Hello from Malaysia's capital and largest city, Kuala Lumpur, which is currently in the midst of a heatwave for this time of year. Temperatures of up to 35C, coupled with very high humidity levels, have made it an especially sticky 1.5 days for me here. I honestly think I would sweat less if I did the London marathon as opposed to walking round KL in this heat! I arrived here on Wednesday morning following a smooth 5 hour bus ride from Penang. The comfortable coach was reminiscent of those we used in South America and the motorway to KL was smooth and free flowing. On my last night in Penang I went out to a food court style bar with the people I met on my first night in Malaysia. Unfortunately the guy from Leicester had to go home early as he'd broken out in a really bad rash, leaving me with restaurant owner Calvin, and his stoned friend also named Calvin. They made for pretty interesting company but I can't really say they were my cup of tea!
Kuala Lumpur is the fifth Asian capital city I have visited now, and in line with the other big cities I've seen in this part of the world, it isn't an especially nice place. It may be cleaner than Bangkok but it seems like its much noisier! My hotel room is fully enclosed with no windows, but thats a probably a blessing in disguise in this city where building work, buses and cars put the noise levels through the roof. I also don't think I've ever been anywhere so pedestrian unfriendly. Maybe the locals just don't walk around because of the heat, as there are next to no working pedestrian crossings in the whole city. The roads here are largely the width of motorways as well, so crossing can be quite challenging. On the plus side there are more pavements here than in Georgetown, but often I've found myself having to leap over a railing to access them. And today I even had to sprint through a 100m long tunnel because it was only wide enough for cars to fit through, and I would have to have taken a massive detour to avoid it. Many of the streets here are badly congested, perhaps even more so than Bangkok, and there is a smoggy haze over the city most of the time. Just under 2 million people reside in Kuala Lumpur, but the greater KL urban area encompasses 7.2 million people, which places a lot of pressure on the infrastructure.
The bus dropped us off on the same street my hotel was on, which was lucky, except none of the premises had street numbers on so I had no idea which way to go! I asked a taxi driver and he pointed me in the right direction, but I had a much longer walk than I'd anticipated with my heavy bag on. My T-shirt was soaked by the time I checked in. Still I made it faster than I would have in a taxi as the road was completely gridlocked. I then set about to find a cash machine, which ridiculously took me over half an hour. There are money changers every second shop here, but remarkably barely any ATMs! After lunch I then set out to explore the "old quarter" of KL, which wasn't especially old. The city was only founded in 1857 after tin was discovered in the area, but it has gone from strength to strength economically since. The city's heart is Merdeka Square, which has one of the highest flagpole's in the world set in it. The architecture on one side of the square looks very English, which contrasts fittingly with the very Moorish looking Sultan Abdul Samad Building on the other side. After taking some pictures here I then set out to attempt to walk to the KL Lake Gardens, passing on route the famous old Malaya railways building and also the National Mosque. The Muslims here are celebrating the 3 day Halal Festival at the moment. It commemorates the birth of Mohammed, so all the mosques are very busy and the call to prayer can be heard frequently. After the mosque it was an uphill climb towards to lake gardens. I was exhausted by the top of the hill, and very annoyed to find the garden gates randomly locked at 4pm. I had a drink at the cafe up there and then walked back to my hotel via the very chaotic and dirty Chinatown district.
This morning I had to be up relatively early to make it to the Petronas Twin Towers (see pic) before all the skybridge tickets sold out. I got there at 9.25am and already by that time the only tickets left available were at 5pm. Petronas (which is a government owned oil company) don't charge to go up to the bridge, so its a very popular option for tourists. There was a nice urban park behind the towers so I went there after getting my tickets to try and get some nice photo's. The 451m tall towers were once the tallest buildings in the world (not counting antennas) and they remain the symbol of Malaysia. Despite being completed 12 years ago they still look strikingly modern and make for a spectacular sight. After getting my pictures I then headed to Kuala Lumpur's other notable landmark, the 421m high KL tower. The observation deck on this TV tower is much higher than the Petronas skybridge, and you also get a 360 degree view of the city from atop. The view was pretty good and the windows had been nicely cleaned, unlike the Sydney and Melbourne observation towers. The observation deck ticket also covered me to go into the pretty bland animal park there, as well as an "F1 simulator", which was basically a crappy old playstation game you played whilst sat in an F1 car model. Formula one seems pretty big here, and already they are keenly promoting the Malaysian grand prix on April 2nd.
In the afternoon I headed back out in the direction of the KL lake gardens, largely because there wasn't much else to do! I visited the national war memorial, saw the parliament building from afar (incidentally the administrative capital of Malaysia has recently been moved to a brand new purpose built city 20km from KL), and then I had a walk back through the gardens themselves. KL is technically a garden city, and there is actually some nice green space about. The only problem with being in the city's parks is the heat, as it feels no different to being in a greenhouse when you're amongst the trees and plants. I caught the monorail back to the Petronas Towers well ahead of my 5pm time slot, and I spent the afternoon wandering the large shopping mall at the towers base and then sitting in the park outside listening to some distant rumbles of thunder. The modern shopping mall was rammed with people, but like in Bangkok all the clothes and goods were extortionately priced. I don't know how the Asians can afford it as I've seen the job section of some papers and 10k (pounds) seems to be a decent wage. Our clothes are cheaper in England, and yet most of the shops are the same - they even had a Marks and Spencers which is something I've not seen outside of Britain before.
It was then my time to take the lift to the skybridge itself, which was located on the 41st floor at a height of around 170m. The view from here was not as good as from the KL tower, and it was in part restricted by the steady rain which had begun to fall, but to be on the bridge itself was quite an experience. It feels like you're suspended above the ground, and you can see the two giant towers either side of you. I'm not surprised its been used in a few Hollywood (and Bollywood) movies as it looks quite futuristic. To avoid the rain I caught a taxi back to my hotel, which cost me an astonishing 3 pound! This is considerably more expensive than taxis in other parts of Asia believe it or not.
Tomorrow I am heading south a short distance to reach Malaysia's other prominent colonial port town Melaka, where I'll be spending one night. I'll hopefully have another blog up about that this time tomorrow!