Kuala Lumpur (I) Mix of Cultures

I have arrived in Kuala Lumpur as planned by bus, done my first land border crossing. While the travel includes some bits and pieces worth telling it was eventually no hassle at all. Except for arriving before dawn in heavy monsoon rain…

Getting there…from Ao Nang to Kuala Lumpur by van and bus

I was picked up right on time at 10:00 from my hotel, just to wait for half an hour at the next resort until the guests to be picked up there were ready…Thais, not farang (foreigners)… Didn’t matter at all as the first stop was in nearby Krabi anyway where all the people from the van were distributed to other vans, heading for example for Phuket, or in my case “Kuala Lumpur”, which I knew was not quite true: At some point in time I had to change from van to “VIP Bus”. It turned out that the van picking me up would continue further south towards Malaysia. I had bought a big bottle of water (which I in the very end left consciously in the VIP bus as I had enough to do with my two bags and the heavy rain) and some biscuits, which are still closed. Not so surprisingly the van did stop at some place along the ride for lunch and I took the chance for a quick&easy rice dish.

The van ride was longer than I expected, but not at all uncomfortable. At times it rained heavily and a little water dropped through the back door’s broken rubber insulation onto my seat in the back row, but that’s about all excitement I got on the van. Other than that I was mostly busy with dozing off, looking around into the landscape (got a bit simpler in terms of houses, even huts), and moving back and forth on the seat. Along the way, also not surprising if you travel a bit in Asia, we seemingly randomly picked up people or dropped some off…I’m sure there’s kind of a system behind that, but not me to figure out. I was finally pointed to leave the van together with another farang in a town named Hat Yai (or so at least I remember). That was about 4pm, so I spent about 6 hours minus some breaks on the van already. And I was still in Thailand. We were dropped off at the office of a local travel agency, which received our vouchers and exchanged them yet again (I lost count) for different vouchers. And it shouldn’t be the last time… And then told us the bus would leave here at 5:30pm, i.e. in 90 minutes.

KL_20071108_155534.jpg: Time enough to explore Hat Yai…or at least the part we were in. And that was entirely uninspiring and rainy.

KL_20071108_162717.jpg: Somewhere back there to the left I had found a street market, though none of the dishes appealed to me. I settled with some fresh looking apples, which would cause some problems later…or not at all in fact…but we’ll come to that.

KL_20071108_162828.jpg: Other than that the place looked like needing some fresh paint all over.

I returned early to the travel agency and just sat there and read. The lady, who came with me in the van, was gone including luggage and I never saw her again. Instead shortly before 5:30pm a couple from Belgium showed up and we were put onto a taxi to be taken to yet another travel agency. There…yea…our vouchers were once more exchanged, now against something containing a seat number, so I had hopes (and was right) that this would be the final ticket. Also we had to hand over our passports and were given Malaysian arrival/departure cards; so all looked pretty much like this would be the place. And it filled up with people. But the bus was due to come only by 7pm, so there was again some time. And now we were in a different part of this fantastic city and right across the street was a semi-modern shopping center with amenities like KFC, Pizza Hut, Fuji (that fantastic Japanese food chain we had experienced at Siam Paragon in Bangkok), and…McDonald’s. For the sake of simplicity and speed I chose McD for my last dinner in Thailand…god may forgive me.

At 6:50pm a huge bus did arrive and basically blocked the entire street in front of the travel agency. But boarding was quite quick and the three of us settled in our seats in the back row of the bus. The bus was not a sleeper, but the seats reclined very far back (yes, also the ones in the back row luckily) and have leg rests, so lying in them is really comfortable. Just 3 seats per row, except for the back row, which had four and me sitting in the seat facing the alley…probably the worst seat in the entire bus as I had no place to rest my feet on (why do I have such a bad luck with busses???), but it wasn’t really a big deal at all. I did travel quite comfortably and thinking that the entire trip costed me a laughable 1.100 Baht (25 EUR) made me smile.

