Ladies and gentlemen,
I hope you’re all ready for the part two of my South East Asia adventures, because if Singapore amazed me with its cleanliness and order, Malaysia never ceased to surprise me with everything I’ve seen there.
As my time was pretty limited, I had to move around really fast to cover a whole load of places and pack tons of activities into just 4 days. The plan was to visit Malaysia’s only national park during the first two days and then explore Kuala Lumpur for the last two days.
An overnight train brought me to a deserted station of Jerantut where I took a bus to Taman Negara (which in Malay means National Park), and by 7AM I was all ready to step my foot into a 130 million year old jungles. Because of its geographical position, the area has managed to remain unscathed by the plight of various ice-ages and natural disasters. There have been no earthquakes, volcanoes or anything else of the sort (only now it’s slowly being ruined by the worst parasite on the planet – human tourists). This forest was by far the best/thickest/most adventurous jungles I’ve ever been to, since it’s so immensely rich in flora and fauna. Unfortunately, I didn't see any big animals, like tigers and lions, because they usually don't come out during the day, as it's pretty hot for them to hunt. They do it at night, but when I was there it was a full moon time, and so they didn't come out even at night. Nevertheless the absence of big animals was completely compensated by impressive amount of insects, lizards, iguanas, birds and bats. On the second day I went to this cave full of bats, spiders and frogs...what a disgusting experience it was... I felt like screaming all the way, and it took me a truly enormous effort to remain quiet.
One of the things I liked the most in the jungle was canopy walk. They have this series of rope bridges hanging between the trees, about 50 m above the ground and about 500 m long overall, which by the way makes it the longest canopy walk in the world. It's a super cool experience to walk in between trees and watch all this rich vegetation and wild life from above, or I should rather say “the deaf wildlife” which is not scared of all the noise that these idiot tourists make. But at the same time, since your rope bridge keeps swinging and shaking, it pretty much engages your full attention, adding adrenaline as a side-effect. There are strict rules about only one person on each section at a time and no pushing people over the edges – fair enough.
Hiking in the jungle is very different from hiking elsewhere in many ways. First and probably the most prominent one is that the temperature remains surprisingly steady throughout the day at about 90 F. That accompanied by a 100% humidity creates a giant scenic steam room, filled with sounds and interesting creatures. Needless to say you sweat pretty much every step of the way and It’s not like a normal super sweatiness either. Think every bit of clothing completely soaked through and actually dripping onto the floor. So you have to drink a lot of water. Secondly, jungles never remain quiet. Try listening to the jungles and you’ll hear more then 10 different sounds at a time. Water dripping onto leaves, old branches falling, birds singing, numerous insects and what else squealing, squeaking, screeching, crawling, creeping…You can’t see much of wildlife, but oh yes, you can hear it. The cacophony of sounds doesn’t stop for a single second, 24X7.
In the guest-house where I was staying overnight, there was this Russian guy, coming back from his year abroad in New Zealand, and stopping on the way in South East Asia. It was crazy exciting to find in this ocean of different species someone who can actually speak your mother tongue.
On the second day, after we were done torturing my senses in this cave full of bats and spiders, we got a little lost on the way back, and accidentally stepped into this jungle village where people still live this cavemen life. I’m not exaggerating. These people still haven’t invented matches to light the fire and use good-old friction plus extremely dry moss for these purposes. Their women barely cover themselves with big leaves (almost…they have some rudimentary types of clothes, but they are very rudimentary), naturally, their kids walk around naked. They’re using sharpened stones and wind guns for hunting, and even for sharpening they use some tree leaves which are as rough as sandpaper. I must say they weren’t very friendly, or should I say pretty hostile towards us. I suppose because once in a while these idiot tourists step into their village, thus infringing their quiet jungle life with the cameras and other gadgets of the 21st century.
