A Travellerspoint blog

Day Six: Cars, Shops and Culture

more tours...and more ringgits spent

sunny 27 °C

After a much-needed coffee sesh at the Starbucks across the street with Alecia and Courtney, we boarded the bus all dressed up in our business attire and headed for the industrial town of Rawang. Today we were going to visit the Perodua car factory and watch firsthand how cars are assembled, how engines are built, and all the work that goes into producing a single vehicle. I'm not much of a car person and it was difficult to hear what our tour guide was explaining over the noise, but it was pretty sweet to be able to walk through each step of the process.

Once the bus dropped us back at the hotel, Courtney, Alecia, Jeremy, James and I hailed a cab to Bukit Bintang, a prime shopping mecca just 3 km away. We haggled for a decent cab fare (because that's what you do here - you decide on the fare BEFORE you get in the cab! Excellent way to do it - if you're good, you can get across the city for just a few Aussie dollars) and arrived at...another American-style shopping mall. How funny.

We immediately headed upstairs to get a feed, settling on a nice looking Chinese restaurant. The prices were incredible: 12RM would get you a plate of Singapore noodles, 15RM for a plate of yummy steamed veggies, and the ultimate dish: a whopping 35RM for a whole duck. James ordered it out of curiosity, and within 15 minutes the waiters brought it out. It was...well, a whole duck. They then proceeded to carving it up and serving the skin in thin pancakes before whisking away the rest of the meat to toss into a noodle dish. (Unfortunately for James, Alecia and I accidentally mistakened the duck noodles for our Singapore noodles and ended up eating almost the entire dish. Whoops! It was delicious though.)

After lunch, we separated to pursue different shopping interests. I ended up shoe shopping for sandals and popping into Forever 21 (yeah, I was surprised to find it here too!) before meeting up with the group for drinks across the street.

We headed back to quickly shower and change, then reunited with the rest of the group for a pre-planned cultural night at the Saloma theatre and restaurant. The location was beautiful - set just near the lit-up Petronas Towers - and we were awed by a series of Chinese and Malaysian-influenced cultural dances (many of which several of my fellow students joined in on.) Some of the dances were pretty corny, but it was still fun to watch.

Posted by Alykat 06:28 Archived in Malaysia Tagged educational Comments (0)

Day Five: The Work Begins

we see how business is done in malaysia

sunny 27 °C

Enough of the fun and games: I was on a uni trip, after all.

We left the hotel at 9am to visit the Rubber Research Institute, beginning the tour on the plantation where we saw how rubber - a prime Malaysian export - is grown and extracted from plants. It was a bit difficult to pay attention with all the mossies (mosquitoes) buzzing around, but when we relocated to the rubber museum, it was more interesting to see the different items made of rubber. We took heaps of photos with the oversize tire, scuba diving wetsuit (random how that was made of rubber...), latex gloves, condoms, rubber lounge chairs...the list goes on.

From there, we hopped on the bus and made our way to a vegetarian restaurant at the base of the Batu Caves for the coolest cultural lunch I've ever seen. We were seated at long tables in this square restaurant, when a large banana leaf was placed in front of each person. Rather than a place mat, however, this served as our plate as heaps of rice was scooped onto the center of the leaf and then surrounded by an array of curries and pieces of roti (a yummy bread, kind of like a thin tortilla), all eaten with our hands. To drink, we had water-filled coconuts.

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Once we were full, we were greeted with a daunting task: we had to climb 272 stairs up to the Batu Caves and Hindu shrine. Winging and cussing under our breaths, we made our way to the base of the stairs and were delighted to be greeted by...monkeys! I must've taken 30 photos of these little creatures as they chased birds, climbed up fences and raced each other up the stairs.

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The inside of the cave wasn't too noteworthy, but fortunately, the view from the top of the stairs was magnificent.

Feeling hot and sweaty by now, we grudgingly boarded the bus again to drive to the Selangor Pewter Factory, where we were given a tour of the museum and actual factory (pewter looks a lot like silver, but it's actually a combination of tin, copper and antimony.) At the end of the tour, we were led into a small classroom called the School of Hard Knocks and taught how to make a simple pewter bowl to take home as a souvenir. Cool! Courtney, Alecia and I spent several minutes engraving our flat pewter pieces lovingly with the name "Reggae Bar" before pounding them into something that, in my case, somewhat resembled a bowl. As a real souvenir, several of us bought beautiful pewter necklaces.

Feeling the need to shop when we got back to the hotel, a group of us hopped on the train (something I will NEVER do again at rush hour) and headed for the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center, or KLCC, located in the Petronas Towers. Again, this was like entering a huge American shopping mall...but with much bigger discounts. I spent the next hour bopping around the Body Shop, Gap and Top Shop, gleeful over the fact that the price of everything was more than half off the ringgit value, before meeting up with some girlfriends at Chili's (yes, as in the American restaurant chain. What can I say, we were craving margaritas and fajitas after all those days of rice and noodles!) We had a lovely girls' dinner before meeting up with some of the guys at a nearby bar, where they'd befriended one of the waiters and planned out our next night of mayhem.

