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The Final Frontier

A mix of old and new in Kuala Lumpur and Malacca

Arriving into Kuala Lumpur came as a welcome change after a few weeks away from the hustle and bustle of big cities. I was beginning to miss some urban comforts, especially after my last adventure in the jungles.

As the MRT subway train pulled up into the city, the ambience became quite energetic. There were huge crows of people wearing yellow t-shirts in support of the anti-government protest group, Bersih, to demonstrate against recent controversies involving the Malaysian prime minister. Many of the streets around the hostel were shut to accommodate the protesters.

Bersih protest on the streets of Kuala Lumpur

When the protests had subsided, I headed out for a walk and found my initial impressions to be that the city feels like a hybrid between Bangkok and Singapore. It’s not as frenetic as it’s Thai counterpart – the traffic is an order of magnitude less chaotic. It also has the modern cityscape aspects of Singapore and shares a similar mix of ethnic diversity.

Walking around the city centre more often than not left me in the shadow of the Petronius towers, which I think are the most beautiful skyscrapers I’ve ever laid eyes upon –  especially at night. The towers have incredible presence over the nearby area and the intricate architecture gives a sense of elegance that makes a beautiful departure from the classic cylindrical box. Beneath the towers lies a large shopping mall, Pavilion, one of many glitzy upmarket malls in the city that seems to be in every direction in the city. I didn’t have any appetite for shopping but often retreated to them to escape the intense outdoor heat.

Looking up at the Petronas Towers

Other than a stroll through Little India and Chinatown, I didn’t find all that much to do in the city centre. Some of the more appealing sights of the sights lie out of the city. Thankfully the MRT system is cheap and works efficiently to connect the enormous sprawl together. That came as a relief – walking around isn’t all that pleasant in the pollution, underdeveloped walkways, and also due to my blistered feet following earlier treks. The only exception was the Lake Gardens, a large green oasis in the centre of the city. It was a pleasure to walk through in the late afternoon to admire the colourful and scented gardens.

One of the well-known sights just north of KL is the Batu caves, which is a collection of temples and statues of Hindu gods located within limestone hill.  Enormous statues of Lord Hanuman and Lord Murugan welcome visitors to the entrances of these caves. I especially enjoyed wandering inside one of the caves viewing depictions of different scenes from the Ramayan, the historic Hindu text. The intricacies of the statue carvings and the colours make them surprisingly lifelike. The caves are also infested with many opportunistic monkeys who didn’t miss a chance to rob unsuspecting tourists of their snacks!

Statue of Lord Hanuman at the Batu caves

Depictions of the Ramayan inside one of the caves

A Fanta-stic refreshment

The following day I made an even further trek out of the city past the airport, to the Sepang International Circuit which hosts the annual F1 event.  There was thunder and lightning when I arrived which probably explained why I was the only person on the tour. The guide and I covered the facilities extensively, and we poked around normally closed off areas including the main grandstand, podium, timing rooms, medical centre and VIP lounges. As someone who religiously follows Formula 1, it was a great experience to visit behind-the-scenes at important facilities that play a central role in pulling off the show.

The main grandstand at Sepang International Circuit

Drinking from my shoe as a certain Australian Formula 1 driver also did on this podium!

When I wasn’t prowling around the city, I spent time at my accommodation, Back Home hostel. The excellent service, beautiful chic design and lively atmosphere made the ambience perfect, so I spent a good chunk of my 4 days in the city planning aspects of my life on my return. As a bonus, one of the few decent veggie restaurants I found in the city (Water Lilly) is directly opposite.

Malacca

A couple of hours on a coach took me to my penultimate stop, Malacca.

Malacca can be considered a smaller sister city of George Town in Penang.  It was another centre for the spice trade, previously held by the Portuguese and Dutch before being incorporated into the British Strait Settlements, until the independence of Malaya in 1957. Relics of the colonial days are everywhere in Malacca. An old replica ship, the Flor de la Mar that the Portuguese commander Alfonso de Albuquerque arrived in 1511 faces out to the Strait of Malacca. A water fountain built by British rulers to commemorate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee can be found on Dutch square, near the city centre. Behind it is St. Pauls Hill which was originally a fort but slowly declined throughout colonial rule, and now forms a museum complex that showcases other objects from past occupation.

The Malacca river

The Flor de la Mar

The main pastime in Malacca is to walk through the old city, which features distinctive architecture from each colonial era. Jonker street is the main road through Chinatown that by day sells arts and crafts, and by night a bustling, pedestrianised food market. The city attracts a wide range of tourists, with plenty opting to hop on cycle-powered, beat blasting rickshaws to navigate the narrow streets. It’s not hard to escape the crowds though. A sleepy river snakes its way through the centre of the old city surrounded by plants and coffee shops.

I unintentionally arrived in Malacca during the annual Art and Performance festival. Over the course of the weekend some (admittedly strange) performing artists could be found beside several historical sights – including a guy beside St. Paul’s Church sellotaping himself with…err, orange peel.

This chap has a frightening amount of spare time on his hands..

Malaysian delights

My path through the Malaysian peninsula ended up being a surprisingly fulfilling few weeks on my trip. I honestly wasn’t expecting it to be so varied and enjoyable. I met some of the friendliest people in Penang and the Cameron Highlands; my quest for adventure was well and truly fulfilled in the Taman Negara rainforest, and visiting George Town and Malacca gave a cultural backdrop that gave rich historical context to the country’s colonial history. And, even though I didn’t make it there myself, I heard plenty about the beaches being spectacular (especially the Perhentian islands). There’s something here for everyone.

Malaysia didn’t feel as over-commercialised as Thailand or China did. There’s still a unique charm to be found in the cities here. Not to mention, the weather is excellent year-round, the delicious food varied from place to place, general living costs low and the lack of a language barrier makes it easier to get around. This came at a good time considering the difficulty I had been through earlier in my trip.

Unfortunately, not only had my time in Malaysia come to an end, but my trip was almost up too.  A final two hour coach journey towards Johor Bahru took me to the southern tip of Malaysia at the Singapore border checkpoint.

-S

Next: At Journey’s End

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