenly yelled “Soy de Argentina! (I’m Argentinian!)” to him, before correcting it to “Vos de Argentina (You’re Argentinian?”. I then reminisced with him on some of the places I had visited over there in my last big backpacking trip.
The next day, my last full one in KL, I had planed to meet back up with the Dutch girls at the National Museum at 1pm. I spent the morning exploring Chinatown and little India, both of which felt much more authentic than Singapore’s versions. Around 1pm I discovered the place I was looking for, the National History Museum, no longer existed, and the National Museum was a kilometer or so walk away. As I made my way there, getting lost numerous times, I passed some huge mosques just as the large Friday prayer sessions were getting underway. This was quite interesting to see as I had never seen Islamic people worshipping before, and like my brief Hindu experience it was quite alien to my western raised sensibilities. When I finally found the museum I was a sweating mess and the 2 RM admission fee was worth paying just to enjoy the air conditioning. The most interesting exhibit for me was the section on modern Malaysia and showed how they obtained independence from Britain. The Malay, Chinese and Indian political parties formed an alliance and peacefully negotiated their freedom. It left me feeling quite proud for Malaysia and sad I didn’t have more time to see this country. Everyone here is quite friendly and racial racially tolerant, which makes the country feel very multicultural and peaceful. While it is an Islamic country freedom of religion is respected and Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims all happily get along.
That night Mel and Inges came over to my Golden Triangle side of the city for dinner and we planned to walk around after and explore the neighborhood. I had plans to do some night photography of the city lights too. Alas my last night ended in disaster, as we were leaving the little side street Indian restaurant we ate at I was waving at an adorable little Indian girl who was sitting with her family and waving and giggling at me. Distracted, as I walked out I stood up under a low hanging sheet of metal, which was only about 2m across in this one spot and almost scalped myself. Noticing blood I went back to my hostel and checked the damage in the mirror, it looked bad. After a sudden goodbye to the Dutch girls I caught a cab to the hospital, by this time I was feeling dazed and confused under the joint effects of shock and concussion and the jerk cab driver wasn’t much help. The emergency room at the hospital was small and crowded and I was the only white person there. I found a seat next to a bunch of police officers escorting a man handcuffed to a wheelchair and prayed I wouldn’t have to wait for long. Within an hour I was called in to see a doctor who gave me a tetanus shot and sent me off to surgery to get 4 stitches to hold my scalp on my head while it healed. They kept asking if I was mugged and got the injury from being clubbed over the head. If only it were something that dramatic. Getting the anesthetic needle stabbed into my skull really hurt, as did the actual stitching even with the anesthetic. I kept thinking strange thoughts about the interlocking pattern of the roof lights and other similarly inane musings of a delirious mind. On my way out I was gifted with a bag of antibiotics and painkillers to keep me occupied for the next week. This whole treatment cost me 50 RM (around $17 AUD) which was lucky as they only took cash and I only had 60 RM to my name. Without enough money left to get a cab home I was directed to the nearby monorail station which involved trekking through some very dodgy streets, but with less than $3 AUD in my pockets and only my bags of pills and the clothes on my back any would be mugger would have been sorely disappointed.
It was a shit way to end my little peninsula jaunt, and a real shame as up until that point I had quite liked Kuala lumpur. Singapore on the other hand I didn’t think as much of, it was expensive and could have been any big western city in the world, only cleaner. It felt positively sterile compared to KL and lacked the charm of it’s dirtier and more multicultural neighbor. It did have a much better airport however, so it would be a tough call on which hub to use for future travel stop overs. Singapore if you are going be there less than a day, KL if you plan on sticking around for a little while. Now I am flying away from my first world luxuries and back to the thick of SE Asia. Next stop Laos.