Thursday, January 13, 2011

Singapore/Malaysia Day 7: Rainforest and Batu Caves

November 27, 2010
Malaysia Day 7: Rainforest and Batu Caves

What a first night in Malaysia last night! That was amazing. We got up pretty early to get going and get rollin' on our first full day. I had a shower in the fancy sliding shower and it was pretty sweet. The headed down for the included breakfast buffet - it was AMAZING!! They started with our own coffee pot, and then I took off to go investigate the food. TripAdvisor had recommended that you make sure your room price included the breakfast buffet (it was only maybe $8 each more per night)... and it was GLORIOUS. I got some tiny glasses of smoothies, mango juice, STARFRUIT JUICE (?!), a mango smoothie, yoghurt, cheese plate, prunes and apricots with cloves, fish, smoked salmon and more. There were some order-your-own omelets that I didn't try. There was a grilled tomato with shiitake mushrooms and cheese, a "stringy beef brisket" which was like beef bacon but a bit too strong, there were hash browns, Indian curry (for breakfast?!), funny Japanese breakfast options, Malaysian desserts, a raspberry and custard mini-turnover (that was SO good!), nice and thick french toast (also, SO good!), more kinds of "energizing smoothies" and more. It was absolutely awesome.

We finished up, got our day packs, and headed off to the Suria KLCC mall. It was super hot so Matt bought some Hush Puppies shorts and I got cool white, beige, purple, orange New Balance casual shoes for $30. Good price! We then headed off to KL Sentral station and got on the KTM commuter train line. We were *definitely* the only tourists there.

Unfortunately we missed a train by only 2 min so we yapped for a bit while we waited for the next one about 20 min later. We got on the train to Kepong - that must be Malay for "middle of nowhere" :) As we got out of the station, it was immediately clear that the glam and shimmer of downtown KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Centre) did not extend out of the city, and this was less showy and more "real". There were a lot of "shanty-style" poorer houses. Matt mentioned it reminded him of Cuba, as there were a lot of half-built houses. It reminded me a bit of the villages outside of JoBurg in South Africa. Interesting. This was a heck of a contrast to the fancy downtown area.

We jumped into a "Teksi" to FRIM (Forest Research Institute of Malaysia). It took about 20 min and was only 10RM ($3). FRIM is a research facility rainforest that was set up by the British in 1929. We were really psyched to check it out despite that it was getting hotter and humid outside. There was a really cool canopy walk that we wanted to try which was supposed to close at 1:30. We made it just in time but as it turns out you need to register by 12:00! Bah!

Turns out that wasn't a big deal at all because you can do most of the walk anyway, just not the 30m high canopy walk part, but you can walk under it. We walked up the hill and it was amazing in there but very hot and humid. Crazy! We took lots of breaks and met a few other travelers along the way. We got to the top and I was soooo hot and sweaty but it was totally worth it. We walked back down the other side of the hill and saw some monkeys and large ants. We then got back to the main park information, and asked for a tea place. There were also lots of cute but stray cats running around. He pointed us towards the "canteen" but it seemed boring and more like a cafeteria rather than a cool tea place. So we skipped that and kept following signs on the winding park road towards a place called "Malay Tea House." It was a LONG walk, and just as we were about to give up and walk back, there was another "Malay Tea House" sign! Man! So we kept trekking for it and figured it would ultimately be worth it.

30 min later, we arrived at the Malay Tea House, which looked so cool! It was set up in a very typical fashion and we loved the architecture. This place turned out to be an adventure in itself. I got a cold guava leaf tea which was amazing, and a hot teh tarik. We got a few Malaysian desserts which were interesting, and Matt tried some gluten rice. We then had even more tea and I bought some Emas Cotek (Mistletoe Fig) tea. It was hard to tell but it seemed like the Mistletoe Fig tea was the one they used in the Teh Tarik (which was amazing), so I got that one.

And then... we just wanted to leave. This is when it got, uh, interesting.

