. By the time it did, we had 30 mins to get to JB Sentral which included hauling our bags through two customs controls and probably a bag scan. I resigned myself to missing the train and having to wait around for about 4 hours for the next one. Customs went smoothly and we were through quickly but we were 15 minutes late by the time we got to the train station. I went straight to the ticket office to explain our situation and they got on the phone, and confirmed the train was still at the platform, it was actually due to leave at 9:12 not 8:50 as we’d thought, it was 9:10 at this point and the kind man a the office told us to run to the platform downstairs and he would tell them not to leave till we were there. We got to the train at 9:12 on the dot and the guards kindly helped us with our bags and the moment we were on the train the whistles blew and away we went. How’s that for punctuality and service. Whilst we relaxed and cooled down in the air-conditioned carriage, the ticket inspector came by and told us that we were in the wrong car, as we had 1st
class tickets (I’d splurged as it was an £12 for 1st
class and £7 for 2nd
) and we were in 2nd
class, but that the train was stopping in an hour and we’d have to take a coach to a station further down the line, presumably a track issue, so we could move into 1st
class then. Not a problem, 2nd
class was comfy enough if not a little rickety. The rest of the journey went ok, the bus transition was smooth although it meant we’d be late arriving, we got back on the new train in 1st
class, a little dated but comfy, although again, rickety
. We stopped for half an hour at a town for lunch, I had no Malaysian currency (Ringgits) on me so I wondered for a couple of minutes and stumbled across a KFC, figuring I could use the credit card here, but there credit card machine was broken (I found out after ordering it) and so they pointed me in the direction of an ATM where I withdrew some Ringgits and went back to pay for my first Malaysian meal, KFC. During this time Sam was sat on the train still, nervously waiting for me to return before the train left, which I did. We even had time to eat before the train pulled away. Equilibrium restored we sat back and enjoyed the scenery passing by. Malaysia, at least the part next to the railway track, has lots of palms. CHECK WHAT TREES AND SO FORTH. We passed through a few towns on the way, some very poor looking with tin sheds propped up by various struts next to the track, others more prosperous with new builds and more modern looking affordable housing. The countryside began to give way to the urban sprawl of KL and a couple of hours later than planned we pulled into KL Sentral. From here we just had to hop across to the MRT platform and go one stop down the line to Pasar Seni, and our hostel should be just a couple of hundred metres from there. As it was, it was really easy to find and we checked in and dropped our stuff of. Our hostel was pretty nice, the showers were only average but the décor of the hallways and the bedroom were nice and clean and modern. A leather headrest on the bed with some colourful sheets, towels folded like Swans and all the tiles nice and shiny and bright
. Our only downside as we discovered overnight was that our room was at the front of the building which did give us a view over the hustle and bustle below as we were three floors up, however it was also a major coach pick up point so we had the constant hum of coach engines throughout the day (not a problem as we wouldn’t be there most of the time) and Malaysians, and most people in Asia indeed, love their horns, and the coaches seem to be fitted with foghorns. This wasn’t a major issue as the traffic died down by 9pm, however the drivers around here aren’t shy about using their horns at 5am in the morning, so there was little chance of a lie in. We could have possibly asked for a different room but we just couldn’t be bothered. Having freshened up a little we got our bearings and found that we were just a few hundred yards from Central Market and Petaling Street, both popular shopping and eating spots, so we decided to have a nose around Petaling Street and got our first look at some good old fashioned knock-off goods. All the designer names were here, Calvin Klein, Gucci, Prada, D&G, Guess etc, all for crazy prices. Some sellers actually tried to keep up the pretense of selling us real goods, others didn’t bother and just pointed out that they were good copies and good quality, which they were. We weren’t really in the mood for shopping, although we did have some items we needed, I was in dire need of some boxer shorts, as the ones I had were either gradually disintegrating and resembled an elastic band more than underwear now, or they’d just gone missing. Sam wanted to tuck her wedding and engagement ring safely inside her suitcase but wanted a replacement phoney ring, and she needed a watch too, but that could wait, we just wanted to grab some food tonight. There was a busy looking restaurant in the middle of the action so we grabbed a table and had some really good food and a couple of beers. It all cost less than a tenner which is pretty good value in our book, especially after pricey Australia
Our budget required that we pull some money back during our time in Asia. We have a contingency fund which we’ve got to the limit of, so now we are in Asia we have the chance to save some money and pull that back so that when get to America, that extra padding is in the budget when we need it. You never know, we may even get back after all this with a bit of money left over.
