Kuala, not Koala

Just warning you, this is going to be a really long post.

I spent last weekend in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Not a long trip – just Thursday night through Sunday afternoon. Considering the limited time we had, we did quite a lot. It was a jam-packed, exhausting weekend.

Sidebar: classes are officially cancelled today because Hong Kong is under a Typhoon Signal level 8, meaning winds are at or above 63km/h and Typhoon Nesat is approximately 350km away. Gonna be honest, I’m a little freaked out… I’ve never been in a storm like this before!

First of all, remember back around Mid Autumn Festival when I was super sad I didn’t get to try more mooncakes? Especially the frozen kind? I had been hoping they would get cheaper after the holiday, but by the time I went to look they were all sold out. I was super depressed – I really wanted to try them! Well, guess what I found at the airport?

That’s right. Snowy mooncakes. The one on the left is strawberry and mung bean, and the one on the right is coffee with chocolate in the center. Oh my god, these things were worth the wait. The outside, instead of being a doughy sort of pastry like the regular ones, is basically just mochi. Yum!

Then came the flight. Four hours long, but at least the view was okay.

Friday morning, we got up early and made our way 13km outside the city to the Batu Caves. They’re these gigantic limestone caves that double as a Hindu temple. Some temple buildings and statues are outside the cave, including the 140ft gold statue of Murugan (I Wikipedia‘d that one) standing next to the 272 steps leading up to the cave. All along the steps are KAJILLIONS of monkeys. Tourists must feed them all the time, because they’re all over and they’re really comfortable around the people. I got some pretty close up pictures, and one even reached out and grabbed my ankle after I took its photo! This was extremely shocking because I’ve gotten so used to never seeing animals. Around Hong Kong, the only animals I see are bugs and pet dogs, barely ever even birds, let alone monkeys. Even hiking out on Lantau I never saw any animals! To come to Kuala Lumpur and see all these animals was such a change.

Once you finally get up to the caves, you basically just stand there in awe. I won’t try to explain how beautiful and just huge they are because I will never do it justice. Although I will say it’s the most perfect place for a temple if there ever was one. It’s absolutely breathtaking.

After we left the main temple cave, we went into what’s called the Dark Caves. Just like in Hong Kong, these people aren’t very creative with names. The caves are literally pitch black inside, and filled with all sorts of gross things like bats, cockroaches, centipedes, and the world’s rarest spider. They neglected to tell us all of this until after we paid for the tour. I swear, three hours later I still felt like there were bugs crawling all over my legs.

At the bottom of the caves, we found a small Indian restaurant for lunch. Well, to put it more accurately, the restaurant found us. One of the biggest differences between HK and KL, besides the animals, is the people in restaurants. In HK, the doors to restaurants stay closed and the people working there don’t really care whether or not you come in. In KL, they act like those annoying girls at the mall kiosks that sell curling irons. “Come in here! Our food is great! Are you hungry? Come eat! So cheap, so delicious, come in, come in!!”

See that? That would be rice with lentils and green beans and cauliflower and squash all on top of a banana leaf. The fact that they serve it on a banana leaf is ridiculously cool, but you know what’s even cooler? The fact that it’s all 100% vegetarian. Oh my god I love Malaysia and its high Hindu population. All the Indian vegetarian food I ate made me so happy. And those green beans were out-of-this-world delicious.

After the Batu Caves, we made our way back to KL and got on the Hop On Hop Off bus. It’s a tour bus where you can buy a ticket for 24 or 48 hours and it stops at all the different touristy locations within the city. You can get on at any stop, get off whenever you see something cool, and then get back on again when you’re done. It even has audio commentary about whatever you’re going towards next! It’s a really neat idea, but it only runs in one direction, which is a pretty big bummer. Anyway, we took it to the Kuala Lumpur Orchid Garden, and then to the Petronas Twin Towers, the tallest twin towers in the world.

Did I mention who I was travelling with? It was me, a girl from New York, and two girls from Japan. Everywhere we went, people would ask us where we’re from. “The two of us are from the US, and they’re from Japan.” “…but … why are you together?”

As a relaxing way to end a long day, we decided to go to a fish spa. What’s a fish spa, you ask? Basically you put your feet into a pool of small fish and they nibble off all the dead skin. Sounds wonderful. It’s just such a weird idea that we wanted to try it. Well, it took us so long to finally get to the mall where the fish spa was supposed to be, and then it was closed for remodeling! What a disappointment! We were able to, at least, find a really good Malaysian restaurant in the mall, so it wasn’t a total waste of time.