The clouds outside had finally had enough of the humidity and it was about to POUR. We asked the lady, "Can you please call us a teksi?" Her response? "No teksi." Uhhhhh....???

We asked several times, hoping that maybe they had just misunderstood us. But it seemed they were dodging our question and request for help. That suuuuuuuuuuuuuucccccccked!! I was getting really nervous because at this point I had NO idea what to do, and it was seriously monsooning outside. It was really coming down like crazy. I was really nervous about how to get out of there. Stupid Lonely Planet told us to get dropped off by a taxi at FRIM and then "ask them to come back a couple of hours later"?! We figured that would be ridiculous so we thought that reasonably, someone would call us a taxi when we were ready to head out. I guess not!

I asked the lady again and asked if they could call and say we'd give an extra tip. She then said, "Taxis don't come in here when it's raining" - ?!?!?!!!! What the?!?!? It was pretty clear we were wasting our time trying to get help from the useless servers at the restaurant and so we asked around some of the fellow customers. There were a couple of Indian Folks and we explained our problem - at first they seemed apprehensive: "are there only 2 of you?" but they agreed to take us to the subway station if we waited for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, an older man had been listening in to our entire conversation and had overheard our struggle. He came up to us and offered to drive us right away!!!! Amazing. The waitresses were friggin' useless and not helpful, and didn't seem to care about us at all. That sucked but my faith in the decency of humankind was kindly renewed by the older man. :)

As I was chatting with the older man, it turned out that he and his wife studied at Cornell, and I think he said he also studied at McGill and had been to Canada before. Very cool. He was unfamiliar with the area and he asked the waitresses where the train station was and they were totally not helpful to him too! He said instead he could drop us at a main road where taxis are, and we were super happy to go for that plan.

I was in the old man's car, waiting for Matt and getting ready to get dropped off at the main road... and then... a TAXI ARRIVED. WHAT!!!!!!!!! It turned out that the taxi was there and arrived to pick up a delivery/dishes from the Malay Tea House. What the hell!??!!!!!! This was insane as the waitresses had glasses ready for the taxi driver and clearly knew he was coming. I have no idea why they didn't tell us. This was way past a cultural misunderstanding, I am pretty sure the ladies there were just jerks. Matt talked to the cab driver and secured us a 10 RM fare to Batu Caves. I offered the old man 10 RM for all of his trouble but he wouldn't take it. I said thank you a million times because I was so relieved to get out of there. It seemed like we'd been trapped for hours. (It was probably only 45 min, but it was rough!) We got in the cab, and were out of there, finally. WOW. I told Matt later I had irrational thoughts in my head like we were never going to be able to leave there and we'd have to give up our jobs in the US and become "Chai Wallas" - tea servers - for the rest of our lives at the Malay Tea House. That was INSANE. Well, at least it makes a good story! :)

After that commotion we headed to Batu Caves, which was AMAZING. The huge Hindu "Cave Temple" consisted of a huge statue of Murugan and 272 steps up to an amazing cave temple. We walked up the steps and admired the artwork on the top of the entrances. There were some cheeky monkeys on the steps on our way up, which was hilarious. At the top of the stairs there was some unexpected touristy stuff, like you could get your photo taken with a snake. We walked by the souvenirs and into the big cave with a really huge ceiling. There were some crazy stalactites. I also kept hearing a rooster cock-a-doodle-doo-ing and I thought it was a tape recording for some reason. Then I turned around and there was a rooster and a hen just walking around!! haha!!!

There was a really amazing view from up there and we wandered around some more of the temples inside the cave. There were several shrines and temples in there. We then headed back down the stairs and got a taxi. I "bargained" a price of 40 RM back to the city to 35 RM and was soooo proud of myself. Matt laughed as I probably should have bargained it down to 15 RM :) We got back to our hotel, the Trader's Inn in KLCC. I had a much-needed relax and shower. After that I wanted to explore around downtown a bit and Matt was keen to just chill out in the hotel. After much debate I decided to head back to the Suria KLCC mall to hang out there for a bit.

