Malaysia - Jan/Feb 2017

30th January 2017 - KL - Jalan Alor

After a week in Singapore it was definitely time to move on, so hello Kuala Lumpur. I've have been to KL before but it was nearly 20 years ago so basically I am coming to it fresh again. With KL being cheaper than Singapore I'm back in an aparthotel rather than the single room hotel I had last week. So much nicer to have the space to spread out when I'm working and to have a kitchen with fridge-freezer and microwave.

I'm staying in a pretty happening area with lots of bars and restaurants close by but the main reason for choosing the area was Jalan Alor. This is a night food market. The street is lined with restaurants and carts selling all kinds of food at reasonable prices. Online I read that it has got touristy but it still feels pretty real, prices are OK, the food is good and it is fun. I sat down at one of the more restaurant like places and ordered from the menu. It isn't really a restaurant but a business which then fetches what you order from the various carts for you and puts it all on a single bill.

I went for the fried sting-ray with sambal sauce, spicy vegetables and pineapple rice. It arrived a bit hap-hazardly but it was gorgeous. You get a surprisingly good amount of meat on a sting-ray and it was really easy to eat, no small bones at all. I'll be coming back.

31st January 2017 - Petronas and KL Towers

KL is basically a city in the middle of a rain-forest and so many people think of it as a gray city, it's either raining or going to. On the evidence so far that seems about right. Yesterday we had some sun, plenty of cloud, a thunderstorm and some more rain in the evening. Today there were some showers around lunchtime but otherwise it has been quite nice. Being my first whole day in KL I went out for an explore. First up the iconic sight of KL the Petronas Towers. These twin towers don't stand out as much as I remember them doing, maybe lots of the other tall buildings around have been built in the last 20 years. But they still look good especially from the large gardens laid out in front.

From there I walked across to the KL Tower which involved climbing up hill and getting sweaty. The tower doesn't have the same whoa factor but it is tall and I'm sure the views are great.

The main reason for heading up to the KL Tower was to walk around the Canopy Walk at KL Forest Eco Park. The walk across the wobbly suspension bridges starts from the KL Tower car park and you wind your way through the tree-tops and slowly down through the forest. There were half a dozen or more walkways connected between wooden towers. At most towers there were stairs leading down to the next bridge. I really enjoyed to wander down through the forest, it would've been a lot harder coming upwards.

1st February 2017 - KL Birdpark

Today I started off heading over to the Independence (Merdeka) Square. Nice enough but surrounded by building work which meant some of the buildings were closed. It was here the Union Flag was lowered and the Malayan flag hoisted for the first time at midnight on 31 August 1957. Pictured is the Sultan Abdul Samad Building The building originally housed the offices of the British colonial administration, and was known simply as Government Offices in its early years, later it was renamed after Sultan Abdul Samad, the reigning sultan of Selangor at the time when construction began.

As many of the buildings around the square were closed I had to find somewhere else to spend the day and decided to head to the Perdana Botanical Gardens. Getting there turned out to be harder than expected. I first took the LRT to KL Sentral Station intending to walk from there which I did but it took me longer than expected due to intermittent at best sign posting and some big roads in the way. At one point I was walking down the side of a three-lane highway with no verge, but I eventually got there very hot and very sweaty and in need of a drink. So instead of walking around the gardens I headed to the KL Birdpark one of the many attractions scattered around the gardens.

The birdpark was quite well done. There were some smaller enclosures containing birds that are either small or ones which would be dangerous but otherwise there were big 'free-fly' areas which you walk through amongst the birds. From their website: "Sprawling approximately 20.9 acres of verdant valley terrain, the park is divided into 4 zones; Zone 1 and 2 make up the free-flight zone; Zone 3 is the Hornbill Park and Zone 4 is where the birds are placed in separate cages and mini aviaries. One of KL Bird Park's most extraordinary feature is that in Zone 1, 2 and 3, birds are let free in the aviary which closely resembles their natural habitat. With this free-flight concept, birds are able to breed naturally in this unique environment."

In the smaller aviaries and special areas you could buy food to feed the birds. I didn't but the birds would land on peoples hands (if small enough) or peck away at it. The whole place was quite interactive and the public were very much involved in planned feeding sessions as well as the ad-hoc feeding.