We quickly left Hat Yai and were covered in darkness. The only thing on the bus which didn’t work well were the reading lights. But…hey…I am an experienced traveller by now πŸ˜‰ I certainly travelled in long pants and with a long-sleeved shirt to fight the air condition (and later still needed the provided blanket on top…guys, it was freezing), had the batteries of my iPod loaded beforehand, and always have an eletrical torch handy. I used that for reading.

We reached the border crossing at about 9pm. Nobody on the bus said anything…the bus just stop and switched on all lights inside. The other passengers got out, apparently knowing what to do; we just followed suit. And there were two lines of people forming in front of passport control offices. We lined up, handed in our passport, and were stamped out of Thailand. Then we got back on the bus. So simple.

The bus moved on a few hundred meters and stopped again: Sure, we were out of Thailand, now we had to enter Malaysia. Difference this time: The people took their luggage with them, and not only the carry-on luggage they had inside, but also the suitcases and bags that were stowed in the bus’ luggage compartment. Well…so did we. With the arrival/departure card provided earlier already filled out entering Malaysia was no hassle, the stamp in the passport in a matter of 10 seconds. But while waiting in line I read a sign saying I must not bring fruits into Malaysia. I find that pretty narrow-minded on a land border…how many apples will just fall from trees across the border line or their seeds flown by insects and the wind across it? But that’s not the place to bend the rules. I took my remaining 3 apples out and searched for a place to deposit them before reaching customs, but couldn’t find one. I decided to play with open cards, kept the bag with the apples in my hand. When it came to me to have my luggage checked (there were three officers doing the check manually) I presented them my apples and asked for a place to throw them away. They asked me “Where do you come from?” I couldn’t figure what that has to do with the apples…and as I very obviously must be travelling from Thailand (it is a border with Thailand after all) I assumed they wanted to know my nationality. So I replied “Germany”. Good answer…they just waived away the apples and I could keep them. Somehow that also settled my small carry-on backpack…don’t know why, but they now only asked for the big backpack to be opened. Well…such a bag is well packed, very dense, and opens only from the top. So I opened the top and left it to the officer. He figured the obivous: Hard to get into in detail, touched a bit the surroundings (where you could feel some hard stuff like water bottle or tupper ware), and then motioned me to close the bag again. Thorough check…other travellers with easier to open suitcases had to face questions even on some pills flying around. My pills, all of them without having (nor needing…but explain that to anybody) a prescription, were deep down in the backpack πŸ˜‰ I went through the green “Nothing to declare” channel, was left alone, and got back on the bus, which in the meantime had rolled forward a few meters across the border line. I was in Malaysia.

The remaining drive to Kuala Lumpur was eventless and we tried to get some sleep. At 4am the next day the bus stopped, all lights on, heavy monsoon rain outside. Looked like we reached our final destination and were supposed to get out. Quite early…schedule said 6am, which I would have liked quite a bit better than 4am in darkness (save for street lights certainly) and heavy downpour, without having a single coin of the local currency, in a big city of a new country, without exactly knowing where the hell I was. Some few taxi drivers poked around, but whenever I asked to bring me first to an ATM and then only to my hotel they backed out. The two Belgiums had no reservation and wanted to try one of the hotels right on the street where we were. I wanted to get to ‘my’ hotel, hoping I could get into a room despite it being very early. I asked around for the next ATM, but the only answer I got was “all closed now”, which is certainly bullshit… In the end I for the first time unrolled my rain cover over my big backpack and splashed along the street out into the rain. Down the street I found an ATM after 15 minutes and that one even gave me money. I was just surprised to get only 50 MYR (Malaysian Ringgit) notes…quite many of them if you ask for 1.500 MYR (310 EUR) in total. Haven’t seen a larger banknote since. When I turned away from the ATM a taxi passed by. I got in, the driver knew my hotel, said “10 Ringgit”, I didn’t care haggling, only had to ensure he wouldn’t show me cheaper hotels but get me directly there. Wasn’t far as it turned out and by 4:45am or so I reached my Fortuna Hotel. The taxi driver couldn’t change my 50 MYR (10 EUR) note…heah, so ‘big’ a thing? I got it changed at the reception and then paid the driver.