Posted by Alykat 00:57 Archived in Malaysia Tagged foot Comments (0)

Happy Easter in a Muslim Country

there was no egg hunt this year...

semi-overcast 26 °C

Easter dawned as our one fully free day in Malaysia and we were all determined to make the most of it. Some folks trekked off to explore the rainforest, others went shopping, but a considerable number of us decided over breakfast to hit up the Sunway Lagoon Theme Park. My Sydney friends Nizam (who was originally from KL) and Adrian (who's mother was from KL and had thus visited several times) had both recommended this as a top place to go, and since the weather seemed all right that morning, we figured it was a go! Hitching a 2RM bus ride (so cheap!), we made our way to the park.

We were unprepared for the sight that greeted us.

The park was hidden behind a multi-story, American-style shopping mall (yeah, Billabong and Starbucks were among the brands represented), and was surrounded by several flashy hotels and resorts. We had expected to find just the Sunway water park, but quickly discovered there was so much more to see - Sunway actually consisted of FIVE parks: an Extreme Park (ATVs, paintball, and flying foxes), an Amusement Park (roller coasters galore), the Water Park (slides, a wave pool, and some sort of surfing pool that actually offered lessons), a Wildlife Park (the park housed a TIGER!), and finally, a haunted Scream Park. Overwhelmed and ridiculously excited, we all purchased a five park pass for 90RM and made our way towards the water slides.

The novelty of the five park pass wore off around 2pm when, like clockwork, it started raining (I should mention that in KL, it rained pretty much every day around 2pm. Luckily, it was still about 26 degrees Celsius, so low 80s Fahrenheit.) We expected that the roller coasters would shut down due to the inclement weather, but to our disappointment, literally every single attraction was closed until the rain passed. We grabbed lunch, then headed over to the Extreme Park to wait out the rain. After about an hour, Jeremy, Andrea and I got over the weather, so we caught a bus back to the hotel.

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I spent the rest of the afternoon avoiding the rain, shopping around Chinatown (let me point out that DVDs here are about 8RM and you can score a box set for 35RM!) and getting a 30 minute foot reflexology session/30 minute back and shoulder massage for 70RM before meeting up with Courtney, Alecia and James to dine at the Hard Rock Cafe.

Posted by Alykat 00:37 Archived in Malaysia Tagged events Comments (0)

Day Two: Malacca

getting out of the city for a while

sunny 30 °C

Today we traveled two hours south of KL to Malacca. Once a little fishing village, Malacca was dominated by the Chinese, then the Portuguese, and finally by the British before it became one of the 13 states of Malaysia. Upon arrival, we were sweltering in the heat (Malaysia's climate is dominated by heat and humidity), so we bought 1RM ice cream bars and wandered around the outdoor markets.

Once we were cooled off, we embarked up a hill to check out the remains of St. Paul's Church. Once a Catholic church called "Our Lady of the Hill" founded by a Portuguese captain named Duarte Coelho, the chapel was later turned into a noble burial ground by the Dutch and renamed "St. Paul's Church." Under the British, it was used to simply store gunpowder. There's not much of it left, as most of the walls have since crumbled and the roof no longer exists, but it boasted spectacular views of the town and beaches off in the distance.

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Once we made our way back down the hill, we were greeted with a surprise mode of transport to lunch: buggies! They were funny little things: a two-person carriage decorated to the max with silk flowers and ivy and driven by a bicycle contraption attached to the right side. My friend Jeremy and I made a beeline for a particularly brightly colored one, and our driver delighted us with his choice of music to play - Metallica - as we rode to the restaurant. It was like a battle of the music as each buggy blasted all different songs, and I'm sure we made quite a spectacle of ourselves as we rode down the narrow streets.

We had a "traditional" assortment of dishes for lunch: chicken, fried fish, beef, steamed vegetables in a variety of sauces, rice, and of course Tiger Beer. Malaysian food reminds me of Thai food, except it involves heavier sauces and more fried items (given that Malaysia is bordered by Thailand and Singapore, this food influence is a given. Billy told us you could actually take a bus the 900 km between Singapore and Thailand.)

After lunch, we walked across the street to visit an old Chinese house that had been converted into a museum. We were given a tour by a strict Chinese woman, and the most interesting part of the tour was the stairs: the underside was intricately carved and painted, and upstairs featured a gate and rooftop that could be closed to keep children from falling downstairs and keep husbands from sneaking out at night. Interesting idea...

To get back to the bus, we walked down the "Tahun Baru Cina" (which I assume means "Chinatown," as that's what it resembled) and passed an array of trinket shops and art galleries. I popped into a shoe shop to check out a pair of "boundfeet shoes" Chinese women would wear over their binded feet. I was shocked at how small the footwear actually was; I held up a shoe and it didn't even reach from my palm to the end of my pinky finger. Ouch!

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Seventeen of us went to dinner that night at a nearby Malaysian restaurant before returning to Reggae Bar for another night of raucous fun.