The park boasts that it is the largest free-fly park in the world and the free-fly areas were definitely big. You just walk through and the birds are all around you. Lots of peacocks, storks, ibis, flamingoes, pelicans and doves wanders and flying around. There was a lot of water flowing through including a tall waterfall and a long winding stream down to a large pool. This sort of filled the gap left by the lack of birds at Singapore Zoo (they were in a separate birdpark nearby you had to pay extra for.)

2nd/3rd February 2017 - Working and a bit of lazing by the pool

Two days of working during the day so that I could meet up with friends in the evening. So all you get for these two days are a couple of photos of the pool at the hotel. The sun has been out the last couple of days so I've been able to have an hour catching rays before starting work.

4th February 2017 - Batu Caves

Batu Caves is a an iconic and popular tourist attraction in just outside of KL. It is the site of a Hindu temple and shrine. The caves are located in a limestone outcrop and were easy to get to by train from KL Sentral.

The main attraction is the large statue of the Hindu God Murugan at the entrance. It stands 42.7m high and is the tallest statue of Murugan in the world. The statue is made of 1550 cubic metres of concrete, 250 tonnes of steel bars and 300 litres of gold paint or so the postcard I bought says.

It's a steep 272 steps up to the caves. Not too hard but enough to work up quite some sweat. The caves were fairly busy with I'd say a 50:50 split between tourists and Hindu worshipers. Lots of Indians in colourful clothing and traditional dress. Many were carrying pots on their heads which I'm sure must have some meaning. There were also a few guys carrying a huge yoke on their shoulders.


A bit of internet searching and I've found why there were so many worshippers at the caves and why they were doing what they were doing.

Thaipusam Explanation

Thaipusam is a key Hindu ceremony that is held each year during the full moon in the tenth month of the Hindu calendar – falling from mid-January to mid-February in the Gregorian calendar. It is marked in Malaysia by a public holiday. The celebration is held as a tribute to the Hindu god of war, Lord Muragan, honoured in sacred lore for slaying three evil demons in the name of good virtue. On the first day of Thaipusam, there is a procession along the streets of Kuala Lumpur led by a chariot that presents a statue of Lord Muragan. On the second day, there is a long barefoot walk to the Batu Caves for the purpose of vow fulfilment.

The walk to the Batu Caves is generally the most popular element of the celebration. During the pilgrimage, some devotees will carry large milk pots and ornate frames (kavadi). The kavadi are supported by a series of spikes that laterally pierce the skin of their chest and backs as a symbol of penance.

The other thing Batu Caves are known for on top of the religeousstuff is the monkeys. There are hundreds of them and the visitors giving them bananas, nuts and other food they are never going to go hungry. If you hold out a banana they will come over and take it from your hand then go back sit down peel it and eat it. I could watch them for hours; they are fascinating.

5th February 2017 - Melaka

I was planning on spending a week in Melaka but I spoke to someone who reckoned one or two days would be plenty so I decided to do it as a day trip from KL. KL's public transport system is OK but not very well joined up. So to get from my hotel to the centre of Melaka I took the monorail, commuter train, inner state bus and taxi; about 3 1/2 hours. Melaka was one of the the Straits Ports along with Penang and Singapore. It has been ruled over by the Portuguese Dutch and the British until independence in 1963. Each has left behind is mark and mixing in the heavy Chinese and Indian influences makes for an interesting place. Melaka thrived in the 16th and 17th centuries but in the 19th and 20th centuries it got eclipsed by Singapore and feel into a state of disrepair.

In 2008 UNESCO protected the old town and now it is thriving again as a tourist destination. It is only two hours from Singapore and gets a lot of day trippers from that direction too. A river runs through the tourist area and splits it into two, on one side there are colonial buildings and the other Chinatown. Chinatown contains lots of shrines and mosques and houses which were once owned by rich traders. Some have been restored to their former glory but many haven't ... yet. It is obvious that more and more cafes, galleries and bars are opening all the time. The area has a nice feel and I spent a pleasant couple of hours wandering and nibbling on any an snacks which looked interesting. The spring rolls were especially good. Stuffed filled of carrot, turnip and Thai spices they come fried and untied and are delicious.

