Monday, March 21, 2011

Vacation: Malaysia!

Whew, I know it has been a really long time since I last posted...sorry!  If you were with me last year at this time you know that me blogging in winter is like pulling teeth.  It is painful and rarely happens, haha.  However, as it starts to get ever so much warmer outside and I am willing to actually get out of my bed things will pick up again.


You know where it is warmer than Korea? (Trick question, its warmer than Korea in many many many places.) SOUTH EAST ASIA!  On February 18 we ditched snowy, cold Seoul for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  And here's the story!


Our flight out on Malaysia Airlines was at 11:00am, so Lee-Rae, Diana (C.), and I met at the airport bus station around 8:15am and slept through the bus ride out to Incheon.  I love that bus. We arrived and headed over to the check-in area where there was a huuuuuge group.  When we got up to the window we found out that (most likely thanks to that big group) our flight was overbooked so we were all bumped up to Business/First Class!  WHAAAT!  Score. The three of us got our tickets and headed over to Paris Croissant to wait for our fourth member: Laura.  Time slowly ticked on and we finally called Laura to check in and she said she was on her way but running a little late, so we decided to head over to the gate.  Since Malaysia Air isn't part of the Sky Alliance (group associated with Korean Air) we had to take a train out to another terminal, and we arrived pretty close to boarding time.  As we walked up to the gate I got a call from Laura saying that she had missed the flight!  I guess she had been out partying the night before and then didn't get moving early enough in the morning.  She didn't arrive at the airport until we were already boarding, so there was no one to check her in and she had to re-book for a later flight.  It sucks enough to miss a flight, but to miss a flight where there was a first class seat waiting for you must have hurt even more!


The flight was...magnificent. Start to end. We boarded early through our dedicated first class entrance and had juice before take-off.  The big cushy seats were extra comfy for the six hour flight, and the flight attendant to passenger ratio was obviously much lower, so someone was always serving us or checking on us. The drinks were bottomless, and the food just kept on coming.  We started with some fantastic chicken and beef satay with awesome peanut sauce that was drizzled on it right before it was given to us.  Next came a tomato and mozzarella salad (with fresh mozzarella balls), warm rolls, our main course (I chose a beef fillet with steamed broccoli), and an apricot crumble and fresh fruit plate for dessert.  A few hours later (as the people ins steerage were getting peanuts, no doubt) we got a plate with tandoori chicken (one of the best parts of the meal...it was SO good), a mini quiche with goat cheese and basil, and mushroom toast.  Followed by more fresh fruit and coffee/tea. Who could ask for more?  We were also each provided with an individual entertainment system with movies, tv shows, music, games, language lessons (!), etc that we could use for the flight.  I watched 127 Hours (I found his contact lens issues much more damaging than him cutting his own arm off...does that say something about me?) and Due Date (can't pass up Robert Downey, Jr. and that cute dog!) both of which were great!  Only downside to the flight?  Diana got sick (perhaps a combination of being out late the night before, airsickness, and endless drinks?) and one of my movies was interrupted by an adorable little Malaysian man who was a flight attendant saying "Excuse me, ma'am, but your friend is wommiting in the back."  Hahaha.  Thankfully Diana rallied and was ready to go when we got KL.


Well a champagne toast was obviously necessary.  Point of interest, this was the first time I actually had true champagne from France.  Bubbly!

Entertainment system, satay, drinks, and a warm towel.  Amazing.  And please note the tiny tablecloth they put out on our tray tables.  So posh.

Beautiful views of islands out of our window.

And super fun cloud banks.

Pampered and happy.  Great way to start a vacation!

Between the flight and the train ride downtown, we befriended another English teacher named Laurence who had also been bumped up to business class.  On the train we had a sixth English teacher sit with us who was from New Zealand.  All we needed was someone from Ireland and South Africa and we would have been a full native speaker set!  

Ok, so thoughts about Kuala Lumpur.  It is...small.  You could easily do all the major attractions in 2 days.  I would suggest that if you are planning to spend more than that in Malaysia that you get out of KL and head out to the islands or just outside the city.  One of the best things we did was our trip out Kuala Selangor, but more on that later.  KL was okay, but I'm definitely glad that our whole trip wasn't spent there.  They did, however, have delicious food.  Our first night we settled in at Reggae Guest House 2, which was reasonably priced, well located, and very welcoming.  Usually you don't get all of that at the same time!  We booked four beds in a six person dorm room and ended up having a string of Korean girls in the other beds for the three nights we were there.  So random.  The beds were comfortable, the hostel was kept very clean, and a light breakfast was included each day, so you really can't ask for more when paying roughly $11 a night!  The first night we ended up meeting up with Joe and two of his friends at a local bar.  It was a fun place...I could have done with quieter music, less cigarette smoke, and a place without a blatant disregard for drinking age (there were girls from a local international high school that we spoke to who were obviously under the drinking age but were being served repeatedly) but it was right down the street from our hostel so I really can't complain.  Laura arrived in the middle of the night.