It was cool, lots of interesting stores like Billabong, RipCurl, Nike, Adidas, similar stuff to Australia. It turned out that in the food court there was a McDonald's and the McD's in Singapore was sadly not very unusual. I really love McDonald's in foreign countries and it's always fun and hilarious to see how they have customized their menu to foreign tastes. I decided to get the most Malaysian-y thing on the menu and I ended up getting the Ayam Goreng McD (spicy) meal with cold Milo! You got some sort of BBQ flavouring and a shaker bag for fries which was fun.

After my random (and actually quite tasty) dinner, I did some more wandering. There was more stuff here to see than the Singapore malls generally as it was much more accessible than the malls we'd seen on Orchard Road by this point. Zara looked pretty good but was pretty expensive. I found a Quiksilver and got an awesome KL Malaysia Quiksilver shirt. Awesome!! Then I picked up some chocolate and drinks and water to take back to the hotel.

When I got back, Matt was tired and sleeping so I sat at the desk and finished off my journal catchup. Whew!! What a day!! I was really tired too. Tomorrow we'll try to go up the Petronas Towers, go the markets and back to Singapore.

After a long, crazy, insane, humid day, I went to sleep with the window shades open to our beautiful view of the Petronas Towers. Traders Hotel was SUCH a good choice!

Petronas Towers and humidity through our hotel windows

Petronas Towers

Suria KLCC mall

"Sweet chaise, man"

Cool bathroom lighting

Fancy shower door

Awesome marble sink lit from underneath

Fancy

Amazing breakfast restaurant

Omelette Bar and more awesome stuff

Super excited at the first round - "breakfast pizza", grilled tomato, mini-quiches, Malaysian dessert, coffee, freshly squeezed juices

Round 2 - beef "floss" (like a thin beef bacon-style, it was weird), french toast with mango, cheese, fresh papaya, more squeezed juices and smoothies

Matt, cracking an egg (or shaking some salt?)

Me, super excited for this awesome breakfast

In the taxi on the way to FRIM rainforest

At the rainforest, it was hot there!!

Cars with their wipers up

Huge leaf. Matt for scale comparison.

Sooo rainforesty!!!

Weird, a rubber tree!

At the top of the hike

Durian tree?

The canopy walkway that was closed when we got there, but we were hoping to walk on it.

Turns out it looked a little treacherous anyway

Matt as it started to rain in the rainforest

After the hike we found a random fenced-in area with a whole bunch of chemicals labeled "Toxik" and so on. Weird. The fence around it looked like it had eroded a bit and the smell was weird and off-putting. No idea why this was in the rainforest?! Needless to say, we didn't stick around!

Back near the information area

A cat and the Malaysian flag

And, one of my favourite photos of the trip! A perfectly placed orange cat, and the Malaysian flag.

Then the cats took off cause we were too noisy.

Malay desserts once we got to the Malay Tea House

Some excellent cold tea

Tea that really hit the spot after we'd cooled down

Then it started to "Monsoon" outside, it was pouring!!

View from the front door

Arriving at Batu Caves

The statue of Murugan from the front gate

Ganesh and other awesome sculptures

Close-up of the sculptures

Murugan statue

Awesome

Ready to walk up the stairs into the cave temple!

Really excited to see the cave temple

At the base of the Murugan statue

Monkeys!

More monkeys as we were climbing the stairs

Matt inside the cave

Me inside the cave

Temple at the top of the stairs

How did these chickens get here! Chickens on the move!

This rooster was loud

More cool sculptures

Writing on the cave walls

A fire that was burning at the 2nd cave level

Flower wreaths that people were buying to give as an offering at the temple

Haha, I'd been trying to get a photo of this sign - there is a town called Ipoh, and earlier we'd seen food called Ipoh Chicken. Of course, from then on, I kept asking Matt if he wanted to get iPod Chicken for dinner.

Matt exhausted from a super busy day of exploring, heat and humidity

Then I went to the mall and got a cool KL shirt from Quicksilver (see my purchases in the reflection from the window)

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