Our favourite Asian city

Getting out of the jungle was easy. We got on the local bus to Jerantut (10am and 5pm; 7 ringit) where we changed onto a bus to Kuala Lumpur (18.20 ringit). Both busses were big and comfortable and the roads were smooth and not too windy. After a train journey into the centre, we finally arrived at our hostel in Chinatown with some time to relax and recover before heading for an early dinner.

The impressive Sultan Abdul Samad building

With our stomachs full, we left Chinatown and found some signposted walks around the old city centre. KL city council was in the process of re-vamping the old river into a space for people to stroll and relax. We followed the colonial walk route which took us around the old supreme court, St Mary’s cathedral, the Royal Selangor Club and the independence square. The river was lined with coloured lights and smoke generators which in the dark created this mysterious foggy river dividing up just before the picturesque Sultan Abdul Samad Jamek mosque. St Mary’s cathedral is one of the oldest churches in South East Asia and receives regular visits from British royals and officials. Selangor club is and old institution set up by the British and housed in a tudor-style building along side independence square. In the past, this green has been used for cricket and other sport matches. On the other side of the square sits the beautiful Sultan Abdul Samad building. Contrary to common perception, the muslim buildings are more modelled on Moghul architecture rather than moorish architecture. There are four walking routes, which are well signposted. Each is only a few kilometres and takes roughly an hour to complete depending on how long you stop along the way.

Light installations around Sultan Abdul Samad Jamek mosque

On our first full day we went to see the Batu caves. Due to some works on the train line, we had to get a train to the central station and a bus halfway down the line before we could get onto the actual KTM Commuter train. On our way out of the Batu caves station disaster struck. Zoe had dropped her ticket token and when she got it back and packed things away some passer-by bumped into her, causing her phone to drop 10m through the stair steps onto the stone floor below. Of course there was no hope for the screen.

Well and truly pissed off, we went to see the caves. At the bottom we were welcomed by a huge golden guardian statue and monkeys playing around. In order to get to the cave entrance we had to climb 272 steps and no, there is no lift or escalator. Many locals went there to pray or pay hommage in one of the hindu temples which are located inside the caves. We are sure they must earn some good karma on their way up. The Batu caves are big, wide and with a high ceiling there is plenty of space to walk around, but they do not contain much beside two temples (one being built or repaired at the time) and some shops. Monkeys were playing around and some tried to steal drinks and food from people. With so much on offer we did not linger for very long and went on to see the dark cave which is located half way up the stairs to one side.

Dark cave system is home to some special cave fauna including the rare trapdoor spider. This little animal is considered a living fossil and is listed as endangered. The underworld system can only be visited as part of a tour. We did not have to wait long and soon we found ourselves armed with hard hats and torches following our guide along the concrete path. The educational tour takes roughly 1h and takes visitors 850m into the mountain. Apparently it houses 200,000 bats but we only saw maybe 30 around some holes in the ceiling. To protect the animals we were not allowed to point our lights upwards. There was a great deal of bat chatting going on above our heads. The government have a huge interest in protecting these bats as one of the fruit bat species is the primary durian pollinator and the Malaysian durian industry contribute $120 million to the economy annually. Our guide pointed out cave formations such as flow stones and rock curtains. We were ‘lucky’ to see some large cockroaches, spiders and a long legged centipede, but the cave is also home to species found only in Batu caves, such as the batu flat worm that can be cut into up to 16 pieces and regenerate to form 16 full flatworms instead of one. It sounds like something from a horror film, but thankfully we didn’t get to see any.

