Dave is currently sleeping off a stomach bug so I thought I'd update. I'm not sure where he picked it up from as we've eaten pretty much the same thing in the last couple of days. Anyway...
In the previous episode of Dave and Jen do KL, we left our intrepid travellers feeling pretty good after a delicious dinner at Bijan and ready to face the next day! Read on to discover what trials and tribulations our heroes have gone through since then...
Thursday we had a lot to pack in so we got off to an early start. We caught a cab up to the Malaysia National Monument in the Lake Gardens, which looked essentially like a mixture of any British Empire country's cenotaph, and the Iwo Jima monument in Washington, DC, which is unsurprising because the statue was created by the same dude. In the same part of the Lake Gardens there was a sculpture garden with sculptures from ASEAN artists, which we wandered around before heading into the Lake Gardens proper. We went to the Butterfly Garden, which was very pretty but a little run down, and then the Bird Park, which was very good and also very big. By now it was lunchtime so we had a snack in the Bird Park's cafe and decided to head straight out to the Batu Caves instead of finishing the Lake Gardens or we were going to run out of time. So into a taxi we hopped and off we went.
In front of the Batu Caves is a huge statue of Lord Muruga. HUGE. The biggest in the world, apparently. It's nearly 43 metres tall, which doesn't sound that big when you read it, but it really is. You can see it from miles away, and when you arrive at the caves you walk up an avenue towards it and it is overwhelming. You really have to see it to understand. Behind the statue is the flight of 272 steps up to the main Temple Caves. It's a lot of steps, but there were old people scampering up them so I figured I could do it too. I did, but it was very hard work. Inside there were a couple of big caves, with quite small shrines in them; the shrines are really dwarfed by the size of the caves. We received a Hindu blessing and I think I offended the priest guy (I'm not sure what a Hindu priest is called?) because it was dark in one shrine and I thought it was an entrance to another cave, so I kind of walked towards it, but it was the shrine itself, oops! After we looked around up there, we headed back down those 272 steps and went looking for the Ramayana Cave, but apparently it was closed because they're building a train station right next to it, or something.
To be honest, the Batu Caves were a bit of a let-down, perhaps because I was really looking forward to seeing them. The statue alone was worth the trip, but all over the bottom of the limestone outcrop and all over the inside of the caves there were kitchy little shops selling all sorts of stuff, from little mini Lord Murugas to what amounted to, well, crap: bubble blowers, little gliders, all sorts of crap. Also, there was no information place that I could see to help poor non-Hindu tourists like us. And what I've read of it made it sound very bright and gaudy but it was actually kind of dingy. Perhaps the Ramayana Cave was the good one that we couldn't see. Still worth a trip but not quite what I was expecting.
Our Hindu pilgrimage completed, we went looking for a way to get home. A friendly local told us that the trains weren't running yet (they were supposed to start in April), but that we could get a bus for RM2 each back to town, instead of paying RM30-odd for a taxi. So that's what we did. We decided to do some shopping and got off the bus at a monorail station to get the monorail to Berjaya Times Square, got off at the wrong stop, and promptly got lost. We wandered around inner KL for about an hour, completely turned around with no idea where we were, before we somehow ended up at another monorail station and just jumped on it again. Unfortunately, by the time we got to Berjaya Times Square we were both very tired and frustrated and didn't really do much other than look at Borders before deciding to head back to the hotel.
Thursday night we'd booked at Menara KL's revolving restaurant Seri Angkasa. We were both so tired we nearly cancelled, and after getting there we wished we had. The restaurant is crap. Total crap and completely overpriced. The best thing about it was the view, which was amazing. But the set menu was way too fiddly and fancy looking, and the a la carte menu was mains only and very limited, so we decided to have the buffet. Which was crap. It didn't matter whether we had western food or Asian food, it was crap. Even their satay was crap. Considering how much it was (RM355, about AUD$120 for both), it was a huge disappointment. If you want to go up Menara KL, save yourself a bunch of cash and just go to the observation deck. Don't go to the restaurant!
Friday we had a slightly later start as our only plan was to got to the Kompleks Budaya Kraf, which I thought was like a craft market. Unfortunately this was another disappointment, it was very touristy and basically just one big shop, not a market at all. We didn't spend very long there and still had a couple of hours to kill before our flight to Penang so we decided to go back to Berjaya Times Square so we could buy a couple of basic things like socks and also see the indoor amusement park. It was better the second time around but it's huge and kind of overwhelming if you're just browsing (although I know a few people who would be in ecstasy just walking through the doors :P). Neither of us are really big shoppers but Dave got a couple more t-shirts and some socks and then we headed back for our flight to Penang.
When we arrived at our hotel we were dismayed at how far out of the centre of the city it was, but realised that one of the restaurants Lonely Planet recommended was just around the corner. The restaurant, Nyonya Baba Cuisine, serves Nonya food, which is kind of a cross between Chinese and Malay. It was run by what appeared to be a mother-daughter team and was empty when we arrived, but they were very friendly and the younger woman shyly asked us if we'd come because of the Lonely Planet recommendation. She gave us plenty of advice on what to do on Penang and helped us choose what to eat. The food was absolutely delicious, just like a home-cooked meal, very filling, and they were lovely. Highly recommended if you're in Penang, it's behind the Hotel Royal near the Penang Plaza on Jalan Nagor.
Today, Saturday, we had another early start because we had a lot to cram in. We walked to KOMTAR and got a bus up to Air Itam (or Ayr Itam, or Air Hitam) which was really neat: the town was basically one big market selling everything from food to t-shirts (of which we bought two). We walked up from the town to the Kek Lok Si temple complex, which is the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia. There was plenty to see here and it was very intricate and beautiful. The statue of Kuan Yin is huge (not quite as big as Lord Muruga, at around 37 metres, but still big) but unfortunately we couldn't really get close to it because of the construction of a big roof over her head which is currently underway. We also climbed to the top of the Ban Po Thar, the Ten Thousand Buddhas Pagoda. It's 7 stories, 30 metres high and apparently Burmese at the top, Chinese at the bottom and Thai in the middle. The view from the top of the pagoda was very impressive.
After that we were once again pretty tired so we walked back down to Air Itam and caught the bus back into town before catching another bus out to the Tropical Spice Garden. Unfortunately it was a bit of a waste of time because the cafe and museum were both closed for renovation, although the garden was very pretty. We didn't spend long there however as Dave was starting to feel quite ill, so instead of looking around at other things in the area like we'd planned we just came back to town.
Not sure what we'll do for dinner this evening, depending on how Dave is feeling. Tomorrow we have yet another early start to get the ferry up to Langkawi which will hopefully be good. Then we're going to check into our luxury hotel and enjoy a well-deserved rest! We're both pretty over it all by now and need an actual break.
Two new observations of Malaysia for now: there are far too many stairs in Malaysia and they are all designed for tiny Asian feet. Buses here go places a bus should never go. A street market filled with people, motorbikes, and cars? Buses go there. A super-windy, narrow, busy road? Buses go there. I usually just try to ignore the horrible road dangers now!
And that's the end of my novel for today. We still have 4 more nights in Malaysia but the pace should be less hectic from now on! Photos will come at some point :)