There were three men standing/sitting around the reception of the Fortuna Hotel, two of them obviously staff of the hotel according to their shirts. The only thing they offered me without asking was the information that the house is full, as a sign on the counter also clearly stated in English and Chinese. When I pointed out that I had a reservation they became a bit more friendly, confirmed my reservation, but were sorry that they could not provide me with a room right now due to the hotel being full. I would need to wait until official check-in time when rooms were freed by other guests. Tough luck, but hard to argue. The third guy without staff clothes suggested I could go to McDonald’s around the corner…open 24 hours. Great option…for the time being I settled in a chair in the lobby flipping through the map and the tourist journal the receptionist had handed me on request. That way I sat probably for 1.5 hours, sometimes dozing off, mostly reading and left alone. Maybe I would visit McD later just for doing anything. I had hopes that by 8am or so I could find a cafe for breakfast. But at 6:30 already the reception guy told me I could now check in…other guests with a reservation had not shown up and their reservation got waived by 6am. The room even of better standard but for the same price I was assured. Nice, nice! I was in bed for a nap by 7am.

Searching for Power

The Fortuna Hotel is lower mid range, I believe officially having two stars only. But my ‘better’ room looked quite OK, with carpet and two reasonable beds. A lot harder matress than in Ao Nang. Actually…add-on to Ao Nang: When I fell into bed in Ao Nang the first night I plummeted probably down into the cellar and back, so soft was the bed. I could not imagine sleeping in this hammock-style position. But very quickly had an idea: I moved the mattress off the bed onto the bare floor. That proved a lot better, though still not great. Rafael had followed a few minutes later. πŸ˜‰

Back to KL: The beds there were a lot better and I had slept well. Somehow this simple hotel had managed to be mentioned on all maps I had seen of KL. That convinced me that the location is good and it turned out to be unbeatable, right next to the main shopping areas of Bukit Bintang. In a matter of no time I found a Starbucks (at KL Plaza), but skipped it first in the hope of finding a real breakfast cafe, but in vain. Starbucks offered free Wifi, and wise (or at least experienced ;)) as I am by now I had brought my laptop with me.

Power everywhere
Power everywhere

KL_20071110_153732.jpg: Getting into the internet was as complicated as activating WLAN…and all for free and no sign-up. But the problem was: No power! I don’t mean saying that KL has no electricity; no way, you have to see it at night! Also, providing power sockets is something very common here in KL. Starbucks provided sockets all around the entire cafe, including the outside seating area. And even by this early time many laptops were already plugged in. As you see in this photo there are even sockets provided at taxi stands! πŸ˜‰

The problem was: Malaysia uses this clumsy three-thick-pins-in-a-triangle UK socket layout. Darn…I had never needed my high-flying all-to-all socket converter I had with me on my previous travel through China and Vietnam. And now had left it at home, settling alone to a very thin and smart Europe-to-US converter. And that one had worked great as expected also in Cambodia and Thailand, and even in Bhutan (though that needed a bit poking in the socket ;)). But no chance now in Malaysia…grrrr. I used up half my laptop battery but then left in search for a socket converter.

That wasn’t an easy deal. I came across various shopping malls. But the high-flyer malls offer clothes and jewelry, and even shops with names like “Global Traveller” (I had put high hopes in that one when seeing it on the directory of KLCC) offer nothing else than suitcases. Grrrr….but I found a converter a bit later still in KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Center, the mall right beneath the Petronas Twin Towers) in a larger and well sorted electronics shop. Happy as I was I ran to the next Starbucks cafe, which proved to be full to the last table and all sockets in use. Darn…it shall not be. I used up the rest of my battery, now fighting with a different Wifi provider which wanted no money, but a sign-up, which didn’t work…. Not so successful after all. In the evening I returned to my first (and now standard) Starbucks and finished some Sonux.net site updates. With converter and power.

