Saturday, February 1, 2014

Selamat jalan! Malaysia and Singapore!

My newest adventure put me on a 12 hour bus ride
from Ubon Ratchathani (with17 students) to Bangkok,
followed by a flight  to Kuala Lumphur in Malaysia,
another bus ride to Singapore,
and a flight back to Bangkok (the weekend of elections!).

I tried to outline the route in red….

Riding buses in Thailand is different than in the US…. in a good way.
I've been told Nakhorn Chai Air is the best, and that's what we took.
These more upscale bus trips include movies, snacks, meals, and more, all taken care of by your Nakhorn Chai Air hostess.  (Resembles the airlines, but the snacks and meals are free.)

The seats almost fully recline so you can sleep on those 10 hour Ubon to Bangkok journeys!  I was not one of the fortunate who slept easily; I'm a tosser and turner.

In Bangkok, we caught several taxis to Don Mueng airport.  It was amazing…. 24 people, 5 taxis, and no one got lost!  From there, it was AirAsia to Kuala Lumpur.

Remember those signs about do not leave your bag unattended?

They were busy with their technology!

Since it was around 10 AM when we arrived, we had a full day ahead of us.  Being pretty exhausted, I'm foggy on a lot of it and as I sort through photos I find myself wondering where we were and what day it was!  

Kuala Lumpur was built, like many great cities, on wetlands.  The name itself means 2 muddy rivers. Malaysians speak at least 2 languages; Malay and English.  This made life much simpler for me, and forced the students to practice their English.  I found myself occasionally saying something in Thai and wondering, oh shit! what language am I speaking now?  Our first day included Putrajaya (the new government city), Perdana Putra (the Prime Minister's complex), the King's residence, the Seri Wawasin Bridge, the floating mosque, Kuala Lumpur, Independence Square, and our hotel.  

First; Putrajaya….

Kuala Lumpur, although the official capital, was getting far too congested with traffic, so around 1995, a new city, Putrajaya, was designed and has become the federal administrative capital.  It is a very modern city planned with gardens and parks, but I have to admit, it feels a little sterile…. like they haven't taken the plastic wrapping off yet.

The Seri Wawasin Bridge crosses the Putrajaya Lake and made me think of home.  It's the Zakim Bridge on steroids.  All designing, materials and construction was done by Malays.

and the Prime Minister's building...

The King of Malaysia does not run the country, that's the job of the Prime Minister.  There are nine sultans from each of 9 Malay states.  Every 5 years, they elect a new king from among their own ranks. That sultan then moves to the Royal Palace and his son is given the responsibility of running the state while the father reigns as king.
Malaysia was ruled by Portugal, then the Dutch, and finally the British until 1957.

The King's palace (from a distance).

Our next excursion was the floating mosque.  Malaysia is 60% Muslim, 20% Buddhist, and the rest is a combination of Christian, Hindu, and a variety of other Chinese religions.  They are proud of their tolerance of individual religious choices, and do their best to dispel the image of radical Muslims.  The floating mosque held me in complete awe!  It was here that I was actually met with a smile from strangers; a small gesture so common in Thailand.

A little covering up was necessary first…

Women and men are separated when they pray.

A view of the Prime Minister's offices from the mosque.

I also saw a few burkas, but thought photographing might not be appropriate.

Sightseeing was not quite over…. we travelled to Kuala Lumpur to see Independence Square.

and on to a quick view of the city….

A model of KL that lit up as the room darkened...

A look down the street...

and in the other direction.

At some point, we must have gone for breakfast and lunch.  I've come away feeling this was as much a culinary field trip as a cultural experience, and I took so many photos of meals it was embarrassing.  Every time, and I do mean EVERY time we ate, there were no fewer than 9 dishes in the table to accompany the classic bowl of white rice.

Bleary eyed and hungry (Thais are always hungry…. even after a meal they stop for snacks!)… we stopped for dinner and then rode the 2 hour bus to our hotel in the highlands.

The restaurant definitely did not have curb appeal….

but inside was lovely.

glasses of tea served with every meal… the soup is a ginseng soup for health

Selamat menjamu selera! (bon appetit!)

tofu in a sauce (I thought they were scallops at first)

The boys hanging around waiting to get to the hotel.

Finally on to Genting Highlands where our hotel was….. oh ya, we needed to take a gondola for 5 km to get there.

First World Hotel (4th largest hotel in the world)

Kind of like a Las Vegas for kids.
It has an amusement park, video games, carnival games, junk food, music, ……….

not highly recommended if you don't have kids!

In the morning, I noticed this sign in the hallway…

Durian is a fruit well known in SE Asia.  It has a particularly offensive odor, but I'm told that those who dare try it, love it.

Day 2

Our itinerary included Batu Caves, the Cocoa Boutique chocolate factory, Petronas Twin Towers, Malaka, and Singapore

Thaipusam is a Hindu celebration that took place on January 17 this year.  It is a time to to express gratitude, fulfil a vow or do penance.  Batu Caves are a favorite for observing this festival.  Many stalls are set up on the way to the caves, selling food items, clothing, toys, and offerings to the temple.
Of course, I bought an Anarkali Churidaar dress about which I'm sure Katrina will have a few choice comments (very 80s colors… green and purple).

no exactly sure when I'll be wearing this….

Then there was the long hike up the 272 steps….

beautiful children and beautiful statues

there was a baby being carried in that sling

and the monkeys

 a mama and her baby

I was ready for the chocolate tour.

good chocolate, but Max Brenner is still the winner

I bought enough chocolate to earn this free bag!

And then, lunch...

Vietnamese fare on this afternoon.

No, I did not eat the fish head.

Next, a quick visit to the Petronas Twin Towers...

Photos from the bus window on the way back to Kuala Lumpur; this is what I expected Malaysia to look like, but we saw very little of this.

and much more of this.
(back in Kuala Lumpur) 

The Petronas Twin Towers were the tallest buildings in the world until 2004.  The two buildings are connected by a double decker skybridge at the 41st and 42nd floors.

A very upscale mall at the base of the towers.

and on to Malaka…

Melaka is a UNESCO world heritage sight.  It is the historical capital of Malaysia, 3rd smallest state, but rich in culture and history.

Melaka was a thriving seaport village throughout the 15th century.  Around 1509, the Portuguese came and apparently liked what they saw.  They fortified the city with walls.  Then the Dutch arrived and took over from about the middle of the 17th century for about 150 years.

The oldest protestant church in Malaysia.

Around 1800, the British took over.  During their tenure, they destroyed almost all of the fortresses built by the Dutch and Portuguese.  All that remains is one of the original gates to the city.

I always manage to find a willing subject.

View from the top of St.Paul's Hill.

coming down from the hill...

A mixture of many types of architecture.  This is the Sumatran influence.

At long last, the bus ride to the border of Singapore where we changed buses, tour guides, and snacks.

Before leaving, each group had to present a short talk about their experience in Malaysia.



Bin with our tour guide, Nancy, in the background.


This post has been far longer than I intended, but we covered so much in such a short time… I didn't know what to leave out.

I will, however, save Singapore for another blog.

If you don't see the world, you won't know where you are ~ anonymous