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In the Summer of 2016, a travel to Asia. We hit Manila in the Philippines, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and Phuket in Thailand. We spent 5 days in the Philippines, 7 in Malaysia, and 23 in Thailand. Thailand is a hard place to give up! Here are some of the highlights of our trip with Ultimate Country Guides – 3-part guide
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
By Cyril House
The fifth day we would leave and fly to Malaysia. I have family who lives in Malaysia and we would be staying with them, but as we got in late at night again we would have to survive the first night on our own.
When we arrived we quickly discovered that none of our cards worked in the ATMs in Malaysia (we each had 2 cards from 2 different banks, so 4 banks total). We spent a few hours walking through a closing mid-city mall trying to get cash-back before we finally stumbled on some particular ATM brand which would comply with our cards. We grabbed a hotel thereafter and slept away the stress. The next morning we would take a cab to my family’s place in a nearby suburb. They were so exquisitely gracious to us, giving up an entire bedroom for our use and comfort, and providing us with the utmost hospitality, somehow woven into their working days. For the next 5 days, we would tour around Kuala Lumpur, generously guided by my cousin Laila. We saw many beautiful things in the city, such as:
Batu Caves were a bit of both worlds. That is to say, extremely magnificent, while at the same time terribly disappointing. We reached the staging area easily by train from Kuala Lumpur (inter-city transit so no booking ahead required). We got there and were astounded by the beauty and magnificence of the many structures and statues and displays within the complex. This was another area that was surprisingly occupied, considering it was low season. The bottom area was, besides the magnificent statues and architecture to be seen, primarily a commercial hunting ground. The stair set to be climbed consists of 278 steps (sizeable individual steps also) and as soon as one approaches the bottom of the staircase one will be informed of the sacred ground ahead. It is at this point that women are expected to be adorned in a skirt and also respectably attired all around. This can get tricky sometimes considering the expectations of ‘considerably attired’ in stark contrast to the extreme and muggy heat sweltering throughout this particular area of the globe. There is a vendor at the staircase who can rent a scarf to tie around the waist if you have forgotten to bring one. When entering the sacred staircase one should keep in mind that this staircase is a sacred one; meaning that no disrespectful, or lewd acts should be performed while upon it, and also there should be no exercising on it. There are very apparent signs, written in English, reminding guests of this last rule. There are also monkeys everywhere on these stairs. There are hundreds of monkeys! They are adorable, but also extremely fierce and defensive so try to keep a couple feet between yourself and them.
About a hundred stairs up there is a breakaway stair set off to the left that leads to the ‘Dark Cave’, which is a super cool research and tour site which is home to several different bat species. The tour of this cave is very nice and an excellently refreshing break from the heat of the sun outside.
At the very top of the main staircase, the path plateaus out and stretches deep within the mountainside. This is the main temple area. There is a small store up here, we believe they did have beverages but did not have a cooler, and the refreshingness is therefore questionable. The main temple area is the area we found to be fairly disappointing. It was just a couple of large caverns with concrete flooring and slightly foul smelling puddles of cave water here and there. In the last cavern, there is a small shrine. I suppose we thought, for such a holy sight, that there would be a bit more architecture and adornment up here.
Please Beware: Taylor and I visited the Dark Cave on our way down from the top, and extremely fortunate we were that our intentions caused us to veer off to the side of the staircase. For at nearly the same moment as we cut away from the straight line down there was a sudden explosion, the concussive force of which knocked us to our knees, and we could feel dirt and dust spray our backs as we fell forward. At this same moment, we heard the shrill cries of a hysterical baby, coming from the direction of the explosion. Luckily they were just extremely scared and no one turned out to be hurt. The fact of the matter is that there is the mouth of the main temple entrance which arches across the staircase and sits around five hundred feet up from the stairs themselves. A chunk of rock had naturally eroded away from its grip on the mother-arch and fell that five hundred feet, gaining an incredible amount of velocity and force, before contacting with the staircase and literally exploding like a small bomb. From our estimations, it had landed almost precisely where we had been standing a few moments before. Slightly shaken, we continued into the Dark Cave area and began inquiring about the incident to the staff there. We were told not to worry, because “this happens all the time”. In fact, the staff continued, “just last week a Japanese man was struck in the head by a piece of falling stone and fell into a coma in the hospital”. The tonality with which this information was given to us seemed intended to ease our concern, but the words themselves caused quite the opposite response. For all the signs around which warned about being dressed appropriately, and not exercising on the stairs, there was not a single sign mentioning that ‘lethal chunks of stone frequently fall from great heights in this area’.
Kuala Lumpur City Center is an incredible experience. Several massive mega-malls are where we spent the majority of our time. We will not say anything specific about this area, as there is simply too much to cover. Absolutely recommend visiting this area for virtually any need. There are many outdoor sites in this area as well, including the phenomenal KL Twin Towers.
We visited the outside of the Kuala Lumpur Twin Towers. We did not go inside as we were advised that it cost a fair amount of money to tour the interior and there was an additional fee involved in accessing the elevated pedway between the two. But regardless, the sight of them from the nearby grounds was breathtaking. If we were to go back we believe we would set aside the money to go inside and tour around.
The Rail System
Public transit in Kuala Lumpur is brilliant. There are buses which are convenient enough, but there is also the mega rail system. There are 8 intersecting LRT lines within the city to take you anywhere you can think of. The trains are high speed and unbelievably efficient for getting anywhere you may like to go.
The Edge of the World
The family we were able to stay with while in Kuala Lumpur, my Uncle Wayne, Aunty Intan, and cousins Laila, Maisarah, and Daniel, lived in a beautiful condominium on the Northeast border of the city. Right across the street from their front door was the edge of the world. There was a wall of jungle towering up and back, and that jungle runs back for hundreds of kilometres until it terminates at the shore of the Gulf of Thailand. It was breathtaking and mind-boggling to imagine that development had not pushed into this natural expanse yet. Laila even took us hiking back into the jungle, where there were monkeys everywhere! Much larger monkeys than those at Batu Caves. There was a well-worn hiking trail that led from the street back into the vegetative behemoth. We hiked for a couple hours along this trail, although we remain uncertain of exactly how far this trail could take a person.
Evening Prayer From an 11th Floor Balcony
Another majestic feature of my family’s condominium was the combination of being on the edge of the city and also that they reside on the eleventh floor. Islam is the primary religion in the area, and so at a certain point every evening it is time for evening prayers in accordance with the Islamic faith. Looking out over the city from this towering balcony, the sun would just be setting and lights in the millions of visible windows would begin to turn on. The mosque bell would crash into its evening prayer alert, and shortly thereafter we could hear the whole city begin to resound with the harmonious voices of millions of people reciting their prayers. Their voices would join together like the stomp-stomp-clapping of an invigorated sporting event, and the sound would carry through the air and bring peace and contentment to our ears, and minds, and souls.
One afternoon, we went along with my Aunty, cousin Laila, and a family friend to a nearby rural village. We went down to the river and had a relaxing picnic in the area until late in the day. There were gigantic, juicy Jackfruits hanging in bunches from the nearby trees. It was an extremely nice break from the fast-paced life of Kuala Lumpur. The residents of the village were extremely generous and kind-hearted people and we had a truly memorable afternoon.