Cleaners, the KGB and a call for prayer

Trip Start Jan 16, 2004
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Trip End Sep 18, 2004


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Flag of Malaysia  ,
Friday, May 21, 2004

Our time in Malaysia has been blighted by a series of bizarre early morning wake up calls, none of which have been requested. We may as well start with cleaning staff, who, in Asia atleast, appear to have an uncanny ability to change your opinion of a hotel in an instant. Now we can forgive them for morning number one, we didn't have a "Do not disturb" sign to hang on the door. However, when they're still knocking on the door four days later, despite the sign and several poignant death stares from Vicky (anyone who's had to wake Vicky up would know what I mean), it gets on your goat a little.

If it's not the cleaning staff, it's the bloody KGB. Now the trouble with all our ranting, is that, and I don't think it'd stand up in court, the hotel room didn't have any windows and therefore mean't we couldn't tell what the time was. However, on Monday 10th May, I AM sure it was very early (couldn't even hear the cleaners) when the phone rang and the voice said "Vladimir?". I'm not quite sure what he launched into, but it sounded like your average arms dealing type of conversation until he finally realised that I wasn't talking, asked me again if i was Vladimir and put the phone down sharpish. Let's just say, I know too much.

Everything in Kuala Lumpur is the biggest or tallest structure of its kind. For example, there's the Petronas Towers, currently the tallest building in the world. The KL Tower, the tallest tower in South East Asia and 4th largest tower in the world. The tallest flagpole in the world, the largest indoor Bird park in the world, the biggest indoor amusement park in the world. The list goes on and on and on and on and ....

Kuala Lumpur is just like any major city in the world (apart from Delhi), with huge shopping malls, parks, museums etc. We like it though, and found more than enough to do for well over a week or so. Staying in colourful Chinatown is enough to try anyones patience when you have to explain day after day that you're not there for a "very cheap cheap Gucci bag sir" and are only passing their stall to reach your hotel. Still, we're in the middle of all the action, and I think we'd be missing a lot of the atmosphere if we went anywhere else.

Of the sites in KL (sorry, we have to switch into backpacker mode and call it KL now), we found the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace the worst. After negotiating pathless highways, roundabouts, grass mounds and finally the Police (I'm sure they probably wern't looking for us, but you never know), we arrived at the gates to find the palace hidden from view, a couple of guards that were allowed to talk, and a coach loads of Japanese tourists snapping at nothing.

In Merdeka square, you get a sense for the colonial power that once ruled. Outside of the grand offices, that are now home to the courthouse, is a cricket pitch and the exclusive Royal Selangor Club. Standing at the crease, you can almost here the clinking of Pimms glasses from the Royal Selangor as another shout of "Fanatstic knock old boy" goes up from the governer.

We arrived at the Petronas Towers to find out we'd have to get there at 08:30hrs in the morning if we wanted to stand a chance of getting one of the free tickets. So, disgusted with the prospect of setting an alarm (where are cleaners or Russians when you need them), we decided to head to the KL Tower instead, to catch a similar view from there. A couple of quick moving cloud formations later, however, and visibility was reduced to zero. We resolved to make sure we visited one or the other on our return to KL after a week or so in the Cameron Highlands.

Slightly out of town, are the Batu caves, a Hindu shine that requires the visitor to first climb two hundred and seventy two steps. Easy. At the foot of the steps are signs requesting that "new cars only" may park in the spaces, an ageist automobile remark that wouldn't look out of place at the Ritz. What happens if you happen to drive an Aston Martin of the James Bond variety? To the back with the mini maestro I'm afraid. At he top, struggling for breath, you are greeted by photographs of the Thaipusam festival, in which devotees of the Hindu religion pierce their cheeks with skewers, attach hooks to their back to pull carts and generally seek forgivness in the most bizarre ways.

The bird park, which if you've been reading carefully will already know is the largest indoor bird park in the world, provided a slightly more easy going alternative to museums or tall buildings and have uploaded one or two of the best pictures from the one hundred and sixty James took.

In the same week we were staying in the capital, the prime minister of Malaysia announced that his countrymen and women should become proficient in English if they wished to succeed in business, which we'd say is probably fair comment considering we've visted muziums, eaten in restorans and tried to buy cough medicine in a farmasi (we only didn't because the farmasist, presume that's what they call him, was out till Tuesday).

Meanwhile, we found the Islamic Art's Muzium one of the more interesting museums we've been to on our travels, although some of the ancient Islamic scriptures could have done with a little more translation for those struggling with their Arabic. Of particular interest were the extemely detailed scale models of Islamic architecture from aroud the world.

We left Kuala Lumpur for the jungle and tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands, a four and a half hour coach ride that begins to get a little hairy at the three hour stage. If we'd had a driver competant of even riding a bicycle, it would have been better than the amateur night guy in charge of this particular seventy seater. As we wound our way through the roads approaching Tanah Rata, he made generous use of the accelerator where a healthy dose of break would have been more appropriate. Needless to say, we're going to make sure we get very little shut eye tonight, and so hope to sleep through the return ordeal tomorrow morning.

On our first full day in Tanah Rata, we were woken up by the third and final culprit of early morning wakey wakey rise and shines, the call for prayer at the local Mosque. I guess it wouldn't be very PC to get arsey about this one though, we'll leave religous blunders to the Duke of Edinburgh.

On the first of our treks into the unkown jungle, we loaded up the day sack with plenty of water, warm clothes (actually gets a little chilly sometimes), waterproofs and, after much debate, the small first aid kit. From the guesthouse we walked down the drive, and four yards later Vicky tumbled, ripped a hole in her trousers and opened up a nice wound in her knee. The argument for including a first kit justified then.

We're not sure when a forest becomes a jungle, but think the walks we have done are probably a mixture of both. Jungle sounds a little more adventurous, so we'll call it that. Anyway, in the jungle there are more than a few strange noises, that we don't mind admitting we were a little intimidated of, and found a little hard on the untrained British ear that would normally struggle to distinguish between the call of a Robin and a Blue Tit. And guess what, there ARE snakes. Of the most dangerous kind as well, waiting in the undergrowth for their next backpacker. Our particular favourite, was the snake we found on our wanders yesterday. He was in no uncertain terms dead and therefore the safest snake we've seen in our lives.

On our second foray into the wild, we encountered the endagered Malayan Flying Lemur, an animal that appears to be a cross between a cat, a bat and a monkey. They have webbed wing like things that appear to help them glide from tree to tree, and don't use their long tail like a monkey would.

We have really enjoyed our time in Tanah Rata and would stongly recommend that anyone interested in walking or wildlife should make the trip. It is probably the first place that we've actually felt a little sad to be leaving.
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