Fieldtrip through Southeast Asia :: Part 3 - Kuala Lumpur & Singapore
Hello again! And welcome to the 3rd (and final!) installment of me & Rob's trek trek through Thailand and Malaysia (bonus: Singapore!). When we last left off (part 2!), me and Lt. Moore we're lounging on a luxury bus from Georgetown, Penang en route to Kuala Lumpur. Have you been paying attention? If so, you'd remember that the whole reason for this trip in the first place was to get down to KL so we could spend a few days visiting Rob's sister (she's a school teacher in KL).
Well after 4 days in Bangkok, 2 in Krabi, 1 in Railay and 1 night in Penang, we finally made to Kuala Lumpor (capital of Malaysia, btw). We rolled in off the luxury bus around 7pm, dialed up Pam the cellie and took the most expensive cab ever to meet her and Darren (her husband!) down at the Hard Rock (happy hour!).
A few drinks at the Hard Rock and then off to Pam and Darren's favorite Mexican hangout. Aw, what a cute four-way reunion pic (Rob, get some!).
Followed by drinks, pirated DVD shopping and drunk dialing our families back while at the outdoor plaza up the street. (Mr. Moore, I *swear* it was Pam's idea!)
Day 2: Kuala Lumpur was like a vacation within a vacation for us. For the past, what?, 8 days Rob and I were running around, map and notes in hand, trying to fill our days with as many sightseey things as possible all while hustling our way from one city to the next.
But now we were crashing at Pam and Darren's place in KL (in Bukit Antarbangsa - about a 20 min drive from downtown) which means unheard of luxuries: Our own rooms! Hot showers! Free water! Laundry! And this awesome view overlooking the suburban valley below. So super nice.
And Pam and Darren were nice enough to have planned a few things for us to do while in KL. First up...
... homecooked lunch at Grant and Kaeo's (friends of Pam & Darren's and fellow teachers) house. Kaeo (originally from northern Thailand) had whipped up a family favorite for lunch - some kind of pork noodle soup (which I'm sure has some more formal name that I'm unaware of). Easily one of the best meals I had during the whole trip. That jar on the table = filled with little bacon chunks you get to sprinkle on top!
About 20 mins before this pic was taken, some spicy cashews were served up (which I somehow managed to get in my eyes... bbbuuurrrnniiinnggg!!!!!)
After lunch, we made a lap around the nearby neighborhood - interesting mix of middle class home and McMansions spread around a golf course. While walking around, we spotted some monkeys in the woods...
... including this mama monkey holding a baby monkey. Not sure if you've ever seen monkeys before, but these little guys just whip their way through the trees.
Next stop: off to the school where Pam and Darren teach (ISKL, International School of KL). Pam's a Math teacher (and of course here's Rob getting all Dr. Tyson on the blackboard)...
... while Darren teaches Phys Ed. We got to rummage through the trophy closet. Champions for life!
(though apparently I didn't make the JV basketball team... again.)
After lunch + a school tour, we trekked into the city - caught the subway (KL's subway is a lot like NYCs subways in the old days... competing subway lines means confusing transfer options). We trekked into center city where they've got this section of canal reserved for legal graffiti and then hit the local markets - lots of touristy fair (not at all like Chatuchuck in Bangkok), had a drink or two, Pam broke some glasses...
... did a drive-by of downtown KL, right past the Petronas Towers - formerly tallest buildings in the world (2004) and currently the tallest *twin* buildings in the world.
For dinner we hit up Suzie's, a hole-in-the-wall outdoor steak place that's a favorite of Pam and Darren's. One may think this could be the sketchiest thing you could fine to eat... filet for $8 US?
... but look at this thing! It comes a little undercooked, but then it cooks while it's on your plate! (just like the Sizzling Fajitas(TM) at Applebees!)
I mean, look how happy these kids are!
Post-steak dinner, we headed into the mega mall part of the city (just under the Towers). Lots of fancy-fance restaurants downstairs below street level (and perhaps the craziest bathrooms I've ever seen - indoor windmill powered??). We caught a drink or two at the Glass Bar (is that the real name?) downstairs.
Made a lap through the mall to check out the Jag dealership (for some reason we - er, I - was obsessed over the idea of a car dealership in a mall.) Amazing! (or not)
And then walked around exploring all the night life of Kuala Lumpur. Not as crazy as your would think for a capital city. KL = Muslim town = bars close early and drinks are expensive. We stopped by a few clubs, took note of the 800-to-1 guy/girl ratio, tried to talk ourselves into a 10,000 R VIP lounge (for real?), and then settled at some non-descript Irish Bar down the street.
Day 3: Breakfast of Champions courtesy of Pam In The Kitchen. Seriously, first proper breakfast we've had in forever. Check out those mini pancakes = my favorite!
