Saturday, 15 October 2011

Day 42: Lethargy In KL

We've been in Kuala Lumpur since Tuesday. We've not done very much.

Kuala Lumpur is a great city, but we've not done it any justice since arriving here at the start of the week. In Sydney, I visited the sights, went on ferries, took long walks, and gained an appreciation for the city. The same for Singapore, in which we explored much of the city, and in Indonesia we even went to the lengths of hiring bicycles and mopeds for mini-adventures, and barely spent an afternoon in sleepy apathy. But sleep apathy seems to be all we've done in KL.

The main reason is the heat. KL is stifling right now. Jakarta might have been draining and Singapore sweaty, but KL seems to have managed to reach a level of humidity that just saps the energy as soon as we walk outside. Or stay inside - our room for the last few days has been without air-con and just a ceiling fan, which tries valiantly but cannot beat the KL heat.

The other reason is the Burmese visa. We've been here three full days and the Burmese visa has managed to dominate half of each day so far. On Wednesday, we spent the morning walking along a busy road and some side streets to locate the embassy - it was closed for a full moon holiday.

Thursday morning we again walked to the subway, travelled a few stations up, and walked along the same long busy road, then stood in a queue for ages to submit our paperwork - in order to fulfil the demands, Burness had to do a rapid excursion to an internet cafe to print stuff out. And yesterday afternoon was dominated by the same journey, and met successfully by the return of our passports, Burmese visa included.

That's good news, and it means that tomorrow we fly to Rangoon, but it means we've been fairly aimless with the rest of our days. KL has plenty of things to do, but we've not really been motivated to do them. Our KL experience has been dominated by the pretty unenjoyable daily walk to the Burmese embassy.

It's a very different experience to when I was last in Kuala Lumpur, around four-and-a-half years ago, and it goes to highlight how much circumstance can affect experience. Same city, different impressions. Back then, I was enchanted with this glittering, promising beam of optimistic Malaysian light, and I wandered the streets like an urchin arriving in a gold-paved Victorian London. But back then I only stayed for a day, and was in a brilliant hotel next to the attractive Kuala Lumpur City Centre, with the Petronas Twin Towers the majestic centrepiece. Love at first sight for a drunk young man. This time, the luxury of my surroundings has been less.

Arriving in the evening, somewhat exhausted after a 5am start and hours of scooter riding in Bali, to the blandly named Backpackers Travellers Hostel, we were dismayed to learn that our twin room was actually a double room. Burness and I have already shared a double bed, and I am still scarred from waking in the night to see his sleeping face by my side. We were given the only alternative - a double room with a tiny sofa bed. It was the best room in the hostel. It was awful.

I don't particularly want to descend into hostel reviews on my blog, so I'll simply say that we quickly agreed to find somewhere else the next day. Because although the Backpackers Travellers Inn had free wi-fi, air-con, an en suite room (for us) and a rooftop terrace, yes although it "ticked all the boxes", it entirely lacked heart or soul. It was a narrow corridored rabbit warren of a megahostel, cramming the travellers in. Just like cattle. We moved the next day to the "Step Inn", which I would describe as a charming and social guesthouse with quirky characters but Burness would likely differ, and use words like "no A/C", "crazy long-term residents", and "I hate having to take a dump in the kitchen" (a reference to the ground-floor toilet being just next to the kitchen, not to his questionable personal habits).

In between the Burmese embassy treks and critical analyses of hostels, we have managed a few notable excursions. Of most significant is the primary reason we are here - to visit the Petronas Towers. A full review of them will follow shortly, but we've spent some time at the park, gazing up at the twin spires, inside the shopping centre locating the Marks and Spencers inside, and up the top of the SkyBar of the Traders Hotel, drinking Tiger Beer and admiring the magnificent view of the towers from the bar. Very disappointingly, the SkyBridge is closed for maintenance until December, but by good fortune it now appears that I might be returning to KL for a number of days in late December/early January (due to logistical reasons I won't bore you with) and when the SkyBridge reopens, there will also be deluxe tours to near the top of the building, something not possible when I visited it in March 2007.

Yesterday, we also took a short trip to the edge of the city, to see the Batu Caves, a fairly impressive chunk of rock with numerous cave networks, that was appropriated by the Hindus about a century ago, who have built big statues, various shrines, and lots and lots of steps

There was also a tour through some other caves - "Dark Caves" - that was quite interesting, with lots of bats, cockroaches, a crazy long-legged centipede that can infiltrate nightmares, and a suitable amount of total darkness when the torches were turned off.

So this time, without the circumstance of luxury, I have enjoyed Kuala Lumpur but not been enchanted by it. The urchin dazzled by gold now sees it was just the sun reflecting off a puddle, and a cloud has dimmed the glare. Kuala Lumpur is a beautiful city with a positive drive to better itself, and filled with friendly people, but it's also pretty rough round the edges. There are a surprising amount of homeless people, the pavements have gaping holes into the sewer, and the river that runs through the city is a depressing, stinking stream surrounded by concrete walls. The name "Kuala Lumpur" actually means "muddy confluence", from when it was founded upon a muddy stretch of river and swamp. "Muddy" is not quite the word I'd use now.

But at the same time, as I've said, justice has not been done on KL. We've been in the wrong mood and KL has been at the wrong temperature, and we've had a bit of a personality clash. We still like each other, but haven't clicked this time. Also, Burness ate some street food a couple of days ago and has been way below par ever since - truly, more than ever before, he has become less a real person and more a collection of bodily functions wrapped in skin.

But there's still a day, and what a difference a day can make. Because later today we move from the quirky but hot Step Inn to the luxury of the Traders Hotel. After being impressed with its SkyBar, we decided to get a room for the night, facing the Petronas Towers. Just £100 for a twin room, £50 each, and 24 hours to enjoy a world class view from the comfort of our beds. A final day for KL and I to kiss and make up, and for me to do the city a little justice.


  1. Nice description, as usual.
    I dont know if you realise this, but the layout of your last post seem messed up- the photo is taking up too much room, and the written section does not seem to have the correct margin justification.

    But other than that, very much enjoying this series...looking forward to the Burma section.


  2. Thanks Ronan.

    I've tried to sort it out a little - unfortunately, it all got messed up transferring it to a Burmese computer in an internet cafe. When I get back to good internet comms, I'm going to sort it out properly.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.