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Mean: 30°c Max: 35°c Min: 25°c

Smog, smog and more smog!

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Penang - KL

Door to door by public transport, it's nice to be back in a country that has a (reasonably) integrated transport system. We left the hotel in Penang just after 6am for the short walk to the bus stop. The bus dropped us off at the quay and we walked 5 minutes to get to the ferry, this in turn dropped us off on the mainland which is just a 5 minute walk from the train platform! Fantastic! After a 'short' 6 hour train journey we arrived in KL just a few minutes late, by Thai standards we would have been early! : We were only delayed at the last minute by some government protestors, these demonstration/riots seems to be fashionable and spreading the world very quickly, we hope that we won't be disrupted by any other demonstrations on our trip. On arrival in KL we then jumped on the monorail and finally had a short walk to the hotel. This was the only bit of the whole day that didn't go to plan as the hotel's directions were blatantly missing a section. Stating 'walk down the hill' is simply not good enough as when you depart from the station, there is a hill but it's not the one you are supposed to walk down. The road we needed was round the back of the shopping mall!

Day 1

Petronas Towers - The world's tallest twin towers

Our first stop of the day was to visit the incredible Petronas Towers. Two truly beautiful buildings, based on the Islamic Rub el Hizb symbol, albeit with circular sectors added to meet office space requirements and joined at the 41st and 42nd floors by the world's tallest Sky Bridge, they have to been seen to be believed.

Although we have been to KL before and visited the towers we were not lucky enough to get tickets to go to the Sky Bridge and observation deck as they only sell a limited number of tickets per day. They used to only sell tickets on the day and this was on a first come first served basis. However they now offer online bookings, which makes things a lot easier and we purchased ours a few weeks ago. Unfortunately we woke to thick smog caused by the slash and burn fires over in Indonesia. We have been following the smog on the news for the last few days and we knew that Singapore and Southern Malaysia were experiencing some horrendous conditions but apart from a light covering it didn't appear to reach KL. However as soon as we left the hotel in the morning we could smell burning in the air and the smog was pretty dense.

But with tickets in hand we had little option but to go to the Petronas Towers for our allocated slot. As we took the lift to the Sky Bridge on the 41st floor, the TV screens that lined the lift walls showed what the skyline should look like as we ascended. The doors opened to the impressive Sky Bridge. Could we see anything out the windows? Not a bloody thing! We couldn't see more than a couple of hundred metres. We could see both towers, make out the park area below and just see the surrounding office blocks and that was it, KL was out there but we couldn't see it. D'oh!

Next stop was the 86th floor observation deck. As we continued up the building the wonderful TV screens in the lift rubbed it in again by showing us what we should be able to see. The doors opened to (unsurprisingly) more of the same but from higher up we could make out even less buildings and we could just see the neighbouring tower. The Petronas Towers are absolutely amazing buildings and in our opinion are the most architecturally beautiful buildings that claim to be the world's tallest in some way.

Petrosains Discovery Centre

Covering 2 floors of the Petronas Towers there are no prizes for guessing who sponsors the exhibition or what it is about. Although some of the content was aimed at children we had a fantastic time playing with all the interactive exhibits and learning a thing or two along the way about the almighty Black Gold. It was pretty amazing how they manage to have over 7,000sq metres of exhibits with no mention of the environmental impacts of oil! Nevertheless we had a fantastic time and when we left we couldn't believe we had spent 3 hours playing with science, a great day out and for just 25MYR (approx. £5).


Next stop was the KLCC Park which stands at the foot of the magnificent towers. Again marred by the smog but even so the views of the twin towers were just simply awe inspiring.

Unfortunately by 3pm the smog was so thick it had seeped inside and we could see a slight haze indoors and on the underground network. We are both beginning to wonder if we will be able to do anything when we get to Singapore or will we be hotel bound awaiting our onward flight, only time will tell!

Day 2 - Batu Caves

We were both hoping that by the time the morning rolled around there would have been some wind and rain to blow away all of the smelly smog and then hopefully we would have the bright blue skies back (it is meant to be the monsoon season after all) ... unfortunately, when we poked our little heads out of the window it was all too apparent that we had yet another day of the stinky smog and it was much worse than yesterday. Oh Man!

So we heeded the warnings and set off to find a couple of face masks but could we find any, not a chance as they were selling out like hot cakes. Apparently even the prime minister had problems finding one! Empty handed we headed over to the train station to see if the shops there had any.... and surprise, surprise they didn't. This was getting really frustrating and taking up too much time so we decided to go and enjoy the day and just hope we got our hands on some, sooner rather than later.