OK, now we finally had arrived. Let’s look for what to report on in terms of tourism and sightseeing. I grouped pictures of the last two days in theme groups rather than purely chronologically.


…is a big thing in KL. On the tourist map I got from a Tourist Information Center it ranks the number three highlight, after the Merdeka Square (see below) and “Nature’s Paradise” (the area around the Lake Garden). And there are indeed a lot of malls around. Some of the simple type with lots of booths, mainly selling mobile phones (and no socket adaptors). Others high-flying with all these brand labels I never need. Shopping is not my kind of thing, but if it is the number three highlight let me try to get my view on it:

KL_20071109_115316_cr.jpg: Not bad a hip shot, hm? πŸ˜‰ Touri walking past a huge handbag ad of Yves Laurent.

KL_20071109_163441.jpg: Relaxing from shopping… These three pics are made in the Pavillion Shopping Center. I somehow was in the mood of artistic pictures and didn’t mind photography bans (if there were any, in other malls there were) or if I would hurt feelings of people. It was the first time I was so intensively surrounding by muslim people. And that fascinated me. But I don’t know if they like being photographed…

KL_20071109_163552.jpg: The big stairway down into the basement.

KL_20071109_163646.jpg: Oh, I love this one…having the luck to be at the right time at the right place sometimes pays off. This spot of light certainly moves with the sun, but when I was standing on the first floor the spot illuminated this group of people in the basement, suddenly they seemed to be alone and lonely.

Sightseeing proper

KL_20071109_160431.jpg: The Petronas Twin Towers, formerly the tallest building in the world, now surpassed by Tapei 101. The Accenture office is also in there, but as I was not looking business-like and didn’t bring my Accenture badge I didn’t even try to get in.

KL_20071109_153233.jpg: Detail: That famous bridge connecting the two towers. I saw signs that tourists can get up there. But that’s lower than half the building…what for?

KL_20071109_153542.jpg: Self-portrait with Twin Towers in a metal ball of a bridge in the park in the back of the Twin Towers.

KL_20071110_110246.jpg: I believe this is the Sultan Abdul Samad Building. The street in front is entirely empty…traffic in KL is not as bad as in other cities, but empty streets are a bit weird. In fact, the entire area was more or less hermetically cordoned off by police forces. But some people just moved through, so I finally approached one of the policemen and asked if I could pass through. “Yes, sure” he answered. I asked why there was so much police around and he said an “important person” would arrive. I didn’t figure out which one, said thanks and turned to go. In an afterthought the policeman added to the a bit frightened touri in a very polity tone: “Welcone to Malaysia!”. That made me indeed feel a lot easier and I moved through all the police forces and took my pictures (avoiding photographing them directly, though…you learn not to take pictures of police and military forces over time).

KL_20071110_105851.jpg: The place was over and over decorated with the Malaysian national flag. Somewhere around here an elderly tourist couple approached me. I guessed them to be Americans. We exchanged some thoughts about what’s going on here. They said they can only think of one person so important to be worth this huge police effort: President Bush. I opened my mouth with a comment on my opinion on Bush, but was able to shut it close before a sound escaped. Not the right place to discuss world politics. Instead I asked them what that building is. Unlike me they had a Lonely Planet. They guessed the old train station…a wrong guess as I figured out a few minutes later. This is why I say (according to my tourist map) it’s the Sultan Abdul Samad Building. But I am unable to tell what kind of function this building nowadays has. Wikipedia now tells me I am right and that this square to the right is the Independence Square (Dataran Merdeka…remember the highest ranked sight?).

KL_20071110_110342_cr.jpg: A glimpse on the united forces here.

KL_20071110_110717.jpg: Nice view on the decorated building. While the flags look a bit American they are Malaysian. You will notice the moon and the star in the blue square, signs of islam. There are 13 red/white stripes in the flag, which matches the number of founding provinces as I found out later in the National Museum, so let’s assume the stripes represent these provinces.