Me, Diana, Joe's friends, Lee-Rae, Joe.

Saturday morning dawned warm and sunny (a nice surprise since all of the weather forecasts had said cloudy or rainy our whole trip) and we decided to explore the local area. We started at a little Hindu temple right down the street from our hostel that was beautifully decorated. It really made me miss India and exploring with Lyndsay!  Then we walked down to the colonial district, where we visited the Malaysia National Textile Museum (we really just stumbled across and and it had AC so we were IN!) and Merdeka Square (a big public square and sports club surrounded by old buildings with cool architecture. 

Beautiful mix of colonial and Islamic architecture on the National Textiles Museum.

Colonial district.  Damn bus.

After the colonial district we headed to the shopping mecca of KL: Central Market.  Hundreds of stalls selling everything imaginable are crowded together in this two story building.  Prices are pretty decent and they have everything you could want, so its a good place to spend an afternoon browsing. I got a lot of souvenirs bought, so that was excellent (even if that meant having to lug them around in my suitcase for the rest of my trip)! One of the coolest things I did here was painting my own batik. Batik is a textile art where you take a piece of cloth and draw a pattern on it with wax.  Then the cloth is dyed/painted and the wax is removed, leaving the underlying cloth white.  There was a stand at Central Market where you could purchase a piece of fabric with various patterns/pictures pre-drawn in wax and paint them.  Lee-Rae went off and continued shopping while I painted.  So much fun, and a totally unique souvenir. I love arts and crafts! After the market we dropped our stuff off at the hostel and then Lee-Rae and I spent some time walking around through Chinatown, including stopping and relaxing a bit with a cold Tiger Beer.  Later that night we met up with Joseph, his friends, Laurence (the kid from the plane) and Christian (a German guy from Laurence's hostel) to go out for dinner to celebrate one of Joe's friend's birthdays.  We trekked out to Little India for some tasty buffet food, and then went over to the Petronas Towers for a night photo shoot.  Stunning.  The towers are alright during the day, but all lit up at night they are beautiful. They made me want to watch The Thomas Crown Affair. Then it was back to Reggae Guest House 2 to crash.

Central Market

Painting my batik flowers. Look, they even match my shirt!

Buddhist temple between our hotel and Chinatown.

Awesome spiral incense.

Tiger Beer tastes like South East Asia.

Gorgeous.

This is an obnoxiously difficult photo to take.

Sunday morning the four of us got up and headed up to the KL Menara Tower If you like tall buildings (and I obviously do) you have two options in Kuala Lumpur.  #1 is, of course, the Petronas Towers.  They are the tallest twin towers in the world, however the tickets you go to go up apparently only go to the Sky Bridge, which is on the 40th floor.  Also, though they are  free, you have to get up insanely early to get tickets because they only allow a certain number of people up each day.  The Korean girls in our room got up at 5:00am to get tickets one morning!  No thanks.  The KL Menara Tower is your other option.  The biggest benefit to this tower (aside from going higher) is that your pictures of the skyline can include the Petronas Towers.  We opted for the KL Menara.  Architecturally it looks almost exactly like the Seoul Namsan Tower.  The view was quite pretty and we spent a while at the top before going down and having drinks at the base.  When you purchase your ticket you have two equally priced options: Adventure Package or Culture Package.  The adventure package includes a pony ride and small zoo (adventurous!) while the culture package includes a visit to a small cultural village that showcases various instruments and architectural styles from around Malaysia.  Laura, Lee-Rae and I chose the cultural package and spent a little while looking at various types of homes from all over the country.  Some were really beautiful.  We happened to arrive at kind of an off time so most of the workers were hanging out, relaxing and playing games in the shade.  While there are usually a few kinds of performances that take place we missed them all. Sad face.

View of KL from the tower.

View including Petronas Towers from the side.

Ready for some culture.

One of the traditional homes.

Looking up at the tower.

After the tower we hopped in a taxi and headed over to the National Mosque of Malaysia.  We had seen the tall minaret and stunning blue glass roof from our subway station, so we decided to go check it out. The mosque was really beautiful, all open spaces, marble floors, intricate carvings, and lovely architectural details. When you arrive the first thing that you do is don a FETCHING lavender robe.  I think it was best described by Chrissy as "a purple snuggie on backwards." So very becoming.  Women have to wear them regardless of what is underneath, but men only need to put them on if they are wearing shorts.  The mosque was very peaceful inside, they have over 15,000 worshipers on holy days. We walked around for a while just soaking it all in before Laura went off to the Islamic Art Museum and Lee-Rae and I headed back to meet up with one of her friends from Seoul to eat lunch in Chinatown and have drinks.  After that we had just enough time to head back to our hostel and cover ourselves with bug spray before we were off to Kuala Selangor.

Love the open spaces and symmetry.

Beautiful carved marble screens.

Inside the prayer hall.

Rocking our gear. 