After lounging around for the morning / afternoon, we motivated back into the city to do some touristy stuff. Petronas Towers = closed for sightseeing (well, the limited number of tickets sell out super early) so we went to the also-ran tower, the Menara Communcations Tower (think: Seattle Sky Needle)
While not a "building" (read: no one works here), you can still zoom up the 91 stories to the (indoor) observation deck on top in about 15 seconds.
A view of the Petronas from the Menara.
I've got this thing with heights. I had a hard time getting right up close to the windows to peer our. Rob kept betting me that I couldn't touch the glass with both hands (you really gotta lean over to get it done). I did it - though it took me like 7 minutes. Ha!
By the way, anytime you hit up one of these towers there's always a "Tallest Buildings in the World" exhibit somewhere to be found. You could make a career out of ironing out all the details - tower vs. building, occupied vs. unoccupied, antenna height vs. non-antenna. Blah blah blah... the only thing that matters is that should read this sign like the guy at the Snake Farm would: "Menara Commun-I-Cations Tower is the Forth. Tallest Tower. In The World." (Snake Farm! Read episode 1!)
T-shirt vendor in tower's lobby, found in the otherwise reserved and conservative capital city of Malaysia. You stay classy, Kuala Lumpur...
... stay classy.
Post towers we hit up one of the local high rise hotels, sped on up to the poolside lounge on the 47th story (?), and ordered up some jugs (pitchers) of [whatever the delocious local beer was called - not Tiger]
Though little did I know that they had adopted good'ol Jon Miller's drink recipes from the 600 Euclid days. ($9 US!)
Poolside chilling. As it started to rain, the little cabana boy kept lowering the awning and runining our view of the towers. We eventually took off and hit up a tapas restaurant not too far from yesterday's Jag dealership adventure.
Tapas were great (wish I had the address to pass along), though these girls outside were flirting with me the whole time. Especially that 2nd one from the left.
BTW, Lt. sporting is International School Volleyball Champs shirt. Ha!
It started *pouring* just as we left the tapas place. Some taxi driver tried hosing us with the fare so Pam and Darren gave him the "screw off - we're locals!" routine (ha). We ended up walking to the nearest Hot Spot we could find...
... which turned out to be this crazy Indian discotheque. Half lounge singer / half karaoke in the front (I weans't really sure)...
Rob and Darren were trying to pull these crazy bank shots - which I was filming... though eventually deleted (er, cause they couldn't hit the shots). And now, I'm kicking myself for deleting them since I forgot that they had the music fueling the crazy discotheque in the background. Ugh - next time.
And that's about it. I made out with this supermodel for a bit. She was kind of boring.
Kind of an early end to the night, but we got big plans for tomorrow... as we're going to Singapore! [say it in your best Showcase Showdown voice for maximum effect]
6am = yawn.
7am = And we're en route to Singapore. About a 4 hour ride for 80 RM ($25 US) in, yes, another high class luxury bus. I love these things.
This one had movies though! We sat in the back... excited to see what movies where playing, less excited when it turned out to be "13 Going On 30" cranked up to volume level 99 (and with no way of turning it off).
Before the Lt. fell asleep, we were chatting up the Singapore expat scene with Henry Warnimont. ("PUNKY!").
Singapore was on our list of places to see way before we left NYC. My buddy Alex Zolbert has been living there for years and has been loving it. And of course as American's you can't help thinking of that super sterile image of Singapore that was beat into our heads after the caning of an American student (Michael Kay) in 1994. Anyway, so of course we wanted to come check things out.
Sadly, I didn't get to overlap with Zolbert (he was out exploring Hong Kong), so Rob and I were on our own for the 24 hours we had in Singapore... which means TO THE BOOK! (the Lonely Planet Malaysia guide had a good 50 pages we took with us).
So first up on our tour of Singapore, the border...
Singapore Lesson #1: Don't bring drugs. Otherwise they will kill you (by hanging). If you bring guns, they will cane you.
We saw a sign on the wall on the immigration center that said "No knuckle dusters or ninja throwing stars!". I would have taken a photo (like I smuggled that photo from the Thai / Malaysia border), but I'd figured they may take the ""no photo" rule more seriously here (read: beaten with a stick).
Okay, so drug, gun and throwing star free we entered the city. Bus pulled in around 11am. First thing we saw when we got off the bus = Skytrain Gondola! I figured that this may be a good way to see the city - and who knows - maybe it'll drop us off downtown! Dumb move and a huge waste of an hour...