KL_20071110_111129.jpg: Just a few meters down the street: Kompleks Dayabumi. I have still not decided if I like the architecture of this high rise. But you have to admit that it is an interesting attempt of combining modern heights with muslim architecture.

KL_20071110_111645.jpg: This globe next to the skyscraper gave me some headache: There are a couple of holes distributed across the entire world, both into the sea and on land. I can only guess…big things like this building are often related to the oil company Petronas…somewhere around I had seen the name again. So it might be about oil? Or gas? It could actually denote places where oil and/or gas is found. There are a few of these holes in the North Sea.

KL_20071110_112536_cr.jpg: Next thing down the road was the National Mosque.

KL_20071110_112949_cr.jpg: Also surrounding by police forces, though not so heavily. You can see one on the top of the stairway. Here muslim women leaving the mosque.

KL_20071110_113302.jpg: Now this is the old Railway Station. I can be sure for two reasons: There is the Heritage Hotel, of which I happen to know that it is in the railway station (and I am happy now I didn’t book it), and…

KL_20071110_113609.jpg: …there’s the KTM Building right across from it. Watch the man on the balcony.

KL_20071110_113643.jpg: The KTM building’s architecture also picks up some mulsim elements. I hope the ladies don’t mind that I focused on them πŸ˜‰

KL_20071110_115051.jpg: Next I reached the National Museum. I have not made good experiences with national museums in the surrounding countries. But then again…I wouldn’t see more of Malaysia than KL, and it started to rain again. So I did enter it. Here the stairs to the entrance with an Indian couple having their photograph taken.

KL_20071110_125130.jpg: With the low expectations I had the museum was actually quite OK. Just 2 MYR (0,40 EUR) admission fee. The first floor was as bad as expected, lots of clothes of various tribes and minorities. The best was actually the interieur of an old Chinese house. I knew Malaysia by now is quite a mixture of races, mostly ‘original’ Malay, Chinese, and Indian. The upper floor then was a bit what I always hope for in national museums: The country’s history. But they start with the Portuguese invasion somewhen in the 16. century. There have been quite some countries had their fingers in the game…Dutch and British as well. Malaysia then gained independence in 1957 with the declaration of independence shown here int he photo, read out on the aforementioned Independence Square.

KL_20071110_130747.jpg: From there it was only a short way to KL Sentral, the new central railway station of KL. KL is not built for pedestrians. But it looks like after having built the streets somebody remembers “uups…there are pedestrians, too” and sign-posts some way along streets for pedestrians to reach their destination safely. So I had to walk on small sidewalks along elevated roads, sometimes cross on zebra strips, to reach KL Sentral along the signposted official way.

KL_20071110_145013.jpg: I felt a bit hungry and thirsty, found a “Secret Recipe” cafe and sat down for some fantastic Japanese noodles and later for a Starbucks coffee. It kept raining, so I waived the idea of having a look into the Lake Gardens today. Tomorrow would be another day. And if I get there in the morning the monsoon might spare me. I got on the monorail back ‘home’ to do all this writing here in my ‘home’ Starbucks.

Other Architecture

Some things I picked up on the way:

KL_20071109_115920.jpg: Mix of cultures: As said Chinese are one of the big groups of people in Malaysia. Here a Chinese temple with the Twin Towers as a backdrop.

KL_20071109_160828.jpg: Just a cool shot…happens to be Trader’s Hotel, a building next to the park surrounding the Twin Towers.

KL_20071109_162115.jpg: Many new stall’n’glass buildings around in KL, but by far not as ‘bad’ as in Shanghai. Still some way to go if they want to go there. But generally less construction sites.

KL_20071109_162219.jpg: The Malaysian national flag was all around. Not sure if this is due to this mystical visit or just normal…

KL_20071110_102749.jpg: The Monorail (on wheels, has nothing to do with the Transrapid), one of the fast public transportation systems. Works well and is cheap. But unfortunately the rail transportation systems aren’t well interlinked with each other. You always have to exit one system, buy a new ticket and then enter the other system (like LRT). No chance of buying a through-ticket if you want to change transportation medium. Technically, the tickets look the same. And there apparently is also a debit card system like in Shanghai, which allows regular commuters to easily pass the barriers. But still you always have to get in and out…a bit inefficient.

