Kuala Lumpur and Penang
The contrast between a modern city and an overwhelming nature
In Kuala Lumpur and on the isle of Penang one finds friendly and helpful people everywhere; but there is a strong contrast between the modern city with its Petronas Twin Towers and other skyscrapers and the overwhelming nature of Penang, where fishers ride their motopeds up the rickety landing, where the little houses in the kampongs have corrugated iron roofs and the monkeys on the beach eat out of your hand.
Travelogue & photos: Wim van den Broek
Chinatown is one big market
Outside the terminal at Kuala Lumpur International Airport it's 25 degrees Centigrade already at 8 AM and it's also raining. After checking in we leave our hotel to explore. It's amazing how friendly people are here.
Crossing roads is tricky, though. Traffic drives on the left and so we look the wrong way every time. We're lucky that traffic isn't heavy for a city with 2 million inhabitants. Our hotel is only five minutes from the Petronas Twin Towers. Very high and impressive.
In the largest mall I've ever seen, retailers lease small stores and everyone in their families works there; even children, starting at ten, contribute to the family income. Everything is for sale. It's much cheaper than in Europe. It seems that much of what is offered, is illegal in some way.
Next morning we take the monorail, which winds its way through most of the city, to the national mosque on the other side of town. When we arrive, a religious service is in progress, so we can't enter immediately.
It's remarkable that in this part of town many women wear headscarves. The women in our group have to dress like Muslims as well. It makes them unrecognizable, but maybe that is the point of this type of clothing.
We are at walking distance from Chinatown, so we take the opportunity to have a look. The whole area is one big market. Between the displayed goods there is hardly room for two people with Malaysian figures: short and skinny.
All kinds of stuff are on sale: watches, clothes, cell phones, DVDs and (sport) shoes. The most famous brands are represented, albeit as illegal knock-offs. A Dutch tax inspector would have a heart attack here.
Negotiating about prices is a necessary part of buying something and it turns out to be fun. The Euro is popular, "very strong currency."
The Petronas Twin Towers
The elevator races up with a speed of 5 meters per second
Next morning we leave early to buy tickets to visit the Petronas Twin Towers. It's a lot more crowded in the streets today. It turns out that there were some holidays. That's a good part of this diverse society with many different religions: five of them are official and they each have their own holidays, on which everyone gets the day off.
There are probably more holidays in Malaysia than we have compulsary non-working days.
The city feels very safe. We see a lot of security people, but it seems they have an easy job. In the Petronas Twin Towers is also security. The tickets are free and available. We take tickets for 1 PM tomorrow.
On the way back we pass trough a street with lots of little restaurants. It's busy and at this (for us) early hour many a meal is eaten already. Still, people here are in general not fat. I'd even say some could use the odd pound extra. Especially woman are sometimes extremely skinny.
At last. The highlight of our stay in Kuala Lumpur: rising to vertiginous hights to enjoy the view.
We first watch a movie about the construction of the Twin Towers. This enormous project began in 1993 and was completed in 1999. The national oil corporation Petronas built it. 452 meters above the street, I-don't-know-how-many tons of steel, etc.
The towers have 88 floors, provided with the latest technology. They even have their private fire department which keeps an eye on the building 24/7.
The walkway between the towers is situated on the 41st floor, at 170 meters. After a thorough security check we go upstairs. The elevator, which ascends with a speed of 5 meter per second, takes us there. The view is worth it.
How can you haggle about 3 Euro shoes?
After a trip to Australia we fly to Penang International Airport, on the Malaysian island with the same name, a few hundred kilometers north of Kuala Lumpur. A taxi van takes to our hotel in Batu Ferringhi, on the north shore of the island. We arrive at night when everything is deserted.
At night there's a rain and thunderstorm, but when we open the curtains next morning the sun is shining and we have a gorgeous view: between palmtrees we see a bright white beach and a blue sea. From our balcony we see a nice big pool beneath us, a pond with koi carps, a dining hall and a bar.
We have everything we need in the hotel: stretchers on the beach, a bar for mind-expanding liquids and sustenance, a helpful staff.
We spend the day amusing ourselves around the beach and the pool. Wim gets a massage from the hotel masseur, to experience the difference between a massage at home and a traditional Malaysian massage.
In the evening we visit the nearby market, a long strip of stalls and restaurants. Also here all merchandise consists of knock-offs and illegal copies: soccer shirts, T-shirts, watches, DVDs, shoes and clothes. It is expected that you negotiate about prices. But why haggle about a pair of pretty shoes that cost only 15 ringit (3 Euros)? Our impression is that everything here is even cheaper than in Kuala Lumpur's Chinatown.
The days here are relatively short and the nights are long. The sun rises at 7 AM and sets at 7 PM. We hang out around the pool, drink and eat and read the books we haven't finished yet. Being lazy is fun, but we already feel an itch to explore.
The day passes and evening falls with a beautiful sunset. In the evening the streets come alive; there is a busy night market. Along the road are stalls where peddlers try to sell their goods. But we don't allow ourselves to be tempted (yet). We are looking for a place to eat.
