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Clare’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 03 Jul 2008

Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

MapFrom Krabi I hopped on an Air Asia flight to Kuala Lumpur a couple of hours south. Amy took the slow route down through Penang, the Cameron Highlands and then KL but I'm our of energy for overlanding so took the easy option. Actually Air Asia are cunning little so and so's because their baggage allowance is a measly 15kgs and obviously my bag weighs more then that. I therefore had to do a forced re-pack on the floor of Krabi airport by the check-in desk to remove a few kilos from my bag. Ridiculously I then carried it all onto the same flight as hand-luggage, carried it off the other end and re-packed it into my bag before continuing into the city. What's the point? Well, you pay for the excess don't you, so Air Asia cream that off as pure profit don't they? Makes the flight not quite as cheap as you might expect.

Anyway, driving into KL on the bus was a slightly surreal experience as the countryside is all Oil Palm plantations and tropical wonder, but the roads, road-signs and even the types of cars driving on the roads make it feel like you are in England. The typeface of the road signs and colours are identical to the UK - you could be on the M4 - and the cars are a mixture of European and Asian brands, just like home. In Thailand all the cars are American style trucks, SUVs and pickups and the road rules are based on the US system, so it felt Western but still different, the Malaysian road system seems to be a carbon copy of the UK.

Malaysia also feels different, temperature-wise. Everyone was saying how hot it was while I was there, but after having dealt with the crazy humdity in Laos and Vietnam, I was finding the 30 degree heat quite nice and temperate - I'm a bit worried about what this might mean for me arriving in Sydney in mid-winter and temperatures of barely 20 degrees - I've got used to never needing a jumper, always wearing shorts and never needing to worry about or wash socks!

Kuala Lumpur is really developed and I stayed in the Golden Triangle area which is kind of the Piccadilly Circus equivalent, there are loads of big hotels, posh shopping malls and bars and resturants, but in the back streets are the backpacker hostels. KL is also the most expensive place I've been since South Africa but it does have all the amenities and facilities of a western city, so it feels a nice easy place to be. The transport system is great (sky-trains and Mono-rails) which is a god-send because despite the city centre being quite small it must be the most frustrating place to walk around (India excepted). Pavements mostly exist but the city is criss-crossed by flyovers, massive storm drains and big traffic junctions which are essentially motorways so you can't cross them by foot. Working out how to get to the Islamic Arts Museum visible and only 500m away from the Monorail stop took me nearly an hour of trying to cross roads, backtracking, peering over concrete walls and picking my way round buildings. I felt like I was on The Crystal Maze! Once I made it to the museum though I was treated to lovely cool, white buildings, with fountains and loads of natural light and a brilliantly presented collection of global Islamic heritage.

Obviously the Petronas Towers steal the show in KL and I am now an unabashed fan. They're visible from nearly everywhere and seem to feature in 80% of the pictures I took there. For something so big, they really are beautiful and best appreciated from the top of the KL Tower, the observation tower on the hill about 1km away. Other than that, I wandered round Little India and reacquainted myself with some Bollywood dance numbers I hadn't heard for a while, went to the Royal Selangor Pewter works and fashioned a little bowl in the pewter-smithing workshop (get me and the arts and crafts!), met up with Amy and got lost in Chinatown, and looked covetously at all the pretty things in shopping malls (repeat after me "you are already over your baggage limit"). Finally I rolled on back to the hostel to get some shuteye before heading back out to the enticingly titled "Low Cost Carrier Terminal" to fly on to Bali.

My time in Malaysia was short and pretty limited to KL city centre, but I really it surprised me, I expected Thailand - but less exciting and actually it was really engaging and refeshingly different. I'm not up to backapcking all the way round at this point so I don't mind that I scrapped the rest of the Malaysia plans, but there's a lot more to see here in the future. One thing I won't miss though is the smell of Durian which is everywhere in Malaysia. Durian is a big spiky skinned fruit about the size of a watermelon which is filled with a creamy coloured soft flesh, and is blessed with the pungent smell of rotting rubbish, fried onion and roasted garlic combined. Its a sort of Marmite thing - and I fall into the Hate It camp. Malaysians however, LOVE it and its available everywhere, which means the smell is also everywhere. It doesn't actually taste THAT bad, but the smell is a bit much every hour of the day. I read though, in the Air Asia inflight magazine, that there is a wek long Durian Festival in KL at the end of July, so I think I picked the right time to leave!