Believing an hour long taxi ride into Malaysia would give us enough time to catch our train, we got up at 5:30AM in Singapore. Only a few taxis are allowed to take you across the border, so it was a double taxi job to set us on our way. Making good time northwards we entered the checkpoint in queues. After 15 minutes I started to get nervous and options ran through my head for the eventuality that we could miss our connection. We then had to enter another queue as the lead car’s driver has fallen asleep, holding up everybody. He’ll be late for work I muse.
Once through that checkpoint we have to do it all over again for the entry border control. This could be tight. Rushing up the stairs we jump on the train with limited time to spare, not enough to grab any Malaysian Ringitt – or cash to you and me. But made it we did.
As we motor up the peninsular the scenery is beautiful and transfixing: lush green countryside, palm trees, pockets of towns and their rural inhabitants flash past my eyes. This is real Asia.
At KL (Kuala Lumpur) we make our way in a taxi to Bukit Bintang. The driver can’t find our hostel as its nestled down a side street. The area looks dodgy, with big blocks of flats, broken down shops, wild dogs and littered gutters filling my imagination with the dangers in store. This is real Asia.
Our room is through a gated garden, padlocked. The owner is friendly and helpful, and shows us to our windowless, room at the back of the building. A gap at the top of the toilet means we can hear and be heard by the other inhabitants. At times the water runs brown for some reason, we can’t drink straight from the taps. This is real Asia.
Bukit Bintang is outside our door, a long street littered with bars and restaurants, more akin to Majorca than Malaysia but it’s comforting. We relax.
Anna my friend from work is from KL, and happens to be on a two week holiday from London. She recommends we visit the Batu Caves and then head over to her place for dinner and a catchup.
In KL taxis are super-cheap, like so cheap I struggled to figure out how it would cover the cost of the petrol. We took a half hour drive out to the Batu Caves which cost us £4 and made our way over to the huge gold statue of Tamil deity, Murugan.
The Batu Caves our two sets of caves up a set of steep steps. Inside one set a Hindu temple was built, it’s rather wonderful inside with all the statues and depictions you’d expect inside a temple – just in a cave.
Inside the other caves are bats and other flora and fauna. We took up the challenge of the ‘Dark Caves’ walking tour. Inside which the guide points out the many bats and the guano covering the floor like thick, smelly tar. Spiders and other creepy crawlies inhabit this black environment, filling the tour group with more fear when our head torches got turned off to leave us in the pitch black. Boo!
Fun fact: bats make up 25% of the world’s mammal species.
Outside a group of monkeys had emerged on the walkway, stealing food and generally causing havoc. Cute but not so friendly we were told.
That evening we descended on Anna’s family who are all very lovely and chatty, as well as Anna’s husband Vash and her young son Kenzo. The four of us head into town for some hawker style grub, they do the best crab we’re told and Malaysians will travel far and wide for the best ‘whatever-food-is-cool’ right now. It’s a proper foodie town, where “have you eaten” is a greeting in Malaysian like Hello in English.
Anna discusses what she wants to order for us, in Chinese with our waitress, no menu just a string of dishes that she thinks we’ll like. We do. At the back of the restaurant is a fish tank with future dinners swimming around.
Vash is a Spurs fan it turns out, so we head back to their place to watch the Man City – Spurs game from midnight. Anna’s dad has followed English football for twenty or thirty years so it’s a welcome treat to have a few hours of football related conversation. As Christian Eriksen slotted home the winner Vash and I jump up roaring with glee, forgetting we’re not in London and it’s 2AM with a toddler in the house, Anna’s dad waking with a start at the commotion!
Bleary eyed the next morning we arise and head over to the Vietnamese embassy. Which opens late and has an unintelligible queuing / window system. Of the three windows, only one is open, until the other two staff turn up an hour and a half late. This first window we deduce is for Vietnamese citizens so we need to wait.
The room is a dingy yellow colour, scattered with 36 (I counted) blue plastic chairs. On the walls are promotional posters for the sights of Vietnam, yellowed and fading like my interest in the task at hand. We strike up a conversation with an American and two Brits working in Vietnam, before a jobs worth attendant shushes us loudly and tells us no talking. So we sit in silence wondering if this is a microcosm of Vietnam.
The second window opens finally for foreign applications and soon we’re up. Passports left in the hands of a foreign government official, we stress the need for an expedited service and she tells us to return tomorrow at 6PM. A quick glance at the poster next to her face confirms the office is only open between 9 and 5; we’ll be back at 4PM I whisper to Kelly.
Dinner that day would be more hawker food on Jalan Alor. Now with added confidence we begin ordering our own dishes, I throw in some frogs legs at the end for good measure and they’re tasty, albeit low on the meat to bones ratio.
The former tallest building(s) in the world were to be our key feature for the following day. The Petronas Twin Towers provide a good view at the walkway level in between the towers as well as the observation deck. From a distance we can just about make out the grand shimmering Murugan statue at the Batu Caves.
After Kelly drags me round yet another shopping mall until my legs ache, we stop for more exciting food. A Malaysian beef Rendang, plus a black ice milk drink which seems to contain a seaweed like substance, comes with sugar water to taste, but goes down well without.
By this time we need to head back to the Vietnamese embassy and wait. I walk up to the counter and present my passport receipt. The girl initially says nothing and hands it back, we wait another hour and this time Kelly asks, and is told 15 mins. 45 mins later we get our passports back, which elates me as we are going to get into Vietnam! More importantly we got our passports back so we can go to Thailand tomorrow.
After an initial poor impression of KL and the resulting culture shock, Malaysia grew on me. We only spent a short amount of time here but it feels like I had a much better impression of it in a short space of time. One to return too, if not just for the culture and city, but for the food.