We bought our train tickets for the Batu Caves for the incredible price of 1MYR (just 20p!) and made our way to the platform. Whilst we waited we noticed the area on the platform for 'women only' Really? We knew that this happens in India but we didn't think it would in somewhere like Malaysia, maybe it is something to do with the Indian population? Apart from being totally sexist, if it encourages women to travel and it makes them feel safer it is probably a good idea. However dedicating 1 carriage in every 3 to one sex is just plain crazy as it is not relaxed during peak times and cramming everybody else into 2/3rds of the train is just stupid.

On arrival at the Batu Caves we left the station and the first thing we saw was a green statue named Hanuman who was 50 feet tall and is a famous monkey god that is celebrated throughout the Hindu community. We arrived at the entrance to the caves and there was an enormous golden statue named Murugan, this is also a Hindu shrine and stands at an impressive 140 feet! We took one look at the endless stairs leading up to the caves and braced ourselves for the 272 steps ahead.

We had read a lot about the wild monkeys that roam around the area and Sonya was a bit nervous, especially after the last bunch we met back in Penang. With Sonya's fingers crossed that we wouldn't see too many of the blighters we headed up the steps. This plan failed miserably as they were absolutely everywhere and you couldn't avoid them. To make us even more wary we were stopped in our tracks by a group of girls screaming. We looked up to see what had happened and saw that one of the cheeky monkeys had snuck up and snatched a bottle of water right out of one of the girls hands.

When we reached the top there was a few places of worship and of course the odd stall, trying to sell us stuff that we neither wanted nor needed. We actually spent most of the time watching the baby monkeys as they were really cute and it was nice to watch them get up to mischief. The adults on the other hand were another story altogether as they just wanted some food, plain and simple. It was to be their lucky day because on the way back down we saw this man handing out bananas (which you're not supposed to do) We thought it was a pretty stupid idea and a few seconds later our theory was to be proved right when the monkeys started fighting over them.... loudly! It was total mayhem.

The caves were a good place to visit but we found the statues and monkeys to be the most entertaining part of the trip. Although we didn't venture into the dark cave as it was closed it has to be said that we have seen better caves during our trip. However overall we both enjoyed it and would recommend it to other travellers.

We headed straight back into town to walk over to the Lake Gardens which sounded like an easy task but in the end it was more like walking through a concrete jungle! KL similar to Penang is not pedestrian friendly and some parts of the city do not have pavements or ways to cross the 4 or 8 lane highways.

After a substantial detour to find the entrance we had a short walk around the park before ending up at the National Museum. This was a place full of information and history of the country and we did find it interesting, however as we have visited lots of similar museums it is starting to feel like information overload. On a normal holiday we would have spent longer visiting but nevertheless we did enjoy our visit and with entry costing just 5MYR (approx. £1) it was a great way to spend a few hours.

Day 3 - City Forest

We awoke to slightly better conditions, and with slightly less smog we could even make out the sun and occasionally caught a glimpse of the bright blue sky beyond the haze. We headed over to Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve also known as City Forest. Although there is a monorail station named after the park and it is situated on the main road surrounding it, unfortunately there is no direct access to the park and it took us over half an hour to find the way in! The park itself is only 11 hectares in size but it is incredible that a rain forest can flourish in the centre of a city and is a reminder that only 100 years ago large parts of the city were still a forest. We walked through the forest and got lost in the wilderness, the sounds of nature drowning out the hustle and bustle of the nearby city. The walk ended up at the base of KL Tower, one of the tallest telecommunication towers in the world. We are glad we visited the sightseeing deck on our last visit to KL as although the haze has lifted slightly, the views from the top today would have been similar to those we experienced at the twin towers, i.e. non-existent.

Integrated Transport?

Although KL has the most integrated transport we have used since China it still has some niggles. For instance you can't transfer from the monorail to the LRT or vice versa at a transfer station, only at an interconnecting station. Confused? The difference being a transfer station doesn't physically connect meaning there is a short walk between the two. Therefore you have to check out of the first station and back in at the second station, so you can't do the journey on a single ticket. This does make sense, but why advertise these as connections on the transit map and allow passengers to buy a through ticket without advising them of the route they must take i.e. via an interconnecting station? Yet again it is another city with a good public transport system that is let down by its passenger information.

Next stop Singapore!

Hotel Review

We stayed at the amiGo's guesthouse in a double private. We booked amiGo's on the great reviews on hostelbookers. After finding the guesthouse for the first time it is in a fantastic location under a 5 minute walk to the monorail and behind the enormous Berjaya Times shopping centre, which sells just about anything and has a great food court on the lower ground floor. The room was okay, a bit grubby and could do with a fresh lick of paint. The room had air-con and a small wet room and was adequate for our needs for a few nights stay. Don't expect too much as it's not the ritz, but a private room with en-suite for under £20 a night in the centre of KL, is great value for money.


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