On the colonial side the main square is the must do photo stop. On one side is the Stadthyus Melaka’s most unmistakable landmark an imposing salmon-pink former town hall and governor’s residence. In front of this is a fountain built for Queen Victoria's golden jubilee and to the side the Christ Church.

But the dominating feature of the main square is the line up of pimped out trishaws. From Lonely Planet "Nowhere else in Malaysia will you find such a wild and crazy collection of trishaws. Outrageously kitsch, the favourite decorations are plastic flowers, baby doll heads, religious paraphernalia, tinsel, Christmas lights and a sound system. While taking a ride in one of these things might be the most ‘I’m a tourist’ thing you do in Malaysia, it’s good fun and supports an industry that is dying nearly everywhere else in the country. As a spectator, keep an eye out for Singaporean tourists hiring out trishaws en masse: the effect, with several ’80s hits blaring at the same time, cameras snapping and all that glitzy decoration, turns the streets of Melaka into a circus like parade."


I didn't take a ride in one but I had to have a photo taken.

7th February 2017 - Georgetown

From Lonely Planet: "Combine three distinct and ancient cultures, indigenous and colonial architecture, shake for a few centuries, and garnish with some of the best food in Southeast Asia, and you've got the irresistible urban cocktail that is George Town. The time-worn shophouses of the Unesco World Heritage Zone will likely spark a desire in some visitors to move here. But perhaps even more impressive is the movie set–like mishmash of the city's buildings, people and culture. Here you’ll find Chinese temples in Little India and mosques in Chinatown, and Western-style skyscrapers and shopping complexes gleaming high above British Raj–era architecture. The eclectic jumble makes this a city that rewards explorers. Get lost in the maze of chaotic streets and narrow lanes, past shrines decorated with strings of paper lanterns and fragrant shops selling Indian spices; or enjoy George Town's burgeoning street art scene, its modern cafes and fun bars."

I think the description above pretty much sums it up. This is more my kind of place than the big cities I have been staying in for the last couple of months. The downside is that the internet is a bit more inconsitent. Thankfully it is good enough to still work. Many old colonial buildongs stand in disrepair, pavements seem pretty optional and where there are some there are cars and motorbikes parked on them. Lots of houses have some sort of business operating out of the ground floor whether it's a nice restuarant or gallery or someone sat with a sewing machine or a guy fixing bikes.

I skipped breakfast knowing that I would be in Little India in time for an early lunch. I saw this sign on one of the larger restuarants which openned out onto the street and thought I had to test their claim.

Tandoori chicken claypot briyani, garlic naan and a mango lassi seemed the obvious choice and it was good, the tandoori chicken maybe to best I've ever had. I liked the naan but it was quite heavy and doughy which suits me but some might prefer it lighter. At about £3 for the lot an absolute bargain.

Chinese areas, Indian areas, temples, museums, Georgetown really is an eclectic mix. I wandered around for a while and then headed down to the Clan jetties. These are a series of old jetties built in the 1800s. They were used for the loading and unloading of goods and for the mooring of sampans (boats). Gradually, each jetty became identified and dominated by certain clans and over time more huts sprung up. The jetties are now in various states of repair. Two in particular have been turned into tourist spots with the huts along the jetties containing souvenir shops, ice cream places and small galleries and boutiques. It is nice to see areas like this be given a new lease of life.

After 4 hours of walking around in the heat it was most definitely time to start heading for home. I passed this Chinese temple which seemed quite busy with people lighting joss sticks and praying. As with it seems everywhere else in Malaysia the Chinese lanterns for Chinese New Year added an extra dimension of festivity.

A quirky feature of Georgetown which they seem to have turned into an attraction of its own is the street art. Around the Unesco area there are quite a few murals and pieces of metalwork. I saw many people cycling around trying to tick them all off. I thought they were a nice addition to the Georgetown landscape but not quite as prevalent as I imagined.

8th February 2017 - Penang Hill

Up earlier today to head to Penang Hill. After an overly long wait for a bus and a slow bus ride it was 10:30 before I arrived at the base of the hill. From there its a 1996m ride on the funicular railway up to about 800m above sea level. According to the brochure Penang Hill is the oldest British Hill Station in Asia dating from the late 1700s. Not much sign of that now or at east there wasn't around the top station. Instead there was a restaurant, some tourist attractions and some viewing decks from which you get a panoramic view of the island.

