Vern: We caught a bus from Singapore to Malaysia, which at some point stopped for a long lunch break and never started up again. After a while another one arrived, so we made the switch and were once again on our way.
At a shiny bus terminal, miles from the city centre, we disembarked (at the driver's insistence) and with a little help found a walkway to a nearby train station. The train system in Kuala Lumpur is infuriating! Each line is operated by a different company and requires a different ticket from a different cashier (or machine) and one passes through so many opening and closing gates I felt like a pinball. At a station marked as an 'interchange station' (where you switch from one line to another) nine times out of ten you are required to run across three lanes of traffic to cross between termini. It was nuts! And with heavy backpacks in the moist heat, rather unfun.
But we made it. In Chinatown we found Wheelers Backpackers on floors two to four of a decrepit block. Inside, however, once you got to floor 2 it was clear they'd gone with a tiki theme, with plastic tropical plants, log furniture and a fish tank housing three long-neck turtles and some bass so big that they touched sides. Our room was simple, fan-cooled and clean, or so the proprietor assured us after we stared at the dingy sheets for a moment too long. Nearby was a buzzing street market where we found a food centre and ate dinner.
First up on our sightseeing day, the Petronas Towers. The second highest building in the world. No, scratch that off the list of sights - the sky-bridge which runs between the towers and provides a view to the other side of the earth was closed for refurbishment. Nearby however is the KL Tower, so first up on our sightseeing day was the world's fourth largest telecommunications tower. (Jeez, these guys just can't seem to get hold of the top spot, huh? But apparently not for lack of trying).
They're not big on pavements, nor pedestrians, downtown. We ran across a few chaotic traffic junctions, backpacks and water bottles flailing about but made it over to the tower. The tremendous warmth that wasn't bearing down on us from the sky rose up from the asphalt and our clothes were drenched with sweat. Wait.. I mean my clothes were drenched with sweat. Andrea glowed femininely and sweetly. Inside the base of the tower was a small air-conditioned cinema screening a film on the erection of the comms tower. The room was cool and fresh with processed air and my skin tingled with relief. We watched the movie in Malaysian and then again dubbed in English. The narrator carefully navigated around the subject of how a patch of land in the middle of a 300 million year old rainforest that had been preserved since the birth of the city for public recreation was deemed the perfect place for an enormous commercial antenna, nor which environmental reps signed off on this. The focus was more on the unmistakably Islamic collar it was given and the marvels of engineering. We ventured back out into the all engrossing heat and followed a few walking trails in the rainforest around the tower - the World's smallest nature reserve. (Wa-hey guys! You bagged yourselves that superlative!) Unfortunately when you know jungle like we've come to know jungle, you get a bit particular, and this wasn't much of a jungle.
A failed attempt to find a nearby train station consumed a lot of time and patience but we came out at a sky-rail station which we rode one stop to the train station and caught the train one stop to our destination. An arial photo mounted on the terminal wall confirmed that our final destination was actually only a stones throw from our starting point but given the oppressive heat and the reluctance of the walking-men to turn green, nowhere seemed a walkable distance.
Friday afternoon prayers were in full force at Masjid Jamek, the large central Mosque and we weren't allowed in. Instead, a quick photo of its many ceramic domes and many teet-shaped arches would have to suffice.
We were flying to Bali the following day and were not permitted to check a bag, so we planned to put our large backpacks in storage and to travel only with daypacks. Andrea's daypack was a little small so we were looking for something larger and more suitable for a week long trip. In the Central Market we found a small backpack which looked solid enough so we pretended to be only half-interested so as to set the grounds for The Haggle. "How much is this," I asked the teenage stall keeper, trying to give the impression that I was so uninterested that whatever his answer was it might cause me to slip into a coma. He checked the tag but there was no price sticker on it. (Duh, I could have done that and had already). He checked the next one and the next one and the next but none were marked. Hmmm... This wasn't in the script. I price checked a similar bag which I didn't want but which was marked with a price sticker, worked out what 30% of the marked price and started barking offers at the kid. The rule is start at 30% and go up to 50% where you should come to an agreement with the merchant. Both of us knew the game, but he just wasn't playing. I repeated my offers over and over, but he just deflected them back, "I cannot sell, I cannot sell." It was rather ironic as usually it's the total opposite: when something in a market has caught my eye and I've unwittingly looked at it more a than a millisecond too long, the salesman starts running off prices descending like musical scales and I have to fend him off with, "No, no no thanks, I don't want it... no, no thanks... no, really I mean 'no'... what the hell I'm I going to do with Angry Birds-branded crocs? Size two! What about my wife?! No, we're not... anyway, she doesn't want these either.... Andrea let's go!"
So haggling didn't go so well and we ended up packing very lightly and using the little bags we had already. The best thing we found in Chinatown was a small corner bakery serving Bubble Ice Coffee. We'd rather liked the tea in Hong Kong with the eyeball textured tapioca pearls floating in it - so we were in heaven when we found the coffee flavoured version! It was delicious. We paired two big glasses up with a variety of warm tartlets for a decadent breakfast at a steal.
We flew from KL to Bali for a week, and returned late on a Saturday night. On the Sunday, alas our little bakery was closed. We settled for some peanut pancakes which seemed very popular with the locals, but without those fantastic Bubble Coffees anchoring us to the capital, we had little to do but catch the next bus north.