Beautiful. That little person gives you some idea as to the scale.

Symbol of Islam.

Tombs of Islamic scholars.

The mosque (complete with minaret reflected in the water).

Exploring Chinatown.


My friend Kate (from the DHC book project) went to Kuala Lumpur last year and strongly suggested that we do a trip out to Kuala Selangor to see the fireflies.  We talked Laurence into joining us and we were picked up from our hotel around 5:00pm.  First up was a roughly two hour ride through the countryside, which itself would have been reason enough to go on the trip. We passed through upon miles of palm tree plantations lining the roads and some small villages along the way.  Our first stop (after forcing the driver to stop so we could use the bathroom...at a gross gas station bathroom none the less) was at Bukit Melawati.  Fort Altingsburg, a Dutch fortification overlooking the Straits of Malacca, is located on top of the hill.  Visitors board a tiny "train" that takes you up the hill where the light house is still standing.  Surrounding the light house and scenic overlook are HUNDREDS OF MONKEYS. Not exaggerating. There are monkeys everywhere. Gray monkeys, black monkeys, little orange baby monkeys. Vendors sell fruits and vegetables that you can feed to the monkeys and they know it. They study tourists with their wise little (creepy) faces and they can definitely spot the weakest one in a group (often a child) to approach for food. The weakest in our group was definitely Diana. They spotted that she was a mark from a mile away. As I tried valiantly to stay AWAY from the monkeys, she offered them food and had them literally leaping onto her. No thank you!  As the sun started to set we headed back down the hill and off to dinner.


"Train" ride.

Baby monkey, I want to steal you!

As close as I wanted to get.

Monkeys galore!  Those people were giving out food, hence the monkeys crawling all over them.

Awesome shot of Diana getting attacked.

I had to capture this personal moment between Laurence and his new friend.

Stowaway monkey on the train.  Someone tell that little boy to wash his hands.

Diana, Laurence and Laura at dinner.

Lee-Rae and I before chowing down.

Sunset on the river.

Dinner was quite beautiful, served at a tourist restaurant overlooking the river at sunset. It reminded me a lot of the Mekong Delta with boats speeding along past us as we enjoyed the steamy weather beginning to cool off. The food was good, though vegetarian options for Laurence were a little slim.  It was also interesting to watch the giant Chinese business group who took the tables surrounding us sing and clap along with the speakers who popped up onto the stage at the front of the restaurant.  When dinner was over we popped on some ultra flattering life jackets, boarded a small boat (just the five of us and a driver), and headed out onto the river.  Those of you who know me (hell, probably even those of you who don't) know how much I love water. I would ride a boat pretty much anywhere if given the opportunity. The boat took us along the dark river, dodging floating trash along the way.  I believe this is when Diana uttered one of her famous quotes of the week. In an exasperated voice she says "Ugh, why doesn't someone DO something about the ENVIRONMENT?!"  Why indeed. The captain deftly navigated us through the rubbish icebergs, and or eventually pulled up along the side of the river. All along the river the banks are home to tons of mangrove (or "berembang") trees. Each night, tens of thousands of "kelip-kelip" (fireflies) come and feed on the nectar from the trees while searching for their mates. Covering the trees like pale Christmas lights they flash their lights on and off completely synchronized.  Apparently  the males flash about three times per second, while the females only flash once per second.  The boat captain used a little laser pointer to attract some fireflies onto the boat, so we could look at them.  They are a little smaller and more delicate than the ones we usually get on the East Coast, but basically the same.  I can't really describe how beautiful it was, and it was absolutely impossible to take a photo, but trust me when I say that it was one of the top ten most beautiful natural things I've ever seen (others include the green tea fields in Boseong, South Korea; sunrise at Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park in Maine; sunset on the plains in Nakuru, Kenya; Alps around Adleboden, Switzerland; Franschhoek Winelands near Capetown, South Africa; and the Ring of Kerry in Western Ireland).  If you find yourselves in Kuala Lumpur with a free evening, absolutely go check it out.  100% worth it.  After the fireflies we climbed back in the van and headed back to KL to pack and go to sleep.

Sweaty and throwing peace signs...story of our vacation, haha.

Reflectors are all the rage.

Monday morning there was basically just time to eat breakfast, finish up the very last minute packing and haul ourselves and our luggage to the train back to the airport.  Greatest invention? The airport check-in desk at the train station. You handed over your luggage and got your ticket and everything BEFORE even boarding the train.  So much less struggling = much happier travelers.  Thanks Malaysian Air! Sadly we weren't upgraded on the flight to Bali, but we did eat some delicious food and it was only about 3 hours so we weren't complaining. Plus, WE WERE ON OUR WAY TO BALI!!!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the wonderful account of your visit to KL. I plan to retire in Malaysia soon and frequently search the web for info such as this. BTW, I'm a HGSE alum (Class of '92). Hope your experience at Harvard is as life-changing as mine was! Best wishes for success in all you do. Michael

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