Saturday, May 29, 2010

Seasons Greetings, Part 5... Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

We waited for our prescheduled ride to the airport, which arrived fifteen minutes late… of which [NAME REMOVED] was livid and pissy after only two minutes. A mad dash thru Hanoi later, we were finally at the airport. We couldn’t get any direct flights to Doha, so we decided on taking a stopover in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

We arrived in Kuala Lumpur (from now on called KL) in the late afternoon and went to find the express train into the city. After a few minutes, we boarded our incredibly clean and quiet train, and sped incredibly fast thru the dense pineapple and palm plantations. We disembarked at the main train station, a monster hub where all six major rail lines, including the elevated, subway, and monorails that crisscross KL all merge. Our hotel was connected to the train station via a network of tunnels. We had to step outside to enter the hotel, and were punched in the chest by the heat and humidity. After spending days and days in mountains and in the middle of the sea bathed in icy mountain air, the ninety degree heat and 90% humidity made me break out into a heat rash almost immediately.

Our hotel, a five-star resort was a little gift of luxury to ourselves. The concierge was worth the money. He gave us directions on how to board the crazy mishmash of rail lines. The train system in KL, while impressive in its area covered and scope, is almost impossible to comprehend at first. Each system is named and colored differently, with stations named differently on different maps. It took us about thirty minutes and several kilometers of walking just to get the right station to board the monorail. [NAME REMOVED] really wanted to try a recommended restaurant/antique store in the middle of the backpacker district. Malaysia’s trains are a lot like its people. Everywhere I have traveled, I have learned to distinguish exactly where people are from. You can tell the difference between someone from China, versus Japan, versus Korea; whereas someone less traveled may not be able to make the distinction. In KL, it was impossible. Everyone was a mix of Thai, Chinese, and Indian. There was no distinct race or culture… it was all just a jumble. We got off at the rail station, but from there we had no idea where to go. None of our maps gave us the street names or any idea on the direction we had to go. After forty minutes of walking thru the sweltering night air, we said “fuck it” and grabbed a cab. He drove us into the backpacker area, unsure of where the restaurant was located.

The row of stalls and shops filled with an assortment of tattooed Europeans and drunken Australians was like a watered down version of Bangkok. Everyone seemed to be “tourists”… not like us “travelers.” It was strange how much our ideas of whom we were and why we were traveling had changed in the past three weeks. After some more walking and being discouraged at being lost, I asked a cabbie for directions. He pointed out that we were only a block away… shit. The restaurant was mildly famous for its mixture of local cuisines. We ordered multiple soups, appetizers, and entrées of unpronounceable and extremely spicy dishes. While we were waiting, the couple next to us was looking over their Intrepid Travel books of Laos. [NAME REMOVED] explained that we had just come from there… turns out they were taking the same tour as us, just in reverse (Hanoi to Bangkok). We gave them some hints and tips, and enjoyed our pineapple and ginger ice cream.

This was it… our last big meal… our final goodbye to this vacation. We both could sense that this was the end of it. Over three weeks and thousands of miles of travel via boat, train, plane, tuk tuk, rickshaw, and monorail, it was about to be over. The cab ride back to the hotel was in silence, as we took in the city views.

After a great night’s sleep in a soft bed (the first in three weeks), we gorged ourselves on a monster breakfast buffet full of delicacies… but no pork. I forgot that KL was Islamic. We grabbed a rail into the city center to visit KL’s most famous landmark… the Petronas Twin Towers. The towers were the tallest building in the world from 1998 to 2004. In the basement we picked up tickets to go to the connecting bridge between the two towers. The bridge is only a third of the way up the towers… not worth the trouble. Instead, we hit up the gift shop and the connecting high-end mall. [NAME REMOVED] found a place to get yet another mani-pedi, and I found a science museum in the mall… perfect. While she had little ladies picking at her toes, I hopped into a dark pod and went thru the multi-level science museum… sponsored by Petronas! There was a display where kids fought a Malaysia demon that stole everyone’s electricity and natural gas that the good people of Petronas furnish to all the good boys and girls.

After our fun, we sat by the hotel pool and ordered a steady stream of Tiger beer with fried fish. Soaking up the rays, we reminisced about the past three weeks. Having our feet eaten by fish, saying our goodbyes to Flick, buying gifts in Chiang Rai, the food festival in Chiang Mai, the slow boat on the Mekong, the fire lit sky in Pak Beng, the Buddhas of Pak Ou, the beer and people of Vang Vieng , the lazy green river of Luang Prabang, the bread in Vientiane, the rice wine of Lak Sao, the excitement of Hanoi, the majesty of Ha Long Bay, and the incredible beauty of Sapa.

We tidied up our bags, packed up, and took the express back to the airport. Our flight home to Doha wasn't memorable in any way. But it was quiet and meloncholy, saying goodbye to the best adventure I've had... so far.

If you’ve gotten this far, you’ve read more than 15,400 words, over twenty-four fully typed pages, and I feel that I only scratched the surface of this trip. I want to thank [NAME REMOVED] for deciding on this trip, and convincing me to spend an extra week… well worth it. So far, I’ve spent almost two months touring Southeast Asia, and feel that I could spend another few months, or even years, without ever getting bored. But I think I have to call it a day there. There are other places I need to see and explore… so I plan on hitting up more of Africa, Europe, and the local hot spots of the Middle East...

And I hope to see you there…


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