Putrajaya. Kind of.

Yup, I went to a new city and have no photos for you. But I have an excuse. Basically, Lonely Planet us well wrong as regards the tours of Putrajaya. The one listed in their current edition for Malaysia simply doesn’t exist any more. I asked at Sentral about tickets and got blank looks, so I bought a return to Petrajaya (MR19) and hopped on the next train.

The journey’s around 30 minutes and I located the bus terminus in the huge and empty station. Putrajaya is a new town, one almost built from scratch and into which Malaysia is moving a lot of it’s business and adminstration. There’sa lot of housing and the idea is to make a city that’s also a tourist attraction as well as somewhere to live – it’s easily commutable from Kuala Lumpur after all. Thing is, it’s only partway there as the cavernous station shows. You’d expect to see thousands of people pour through here and it’s built for it… but all the shops are closed and there’s no queue for buses.

So it’s kind of like Milton Keynes, but not ugly and based on roundabouts.

Downstairs, I asked about the tour and was told it no longer runs. There is one, but only on weekends (11:30 and 14:30) and from the large mosque in the city near the lake, not from the train station. However, the helpful staff recommeded that I not waste my trip and instead hop on the 102. It runs a circuit around the city, taking in a lot of the accommodation and main streets. All for 50c. Except it’s exact change only and the smallest I had was MR1. Ah well, that’s still only 15p.

The staffer explained to the driver that I was going to do a circuit and not to worry that I wasn’t getting off, and the bus pulled into what little traffic there was. I did get to see a fair bit – some nice flats and houses, impressive mosque, lovely new architectural styles for the government offices – but as I was on a public bus, the opportunity to take pics just didn’t come up.

I did enjoy listening to the radio, though. The bus was really nice and new, and the driver had a local station on. The news caught my attention. “MalayMalayMalayMalay Kevin Keegan MalayMalayMalayMalayMalayMalayMalayMalayMalay Newcastle United MalayMalayMalay”.

What I can say is that if you can figure out the tours, I can see it being a fun way to spend half a day. A shame I didn’t get any photos, but maybe next time.

The rest of the day was spent playing catch-up and snoozing as I’d barely slept the night before. After staying up late, I found myself being nibbled on all night, and not in a nice way. Maria in the bed next to mine found herself inundated with bugs of some description which were inside her mosquito net. I’m not sure if I was suffering the same, or just mosquitoes, but either way it was a bad night sleepwise.

The staff fumigated the room and Mariah did all her luggage and clothes outside. All her clothing went through the wash, but anything less than a boil won’t kill these things. She could still see them moving inside the plastic bags afterwards. Not nice.

Steff, the Swiss girl we’d been hanging around with in Tanah Rata, arrived in town this evening and we’d arranged to meet up. It seems she’d had even less luck with buses than us, having to change coach twice. Once due to a wheel/steering/axle issue and the second as the air conditioning unit failed. Welcome to Asia!

We picked one of the places near Trekker Lodge for dinner and I scorched my mouth on a spicy chicken dish. The girls went for the buffet and we left, well fed, to stock up on cheap alcohol from a Chinese shop next to Red Palm. There we sat outside and chewed the cud (and drank the beer) until a group of us decided to head off to find a club. So one Brit, a Dane, two Aussies, a German a Swiss and an Italian went walking in the vain hope of finding a club that didn’t cost upwards of MR30 per person to get in.

Not going to happen in Kuala Lumpur. Instead we headed back to Bukit Bintang and chilled out in a streetside bar with some munchies and (for the others) a shisha pipe. And beer from the 7-Eleven over the road.

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Back to KL

A longer day than was expected. I’d pretty much decided to head back to Kuala Lumpur this morning, especially as overnight the rain poured down loud enough to wake the dead let alone me. The weather by morning was much improved, but I chose to join Maria and Oliver on the early bus to KL. After all, I’d been trying to force myself to move on for about 5 days!

A few buses are available, but the 10:30 and 16:30 services were cheapest at MR17.30. There were a few tickets left and, after grabbing breakfast from the Kang Hotel, we boarded. It turned out to be the exact same bus which had brought me to Tanah Rata in the first place. I recognised the broken seat (which some poor Chinese woman had to endure for the whole journey).

It’s a long, windy trip down the mountain so don’t expect to sleep much. And then we had to deal with an Indian guy in the back row being sick into a clear plastic bag for all the world to see. His hurls were quite quiet, but the HHHAAAAAWWWWWWKKKK as he cleared his throat afterwards was stomach-churning.

