you can always depend on the kindness of strangers

I woke up yesterday morning in a foul, grumpy and somewhat downbeat mood. Call it early travel blues or whatever, but I was not in a mood that should go hand in hand with travelling the world. Quite the opposite in fact – my mood could be likened to that of a stroppy child, upset at his new found noisy, uncomfortable surroundings while wanting to do nothing but sleep to get away from this hole he had got himself into.
This new found surrounding was a slightly grubby hostel room in the Golden Triangle area of Kuala Lumpur. With nothing but a plastic covered mattress, a hospital style light, blaring loud music from the local restaurant next door and several hungry mosquitoes for company, I had my first moments of wanting out. Not out of the trip, oh god no – but just wanting to be out of this sweaty shithole I found myself in. All I pined for was to be in a cool, comfy bedroom with peace and quiet. At one point I even considered packing my bag and walking to one of the nearby luxury hotels and splurging on a room that was more humane. A room that could provide a proper sheet to cover myself from the mozzies would have been an improvement.

After finally drifting off, I awoke early and decided to get straight out and about. It was pre-8am – I might have had a few hours broken sleep on the back of a 5.30am start the previous morning, leaving Fred for my flight from Phnom Penh. I thought about packing my bag and checking out, but seeing as I had paid for the two nights, I thought that I’d go out for a while and consider my options later that afternoon.

The day started poorly – I took a stroll towards Petronas Twin Towers, where I’d been the previous afternoon, taking in the impressive Kuala Lumpur skyline for the first time. A quick chat with a security guard confirmed that I should have read my guidebook more thoroughly – the walkway that links the two towers were closed on Monday’s. Great start. After a quick chai latte I walked up to the other major high-rise attraction in KL called Menara Sky Towers. There is something quite flauntful about this tower. I liked its appearance the instant I clapped eyes on it from the bus and monorail ride to my hostel yesterday. It doesn’t really need to be this tall, with nothing but a lift shaft and an emergency staircase in between the shops on the ground and the observation tower some 276 metres higher, but to me it was a fantastic piece of showmanship from the owners, showing how mighty their communication company was. My mood was also lifted by a friendly shuttle bus driver who started to help me out of my bad mood with some general chit chat and banter. After noting the option of ‘afternoon tea’ in the revolving restaurant for a mere two ringgit (40p) more than the observation tower alone, I decided I would pop back later.

Armed with the standard LP guidebook, I decided to take a trip out of town to the Batu Caves. Kuala Lumpur is a huge city, but in terms of tourist attractions or day trips, it is pretty limited. That doesn’t bother me, as I find tours and guides pretty boring at the best of times. I took a walk to the fantastically efficient nearby monorail station and got off just outside Chinatown. From here it was a stroll through the bustling mid morning Monday market and an endeavour to find the bus stop marked on my map. I felt myself perking up no end now, delighted to be doing a bit of exploring, well getting away from the grim start to life in Malaysia. After taking my seat on the bargain 2.50 Ringgit bus, I found myself the centre of attention from a group of Muslim women and kids who it later turned out were from Jakarta. I smiled to myself as they were obviously taking photos of me, sat next to two of the kids. Isn’t it nice to be people’s tourist attraction for the journey? I whipped my camera out and we laughed as we took turns in posing away to each other.

Batu caves were OK, the main highlight being the number of reasonably tame monkeys who entertained the hoards of tourists by generally ‘monkeying about’ on the temple roofs, while stealing any stray water bottles or food from bags. The caves themselves are a bit of a pilgrimage site for Malaysia’s large Hindu community (after all, the tourist board slogan is ‘Malaysia, truly Asia’) and attractions over a million visitors during a religious festival at the start of the year. Crowd control during these events must be hard work; the caves didn’t strike me as having a seven figure capacity!

As I waited for the bus, I saw the Indonesian women again. We quickly realised we were the wrong side of the road for the bus back into town, kindly pointed out by a passing bus and its conductor. Racing across the road, dodging the crazy Asian traffic, we piled on the bus just before it was due to leave. Much to my amazement, the women said that they would pay for me! How very kind, I thought, my mood returning to the high levels it should be at a quick rate. We sat on the sweat box of a bus, making friends and telling tales of our travels. It was here I told them that I was visiting Indonesia in a few weeks, then discovering they were Jakarta sisters taking their younger family members out on holiday. One of the girls was studying in KL and was very keen on giving me her details so she could get her friend to show me round Jakarta…..I didn’t ask if they new any good bars! They were extremely courteous, even giving me an email address and phone number if I needed any assistance in their country.