... as we could tell by the Disneyland-esque map they handed us when we got into the thing. The gondola is a little tourist shuttle to go to the island with the zoo and water park. We took a full lap in the little red cars only to end up back where we started. We ended up taking a cab into the city - first stop dropping off our stuff at the hotel.
Wait, how do I not have a pic of our hotel? Right on the Robertson Quay (pronounced: "Key") - that's the name of the river, right? or wait, was that the hotel? - it was by far the most expensive room we had all trip ($110 US/night) and also the smallest (maybe 10 x 12?).
We quickly ditched our stuff, checked out the pool (rooftop? It's on the 3rd floor!) and then headed out exploring to check off the 10 things we picked from the book to see.
Singapore Lesson #2: I was under the impression that everything was illegal in Singapore. Gum = yes (you can get nabbed for smuggling it in), Jaywalking = kind of. Rob and I were walking around being very very very careful not to violate any crosswalk rules (which feels a lot like playing that "Step on a crack, break your mother's back" game for hours on end).
Anyway, it's pretty tough navigating the city using only crosswalks. Sometimes you'd walk all the way to the end of a street and realize there's no crosswalk - and then you have to backtrack - because God forbid someone catches you jaywalking, then you get caned 1000x, right? For the first hour or so we were walking around, the whole city felt like a maze without walls.
Well it turns out the rule is not that you can't jaywalk anywhere, it's that you can't jaywalk when a crosswalk is within 50 meters. If you're caught, $50 fine (or was it $100?). Most of the places Rob and I were getting stuck where no-crosswalk areas... we could have done whatever we wanted. We are dum-dums.
ps: And no riding your ride your bike on the sidewalk! $1000! Jesus!
First up = lunch. We wandered around until we found one of the hawker markets (Singapore term for street market). Not dissimilar from other food courts we found in Thailand, etc.
I didn't get any of these guys. I ended up with the noodle soup. Pretty good! (this was the hawker market all the way on the east side of the city - just on the outskirts of Chinatown)
More walking around - past the art center (in the background), this time in search of the legendary Fountain of Wealth. Right around when this picture was taken was was the height of our crosswalk frustration. We actually gave up and started jaywalking left and right, not realizing we were actually still playing by Singapore's rules.
Note Rob's daypack...
... and sweaty outline of said daypack. Gross.
So, on our quest to find the Fountain of Wealth ("Largest. Fountain. In the world!") we followed the signs to this mall - up escalators, down escalators, into the Singapore version of Best Buy, out of the Singapore version of Best Buy, and eventually to this huge line... oh this must be the line for the Fountain! Maybe?
I mean, we're in a mall and this line stretches as far as the eye can see. No way can this be for the Fountain of Wealth, we started thinking. Maybe a movie? Maybe a concert? Maybe tickets? Maybe some Singapore pop sensations are signing calendars?
Nope. Turns out its for church! In a mall. Like a thousand people lined up! Nuts. And even though the nice fellow we asked about the line invited us in, we had to decline... after all, we're on a quest to find the Fountain of Wealth!
... which happened to be downstairs! Doesn't look too grand here... just a little spurt of water that people walk around (see rules below).
Apparently the real magic happens a few times a day (8pm?) when they flip the switch to turn the fountain into full blast mode. We didn't get to see it (Rob wanted to go eat, you baby!) but apparently it looks like this...
So what's next? Post fountain we explored the city a little more (Sculpture Garden = lame. National Art Museum = closed. Little india = eh. Raffles hotel for a Singapore Sling = too touristy even for us - plus bartender was a dick) before starting the walk back to our hotel (man, we must have logged 10+ miles over the course of the day).
Here's the view walking down the Robertson Quay (still not sure if that's the name of the river, neighborhood, hotel, or what - ha).
We stopped at Beerwerkz (one of Darren's suggestions) - a little brewery right on the river. Interestingly, in Singapore you pay different prices for drinks based on the time of day. One round and we were done (expensive, no?) - Singapore bucks are valued about the same as US dollars (at least while we were there).
Back at the hotel we just vegged (so much walking). We may have watched the hit movie "The Italian Job" instead of going to the pool like we planned. But, hey, it's vacation! We can do whatever we want!
I had a laundry list of bars to hit that night (part recommendations from Darren and friends, part Lonely Planet). The fact that it was Sunday night wasn't helping us find any slamming good times.
We hit up this placed called ESki Bar (which is kept at around 20 degrees). Cold, gimmicky, expensive = smell ya later!
We ended up at another Irish Pub on the river. Nice and chill. This pic? The nearby 7-11 that was trying to unload some Dummy Bananas on us. We stopped by Next Page (another supposedly legendary place) for One More Drink(tm) though that too was dead (and by dead I mean 100% empty). I think we were in bed by 1am (though not for lack of trying to find adventure).