After getting a train and the bus back into the city centre we went on a mission to find Zoë a new phone. A broken screen and SIM card slot were to much for a repair on the go and so we opted for a new model. KL Sentral has a huge shopping mall attached to it and we found six phone shops next to each other. Scouting was followed a late Indian lunch and tea for a break before returning and buying the new smartphone. The only thing we could not do was cutting the old SIM card so we had to return the next day. After the successful shopping trip we took the monorail to the business district and walked to the park beside the famous Petronas towers. We had seen them the evening before and wanted to have a closer look. The park is very well set up and kept. A running track goes all the way round and there were hundreds of people using it. In the centre, is a big playground adjacent to some shallow pools for children. As the sun set temperatures dropped slowly and a nice cooling breeze helped enjoying our time wandering around the park. We secured some front row seats next to the symphonic fountain with uninterupted views of the towers. At half past 7 some of the water jets came to life and started a colourful show in small groups, changing every 5 to 10 minutes. It was not until 8pm that the main show started. Together with Malaysian music the fountains created a great show although the two were not always very well syncronised. Overall the show lasted about 45min.

Advertising the mall around the feet of the towers told us that there was a Marks&Spencers inside and since we wanted to have a look for a phone case we went to explore. The mall turned out to house all the expensive fashion and lifestyle brands, whose (not quite so genuine) products you could buy in Chinatown for a fraction of the price. We were super happy to find M&S and even more so once we found the half price sale in the bakery section of thr food hall. Understandably everything is even more expensive than in the UK so the discount was very welcome.

We had been really looking forward to our activities of the second day: a visit to the worlds largest walk-in aviary in KL birdpark. Thankfully only located only 2.2km from our hostel walking there was easy. Entrance costs 67 ringgit but it is worth it. The bird park consists of four zones with two huge walk-in aviaries and many smaller cages and houses. Inside the first (bigger) aviary live a lot of cattle egrets, peacocks and various types of pigeons including the biggest, the Queen Victoria pigeon. Like in other zoos public feedings are held at different times but we decided not to let them dictate our route and wandered around without them. We did however go to the bird show in the amphitheater outside the second enclosure which is home to a group of endangered Milk Storks.

During the show different species of parrots made an appearance, swinging in loops around metal rings, raising the Malaysian flag on a pole or having a race piling rings on poles. It was very simple and setup for crowd pleasing rather than education despite the lady explaining little bits about the different birds. Visitors can also get their photos taken with a range of parrots on their shoulders and hands but we are not particularly fond of such practices and so ignored it. In total they had a few thousand birds in the bird park, quite a few we haven’t heard of but we think they do have a few too many cattle egrets and peacocks as they are everywhere. The park is nicely laid out apart from the fact that if you walk there you have to walk past all of the park to get to the entrance. A second one on the other end would not have gone amiss.

Not far from the bird park is a lovely butterfly garden which we also wanted to see. Apparently they have 5,000 of these beautiful flying insects. We could not count them to check that claim as there were way too many. The garden was beautiful and had fountains, a small river and feeding spots for butterflies. It all felt calm and tranquill and we felt very relaxed. On the way out the route lead us through a small insectarium and museum about butterflies, moths, beetles and other insects which was well set up with English information. Although the large case containing around 50 scorpians and the neighbouring case with one scorpian with all it’s baby scorpians on its back made us walk a little faster. On the way back to the hostel we got Zoë’s SIM card cut and treated ourselves to some tasty cake and coffee.

Our last day in KL was only a half day really because we were flying out to Jakarta late in the afternoon. We had seen our top picks and didn’t feel in the mood to visit a mosque or a temple and so we went for a wander around Chinatown and the central market. Somehow we had managed to leave our souvenir shopping to the last minute, but some places (like Taman Negara) just did not sell any. Thankfully it did not take us too long to find something small and nice that fit in our backpacks.

After looking at different options of getting to the airport (which is a long way out of town), we settled for the recommendation from the hostel. We had not acctually seen it before, but it was the cheapest and easiest. We walked to Pudu Sentral bus station (less than 1km from our hotel) from where we got on a bus to KLIA2 (KL International Airport). They depart roughly every half hour and cost 12 ringgit per person. The bus station is not very well signposted. These buses depart from platform 5. Tickets are sold at the platform.

Kuala Lumpur was the first big city in SE Asia that we actually enjoyed. It was easy to get around, the centre was clean and had some atmosphere thanks to the old Chinese, mulsim and colonial buildings. Even the business district around the Petronas towers was nice with the well-kept park. We had a great time there and would have happily tagged on a few extra days, but Indonesia was calling and we had to move on.

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