Next day we want to eat what the locals eat. So we start looking for a restaurant where Malaysians eat. We find one in a parking lot.
On the covered square about a hundred tables with chairs have been put up. On three sides of the square are 15 or so kitchens. The owner of the lot sells drinks and rents out the spots for the kitchens for 10-20 ringit (2-4 Euros) a day.
There are Chinese, Thai, Indian, Italian and "Western" kitchens. You order and point to where your table is. A few minutes later a delicious meal of saté, sweet and sour fish, fried shrimp, etc. is served.
Jungle tour Penang National Park
A beach full of monkeys that eat out of your hand
Today we take a jungle tour. We have a sturdy breakfast for extra energy. At the reception we receive a T-shirt with the text: "I survived the jungle walk in Penang."
In front of the hotel we take the bus (public transportation) to Teck Bahang, the north-west part of the island. The bus would definitely not pass inspection in Holland. The doors in the front and the back can't be closed, the drivers has problems finding the right gear and just when it looks like we all have to get out to push, it turns out we have just passed the highest point of the trip. Going down it gathers speed, so it eventually reaches its destination, Penang National Park, in a reasonable amount of time.
After a 100 meters walking we arrive at the old fishing port of Penang, which is still in use. We walk onto the rickety landing. The old rotting planks look as if they could break any minute. Some holes are covered with new planks.
The fishermen are not afraid of the rickety landing and even enter it with their mopeds (the national means of transportation), driving them to the end of the landing to reach their boats.
In the distance we see floating fishers cottages. We walk back toward the jungle; the only sounds here are made by birds and monkeys. It has been raining last night and the path is wet and slippery. The trees are beautiful and big, especially the rubber trees are very impressive.
On the way we see monkeys, scorpions, butterflies and birds. It's hot and humid; our T-shirts and pants are soaked. By the end of the jungle walk we cross a high hill and a swamp and reach Pantai Kerachut, a stunning white beach where turtles lay their eggs.
A fishing boat takes us to Monkey Beach; as we approach there is no monkey in sight. The skipper goes first to find out where the monkeys are. Suddenly we see things moving in the trees, a hundred meters from the beach.
The monkeys have spotted us and swing between treetops toward the beach. We leave the boat, armed with peanuts and bananas. The monkeys aren't shy, they eat out of our hands.
Some of the monkeys climb you when you hold up a peanut high enough. We enjoy watching them. There is a clear hierarchy: one is the boss, he eats most and is always angry at the rest of the gang. When he is around, the others keep their distance.
Unfortunately we can't swim because there are jelly fish. Apparently these monkeys (meerkats) join you when you go for a swim. After half an hour the monkeys have had their fill, we're out of food and it is time to say goodbye.
We sail along the gorgeous shore and see many sea eagles. They have their huge nests in the highest trees along the shore.
Via another monkey beach and the fishing port, the boat takes us back to our hotel. That night we have dinner in the parking lot again.
A batik workshop, a butterfly garden en a snake temple
Today we take an island tour. A mini-van with guide, an Indian named Guna with a red dot on his forehead, have been booked for just the four of us by our reception guy Rahman.
We visit a batik workshop, where we hear how the beautiful batik fabrics are printed and dyed; a butterfly garden with pretty indiginous butterflies; a tropical fruit orchard, where we see and taste fruit we've never seen before.
We drive to a kampong (village) where time has stood still. Wooden houses with corrugated iron roofs. We happen to witness the ritual slaughter of two chickens by grandpa and grandma. One cut in the neck and the chicken is let loose. It runs around like a chicken without a head. In a different house a woman is preparing saté (probably chicken...).
We visit the Snake Temple, built in 1850. Snakes guard the temple and live between its pillars and plants. The guide wants us to believe that the snakes are rendered innocuous by the incense.
In a Malaysian restaurant we eat lunch: noodles with vegetables, egg and shrimp. Then we continue our trip to Kek Lok Si, the temple of the 10.000 Buddhas and the largest in South East Asia. It is also called the Temple of Paradise. It is a huge complex, with large prayer halls, pagodas and statues.
Walking back we cross a bridge with tortoises, the symbol of longevity. Beneath us we see more tortoises than water.
We notice that this part of the island, the eastside, is heavily populated. All industry is here. The roads are busy, it's like organized chaos. The many mopeds weave from right to left between the cars. The roads in the city are being renovated, but large stretches still are old and neglected. The same goes for the buildings. It is all in strong contrast with the western part of the island, which is largely undeveloped and where we drive through little villages, plantations en paddies.
In Georgetown we visit the Thai and the Birmese temples, which are located opposite one another, which makes it possible to see the differences in style very clearly. The Birmese temple exhudes more joy.
We also have to see the Indian temple, because our guide is Indian. He tells us that in Hinduism men and women are equal. Today is women's day, so there are only women in the temple.
We visit a Chinese home where the Khoo family lives. The house is impressive, built around 1850 as a clan house for the rich Khoo family. Everything inside is made of carved wood. They invited the best artists from China to make these carvings.
Next day is already the last day of our vacation. We look back on a wonderful, impressive trip. In our part of Holland, Grongingen, they say: "It could've been worse."