And the next morning. We've got an 11am bus to catch and some free continental breakfast waiting for us downstairs... which turned out to be one of the saddest breakfast offerings I've ever seen. Look how sad the toast looks! :(
Next up - a quick jaunt to Orchard Road, just to see the madness that is the Singapore shopping scene. Imagine the stretch on Houston from Ave B all the way to Broadway as a series of malls - one after another after another. They're not connected - you have to walk outside to leave one and enter the next - but you get the idea. Welcome to Orchard Road.
And that's about it for our 24 hours in Singapore. We hailed a cab, chatted it up with an extremely articulate and well informed cabbie about American politics ("... Bush is simply not fit to be president. There are many smarter, more capable people in the United States.")
Bus ride home was uneventful - if you consider being woken up by the crashes and explosions from the hit movie "Posidon" uneventful. Just when I gave us trying to sleep, they queued up "Bruce Almighty." Yawn. I hit up the newsstand before leaving, finding the holy grail for a "24 Hours in Singapore" adventure - a copy of Time Out Singapore.
Lesson #3: Coming to Singapore? Spend a Saturday night here! Don't do 24 hours over a Sunday or Monday night. And pick up a local guide... lots going on if you know where to look.
Anyway, another four hours later and we're back in KL. Our friends met us up at the bus station bearing gifts.
Dropped off at Pam and Darren's and chilling with the tv and internets. Not a bad way to spend out last afternoon of the trip.
And last meal in KL - man, the whole thing sounds so sad, doesn't it? Pam and Darren whipped up some steaks and veggies and Tiger beers = perfect.
Annnndd that's pretty much it. Fast forward a few hours and you'd see me and Rob racing to the airport around 6am. Not racing because we're late, but racing because the cab driver is an absolute maniac. We must have been going 100mph at times - it was one of those "I'm going to just fall asleep and pray I wake up at the airport" type deals.
Flight back was pretty similar to the flight out... KL -> Shanghai (5 hours worth of in-flight video game time!), a 3 hour layover in Shanghai, 13 hour flight back to Chicago (ugh), another 2 hour layover, and then an hour fight from CHI -> JFK/NYC.
I'll miss you, Sweet Sweet Shanghai Airport Robot Lady Announcer. I'll never forget the love we had.
Rob and I sat together on the way out (translation: "middle seat"), so we split up on the way back... an aisle here, a window there. We rendezvoused about half-way through the 14 hour flight back in the tiny standing-lounge in the rear of the place and drank the flight dry of those little bottles of red wine. We met some friends - a Chinese phD student who was fascinating to talk to, and an arrogant Army (ex-Army) kid who bragged amongst other things about being (a) really rich, (b) being a gemstone dealer, (c) being a professional hockey player (?). Oh, he was incredibly drunk - and making extremely racist marks toward our Chinese friend - super awkward. He eventually became so drunk / unwieldy that the four of us were told to go back to our seats (and I was declined any additional wine... until I pointed out to the nice stewardess that The Other Guy was the crunked one. Her: "are you 21???" Me: "Comeo'on!").
And back in Chicago... you know, Rob and I logged a ton of miles this trip - trains, planes and automobiles style. We ran into some mild travel headaches along the way, but despite all the international travel we went through NOTHING as bad as the experience of landing in Chicago and having our flight to NYC being cancelled.
First of all, the minute you land in the US / CHI, the TSA announcements (which have been absent everywhere else - even in Sketch City) were overbearing. (I never noticed it until we travelled through international airports). Every 5 mins - "Bombs are everywhere. Don't leave your bags. Threat level is elevated to code orange. Beware of foreigners." Ugh.
On top of that, we waited in line 40 minutes after our flight was cancelled - three United people working behind desks for line of 50+ people. They scheduled us on the *next* flight which, of course, was delayed three hours. On top of that counter lady asked Rob if I was over 13 years old - come'on! (seriously)
Ugh, happy to be back home (almost), not happy to be reminded of how much travel in the US just sucks.
And instead of getting back at 9pm and having an evening to unwind, we got in at 1am. Thank YOU, United Airlines! We landed, gypsy cabbed it back to the E.Village, dropped off our bags and headed right to the bars (Rob has time to kill before his trek back to DC).
And right before me and The Lt. parted ways... me to bed, he back to DC (3am Amtrak - ugh). We had forgotten that we had bought these "emergency M&Ms" waaayyy back in Shanghai (like two weeks ago!) that then morphed into "victory M&Ms" for use when when celebrating the our safe crossing over the Malaysian border. Five days later and even though they were pretty beat up, they still tasted like sweet sweet victory.
And that's it for Thailand 08! Where to next? South America (Argentina?) for summer snowboard season? Anyone???