Kuala Lumpur: It’s Complicated

“Malaysia – the ‘true Asia'” This is the slogan of this country. And having visited a bit of Asia at this point, we were thrown off by this blanket statement. What does the “true Asia” mean exactly? If it means mass confusion, bizarre rules (some enforced, others not at all) and a shit ton of people? Then I guess it applies.

Oh where do we begin about our week and a half in Kuala Lumpur (or “KL” if you’re cool)? Everything in this city was never quite what it seemed – for us, that meant a lot of surprises, some disappointments and always confusion. A lot of confusion.

When we first arrived via train from Ipoh (which was extremely pleasant) – we were dropped off at the KL Sentral station (no I’m not spelling it wrong.) Unsurprisingly, it was immediately apparent that this was indeed a major city. The subway/train/bus/monorail station at the heart of KL was a maze to figure out – but we did. We made our way to our Airbnb which was located in the Setiawangsa neighborhood in the NE area of Kuala Lumpur. For the first few days we booked a private room instead of an entire apartment/home. Our past experiences from doing this usually led to making new local friends that could show us the ropes. This…wasn’t quite that.

Our host was named Oleg – a giant Russian man who was a self-described cook. Prior to our arrival we had images of us cooking dinners together and swapping life stories over some beers. But in reality he spoke hardly any English and showed us to our room which was just that…a room. It had it’s own private entrance and en suite bathroom which was nice. But we didn’t have access to the rest of his condo – so no fridge, no microwave, no electric kettle – not even a trash can. It was literally just a bed, a vanity and the bathroom. And our 4 nights were spent with zero interaction with Oleg except for the random sightings throughout the complex with awkward broken conversations.

Given that we didn’t have any means of cooking or storing food in our room we were forced to explore – which was fine and obviously the point of us coming to KL in the first place. Luckily the train station was located just across the street which made for easy access to anywhere in the city.

First and foremost we wanted to make our way downtown to see the Petronas Towers. The iconic buildings of Kuala Lumpur. They’re actually the tallest twin structures in the world – sadly, after the Twin Towers in the U.S. fell on 9/11. The Petronas Towers are definitely an awe-inducing sight. They’re beautiful and at the base there’s a huge mall and a gorgeous (also huge) park with walking paths, wading pool for kids and an aquarium. We didn’t go to the aquarium because like a lot of things in Malaysia – it was expensive. And we’ve seen fish before.

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Petronas Towers

The next task was to make our way to the Batu Caves – another famous KL “must-do” attraction. We took the train to the end of our line where we then caught a taxi to the entrance. We were warned that taxis in KL were scams and to be careful but the one we took was metered so it was all good. The entrance to Batu Caves is a sight in itself. There’s a gigantic statue of Lord Murugan which is about 140 feet tall. It’s huge.

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Knowing that we were going to a temple I made sure to dress appropriately – this meant long pants and a scarf that could be used to cover my shoulders. Unfortunately you have to climb a boat load of super steep stairs to make your way into the caves and it was freakin’ hot. I was a sweaty sweaty mess by the time we made it to the top. There’s also a lot of monkeys on these stairs that are not afraid of humans. Kinda scary. Regardless – the climb was worth it. The cave is dwarfing and there’s beautiful Hindu shrines throughout.

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Stairs to the caves
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Batu Caves

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After seeing what we wanted to see at Batu Caves we had two options. We could hop on the train near the entrance – take it all the way to KL Sentral – get on a different train – and then make our way back to Setiawangsa. Or, we could take a cab back to the station we arrived at and take a short ride back to our stop. We opted for the latter. The problem was – this is where we encountered the shady cab drivers. Even though they’re all supposed to metered, at these “tourist trap” sites – the rules don’t seem to apply. We paid 12 ringgit to get from the station to the caves but now they wanted 40 to take us back. We tried some haggling but they wouldn’t go for anything less than 25. At this point we just said screw it let’s just spend the extra time taking the long route. When we started to walk away the cab driver started to say “Okay 25 ringgit” – our response was “we have nothing but time but no money so we’ll just take the train.” That’s when they dropped to 20 and we decided to go for it. Whatever.

The next outing we had planned was to go see a famous building and area called Merdeka Square then make our way to the botanical gardens because I love me some botanical gardens. We figured out the train route and ended up at the right exit but when we got off we realized the entire area was pretty much under construction – not to mention they were setting up for a marathon so nothing we had planned out was making sense. We ended up making our way to the square which was super cool with great architecture but unfortunately it was littered with tents in preparation for the marathon. Really pretty nonetheless.

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After seeing the square we knew – or thought – that the botanical gardens were about a mile away. We started walking. On our way to the gardens we ran into an older English speaking couple who asked if we were interested in going to the Islamic Art Museum (which was on the way up to the botanical gardens.) They told us that they paid for tickets but they were never collected so they offered to give us their unused tickets along with the receipt. We said ‘sure!’ and decided to make a brief stop into the museum before hitting the gardens.

Looking at a map I had on my phone we headed up the road that looked like the entrance to the museum. Nope. That road wasn’t right. But we could see the back of the museum building so we tried finding an entrance. Nope. That wasn’t right either. Alright – so we decided to backtrack and went down to another road that finally led us to the correct entrance. We’re absolutely dripping in sweat at this point. We walked into the museum with our tickets and receipt in hand. There was clearly a reception desk with people behind it but they seemed to absolutely care less that we walked in. So we proceeded to just walk into the first exhibit – no one stopped us. Basically we toured the entire museum without having any tickets taken from us either. Alrighty then.

