Melaka was a great, historical old place to visit, but spending two days there, I felt I had seen as much as it had to offer. So, I set off early to get a coach to Kuala Lumpur. Again, the scenery was magnificent – even more so than the journey from Singapore – as the mountains and hills gradually increased in size. For mile after mile, battalions of palms marched across the hillsides in ordered rows. I wasn’t sure exactly when we entered the limits of Kuala Lumpur, because the city is so green, it feels as if it has grown organically in the forest overnight. Everywhere you look, huge swathes of rainforest occupy what would otherwise be prime real estate.
Towering over the tops of even the tallest trees are Kuala Lumpur’s many skyscrapers. As soon as I had dropped off my bags at the hostel, I made for the most famous (and in my opinion the most beautiful) example – the Petronas Towers. It is located in a district of other similarly tall buildings, so it wasn’t always in view. But when I did get to see it with my own eyes, it exceeded my already high expectations. I knew it was beautiful from the many photographs one sees of it, but up close you can see so the ordered symmetries and minute details which make a boring office building a much loved landmark. Catching the sunlight high in the sky, it sparkles like a diamond, and lit up at night it shines as two beacons of the new wealth of the Malaysian states.
Another equally impressive, but less well known landmark, on Kuala Lumpur;s horizon is the Menara Kuala Lumpur. Primairily a radio and tv broadcasting tower, it also houses a restaurant and viewing platform 300m in the air. From the top you can see for miles, and can witness nearly every attraction in the city, from the Royal palace and the National Mosque with its inverted umbrella-like ceiling, to the golden triangle shopping district and, of course, the Petronas Towers.
Apparently, the Menara is the tallest tower in the world (that is located in a tropical rainforest). Bit of an awkward qualifying statement, but still. A huge patch of ancient rainforest – over 3 millions years old – it houses huge species of trees as well as monkeys, flying rodents and bats. When you buy a ticket to the Menara, you also get to walk through the forest, and visit the on-site zoo (which was very small and depressing). The walk, though, is amazing. Although you know the city is just a few feet away, with a couple of lines of trees between you, the sights, sounds and smells of the urban environment disappear, leaving you feeling as if you have just dropped into deepest darkest rainforest. As far as I could tell, there was only one other person in the forest with me – a Swedish traveler called Johan. I was appreciative of the company when, half an hour later, we tried to leave only to find the gates locked for the night. With the light slowly fading, and everything around suddenly looking menacing and snake like, we both began to freak out somewhat. Being locked in a private tropical rainforest in the middle of the city was not what I had planned to do my first day in the city. Luckily, however, we found a little, hidden path down the hillside, where a quick hope over a fence, found us back in civilisation.
Since it was late, we decided to get dinner. We headed to the Jalan Sultan – a road with a heaving tourist market and tourist restaurants. Hidden away behind one of the stalls, we found a little food court inhabited with locals. The food was half the price of anything else nearby, and was delicious. After dinner, we headed to the Reggae Bar and Hostel – a famous spot for travelers in the region. Since Malaysia is predominantly a Muslim country, alcohol tends to be prohibitively expensive. This didn’t stop me getting completely drunk however. In the dehydrating heat, and not having had booze in a while, this happened a lot quicker than might usually be the case. The night seemed to be progressing like all good nights out; lots of alcohol, talking to new friends, dancing to painfully loud music. I’m not sure exactly what happened later on, but after a brief black out I found myself in a cab with three Kuala Lumpurians heading to their apartment on the outskirts of the city. I seem to recall lots of absinthe being passed round, and the conversation focusing on the philosophies and theology of Islam – which is never a good recipe for a successful night. I’m sure during the night I offended horribly at least one of them in my alcohol-induced stupidity, but one of them was friendly the next day, when I awoke in the middle of their lounge, covered in insect bites and god knows what else. He helpfully pointed me in the right direction of home, but having a absinthe-induced hangover, and no water in the searing heat, I found myself completely lost within 5 minutes of setting off. I eventually found a train station that brought me and my throbbing head back to the hostel. By this point it was nearly 3pm, and didn’t feel like doing much else with my afternoon, so drifted into an uneasy sleep.
I did eventually get up, and not wanting to see a bit of history – I walked to the War Memorial – a gigantic, imposing statue of seven men frozen in various acts of war. As well as plaques commemorating the first and second World Wars, a third remembered those who had died in the Malaysian emergency -a guerrilla war fought between the Communist party and the Malaysian army in the forests of Malaysia.
I went back to the food court for a meal, and regretfully on to the Reggae Bar, where I chatted to a pair of Finns who taught me swear words. Thankfully, I didn’t end up in a taxi with three men, heading off into the wilderness at 2 in the morning again.