We had everything the waiter recommended. A spicy chicken dish, prawns, pineapple fried rice, an egg “flower” (basically scrambled egg with vegetables), and some sort of veggie. I don’t know what kind of vegetable that was, but I wish I did because it definitely stole the show. The whole dish is really garlicky (my favorite), with both the stems and the leaves. The stems are pretty crunchy, like broccoli almost, and the leaves reminded me a lot of kale chips. Ugh, just talking about it is making me want to eat it again.

Saturday morning, we were up bright and early again, off to the Kuala Gandah Elephant Conservation Center. It’s located about two hours outside of Kuala Lumpur, so it takes a really long time to get there. We decided not to book a tour, since everything we read online said the only thing the tour is good for is transportation – once you’re there, it’s the same whether or not you’re with a tour group. So, we hopped on a train, took it to the very last stop, and then rode the bus for an hour.

We were in Middle-of-the-Forest, Malaysia, just south of I-Have-No-Idea-Where-We-Are. The bus only takes you so far, so after that you have to take a taxi the last 14km. The only problem is, once you’re that far out in the boonies, there aren’t really taxis, just people with cars who want to make an extra couple of bucks. Consequently, we were given a ride by a toothless old Malaysian man with an Aloha shirt and a 1980s Corolla. Don’t freak out, Mom. Somehow, going with him was the best decision we could have made – he must spend all his time waiting around for confused tourists in need of a ride to the sanctuary. Not only did he know the way by heart, but he also showed us where to buy tickets for the bus back to KL and was even waiting patiently for us outside the sanctuary when the activities were over, like a dad picking up his preteen daughter and her friends after a movie. All that for 60 ringgits? I’ll take it. Even if he had no teeth.

Once there, we watched a video about the elephant relocation program – basically, they move elephants that are pillaging farms to a new habitat. The only reason they eat the crops, though, is because their natural habitats are being destroyed to make room for the farms. It sounds mean, but I guess it’s better to move them than to have them killed by angry farmers. The elephants at the Center are trained to help move the “problem” elephants, since being around other elephants seems to help comfort them during the transport and keeps them from getting scared and possibly hurting people.

After being thoroughly depressed by the movie, we got to feed the elephants, ride them, and then “bathe” with them in the river. I felt bad for the elephants giving rides; they seemed so bored just walking in a circle over and over again. The ones in the water, though, seemed like they were having tons of fun with the people. They would spray everyone with their trunks, and loved splashing around. It was seriously one of the coolest experiences of my life.

After we became official “Elefriends” (their word, not mine) we made our way back to the city and headed over to Little India. It’s only about two blocks long, but packed with restaurants, produce markets, and tons of stores selling beautiful sari fabric. I kind of wish I had bought some.

We passed by a bakery called Venusitas that had the most beautiful, colorful displays in the window. It all looked so good, I ended up buying a box with one of everything just so I could try it all. Most of it was way too sugary for me, but still nice to have a bite or two. For the most part, they all had just a plain, sweet flavor, but some had hints of coconut, and one cookie was even a bit lemony.

Again, we ate delicious Indian food. We were accosted by a man in an orange polo shirt telling us we absolutely had to eat at his restaurant. We decided to trust him, and I had naan with two really good types of curry and one other sauce that was good but way too intense with the lime.

Finally, it was time to go back to Hong Kong. We had a little bit of time on Sunday morning before we had to leave for the airport, so we spent about half an hour at the Sri Maha Mariamman Hindu temple, just a few minutes’ walk from our hostel. After this trip, I officially love Hindu temples. They are all so colorful and fun to look at! The statues are beautiful.

For our last meal at the airport, we went to Marrybrown, the Malaysian competitor to KFC. (KFC is a HUGE deal in KL. I’m talking way bigger than McDonald’s, and it’s not out of the ordinary to see KFC’s with two floors. I realized it’s probably because of the religious groups there – predominantly Hindu and Muslim.) Looking at the menu, my eyes immediately jumped to the #5 combo, a veggie burger with curly fries and a drink. Veggie burger?! CURLY FRIES?! Talk about exciting!

Well, at least the fries were good. What looked like a delicious veggie burger in the photo turned out to be hash browns and lettuce in a bun. Not kidding, hash browns. Straight up potato. No yummy Boca patty, no vegetables smushed into a disk, nope. A McDonald’s style hash brown. I got chicken nuggets afterward to supplement my “meal.”

I never thought in my whole life I would travel to Malaysia. It was never really on my “list,” you know? I didn’t know anything about the country until I booked the flights and started doing a bit of research! But I had such an amazing time and I am so happy I went. Can’t wait for more weekend trips like this one!

3 thoughts on “Kuala, not Koala

  1. Me, freak out? Why would your mother freak out. I’ve only seen the movie Taken with Liam Neeson a kajillion times. It was on again the other night, and I had to change the station. His daughter was about to get abducted. I hope that one day when I retire I will be able to see even half of what you are experiencing now. So where are you going next?

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