Kuala Lumpur

The Bus Journey from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur was extremely comfortable.  We had air conditioning that worked, large massage chairs and TV screens playing terrible Chinese movies such as "from Beijing with love".  What more could you want from a bus journey in Asia?  It was a shame the journey wasn't longer, which is not something I normally say about bus journeys.

The city under construction

Kuala Lumpur, when I went was under construction.  There was a huge amount of building work happening pretty much anywhere I went.  Coming from Singapore, it felt like Kuala Lumpur was trying to catch up.  They had similar ambitions, but Kuala Lumpur had less money and was many years behind.  Still, renovation and modernisation work was progressing well, but it was leaving the city rather patchy.  You would find yourself walking down a newly laid walkway, only to find the walkway would abruptly stop and in front of you was an old cracked concrete pavement, or no pavement at all.  To put simply, Kuala Lumpur isn't finished yet, but they are working on it.

This made walking to places sometimes slightly problematic, particularly around my hostel as it required navigating around vast areas of churned up pavement and areas of building work.  The method of renovation here seemed to be to destroy everything first, then rebuild it later.  Most of my walks were planned around visiting temples in the local area, which was becoming one of my favourite past times in Asia.  I find the temples fascinating and they come in all shapes and sizes, from the modest to the recently modernised.

One thing I noticed during my frequent outside walks was it rained here like clockwork.  Around 3:30pm everyday, without fail.  The cycle was entirely predictable.  Every day would be hot and relatively cloud free until around 2pm when you would notice a subtle drop in pressure and a slight cool breeze develop in the air.  Over the next hour the sky slowly turns grey and you begin to hear the distant sounds of thunder.  Around 3pm, tall buildings over near the horizon begin to dissolve into a grey wall and by 3:30pm, the rain would arrive.  A heavy and very thundery downpour that lasts until around 5:00pm.  If you like thunderstorms, you would love Kuala Lumpur.  It was actually very convenient to have such a punctual weather system, as you could easily plan your walks to the temples around them.  

I was staying at a hostel called Mingle Hostel, which had everything you'd want from a good hostel, including a rooftop bar which was a great place to meet fellow travellers (when it wasn't raining).  Most of my few nights in Kuala Lumpur started here, drinking beer and exchanging travel stories.  Normally we would start here and end up in a few of the neighbouring bars.  Our most frequent watering hole was a Reggae Bar across the building site from our hostel.  The bar ironically never played reggae music, but it had a few pool tables.

One night we had overheard rumours of a rave happening in the neighbourhood.  We were given specific instructions on how to find it but it still took a while because it was an "underground rave".  One of those pop up raves that doesn't have a fixed venue.  We eventually found the entrance, in the basement stairwell of some generic office building.  It seemed that raves were not fully endorsed by the local authorities in Kuala Lumpur, so pop up raves are held in basements of buildings which have a security guard who can be persuaded to turn a blind eye (and deaf ear) for one night.  The security guy at the reception of this building would not confirm nor deny the existence of a rave when we asked him, but he did subtly gesture us towards the stairwell.  Although there are bars in Kuala Lumpur, there did seem to be a lack of nightclubs.  Malaysia is an Islamic country, a fact that is made very clear to you whilst you enter the country at the border.  I feel the country is trying to strike a balance between protecting their Islamic conservative values, whilst accepting and catering for western tourists.  They didn't seem to be doing a bad job either as there was things to do in the city at night but I also felt safe walking around.  I don't think you can blame the local authority for trying to keep the city somewhat calm, especially considering the absolute chaos and debautury that happens just across the boarder in Thailand.

Speaking of which, I chose not to attend the rave that night.  I am not a big fan of raves unless I drink a lot of tequila.  I actually wrote a post about raves and my feelings towards them called The Trance Dance.  The main reason I chose not to attend this rave though was because I was exploring the Batu Caves the following day, which is not something I wanted to do on a hangover.

Batu Caves

The Batu Caves.  These caves seem to be one of the main reasons why people come to Kuala Lumpur.  The cave complex is part of one of the biggest Hindu holy sites outside of India, and many people (mostly from India) come here as part of a pilgrimage.  

The first thing you will notice when arriving at the site is a massive green statue of a half man half monkey figure.  This is Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god, although he also makes an appearance in Jainism and Buddhism.  He seems popular as a Hindu deity and is depicted as being strong and heroic.  I am unsure as to why he is green though.  Most depictions I have seen of Hanuman have him to be a relatively normal colour, for a half man half monkey.  But the seasick green seems to be more popular in southern India and Asia.  I read somewhere that this was to help him stand out from the other monkeys, but I am really unsure.  He is also sporting a slightly strange pink circle on the middle of his face.  I think it is supposed to be his nose, but to me it look like his face is bursting through a green morph suit.

