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Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur

It's about a twenty-one hour bus ride from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur, or KL as everyone refers to it. In our case, we took a regular Thai govt bus to Hat Yai and from there we rolled the dice with one of the private transport companies located across the street from the Hat Yai bus station. Fortunately, the company, sorry I can't remember the name, played none of the games some operators, especially those operating off Khao San Road are famous for, and we were taken promptly to KL with no fuss about "border charges", "visa fees" (most nationalities don't need visas to get into Malaysia anyway), "frequent restaurant stops", etc. It was a bus ride. As it should be.

We were dumped on the street near KL's main bus terminal, Puduraya, but didn't know it yet. We planned to wander over to the Chinatown area but we still weren't sure yet which direction it was or just exactly how far it was. A taxi driver offered to take us for 15 ringgit (about $3.95 US). I suggested he use his meter. He suggested I pay him 15 ringgit and then whined about traffic and the rain. I suggested again he use his meter or find another job if he doesn't like it. He again suggested I pay him 15 ringgit. I mumbled another suggestion about his meter which he didn't hear as we walked away.

If there is one thing I hate doing in any city it's standing on the sidewalk with all your bags and looking lost. Worse, trying not to look lost while at the same time pulling out a guidebook or map or something to figure out where it is you are. As discreetly as possible, I grabbed the map from the guidebook and asked someone in a storefront where we were and she had us situated in seconds. Turns out we were only a few hundred meters from Chinatown.

This lowered even further my opinion of KL taxi drivers. However, let's be realistic - any taxi driver that sits around a bus station out of an organized queue is not likely to be the most honest of taxi drivers and two people fresh off the bus and not too sure of where they are will always leave open the possibility that they represent some ripe pickings of green fruit, but still, demanding 15 ringgit for what would have been a 2 ringgit fare is a little much. Had he gone for 5, I could have let it go. But 15? Really, now. Anyway, we walked over to Chinatown and found a room at some forgettable hotel with a Chinese name which I have forgotten.

The neighborhood offered numerous eating options on the streets - satay, Chinese food, noodles, etc. The available meals are tasty but I think way overpriced, and no doubt because it's such a large tourist area. Still, by the end of the trip I had come to learn that Malaysia is a bit pricier than neighboring Thailand in most areas (food, lodging, transport - well, that's just about everything if you're a tourist).

We we're only going to stay in KL for a day before taking a night bus back north to the Perhentian Islands. So first thing in the morning, we got bus tickets to the general Perhentian area, in our case, Kuala Terengganu, which would then necessite an intra-provinvcial bus to Kuala Besut or at least Jerteh.

Wandering into cavernous Puduraya bus terminal we headed for the ticket booths and were faced with one of the wonders of privatization. As all the bus routes are run by private contractors, everyone screams out for your custom from their respective ticket windows to the point of being a headache. No matter, throwing up our arms and choosing one at random we were told we were in the wrong place anyway. A bus to Kuala Terengganu would depart from Putra Station so it was at a much smaller and quieter Putra Station where we ditched our bags and went out to be tourists.

KL really doesn't have a lot to see and we saw little of that. We took the requisite trip up the KL Tower and also went to visit the National Mosque (pictured right). The only comment I would make about the National Mosque is while I entered at one of the appointed tourist hours (between three and four pm), I was chased off by a worshipper when I approached the large prayer room, not that I necessarily had any intention of entering it.

Early afternnoon a heavy rain began so we ducked into a shopping mall or two, plenty of them in KL as well. KL offers a very generous supply of bootleg CDs (music, video, computer) sold at the lowest prices I've ever seen in Asia, probably on account of the fact that most CDs originate here.

Between all of this we used taxis and experienced no problems whatsoever with them so the rules in KL are the same as anywhere else in Asia where there are metered cabs. Flag down moving cabs or use ones only from an official queue. Guys on the street, parked in unofficial queues around bus stations, hotels, etc should always be avoided.

Impressions of KL:

Positive: Attractive, cosmopolitan, modern city. Interesting mixture of Malay, Chinese, and Indian; Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Fantastic internet connections. Lots of trees. Interesting modern architecture that takes in Islamic styles blended with a variety of Asian and Western styles.

Negative: Not a lot of things to see or do. More expensive than say, Bangkok (but less so than Singapore). Dirty public toilets - not as bad as is often found in China but certainly substandard given the level of development in KL - must be the Chinese influence at work here. Curiously, while we there one of the English-language newspapers had published an editorial from a Malaysian decrying the state of the public toilets and what an embarrasment this was. KL is also not easy to walk around - it's one of the most pedestrian-hostile Asian cities I've ever visited and I've certainly visited a few.

Kuala Lumpur

Perhentian Islands

Langkawi

Penang

Tioman

Malaysia

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All text and photographs 1998 - 2006 Gordon Sharpless. Commercial or editorial usage without written permission of the copyright holder is prohibited.