Thursday, 24 October 2013

Minibus Prisons and the Muddy Estuary

We left the Shiralea Resort on Phangan at 6am in the morning. The birds had just started singing and the sunlight was just creeping past the palm trees.

However, it was time for us to leave this tropical party island, and head south to Malaysia and its capital Kuala Lumpur. With over 900 kilometres to go, via boat minibus and finally a coach, with a border crossing to contend with, we knew we were in for a long day.

The ferry crossing to Don Sak on the mainland was chock full of backpackers returning home, some with a little sunburn or neon paint still clearly visible but all looking very blurry-eyed after the last few days. I think we could all do with a little detoxing for a while.

Once we were at Don Sak we were herded towards a bus that would take us the 84 km to Surat Thani where we would all split up and journey on to our prospective destinations. For the 12 others who had decided to head south to KL we were shepherded to a minibus. We all found our seats easy enough, but with no roof rack on the bus, our bags were layered down like breeze-blocks along the aisles and prisoning us in.

With barely enough room to wiggle our toes, and buttock cramp setting in due to the plastic seating, the remaining 850 km to the border were not going to be enjoyable. That said, some of us were able to get some sleep, or manage to make some progress on the novel of the day, but boy were we missing our Renault Clio.

It wasn't long before we had made it to the border where we were able to pay off a little over stay on our visa and swap into a bigger coach for the remainder of the drive to KL. We were granted additional space on this coach, but the seats looked like they had been ripped out of a local old-timey cinema. Still, with the ability to breath now, we were hardly complaining and even managed to sleep most of the way to the Malaysian capital.

We arrived in Kuala Lumpur at 3:30am but were still able to find our way to our hostel, where the 24 hour reception let us in for a few Zzz's on the bed in our room before we decided to head out and take a look around.

Kuala Lumpur is a bustling thriving city with numerous modern skyscrapers lining its impressive skyline, none more so than the once world's tallest building The Petronas Twin Towers. So we decided we would head over to take a look at them, but only after little trip to Central Markets, KL Museum and the Merdeka Square.

The Central Markets is a big blue building where you can buy everything from noodles to t-shirts, and cameras to souvenirs, and is situated next to one of the rivers that gives KL its name. Kuala Lumpur literally means 'Muddy Estuary' in Malaysian.

This was something we learnt when we walked down towards the KL Museum. Before we went inside we made sure to get a picture of Jess inside the big "I Love KL" sign that sits just outside the front door.  Inside the museum houses a huge model of the entire city of KL and has loads of interesting facts and pieces of history about the capitals origins.

We continued our city walk on to Merdeka Square and its massive flag pole, something that has sported the Malaysian national flag since it took down the Union Jack at midnight on 30th August 1954 ending British rule in the region. Thank you KL Museum.

One of the remnants from this British rule lies close by in the shadow of the Malaysian flag in the form of a cricket pitch just outside of the Sultan Abdul Samad building. Obviously during their time in power the British were educating Malaysia on the pleasures of the world's most sophisticated sport. After pretending to bowl out Jess we decided we had better go see these wonderful towers.

However, with the midday heat now turned up to 11 it was slow going, and it wasn't long before he had stopped for iced coffee refreshments. With our thirst quenched and our bodies pumped full of caffeine we marched up the hill, towards the CBD and the Petronas Towers, but first wanting to take a look at the city from the top of their needle shaped skyscraper, the KL Tower.

We took the lift up over 150m to the top which took only 52 seconds (I counted), and fought our way through the crowds of children and teachers on school trips, to get a look at KL from above. The view was obviously amazing, and easily beat the model town version down at the KL museum. Kuala Lumpur was such a modern city with metro trains and monorail systems busy ferrying commuters between important money making meetings in the shiny skyscrapers. KL had come along way from the Muddy Estuary it was once known as. Finally, to the annoyance of my popping ear drums, we headed back down the lift to the ground level so we could finally head to the Petrona's Twin Towers.

Once upon a time, when I was working for Websense as an Account Manager I had Petronas as one of my accounts, but they are such a big company that I rarely got to deal with them directly. However during one pervious visit to KL I had a meeting at the towers. You can imagine how excited I was knowing I was going to have a big professional meeting inside this iconic building. Unfortunately my excitement turned to disappointment as the person I was meeting was running late and instead asked if we could have a quick meeting in the cafe / gift shop in the basement instead of going up the tower.  So as as symbolic return, we decided to have a coffee at the same gift shop. At least this time I wasn't working and got to have a coffee with my beautiful girlfriend, so that was an improvement.

After some more picture taking, we walked around the park before heading to the shopping centre to do a little bit of shopping. The bright side to being back in civilisation instead of on a tropical island is all the shopping you can do, and KL has hundreds of different clothes shops. So it didn't take long for me to lose Jess in Zara, H&M and Debenhams, but I decided to stay put and read my book and it wasn't long before she had retraced her steps and come back for me, with a couple of shopping bags in hand.

With the exhaustion of the trip down here finally getting to us, along with the tropical heat, we jumped into our cab for a little nap at the hostel. When we woke up we decided to head out to the Chinatown night markets. So sat beneath the illuminated red lanterns we watched the street vendors try to entice another customer and feasted on some delicious local food. We say local because Malaysia has such a large Chinese population that the tastes of the food do tend to blend into one another.

Malaysia really is a melting pot of all things Asian. You start to see more women fully covered in black burkas as there is a huge islamic population here (much like in Indonesia). Buddhists all in orange also walk past you much like in Cambodia and Thailand. Then you see familiar tastes and styles from the west due to the huge business districts here bringing in ex-pats from the western world as well.

Unfortunately our time in this interesting country is a brief one, but we spent too long in Thailand. It's time to make some distance. Before time and/or money deadlines run out, we need to get home to Sydney. So tomorrow we jump on a bus and head to Singapore, and maybe even straight over to Batam, Indonesia.

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