KL_20071110_104202.jpg: Masjid Jamek, a mosque at the LRT station where I got off to start my sightseeing.


I keep saying Malaysia is a muslim country. I do so because I read it in tourist flyers. And in fact I was surprised about how many muslims I see here on the streets. I know of Malaysia as a mix of cultures, but you find muslims everywhere. That does include, I shall add, also shop assistants and police forces. Even females are a common sight there, still with head scarf in matching colors, but they do play an active role in public.

KL_20071109_134401_cr.jpg: Muslim girls looking down…seen in KLCC.

KL_20071109_154021_cr.jpg: Relaxing in the park behind the Twin Towers. Not sure if it is proper to show off the feet… πŸ˜‰

KL_20071109_162924_cr.jpg: Not muslim…and a bit an unfair shot, I agree…but I liked the sweat pattern on her back, so long and hard a shopping day? πŸ˜‰ Even I didn’t really sweat. It was warm but bearable.

KL_20071110_104628.jpg: Agree…the ladies fascinated me more…but there are men on the street, too.

KL_20071110_112303_cr.jpg: Back to the ladies…sitting, chatting, telephoning like everybody else. Seen in front of the National Mosque.

Malay for Beginners and Runaways

Official language in Malaysia is Malay. But due to the ethnic mix most people speak a good English. Universities regularly teach in English anyway. My Malaysian colleagues on the Shanghai project spoke it perfectly, as good as native. And if two Malaysians spoke to each other in Malay (a rare thing, usually they sticked to English) then still it sounded to me a bit like English…just…you couldn’t quite catch what they were talking about. Now…here’s the solution:

KL_20071109_120213_cr.jpg: “Restoran”

KL_20071109_132524_cr.jpg: “Farmasi”

KL_20071109_160858.jpg: “Bas” – also watch the Twin Towers pinnacles as a reflection!

KL_20071109_161059_cr.jpg: “Kompleks”

KL_20071109_161758.jpg: “Teksi”

If you happen to be German then just read it out loud with German pronunciation. What comes out are (the correct) words sounding like English. Most of the above are obvious…”Bas” is a little tricky as it is so short, but we are talking about a “bus”, a big car moving lots of people. “Teksi” looks entirely different, but it should be quite obvious now that we are talking about “taxi”.

But then again…all these terms seem to be imported from foreign languages. If you look a bit further then Malay does turn out to be a language in its own rights:

KL_20071109_160656.jpg: “Berhenti”…should mean “Stop” given the context.

KL_20071109_161250_cr.jpg: And “Keluar” is obviously “Exit”.

So, sorry…that was a long one. But finally…I am back on track with all my articles. Will get something to eat now and then explore KL at night if rain permits. One more day in KL tomorrow for the Lake Gardens.

Update on Singapore: Just received a note from Rafael that he will not be there for (non-)work reasons. That’s a double pity: I certainly had hoped for his advice and company (as far as his work would have permitted). And secondly: I would have stayed together with him in an upper-class hotel.

The trouble now was: He had had over a week of hassle to find a hotel room. Everything seemed to be full. That now gave me the thrills: I wanted a place to lay my head. And I wanted a comfortable place for my last three nights travelling. No backpacker hostel accomodation any more… I didn’t find anything suitable on hostelsweb.com where I usually book (they also have some lower end hotels), but on expedia.de I found something looking very reasonable, which could be booked right on the spot online inclusive reservation confirmation: Harbour Ville Hotel, more or less close to the Harbour Front, where my bus will arrive.

Today’s Lesson: Malaysia uses the clumsy UK power plugs.

Categories: Asia, Kuala Lumpur

Originally Created: 11/10/2007 10:14:37 AM
Last Edited: 11/10/2007

One thought on “Kuala Lumpur (I) Mix of Cultures”

Comments are closed.