Another overnight train brought me to Kuala Lumpur which rendered me totally speechless. As always, a little accident on the way. Actually, little accidents never stopped coming my way throughout my entire journey, but unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury of time and space to describe them all. As I was buying my ticket roughly 2 hours before the train departure, there was no sleeper class seats remaining, and I had to travel in the regular coach (read I got a sitting place). Though the trains in Malaysia are about one “generation” better then their Indian counterparts, with AC in all coaches and reclining seats, no comfortable seat can substitute for sleeping in horizontal position. Besides, the AC cools the coach down so fiercely, that after 2 hours I woke up shivering from cold (and all that at about 250 miles away from equator). Upon a quick assessment of the situation, I decided to take action. No-no…I didn’t aim at breaking the A/C. On my way from Singapore, I got the sleeper class berth, and bed sheets were included in the ticket prices (why am I making a point here? Obviously because in India you gotta travel with your own bed sheets. Actually mattress and pillow as well, because you find none of these in regular sleeper class coach). So I decided to quietly find the place where they store these bed sheets and compliment myself with a couple, hoping that the train attendant wouldn’t catch me. Well, I was more successful then I could ever imagine. Because for beginners I found the whole storage of blankets…real blankets, ok, maybe not woolen, but still much better then just bed sheets. And they smelled oh so pleasantly of fresh laundry. Great, but I didn’t stop there, thinking that maybe miss Fortune had more for me in its stockroom. So I continued walking until I found an empty first-class compartment. The one where you have only 2 beds, you can lock the door and you also have a little sink to wash your face when you wake up. Indeed both beds had a complete set of bed sheets, pillow, blanket, little towel, basically everything I could ever wish for on this 7 hour journey. In no time my door was locked and I was stretching my limbs under freshly laundered blanket. Three hours later I was brutally awaken by knocking on the door. Yes, the train attendant has discovered this locked door, which according to his roaster should’ve remained empty. I don’t dare thinking what could’ve been the outcome, had it happened in US or Europe. But in “uncivilized” South East Asia tourists get the royal treatment (even if like in my case they haven’t really paid for it). Frankly speaking, I didn’t know how big was the price of this compartment, and when I offered the train attendant to pay the difference in prices, it turned out I didn’t even have enough cash to pay for those three hours that I’ve already spent there. So I was politely walked out and into the second class sleeper coach, where there was this one last unoccupied berth waiting for me. Luckily I had enough cash to pay for the remaining two hours of journey in this second class sleeper coach. The train attendant even wished me good night, let alone fining or scolding me for my misdemeanor. And one more thing. While I was savoring in first-class bed, my backpack remained where I left it before undertaking my blanket hunt. I’m sure in India I wouldn’t find even the remnants of it, had I left it unattended for more then 10 minutes.
Finally, Kuala Lumpur. Very well-developed city, great infrastructure, tallest twins on earth, huge malls, all types of public transportation from buses to subways and monorails, endless street eateries, extensive night-life, hot-hot-hot and humid too. I walked around it for the whole one day, and despite lots of sunscreen lotion, became visibly darker...You could feel KL is only about 3-4 degrees above equator, since sun is pretty strong there, significantly stronger even then in Bangalore. I was absolutely amazed by people. If not for Singapore, I’d say they are the friendliest and warmest. And surprisingly open-minded. Majority of people are Muslim, and when you see these ladies wearing layers of clothes to cover their hair (luckily they don’t entrap themselves in those long black dresses, like Indian Muslims) somehow you don’t expect them to be neither fluent in English nor friendly and smiling to you. When the sun goes down and well-behaved Muslim wives/daughters retreat to their homes, all of a sudden city starts to look Chinese, because lots of skinny and barely dressed Chinese girls fill up the streets around clubs and pubs. Naturally, all white tourists gravitate to those places where latest music hits rock the crowd. I happened to arrive in KL together with the great event of Formula 1 race. Needless to say, the city was filled with spectators from all over the world, the parties and nightlife became even more intense and concerts and performances were organized all over the place. I even got a chance to attend the race, as just when I checked in my guesthouse, someone came with extra tickets. I didn’t attend it though. I opted not to be crazy enough to roast myself in the sun just to see few whooshes coming by at 300 miles per hour speed (or maybe 400? Who knows what these cars are capable of). I saw few of those racing cars scattered around the city on display. Impressive, but really nothing special for me.
Finally, a couple of words about the man-made wonders of the world. Petronas towers, mounting at 452 m high were announced the world tallest twins in 1996. They still are, the tallest twins, though The Taipei 101 Tower of Taiwan became the tallest in 2003. Petronas were built in just three years, and the thing which struck me the most, is how amazingly light they look. I might’ve developed some “understanding” of towers after I’ve worked in WTC in 1996, but I must say, WTC looked heavy, big, even grand…just like everything in USA. Petronas look light and elegant. I’m attaching this picture for you to judge.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, Kuala Lumpur is full of malls, and each of them is also a masterpiece on its own. One of the main reasons for such popularity is that malls are absolutely all-inclusive and very well air-conditioned. Even crowds of locals find refuge from midday heat inside cool buildings, let alone us, poor white-skinned creatures. I’ve visited this latest addition to Kuala Lumpur skyline. It’s called Times Square. Two buildings (again twins), though not as high, as Petronas, only 50 stories each. Apart from all other amenities which an average mall usually has, like endless shops, eateries, monorail entrance, there’s a hotel on 45th-50th floor, even some offices (obviously, so much space has got to be occupied somehow). The main attraction though is this indoor theme park, the biggest in the world. Some of you might know my passion for roller coasters. But these ones are the worst monsters I’ve ever seen. Mostly because unlike on regular rollercoaster, where at least before you start plummeting down, you get a chance to see how far are you going to go, so that you can inhale the right amount of air into your lungs to scream throughout the ride, here you never know where this monster is going to take you next, as its path is hidden from eye by numerous shops. It’s almost as if you’re riding this rollercoaster in the dark. Oh brother…I’d never take a ride there, but I guess it’s a great experience for those adventurous ones.
At this point I’m really running out of time, so will wind it up here. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate. I’m always glad to hear your feedback.