Saturday, 23 January 2010

A brief encounter with Kuala Lumpur

I was in KL for only a couple of nights so packing in the sights was never really going to be easy. I arrived mid-afternoon at BedZ – a very new and swanky hostel with good security and, most important, WiFi. I was staying in a 6-bed dorm where I met John Rachel – an American author who’d been travelling around the world for three years writing novels. He’d just arrived from 6 months in India and was pretty adamant that he would never head there again which didn’t bode well for the next leg of my journey.

I was based in a happening part of town where bustling stalls selling steaming bowls of noodles stood side by side with Western coffee shops selling flat whites and continental breakfasts. My hostel was also only a short walk away from the Petronas Towers, once the tallest buildings in the world. By day they are beautiful; by night, each window lit up, they are truly spectacular. Having taken the obligatory ‘by day’ photos, I entered into the shopping mall inside to escape the heat of the day. Would you believe it: Mango, Topshop, M&S… even Harrods made an appearance there. Having spent a fair few months travelling, it made a pleasant change to be surrounded by familiar sights…even if the prices were the same as the UK and I didn’t actually buy anything.

Getting around KL is very simple. Whilst you can walk most places, the monorail and trains – with their blissfully cold aircon – make for a refreshing pitstop out of the humidity and heat of the midday air. Chinatown was next on my list. As with many Chinatowns in many cities, it was beautifully colourful and yet felt like it had lost a little of its true character. Nevertheless, there were plenty of small street eateries tucked away to feast on some unknown delicacies. I found a small stall with a couple of plastic chairs and tables where I took my seat among the small clouds of persistent flies that were sticky and drowsy from the heat. The stall was busy, which is always a good sign. As I sat, an elderly Chinese gentleman’s head peered over the hot stoves and pots of steamy soups and piles of noodles. I was greeted by his slightly sour looking wife and pointed to something on the limited 4-item menu. She muttered something in Chinese that obviously required an answer. I looked a little lost but as I did so the elderly guy, a big grin on his face, waved me over. Heading behind his stall he took handfuls of each of the piles of noodles explaining that I needed to choose. I chose what he described as ‘yellow noodle’. I’d ordered some type of noodle soup and my food arrived in a large bowl.. I soon identified chicken in amongst the vegetables and then some small spherical black items that resembled shell-less snails. I tried a few and they tasted rather like snails although they could have been some sort of shellfish too. Unsure as to how that they would fit into my non-food-poisoning diet, I decided to stick to the noodles and leave the rest of the unknown entities.

After a wander around the shops selling all sorts of flowers and garlands in preparation for Chinese New Year, a tiptoe around a non-descript Hindu temple and a Kodak moment of a mosque, I decided I’d had enough culture for one day so I headed back to BedZ to prepare for my night out on the town!

That evening I’d arranged to catch up with a friend of mine from London. Stef had been working in KL for a year and was due home a week or so later so it was a little piece of luck that we managed to cross paths. The Luna Bar on the 33rd floor of the Pan Continental Hotel had come recommended so we arranged to meet there after dark. The bar was dazzling: in the centre was an open-air swimming pool and waterfall, lit a turquoise blue and on two sides were glass-walled alcoves with tables and seating hanging right out over the edge of the building. From here were panoramic views stretching across the whole of the city. On a balcony were other seating areas and these looked out over the Petronas Towers. The sight was absolutely awe inspiring and unfortunately not one that could ever be replicated properly with a camera. For a few hours I sat and sipped wine and caught up with my friend before it was time to say my goodbyes, not just to Stef, but to all the little luxuries I’d got used to over the last few weeks of my trip and pack for the next leg of my journey…India!

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