Our first full day in KL showed it to be a decent transition from Singapore, towards a more archetypal Asian city. A lot more hustle and bustle, although the centre around the famous Petronas Towers is still very much a modern, cosmopolitan area with familiar brands filling the shopping malls. You can’t help but be impressed by the Petronas Towers though. The tallest twin towers in the world, towering high above you, shiny and modern, yet now they carry an art deco look combined with their clearly modern engineering brilliance. By the time we got there on our first day we had missed the chance to go up to the Skybridge that connects the two towers, so we thought we’d do that the next day and for now we’d explore the city. Despite the overload of Orchard Road in Singapore, we found ourselves in KL’s main shopping precinct, which could probably rival most cities
. We went into what appeared to be a pretty snazzy and trendy mall and into a camera shop. I had toyed with the idea of getting a compact "tough" camera as our Panasonic Bridge LUmix was taking some excellent shots, but also taking a bit of a pounding having been up glaciers, around fjords and salty water, but it was still ticking, I just didn’t know how long for. I figured if I could pick up a decent water and shock proof camera for not too much, it would save us this worry and also allow me to take a camera out on nights out without looking like a tourist straight away. The shop owner struck up a conversation and I told him what we wanted and he grabbed an Olympus and literally threw it on the counter to prove it’s toughness. He took a couple of shots with it, which were a bit grainy, and not having had chance to research them yet I didn’t really want to get involved in buying the camera, although he certainly wanted me to get involved. £200 was the price once converted from Ringgits, “I’ll do you a deal, £160” was the next offer. I told him I’d only just started looking and didn’t know if this was the camera I wanted, but I’d bear it in mind.
“I know how you English work 'I’ll think about it and look around’. I’ll do you a deal now, if you buy this camera today, £80”!
That took me back a bit. He’d just knocked £120 off the list price, being British though, I was more sceptical than anything, it seemed an excellent deal but the hard sell put me off and we left. I didn’t feel prepared for making a purchase, and even if it is just £80, that’s still the best part of a day’s budget for us. When I got back to the hotel I checked it out on Amazon where it was selling for £150, but the reviews were mixed with people complaining about reliability and picture quality, so I was happy to have left the deal alone
. We found the cheapest iPad 2’s in KL too. With the new iPads out these were slightly outdated but still very good units and in the UK, they were on sale for around £330, in an official Apple reseller in KL they were selling for about £250. We were both tempted but with a large portion of Asia still to cover I wasn’t too keen on adding to our array of expensive electricals we had to haul around and there would be other chances to buy closer to the end of the trip if we wanted to. It seems that pretty much all Apple goods are between £80 and £150 cheaper over here depending on the value of the item, and the best deals generally depend on tax and exchange rate.
Anyway, reconnaissance mission complete, we had some considerably cheaper purchases in mind back at the evening market on Petaling Street. We were to test out our bartering skills and get ourselves some cheap crap. We came away with 5 pairs of “Calvin Klein” boxer shorts for £8/40 Ringgits (knocked down from £16/80 Ringgits, told we wouldn’t get them for less than 50 Ringgits by most stall owners, we showed them). A “Guess” watch, presumably because you have to “Guess” what the time actually is after a day or so, for £2.50 and a new sparkling “diamond” ring for Sam at £2. Happy with our haul we went and spent the same again on dinner and drinks. We headed to bed fairly early mindful of the fact that we’d be awake quite early with the traffic noise
. Earlier than we expected thanks to some *#!*# who must have been trying to pick up a customer or something as he beeped his horn for a good 15 minutes at about 3am. I wasn’t far away from putting on an Italian New York accent and sticking my head out the window to tell him to “Shudduppyaface”. I didn’t though, my choice to ignore him surely cut much deeper and sent him on his way after 15minutes that must have been as uncomfortable for him as they were annoying for us.
Said disturbance meant we overslept the next morning and didn’t get to the Petronas towers in time for tickets to the Skybridge, which are evidently in demand. Instead then, we headed towards the Menara KL, a communications tower similar to the Auckland Skytower and Seattle Spire, that’s the third highest in the world. Here we were able to ascend to the observation deck that was actually higher than the Skybridge and due to being on higher ground, saw us very nearly in line with the top of the Twin Towers. The view was also 360 degrees looking out at the whole city, and although I can’t say for certain, I’d say this is the better option for people wanting to see the city from above rather than just go up to the unique bridge between the towers. We made our way back to the city from the tower and splurged on a TGI Friday’s lunch, nearly £20, fine dining indeed
. I impressed myself by having a relatively healthy fish option when TGI’s offers an array of sticky and meaty BBQ options. We rounded the afternoon off with a walk around some of the parks and a jungle area near the Menara KL, you can almost escape the traffic in some of these little spots, indeed there were a few exercise and meditation spots set up for people here, quite the little sanctuary.
We’re back on the train tomorrow, headed for Butterworth for a whistle stop visit to Penang, which lies just off the mainland of Malaysia. We’ll have a couple of nights here before heading north to Langkawi en route to Koh Lipe, a remote little island that will be our entry point to Thailand and a little city escape for a few days.
We've arrived in Kuala Lumpur only a couple of hours behind schedule and that was with a bit of luck too. Having furnished myself with knowledge from a website called seat61.com that possesses all sorts of information on travelling around the world by train, we thought it was a fairly straightforward process. We were to take the MRT (Singapore’s super-efficient metro) to Woodlands station, from there a train takes us across the border to Johor Bahru stopping at border control on both sides and then continues on to KL. This was the plan, indeed, I had booked tickets for the train from JB to KL and looked up train times from Woodlands to JB. The problem occurred when we got to Woodlands MRT and found no evidence of any train that would take us across the border. Everyone at the MRT station said we needed to take a bus across the border and once through Malaysian Customs we’d follow signs for JB Sentral and there our train would be. At least it would be if it hadn’t already left. We had 45 minutes till the train was due to leave according to the website I’d booked the tickets on, and our bus had not yet arrived