The view was wide-ranging but a bit hazy; I could still make out the landmarks but it didn't make for great photos.

Everyone else on the train hung around the top station but I had different plans. I'd only bought a one-way ticket and I planned to walk back down. The sign-posting was vague but with the help of I choose a direction and set-off. First off some steps and then a sign pointed me towards the jeep track. Only a few minutes walking down I came across a family of monkeys in the trees right next to the path.

There were a few adults and number of juveniles and a baby with its mother. The baby was especially interesting because it was bright yellow when the others were basically black and white. They all seemed pretty happy for me hang around quite close to them taking photos.

The jeep track was basically a tarmaced road and I'm glad I choose that over trying to find the walking tracks. The road was steep. It was a real test for my Teva sandals and my knees. Both faired will although my knees were glad when I got to the bottom. The walk was about 5km and in that time went from over 800m to pretty much sea level, so it was varying between 1 in 3 and maybe 1 in 8. I do think that on a 30% incline corner they could emphasize the 30% bit a little more on their signs.

I really enjoyed walking down through the rainforest/jungle, made me feel like I was truly away from the city and on holiday. As well as the dappled light through the ridiculously green trees it's the tropical sounds that really do it. The screech, scream, chip, whine or however you describe it of the cicadas, the bird song, the odd hoot or howl of the monkeys.

The walk took a little under two hours including a few monkey photograph stops. These were taken at a rest area by the side of the road. It seemed the monkeys had set up a massage and grooming parlour and business was good.

This monkey seemed very contented with life.

From the Penang Hill website: "The dusky leaf monkey is also known as the spectacled langur, or spectacled leaf monkey. They are very cute looking creatures. There are large white circles ringing each eye giving the appearance of sporting eyeglasses, with a thatch of light fur crowning its head. In addition to the white circles around each eye, the dusky leaf monkey also has white skin surrounding its mouth and creamy white colouring on its stomach region. The hands and feet are capable of grasping and closely resemble those of humans. The palms and soles are hairless and usually black. Newly born dusky leaf monkeys are bright yellow or orange in colour, and have a pink face; the fur changes to a greyish colour within six months."

Whilst the women sat, gossiped and looked after the little ones (above) the older kids were messing about in the trees (below).

The jeep track came out at the Botanical Gardens which were nice. A bit like Rosemoor but hotter. There were some manicured parts and then some wide gardens to stroll around. But for me the highlight was the drinks machine, one ringgit (20p) for a cold can of 7up. I was hot and sweaty and it went down perfectly and picked me up enough for the kilometer or so's walk to find a bus back into town.

8th/9th February 2017 - Thaipusam

I'm going to have to cut my stay in Penang short. The internet in the hotel has been good enough to work but I have no faith in it and this morning it went down completely for an hour or so. Even though I am travelling around Asia and this from the outside seems like a holiday I am working and work has to come first. It seems internet on Penang in general isn't good so my two leg trip to Bangkok via KL next Tuesday has now become a flight to KL Friday and then the second leg to Bangkok next Tuesday as planned. Anyway one more day in Penang.

Thursday is Thaipusam which I talked a bit about when I went to Batu Caves. It is the second biggest Hindu festival after Divali and in most states of Malaysia it is a public holiday. On the day before in Penang a chariot is pulled through the streets to the big Hindu Temple. This year there is a clash of chariots and there are two. The chariots set off early in the morning and although they don't have too far to go they don't arrive until midnight. The reason it takes so long is the crowds of people all wanting a part of the procession.

In front of the chariots people smash coconuts; thousands upon thousands of coconuts are smashed. The idea is that the coconut water inside the coconut is pure and washes the streets for the chariot. People also have trays of offerings which they get blessed. Jos sticks are lit and generally everyone seems to be having a lot of fun. The first chariot the 'new' gold one is pulled by tens of people tugging on the ropes. The second silver chariot is pulled by bulls which I think is more traditional.