Neverthless we survived into the town at the bottom of the hill where we mystifyingly pulled into some yard full of broken buses. Reversing out, we next arrived at a bus station where we had thirty minutes to grab food. I, erm, opted for a KFC. Partly as I knew they’d have clean loos.

Back on the bus, we drove for five minutes and into a second scrapyard where we were ordered off. The two front tyres both had nails stuck in them and needed replaced, so we were delayed around half an hour as this was done. When we re-boarded, Maria ended up sat next to me as the sick Indian guy had decided to occupy both the seats she’d been using to sleep on. I hope I didn’t drool down her shoulder as I slept on the now-flatter part of the journey.

For reasons best known to himself, the driver decided to shut off the aircon as we were around half an hour from the city. Maybe he wanted us to acclimatise. Maybe it broke. Either way, we were stifling by the time we were dropped off. Oliver had another bus to catch to Melaka and Maria and I walked to the Golden Triangle area in search of accommodation.

Steff’s recommendation of the Red Palm looked nice, but was full until next week. We tried their sister hostel which was also full. As was the Trekker’s Lodge I’d used the week before. We ended up in Green Hut, where I stayed back in December 2006. It’s much as I remember, including the lack of wi-fi. At least I have a long network cable so I can still use my laptop.

Food was needed and after a little trek, we found a street café opposite the IT Mall. As we were looking through the menu, staff from the other restaurants nearby were screaming “Sir! Miss! Sir! Look first! See here!” and waving menus like demonstrating students. Seriously, it was like a culinary version of the current Thai protests, and reminded me of the seagulls from Finding Nemo (“Mine! Mine! Mine!”).

After Maria failed to find somewhere that would sell her an iPod loaded with music – something that hadn’t been a problem in Bangkok – we walked round to the cinema and picked up tickets for Deception. Not a bad film, and they didn’t censor so much of it to spoil it as with Death Race.

And that was really it for the day. A fruitless search for a spare wi-fi signal saw me using the cable (I need a new one with unbroken clips) and I think I have plans for tomorrow. Still not sure of my next destination, but it’s looking like being Bangkok or Sihanoukville.

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Leavin’ KL

Puduraya in the afternoon, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

My bus ticket is for 15:30 – last bus of the day – so I’m sat in the KFC across the road from Puduraya Bus Station using the free wi-fi. For those of you using this station to get to/from KL, you don’t really need public transport to get between it and decent accommodation.

The bus station is right on the edge of Chinatown, which has a lot of budget hostels (the cheapest in Kuala Lumpur, I think). If you’re staying in the Golden Triangle area, as I was, then it’s roughly 20 minutes’ walk – and a very simple one at that. Just head southwest along Jalan Bukit Bintang until you reach the junction at the end. Turn right and keep going. The bus station is a huge, grey structure that looks like (and probably was) a 1970’s multi-storey car park around 300m up the road.

Buying tickets is fun. In general, prices to various destinations are the same although it can pay to shop around. Walk into the first floor and bear right or left to see a gazillion (actually, I think there are just under 100) little cubicles. Many sellers will stand at the end of a row to try and tout for your business and can be very helpful as not every cubicle sells tickets for the same destinations.

It’s all a bit chaotic, but people are generally quite polite and helpful – though obviously insistent that their’s is the best service!

For those heading to the Cameron Highlands, I could have bought a ticket to Tanah Rata from cubicles 47, 87, 88, the one opposite 88… Most charge MR30 for a VIP bus. I opted for the MR18 service from cubicle 87. As I said, I’ve not seen the bus yet but it was half the price of others. In addition, they run a bus every hour whereas most others only have three a day. I’m expecting a diddy, cramped minibus, but it’s only a 4-hour journey. I’ll manage. I hope.

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Dotting around KL

Plans are set and I leave tomorrow for Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands. In the meantime, some updates on my last couple of days. Admittedly, I’ve spent a lot of them sat on my backside reading, surfing and chilling out. But I have seen a fair bit of the city, too.

First up, a huge “thank you” to Nick and Linda who I met for dinner on Sunday night. Well, I’d eaten by then but I munched on some chicken wings and had a beer while they ate. We chatted for ages about where I’ve been and about KL and Malaysia. They then drove me around for well over an hour so I got to see a lot of the city after dark – not too easy using public transport, especially some areas which are a hike away from the MRT and LRT.