Posted by Alykat 00:02 Archived in Malaysia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

First Day in KL

making our way through the city

sunny 29 °C

Because there was an uneven number of girls on the trip, I ended up scoring my own room on the 13th floor of the hotel (apparently the Malays are not as superstitious as Americans.) I woke up in the morning to a view of the KL Tower, a prime broadcasting spot that resembles the round Sydney Tower, and the Petronas Towers, the world's fourth-tallest building that are referred to as the "Twin Towers." With the morning sun shining down over the already bustling city, this was an absolutely beautiful sight. After a full breakfast at the hotel (which was quite an odd sight: in addition to the usual toast and waffles, there was roti bread and curry, fried rice and noodles, and bowls of broccoli next to the yogurt), we boarded the bus for our morning tour of downtown Kuala Lumpur.

Our first stop was the Petronas Towers, which looked small from where we were standing but were nonetheless stunning.

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We arrived next at the National Mosque, but we were unable to enter it because the newly elected Prime Minister was in there for his first set of Good Friday prayers. Bugger. Still, the surrounding architecture was fascinating to see, as next to the mosque were very western-looking buildings next to Gothic structures next to Indian-style buildings. Being that Malaysia's past includes so much influence from other cultures (English, Portuguese, Chinese, Indian, etc.), seeing these buildings next to each other on the same streets was striking. While the street signs were mostly in Malay (which is a language written with English letters, rather than Chinese or Arabic characters), surprisingly, many of the signs within the buildings also included English translations.

Next up was Independence Square (which Billy called "Little Britain"), the place where Malaysia's independence flag was first raised in August 1957. Afterwards, we checked out a sweet 140 year old Chinese temple and prayed to various statues for future good health and fortune (and that we'd all earn top marks for this class. Haha.)

For lunch, we stopped at the Central Market, a bustling indoor plethora of coffee and tea houses, snack stands, bakeries, craft stalls, souvenir shops - you name it, you could probably find it here. There were all sorts of food stalls upstairs, so we dispersed to find something interesting to eat for lunch. After considering the various Malaysian, Indian, Chinese and Thai offerings, I settled on "goreng pedas": a bowl of spicy wok-fried rice with mixed vegetables, chicken and shrimp, with an iced coffee. The total cost of the meal amounted to 8RM, or about AUD$3 (in USD, it was even less: the Australian exchange rate was 2.5:1, but the US dollar was getting 3.5:1.) Ridiculous.

The people-watching here was intriguing, as most of Malaysia's population are either Malay, Malay-Chinese or Malay-Indian. Since it's predominately a Muslim country, many of the women were covered head to toe in loose robes and dresses. Others wore more western clothing with just a head scarf, and it was interesting to see the different patterns on their head scarves. It seemed this was the one accessory they could utilize to add a more personal touch to their otherwise traditional outfit, so every woman's scarf featured a different pattern with a multitude of colors.

Most people's English speaking skills were also quite impeccable, making it quite easy to ask for directions, haggle for better prices on souvenirs, order food, etc.

We had some time to wander through the markets, so I stopped in at a Malay teahouse to sample "daun pegaga," a pennywort leaf tea recommended to me by the shopkeeper. I asked her about the strength of Malaysian coffee, and she just smiled: according to a color-coded table detailing the effects of each tea she sold in her shop, Malay coffee is known to be a hormone enhancer for men. Laughing, I stuck with my cup of "better circulation, memory enhancing, cleansing, anti-oxidant" tea.

On my way out, I ran into some friends who'd just been at the "doctor fish spa." Huh? Following them to a corner of the market, I soon figured out what they were talking about. The spa was essentially a shallow, rectangular pool of water filled with little black fish. The edge was surrounded by low swivel chairs, allowing people to sit with their feet in the water so the fish could swim around and nibble at the calluses on their soles. Five ringgit bought you 10 minutes of this fish pedicure, and I can honestly say it was one of the weirdest experiences I've ever gone through.

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That night, I caught a few girls in the elevator on their way to a nearby spa (they're pretty abundant throughout Chinatown) for cheap massages. They convinced me to come, so I tagged along and chatted with Andrea and Christina while Aimee had her full body massage. When it was my turn, a fortysomething Chinese man came in and spent 30 glorious minutes kneading out every knot and loosening every tightened muscle in my body (I'm pretty sure he knocked all the toxins out of my body too, as I was coughing up stuff from my chest by the end.) The cost? Thirty ringgit. I knew this wouldn't be my last massage.

Afterwards, we met up with the rest of the group at Reggae Bar, a spot five minutes from the hotel that was literally a Bob Marley shrine converted into a bar and restaurant where the walls had been signed by everyone who'd passed through its doors. The funniest part? They didn't play a single Bob Marley song; the DJ played all the R&B and club hits of 2007. Still, it was love at first sight, and we ended up returning to Reggae Bar several more times over the course of the trip.

Posted by Alykat 19:10 Archived in Malaysia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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