I have one really big regret from Thaipusam. With all the messing about with the internet, deciding to fly back to KL and changing my flights and hotel I missed out on the biggest part of the Thaipusam celebrations. I did walk through Little India expecting to see some of it but apparently it all happens at the temple near the waterfall. So I missed out on the people piercing and mutilating their bodies to show their devotion. Not one for the squeamish.

10th February 2017 - Back to KL

So back to KL I go. Check-in set up my laptops and monitor etc. and it's time to start work. Popped out for dinner and found a food court next to the hotel. It is a 'Heritage Hawker Centre' which basically means it has been set-up to showcase street-food style eating. A bit more expensive than true street food but very good food in a clean and fairly organised air-conditioned basement to the Lot10 mall. People seem to fetishise over street food but I've never really got why. Most of the street food tourists eat are in areas set-up or taken over by tourists so it is no more authentic than a restaurant. After you've eaten on the street a couple fo times to prove you're a 'real traveller' eating in food courts which are often cheaper and full of locals makes a lot more sense especially as the weather gets more and more hot.

Lot 10 Hawker Food Court

11th February 2017 - Butterfly Farm and National Monument

Saturday and I am unexpectedly back in KL so I need a plan. I decide a nice long walk with the National Monument as the ultimate destination. Below is the spot which gives Kuala Lumpur its name; the confluence of two muddy rivers itself. Not very impressive really.

From here I walked through Merdeka Square and headed up towards the Botanical Gardens (where I visited the Bird Park last week). This time I stopped off at the Butterfly Farm. A large netted area full of foliage, ponds, fish, turtles and thousands of butterflies.

It was a pleasant spot to spend an hour walking around amongst the butteflies which flit all around you. But getting a decent phot for the website was a problem so here are some landed on some flowers which the park spray with a water and sugr solution. A bit of a cheat but at least you get to see some butterflies.

Next up the National Monument. In fact there are a few structures on top of the hill. There is a monument to war dead. 1914-18, 1939-45 and 1948-60. I must read up on it but I assume 1948-60 was the fight for independence. I've heard talk of Brits fighting in Malaya. I need to find out more.

Next up there is an Islam structure and finally the all action National Monument itself.

12th February 2017 - Cameron Highlands

Today I had a great day in the Cameron Highlands. This old British hill-station is now the fertile garden of Malaysia. Turns out I'm the only one on the trip after others dropped out last minute so it just me and my taxi driver for the day. An early start and a couple of hours driving brings us to the foot of the hills and then we drive the long and windy road up to about 5000ft. As we climb the temperature drops and it gets more and more pleasant.

At the top it is like the most perfect English summer day. Mid-20s I guess, white fluffy clouds on a beautiful blue sky.

First stop is the Cameron Valley tea plantation. This is my first visit to a tea plantation and the scenery is gorgeous.

Tea bushes as far as the eye can see running up and down the hillsides. The sunlight on the green bushes, the shadows cast between the bushes looks like a beautiful mosaic stretching out in front of me.

The whole place looks immaculate and the owners have built paths and bridges so you can walk around and get up close to the tea.

Above is the Malaysian national flower, the Bunga Raya or Chinese Hibiscus. It can be found everywhere, but here at the plantation is the first time I saw one that wasn't plastic, metal or concrete.

The plantations were so beautiful I thought I'd take a rare selfie.

The other big thing in the Cameron Highlands is the strawberry. We drove past strawberry farm after strawberry farm. Big polythene tunnels containing rows and rows of grow bags. I'm sure for Asians who don't see such things normally it is really impressive but for me it was OK but mot worth hanging around long.

We also stopped off at a place which kept bees and some flower gardens but today for me is all about the tea. The last stop was at the Boh Tea Farm. Boh Tea is the biggest brand in Malaysia and they have a big tea room from which you can survey their estate and have an afternoon tea. Cameron Highlands has tea and strawberries it would be rude not to. But of course I asked for my tea in a mug.

By now the weather had started to close in, really made me feel at home. The temperature by now had dropped to the low 20s, maybe into the teens, the clouds were getting lower there was a hint of mist in the air.

Now this is a great advertising tag line.

So that's my couple fo weeks in Malaysia over and it's time to head back to Bangkok. Work is about to get busy so I need to be settled in a nice apart-hotel for a bit to make the long hours more bearable.

Back to SE Asia - 2016-17 page