After hardly seeing any of the city on my last visit, I made a bit of effort this time and opted to do both the Chinatown and Little India / Colonial walks from Lonely Planet. Wow. Even looking at the names makes this place sound more like Singapore. Despite the guy in the hostel telling some other guests they’d need to take a taxi or walk to Chinatown, I jumped on the nearby MRT and went three stops west to Maharajalela. This cost about 20p and took less than five minutes.

The walk around is pleasant enough and I was lucky with the weather – hot, but not too sunny. There’s not a huge amount to see, but I can definitely recommend the Central Market if you’re after knick-knacks and souvenirs. It also has a great food court. I got a huge bowl of rice with black pepper chicken for around MR5. A wedding was taking place in the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, so I couldn’t go in. Coincidentally, we’d seen the wedding cars in town the night before.

Nick and Linda had taken me to Merdeka Square the evening before, but it was good to see it in daylight as well. Unfortunately, it seems most government-run things are closed on a Monday so I didn’t get to visit the History Museum. However, I saw plenty of other stuff and the walk did me good!

I lucked out a the rain started just as I returned to the hostel, but didn’t get too heavy. Much better than the downpours when I was here before.

Today was an early rise as I wanted to get onto the sky bridge connecting the Petronas Towers. I couldn’t do this last time as I was only in town on a Monday when it’s closed. The recommendation is to get there early as “only” 1400 tickets are issued. Groups go through in 15-minute segments, but it costs nothing at all. It’s pretty good, too.

An exhibition in the basement tells you a lot about the building with some hands-on gizmos to get some points across. At the appointed time, you’re ushered into a small room and shown a 7-minute advert for how great Petronas is, with a few bits about the towers thrown in for good measure. After this, you head into the lift which whizzes you to the 41st floor where you have 8 minutes to spend on the bridge itself.

The view’s nice but not as impressive as I’m sure it is from the 88th floor. As a tourist, though, this is as high as you can get. It is the highest double-decker span bridge in the world – but I reckon it’s probably also the only one given the obscure description.

I do still think these are pretty cool structures, and even more so now that I’ve been there and read all the bumph about them. They’re certainly one of the more attractive “tallest buildings” I’ve seen. Given the price of the visit (naff all), I’d definitely recommend it. I don’t think you need to get there ridiculously early, but on the other hand I do believe it’s a fairly quiet time now which could have accounted for  the moderately small queue I waited in.

After this, I walked through the park backing onto the KLCC centre and checked out the cinema times at the nearby mall. Despite the poor reviews, I bought a ticket for Babylon A.D. and endured ninety-or-so minutes of complete cinematic tedium. I didn’t even get a salty popcorn – they only do “caramel” and “sweet” here!

Another chilled day, nattering to other people in the hostel then I popped out to a nearby cheap Chinese place for dinner with Alex, a fellow traveller from Switzerland. I patiently walked around with her afterwards as she checked out shoes and dresses – to be honest it made a pleasant change to be out of the hostel and in the fresh(ish) air for the evening.

And that’s KL for this stay. I’ll keep an eye on the Thai situation. If it stays the same I may just head back to KL and fly to Bangkok, or even go to HCM City and leave Thailand for later on. We shall see!

Oh, and as I sit here, Jenny (the Swedish girl I dived with at Sipadan) has just walked into the hostel! Small world…

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Plans on hold for a bit

…or subject to a little change. Due to the current political climate in Thailand (i.e. they have another ****hole in charge and they’re trying to kick him out like they did with that moron Thaksin), two airports are closed and the rail network is shut down. It’s very possible that other airports will also follow suit. As far as I’m aware, entering the country is fine just the usual warnings to stay away from large gatherings. I saw one quote on the BBC News where a woman says the protesters at Krabi airport even apologised profusely for the inconvenience they were causing her!

Allowing for the rail network starting up again, my plot is roughly to head for Kota Bharu (maybe through the Cameron Highlands) with perhaps a short sojourn to the Perhentian Islands. This would, of course, involve diving. What a shame. From there over the Thai border and up to Hat Yai and then using the rail network (hopefully) along the eastern side of the country. This also may result in a stopoff or so on the islands of Ko Samui and/or Ko Phangan. Thence to Bangkok.

From there to Ho Chi Minh and perhaps Dalat, then somehow from there to Ninh Binh to see the Primate Centre and up to Hanoi (once more). Ideally I want to arrive in Ninh Binh around the 20th of September. Other than that, everything’s flexible.

In the meantime, I should get some sleep. I have now been awake for 24 hours and 12 minutes. And bizarrely don’t feel that tired. Tonight I’m meeting some “online friends” for a beer. Or two. Or three. Well, it is Malaysia’s birthday, after all!

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