Being dropped off in Kuala Lumpur resembled being dropped off in any big city…at first. There were plenty of buildings, people, and dingy sidewalks. Our hostel led us to the Chinatown district of the city, which seemed actually quite small to me but I didn’t explore the whole area.
We set off that first afternoon in search of a good curry which took us what felt like really far away. On the way back we decided to try out the local public transportation system. I found it a bit confusing and unforgiving, but I am prone to getting turned around anyway. We ended up on the wrong platform with no way out besides sweet talking the staff member on duty. He led us out but didn’t comprehend our situation through the thundering sounds of a nearby jackhammer so he mistakenly took our tokens. Finally when we finagled our way into complete understanding, he led us to a ticket agent who refunded our fare and pointed us in the right direction. Yeah, I much prefer the Tube in London. At least if you get off on the wrong stop or are on the wrong line, you can find the correct direction through a maze of tunnels posted with signage.
That night we wandered through the Central Market across the way from our hostel and down through Chinatown’s Petaling Street market. The Central Market has a beautiful collection of indoor shops, selling everything from elaborate fabric and carved statues, to framed photos and souvenir t shirts. It’s more established a bit more classy than Petaling Street whose stalls are equipped with cheap knockoffs and whose vendors haggle passerby. If we came to KL to shop, then we were in the right place. We had actually hoped the markets would be more focused on crafts so we could stock up on everything we had been holding out for and didn’t want to travel with. Unfortunately we found nothing that we had in mind but that only helped our budget so not many complaints on that end.
The next day we took the commuter train to Batu Caves , only about 13km out of the city. I didn’t know what to expect of this place as I didn’t look it up – I wanted it to be a surprise. When we got there, my jaw dropped. This may have been a result of the booming fireworks they shot off, shaking the treetops and giving us visitors a shocking startle. I think they do this to scare off the monkeys??? Anyway, what we saw when we rounded the entrance was the gigantic mouth of Temple Cave, set back on an impressive limestone cliff face, nearly three hundred steep steps up, guarded by an enormous golden Murugan statue at the bottom, the largest in the world. The cave is a Hindu shrine estimated to be nearly 400 million years old!
Our first stop of exploration took us to the Dark Cave, a unique ecological site housing many caverns and nocturnal species:
Below the Temple Cave is the Dark Cave, with rock formations and a number of animals found nowhere else. It is a two-kilometer network of relatively untouched caverns. Stalactites jutting from the cave’s ceiling and stalagmites rising from the floor form intricate formations such as cave curtains, flow stones, cave pearls and scallops which took thousands of years to form. – Taken from Wikipedia .
We took a guided tour for about the equivalent to $10 and it was totally worth it. They equipped us with helmets and flashlights and we were on our way! We set off through the slimy, guano coated pathways to the soundtrack of hundreds of bats flying above us. Along the way we were lucky enough to spot some of the cave’s unique species. We saw centipedes similar to this one but ours were BIGGER. We traversed through parts of the cave’s caverns where it is completely set in darkness. Visitors, provided they all follow directions and turn off their flashlights, can put their hand directly in front of their face and squint as much as they like, but they will never be able to see it. Pretty incredible. We saw many wonderful formations throughout, each having taken hundreds, thousands, and millions of years to create themselves, simply from the slow repeated processes that occur in caves.
We headed up to Temple Cave afterward. This shrine was a confusing one for me. I don’t think either of us knew where to look. There was no main attraction, in fact the main area was quite empty so I am not sure if that is normal or if something was missing at the time of our visit. Looking up through the large skylight at the far end of this cave, we could make out a trail of small Crab-Eating Macaque monkeys, jumping, swinging, and sliding down the sheer forested rock face in order to steal food from the tourists. Getting down to us was an impressive feat. They must make the trip often – we saw them when we arrived as well but they had retreated by the time we finished our cave tour. They are adorable but very sneaky and territorial. I thought one was smiling at me so I smiled back, but it just turns out he was baring his teeth…
I regret not seeing the other caves at the base of the larger ones, so if you go, check them out for me!
As we reached the Kuala Lumpur Train Station on our way back to the hostel, we discovered a working film set just across the tracks from us. There were extras, green screens, smoke machines, massive lights, a huge crew, and we even spotted the director. We sat and watched the production of one short scene for half an hour or so…fascinating! If anyone sees a film in the future set in a train station with Asian actors in old time clothes, let me know.
The next day we checked out the Suria KLCC mall, just next to the Petronas Towers . I felt like we were back in Dubai. They know how to do malls. This one is absolutely massive! With high end stores lining every floor. I am not much of a shopper so we didn’t spend much time before wandering to another one. Through the beautiful park, around the local fountain pool, and a few train stops later we arrived at the next one, the Berjaya Times Square mall. This one even has a theme park inside, and is home to the Guinness World Record holder for the largest gumball machine… At the time of our visit, it was also playing host to some sort of gamer convention, with the sounds of combat video games booming throughout “First Avenue.”
Our final day came and went, we saw a movie at the cinema (the equivalent of $2.20), packed up, and headed out on a nighttime flight to return to see my parents in Abu Dhabi.
Overall, Kuala Lumpur held our attention during our visit but I would much prefer to have had the opportunity to venture out into the countryside and see what else the area has to offer. I am not much of a city lover, plus we were quite worn out from the prior five weeks of traveling. I think it would have been best to start with Kuala Lumpur rather than finish with it.