Continuing on from Hanuman I passed some temples that looked abandoned.  The Batu Caves was subject to renovation and modernisation, similar to the city.  But unlike the city the local authority couldn't just knock down existing temples.  Rather they just build new ones, each being more brightly painted than the last.

After walking past the old temples I spot a few vendors waiting at the entrance to the main area of the site.  With any popular tourist destination there is always a wave of merchants and vendors trying to sell you various trinkets and tat .  One of the merchants approached me, he grabbed one of the many gold looking bracelets from under his arm, did a quick pray and offered it to me.  A freshly blessed bracelet, I politely declined.

After passing through the wave of merchants I arrived at the main square.  To my right was the iconic Lord Murugan statue, standing at 42.7 metres, it is the second tallest Hindi deity statue in the world, just 0.8m shy of the tallest (Kailashnath Mahadev Statue in Nepal).  And it is very gold.  300 litres of gold paint was used to generously coat this giant statue and the finish was so flawless and without texture that it made the statue almost look fake, like it was made entirely out of plastic.  This giant plastic statue was depicting Murugan, also commonly known as Kartikeya, the Hindu god of war and victory.  He is another popular deity in this part of the world, well I suppose you would have to be popular to have a giant gold statue.  He seems to be one of the oldest Hindu gods with mention of him, or a version of him dating as far back as 500BC.  He is also often depicted as smiling, which seems odd for a war god, but I guess the Hindu interpretation of war isn't necessarily about conflict between humans, but more about overcoming evil and personal demons.

To my left, behind Lord Murugan, is the giant stairway leading to the Batu Caves.  The actual cave complex and temple people come to visit, although they seem secondary now compared to the giant plastic gold statue.  The main temple is within the interior of the cave and one must tackle 272 steps in order to reach the mouth of the cave.  This number doesn't seem to put anyone off though.  Even the most elderly of worshippers slowly march their way up this gauntlet of stairs.

I clambered up the stairs quickly, I have always been too impatient to walk up stairs slowly.  Halfway up I started to regret my earlier decision to bring most of my camera gear with me that day.  Eventually the mouth of the cave arrived.  Exhausted, but satisfied with my self achievement of climbing the stairs quickly, I wondered into the cave to find a quiet corner to catch my breath.  Looking around the cave wasn't quite how I imagined.  There were no impressive limestone formations or long narrow passageways leading into darkness.  Really it was just a large hollowed out chamber with some temples and a few food stalls selling over priced drinking water, which was still tempting after the 272 stair climb.  Even here inside the cave there was some serious building work happening.  They were either building a new temple, or seriously renovating an existing one.  Looking at a few of the finished sections, this temple when finished was going to boast some seriously vivid paintwork.  The other side of the cave was much less developed.  Here there were many small corners and ledges that were populated with slightly strange and eerily looking miniature figures and statues.  Some were arranged into what looked like various scenes, I guess acting out stories from Hindu literature.   They reminded me of those Christmas nativity sets you get at schools and outside certain shops during the Christmas holidays.  All these figures seemed dated and forgotten about, especially compared to the relentless redevelopment happening on the other side.

Whilst the cave and temples were nice, the main highlight for me were the troop of monkeys that resided in the far corner.  I only saw a few of them at first, but looking up I could see many more slowly descending down the wall.  They seem to live just above the cave and come down to grab scraps of food that people throw at them. And some people do actually throw the food at them. It was a strange act of aggressive generosity as I watched the guy stood next to me launch a packet of crisps straight at one of the nearest monkeys.  He seem quite proud of his achievement of alpha dominating a monkey one tenth his size.   The monkey didn't seem bothered though, casually blocking the incoming projectile.  Barriers had been put up around the base of this wall to give the monkeys some room from idiots like this bloke.  I guess being a European, monkeys are still a novelty to me.  I could watch the monkeys for hours.  Marauding around the edges of the cave.  Casually, but cautious when people get too close.

The Petronas Towers  

I guess I can't finish my post about Kuala Lumpur without at least mentioning the Petronas Towers.  But there isn't that much to say.  Formerly the world's tallest building, they stuck out of the Kuala Lumpur skyline because there are no other buildings that come close to their height.  They seemed out of place, although they would probably look out of place in any city.  There are some fountains that lead towards the towers, this is the place where tourists gather to take photos and selfies, although it is almost impossible to fit the towers into any photo.  There are many young guys going around selling those fisheye lens attachments for phone cameras to solve this problem.  Luckily I had my own fisheye lens.  The fountains were quite underwhelming and didn't make a good foreground.  The Petronas Towers are really just too big to photograph within the downtown area. 

So, to sum up Kuala Lumpur.  It is a cool city that I liked a lot.  My only issue was that I had just come from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur felt somewhat underwhelming in comparison, but any city would after Singapore.  It is unfair to compare the two.  Penang was my next destination.