I had a bit of a travel day to get from Chiang Mai to Kuala Lumpur and timing was going to be essential. First there was an 8:40 am flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok. My afternoon flight from Bangkok to Kuala Lumur was at 1:30 so there was no rush once I arrived at Don Mueang International Airport. The challenge I discovered was getting a taxi from the Mapping Hostel in Chiang Mai to the airport, 15 minutes away.
I pre-ordered a taxi to pick me up at 6:30 am which would give me loads of time after I check in and get my boarding pass. Tick tock 6:30 no taxi, tick tock 645 no taxi, 655 the hotel calls and the company says they will be there in 5 minutes. Tick tock 710 no taxi. Come on man! I head out to the street and hail a taxi. Tick tock 7:20 get in taxi for the airport...and my travel day has a less than stellar start.
I got to the airport in 15 minutes, checked in, went through security and was at the gate by 8:00. Yes, I am one of those guys who always goes to the gate first before anything else, always. Yes I understand they go in order and yes I understand there are big signs with the gate numbers on them but you could not stop me walking to my departure gate before I do anything else. The rest of the day included surprise added baggage charges on my "discount tickets" twice. Yup, airlines get you one way or the other. My flight from Bangkok to KL was $79, the cost for my bag was $59. I think I should have upgraded my bag to business class, maybe he could have met a real cute Coach or Versace.
The Kuala Lumpur airport is gorgeous, modern and efficient. There is no visa requirement for a Canadian so after I had my photo taken plus my retinal (no, not rectum) and finger scans I received a smile and a 90 days visa. I took the airport bus into the city centre to Pudu Sentral (yes with a S) which took over an hour. The airport is a long way out so be prepared. My hostel was the Step Inn which was a 10 minute walk fro Pudu Sentral. The quirky name of the hostel only dawned on me on the second day I was there.
It did not take long to notice that where as Thailand was Buddhist and Hindu, Malaysia was Hindu and Muslim, well as far as Kuala Lumpur is concerned but I suspect that is the case for the Peninsula. There is also a large population of South Indian and Sri Lanka and those effects were felt immediately, especially in the food. I could see restaurants serving up garlic and butter Naan with Chicken Briyani and the smells brought me back to India. KL was going to be alright...or was it?
KL is the only city that I have ever been to where I was completely turned around, even with a map. No we will not compare it to trying to navigate my home town during my high school daze! But seriously folks the streets are laid out mostly in a grid pattern with the exception of a few major arteries. Each had a reasonable street name written in English and the map I had showed landmarks in cute little pictures. How could I get confused? Well luckily I was not alone. I counted 11 times where I had stopped, started looking at my map, then up at the street and down back at my map like an idiot. Then a random tourist would come by and either offer help or were asking for help. Some were happy to find someone else turned around and confused and other who had been but sorted it out and were paying it forward. The Malaysians just knowingly ignored us as they walked by.
The Batu Caves were a nice half day getaway from the high rise metropolis that is KL. The subway is a breeze to navigate, modern, fast and any ride was about C.50. I found the line I needed and after 30 minutes I got off at the Batu Caves stop. You see, a travel genius.
The first cave was right off the subway but only after your ran the gauntlet of food and trinket vendors. I failed in my attempt and ended up feasting on incredibly delicious cold potato and curry dumplings being hand made by the happiest lady on the planet. I sat with her for 20 minutes munching and chatting but mostly allowing the masses from the subway excitedly pass. Another vendor from across the aisle came over smiling and handed me a coke. I said " Wow, Thanks Mean Joe" she didn't get it and you probably won't either. I asked how much and she just smiled and said "you like my sisters food so the drink is my gift, enjoy". I bought 12 more dumplings and 2 cokes when I passed through on the way back to KL.
The Batu Caves are another fine example of the religious passions that grips a society. These are the best religious caves I have experience and they are not just monuments of history. They are working temples that were going through renovations or general upkeep and repairs. The great draw for travelers here is to be able to carry buckets of sand plus a few bricks up a series of steps to assist in the building. I love the passion and caring, I really do but I am curious, would these same people help if they could not use their phones to document their "goodness"? Much like the GAP year student who heads out on their summer of "volentourism", would they still do it if they could not document it all on social media?
OK, enough being a crotchety cynical old dude (but your thinking about it right?). People are doing good things, leave it at that? I guess I am just grumpy because I am suppose to be an experience traveler and I got lost wandering the streets of KL while using a detailed city map that included cute graphics. Stupid cute graphics.
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