Saturday, 12 November 2011

Penang to Kuala Lumpur

In which we do some serious glampacking at the Sheraton and Cath gets cake for her birthday (against all the odds)
Starring two crazy New Yorkers and a cab driver who doesn't allow kissing

The bus from Georgetown to KL was the first one I have taken on this entire trip that not only left on time but arrived on time too. It had air con and reclining seats.  I didn’t have to sit next to anyone.  No one vomited. I was heaven. 

Because my friend Cath was coming out to join me for a month and it was her birthday we decided to splash out and spend $60 a night each on a suite at the Sheraton.  It was glorious. The beds where wonderful, the pillows were fluffy, there was an iron (not seen one of those for a good four months now) and the bathroom was bigger than the living room of my London flat.  They were slightly disconcerted by me arriving in rather tatty clothes (holes in the back of my shirt) lugging a backpack, but in the end it helped as one of the porters confessed he too was a backpacker and doled out excellent advice for onward travel. 

We did a lot of hanging around by the pool – even in the rain – and wearing of our white towelling robes - and watching of CNN and making of coffee and strolling around the vast foyers pretending we did this all the time. Also got out and saw a bit of KL though it was quite an effort.

The Golden Triangle is the main shopping area full of Debenhams and Zara and such like but also a great street food market where we had dinner a couple of times and a street called Bukit Bitang that is full of expat bar sellings cocktails and extortionately priced beers.  The first night we were there, a James Bond party was going on next door so someone pretending to be Daniel Craig was pulling poses with a hopefully fake pistol.  We met up with the two Americans from the ferry on the second night and had a rather crazy evening swopping misery tales of Langkawi. The cab back had a penguin dangling from the rear-view mirror and a sign on the dashboard and a sign saying – ‘No Kissing’. The driver explained it was a big problem for him. 

On our main sightseeing day we wandered through China Town looking at the odd temple, funny little shops that sold everything including Christmas trees and then went up to the central market which is an aquamarine Art Nouveau construction with a giant foodhall on the top floor.  Kuala Lumpur is not designed for pedestrians despite the fact that everything is actually quite close together.  We had looked at the map and decided to walk to the old train station but somehow this turned into scrambling up an embankment, climbing up a wall at the river and eventually squeeze along the narrow verge of a motorway on ramp having to step out into the traffic every 10m or so because the men from the mosque were coming up the other way and there way they were moving for us.  

End of the pavement

The station is an exquisite combination of Eastern Islamic and colonial architecture on the outside but rather dull and partly abandoned on the inside. We did find a half hearted museum with buckled photographs of railway construction, some rusting headlamps and a plastic seat with a curious sign that said: “Be careful if you sit here, you are not allowed to move the bench”.

The Old Railway Station

We also went up the main view point over the city – the KL Tower.  We had been planning to have high tea in the restaurant for Cath’s birthday but it was closed for a private function so had to make do with a trip to the 63 floor in an elevator decorated in glow in the dark stars.  As we got to the stop a huge storm moved in over the city and the effect was wonderfully dramatic if somewhat limiting in terms of what we could make out.  Back on the ground we got a taxi and then walked around for a good hour before we finally found somewhereelse for cake and Cath got her cup of tea.  

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