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One of many beautiful domes throughout the museum

After the free museum visit we started making our way to the gardens. We walked and walked. And walked. We finally reached an entrance to the gardens and realized we had essentially been walking along the gardens the whole time – but there was never an entrance. It was all walled off. Okay. So we tried another road that supposedly went through the middle of the gardens. Walked and walked. And walked. Apparently we were in the gardens the whole time but it was the most uneventful and disappointing botanical gardens of all time. We found a bird park you could walk through but it was like $10 USD so we said screw that. We’ve seen birds before. We also found an orchid garden but none were in bloom. Tight.

Next on the list was to find Jalan Alor which is the food street of KL. After all this walking, we were hungry. Thankfully – this street was not disappointing in any way. Tons of restaurants and stands selling delicious and beautifully displayed food.

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A couple days later we met up with a friend of mine that I went to college with who is originally from, and currently lives in, Kuala Lumpur. She took us to a crazy cool rooftop bar called Heli Lounge that is literally a helipad during the day that turns into a bar at night.

We chatted her up about local Malaysian culture and how it seems like their rules and regulations for things seem a bit strange. Like the censorship in movies. She, as a local Malaysian, said that she isn’t even sure if the Malaysians know why they do the things they do. Fair enough. It was great to hang out and catch up with her.

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Me and Elaine at the Heli Lounge

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Our last mission for our visit to KL was to make our way to a mountain town called Genting Highlands for the Good Vibes Festival. Our main task was to see The 1975 and Temper Trap perform. But we had a couple days to kill so we had to check in to our new Airbnb on the other side of town.

We took an Uber to the location where we were greeted by our host who handed us the keys and immediately left without showing us up to the unit or explaining anything about the unit. Keep in mind that we don’t have phone service unless we’re on WiFi. So we made our way up to the unit with our huge and heavy backpacks on – ready to unwind. We soon realize that even though we have the keys to our apartment – there’s a combination lock on the gate to get to the door. But we weren’t given a combo. And we don’t have phone service to contact the host.

I trek my way up to a Starbucks about 3 blocks away leaving Kile behind in the apartment complex lobby, buy an Americano to get a WiFi password and log on to find out that our host came back after realizing he forgot this crucial detail. I walked back with my Americano in hand. We were very excited to have a kitchen in this Airbnb (after our last experience with Oleg.) But after getting settled we found out the stove didn’t work – it was out of gas. Contacted the host again and eventually got it resolved. We yet to have an Airbnb experience go completely smooth and without hiccups. Anyway – the pool was great.

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A couple days later it was finally time to make our way up to Genting Highlands. We booked a room for 2 nights at what is supposedly the “World’s Largest Hotel.” We were pumped because it had a casino and a theme park – it sounded like a blast! But just like everything so far…it just wasn’t quite what it sounded like on paper.

An hour and a half bus ride from downtown KL led us up to the base of a mountain – then we had to take a Sky Tram/gondola-type thing up to the resort. The Sky Tram was cool but a bit scary (I’m not big on confined spaces…especially ones that are swinging hundreds of feet above the ground.) After being placed back on land we arrived at a massive complex of hotels called Resort World. Absolutely massive. It took us about 30 minutes and a million escalators later to reach the front desk of the place we were staying.

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The entire resort was packed. It’s like the “Vegas” of Malaysia (only way less cool.) It’s just crammed with thousands of people. After getting checked in we realized they didn’t offer WiFi in the rooms. Ugh. It was only available in the lobby and you had to pay for it. Whatever.

We got settled into our room and decided to wander. Turns out the indoor theme park is some kiddie rides that included a slow moving train that went along the perimeter of the hotel. No thanks. But we love casinos! So we decided to check it out. I don’t gamble but Kile does – plus it’s always great people watching. So we headed back down to the main floor. We immediately found out that we weren’t allowed in the casino area because we were wearing flip flops. You could wear sandals but you just couldn’t wear flip flops. You could literally wear practically anything you wanted – shorts, skirts, a ripped t-shirt, pajamas – just no flips flops. Because that makes sense. So we went back up to our room, changed our shoes, went back down and found out that you can’t gamble unless you had a casino card. And to get a casino card you need to register with your passport – which was up in our room. Plus alcohol is ridiculously expensive (like $10 USD a drink.) So we said forget it.

We were mainly excited for the concert/festival the next day and thankfully it did not disappoint. We took the Sky Tram back down to the fairgrounds and were pleasantly greeted by cheap beers and tons of room to watch the bands. We danced our night away to Purity Ring, Temper Trap and The 1975. We couldn’t have been happier. The show completely made up for the frustration and confusion of the past few days.

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We made our way back up to our room after the show feeling nothing but happiness after seeing such great performances. Plus it didn’t rain! It turned out to be a perfectly gorgeous night. Couldn’t have asked for better weather.

There’s so much more I want to elaborate on – all the details of the situations we found ourselves scratching our heads at. All the time we witnessed locals do bizarre and confusing things like not understanding how elevators, escalators or the organization of lines work – or how to use indoor voices. But this post would be about 10 pages long. So this is our summary.

Now here we are – at our last Airbnb stay on our last night on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. Tomorrow we’ll be heading to Bali! Malaysia was cool. It was definitely an experience but we’re excited to see what Indonesia has to offer!

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Inger Hauge says:

    Quite an adventure!
    I felt you all the way through this article.
    Your writing skills are just getting more fine tuned each time I read.
    So rad!
    I love you!
    Mom

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    > Clinical Outreach Representative
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