Skipping off the bus at Chow Kit, I caught the beautifully air conditioned monorail back down to the Golden Triangle area. One thing I have found here in KL is that the humidity is as potent as anywhere else I have been – even Colombo. It’s the kind of heat that you sweat as soon as you leave an air conditioned room, a sweltering city. More good luck followed as the bar I had popped into let me have a beer at happy hour price, despite arriving half an hour prematurely. It was the first pint glass I had felt in three weeks, with all other beer either being served in ‘mug’ sized glasses or straight from a bottle. After supping up my first pint in Malaysia, I braved the rainstorm for the short uphill walk to Menara Sky Tower for the delightfully named ‘afternoon tea’.

Thankfully the lift was in good walking order, taking me and a couple of other excitable tourists to the observation station level. As the lift went up you could feel your ears pop as your body adjusted to the new found altitude it was at. Walking out of the lift gave me own of those brilliant moments that only seeing new places can give you – a view to take your breath away. If you climbed the stairs, I suppose it would literally be a breathtaking view, but to me, the sight across Kuala Lumpur and its vast surrounds was enough to give that effect. There are certain moments that you know will stay with you forever. They are usually moments of being surprised at something or viewing sheer natural beauty in my experience. The view from Menara was defiantly both of those combined. I was amazed at how the city and this part of the world looked from this elevated position, taken aback at just how high up you were. Never visiting America or China, I have never really come across a sky scraper – there aren’t many of those in Hereford, for sure. Walking round, trying to take it all in, gazing across the landscape in awe of man’s ability to build such great feats. A quick trip back into the lift, I was now up at the revolving restaurant.

Menara Towers revolving restaurant is 282 meters above the ground and as the name suggests, the seating area rotates slowly, thus giving each diner a full 360 degree view of KL and its surrounds. What a place to sit, chill, drink a pot of tea and eat a big fat piece of chocolate cake. All for 40 Ringgit – bargain. It was one of the most remarkable places I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. I guess it helped that I had never seen a single picture of the view before, that I had never been anywhere so high up (apart from in a plane, obviously) and that I had no real expectations of the place. I always recall a trip up Sigiriya rock that a few of us did back on that memorable Sri Lanka I keep speaking about – we went with no pre-conceived ideas of how great it could be, and were taken aback when we got there by the sheer brilliance of the place. Menara was certainly in the league of being surprised by what it had to give. The price of a beer was close to £6 – like that mattered. Never has a ‘mug’ of Heineken ever tasted so good after the day I had turned around so well yesterday. If you ever come to KL alone – come here. If you ever come to KL with a friend – come here. If you have a girlfriend and want to propose in a certainly eccentric and beautiful place, you guessed it – come here.

Returning to the hostel some thirteen hours after I left in such a sour mood, I returned refreshed and excited about the travels ahead. The room and the hostel wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I remembered, my change in mood no doubt helping as I had a cracking nights sleep after making a few minor adjustments to my surrounds.

I prefer travelling with a friend – it’s great to share experiences with others as well as having someone to support you. But no feeling can match the feeling of meeting new people, putting yourself out there and discovering moments of brilliance due to your own decisions. Moments like the kind gesture from the Indonesian girls to being blown away by places such as Menara Towers make travelling so rewarding. Right now I feel very fortunate to be here, doing what I am doing – probably for the first time. Tonight is a sleeper train up towards the island of Langkawi, off the north west coast of Malaysia. A game of golf and beach time beckons.

I just hope there is a proper sheet for the bed.


3 Responses to “you can always depend on the kindness of strangers”

  1. 1 Matt
    October 26, 2010 at 8:37 am

    I’m sure any girls you know reading this will get very excited if you ever suggest a trip with them to Malaysia in the future!

  2. October 26, 2010 at 8:51 am

    Haha, yes fair point! Just for future reference to any potential girls I re-visit the Sky Tower with – I will not propose here. At £6 a beer, I won’t be able to afford a ring 🙂

  3. 3 Donna
    October 28, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    Hi Rich,

    Fascinating reading. Delighted you turned, with the help of other people, your day around and had such a great time after all. I am in awe!

    Take it easy…or as they say in Bristol ‘take care!’.

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