In total we spent three or so days in Kuala Lumpur, and somewhat to our surprise we quite enjoyed it. Our perception had been that as a city it did not offer an awful lot for tourists to see and do, and in some ways that is true, but actually it is a nice place to relax and take things easy. Our first day there was spent recovering (i.e., eating and snoozing!) from our long ride down from Phuket, before meeting Pete’s sister Sarah and her friend Becky when they arrived from the UK in the afternoon. Not surprisingly they were somewhat tired from the long journey, as well as jetlagged, but they still managed to stay awake long enough for us to go out for dinner to a local Indian restaurant (a very local, eat-with-your-hands-rather-than-cutlery type of place; we still haven’t got the hang of eating like that to be honest, it just ends up being messy!) before heading to bustling Chinatown for a beer or two. Because Malaysia imposes very high taxes on alcohol, drinking is definitely not a cheap way to spend the evening, so after nursing a beer each for a while we headed back to the hotel for a well-deserved good night’s sleep. Well, for us at least – our room was nice and quiet, whereas Sarah’s and Becky’s had paper thin walls that transmitted the sound from all the surrounding rooms – not good when you want a good sleep after a long flight.
Despite a poor night’s sleep and the jetlag both Sarah and Becky managed to drag themselves up the next morning at a reasonable hour, and after a leisurely breakfast we headed off to see KL’s main cultural sight, the Masjid Jamek, the most important mosque in Malaysia. We took headscarves etc so we would be able to enter the mosque, but in fact we needn’t have bothered as they provide wonderful wizard-like gowns and scarves for visitors to wear while looking around. We looked quite ridiculous! The mosque was nice but not that exciting, and certainly not as impressive as many of the mosques we have seen on our trip so far, and so we did not spend long there before moving on to look at the colonial area. This is located around what used to be a cricket ground, and is complete with mock-Tudor buildings etc, constructed during Malaysia’s colonisation by Britain. An interesting reminder of the past but all rather out of place these days.
Next on our agenda were the lake gardens, a large park containing, among other things, a large walk-in aviary, a butterfly garden and an orchid garden. We had heard that the Hornbill restaurant by the aviary was good, so we headed there for lunch and indeed we were very impressed. The restaurant has a balcony overlooking the aviary, so while you are eating you can observe lots of impressive birds flying around and indeed sometimes coming and sitting on the balcony rail hoping for some of your lunch! Although lunch was more expensive than we would usually go for, the food was great and it was a really enjoyable experience. We also felt that there was no need to pay the high entrance fee to visit the aviary afterwards, as we had seen most of the birds in it. Definitely recommended! We then spent some time wandering around the orchid garden and the butterfly garden, before deciding that the big black clouds building ominously above us were a warning that we should take shelter back at the hotel for a couple of hours. For dinner we headed to Little India, figuring this would be a good place to eat; in fact we were quite wrong on that front. After an hour wandering around looking for a restaurant and instead only finding sari shops we eventually found a rather basic place by the market. Not quite what we were looking for as it was more Malay than Indian food but it was cheap and tasty so we weren’t complaining. After dinner we once again headed to Chinatown for beer and prawn crackers before collapsing tired into bed (sightseeing is surprisingly hard work, particularly when hot!)
The next day Becky went off to try and buy some new glasses, while Sarah and Christine went for a refreshing swim at the local outdoor pool and Pete did some shopping. We met up in the afternoon to go for a Chinese massage – very welcome therapy for our tired muscles. In the evening we headed up to the KL skytower, which is the highest building in KL and offers great views. Unfortunately it was a little hazy so we couldn’t see too far beyond the city limits. After that we headed off for dinner – having got a definite recommendation for a good Indian restaurant this time – and had a bit of a blow-out meal (i.e., we ordered just about everything on the menu!) in honour of Pete’s birthday, which was the next day.
Sarah and Becky were due to fly up to Krabi early in the afternoon the following day to continue their holiday in Thailand, so we said goodbye to them late in the morning when they headed off to the airport. It had been really nice to catch up with them so we were quite sad to say goodbye. We consoled ourselves by heading to Sunway lagoon, a huge water/theme park complex on the outskirts of KL – a birthday treat for Pete. We had a fun few hours whizzing down various flumes before changing and heading to the theme park for some rollercoaster action – great fun! As it was a Wednesday the complex was quite quiet which was great as it meant the queues were nice and short. It was interesting to note the wide variety of dress worn by women in the water park – everything from skimpy bikinis to full-on ‘burkinis’ (head to toe coverage). Aware of the appropriateness of dressing modestly in a country like Malaysia, Christine had planned to wear her sarong over her bikini for the day, but the rules at the entrance said loose clothing could not be worn. So the sarong went in the locker, only for us to find that most people were ignoring this rule and wearing something over their swimsuits, leaving Christine feeling a little silly. Still it wasn’t a problem as she definitely wasn’t the only one making this slight cultural faux-pas, and nobody seemed to mind.
After a really fun day we took the bus back to KL and packed up in preparation for the ride down to Singapore, for which we had allowed five days. We headed off fairly late with a vague plan of riding as far as Port Dickson. Sarah had kindly brought our tent back out for us so we were now able to stop and camp in the countryside if we wanted, although the frequent heavy downpours in this part of the world meant we were not keen to do that. The ride out of KL was rather too exciting for our liking, as it involved motorways – literally the only type of road available to get out the city. Bikes are allowed on them – indeed at times there is a bike lane to one side – but it is no fun at all negotiating the slip roads! We were quite relieved to be able to exit the motorway onto another road after 30km or so. The road was a little hilly – hard work in that level of humidity – and we were quite tired by the time we reached the seaside resort of Port Dickson. We had heard that the town itself was not that great, but that there were lots of resort-type places strung out along the coast south of the town. In particular we had heard of one resort that had a campground, offering us the opportunity to use the resort facilities cheaply. We arrived at the resort – the Casa Rachado – in the late afternoon, just as the heavens were about to open. Based on this, and the fact that rooms were inexpensive as it was midweek, we opted for a room rather than camping. Quite amusingly we were pretty much the only people staying in the resort so had the great pool and decent beach to ourselves, not to mention the full attention of the staff in the reasonably priced restaurant for dinner. All in all we decided it was quite nice there and so stayed on the next day, as we had time in our schedule to do that. We managed to fill an entire day doing not much at all other than lying by the pool, eating lunch, and admiring the late-afternoon thunderstorm when it came.
Our plan for the next day was to head for the historic town of Melaca, which we thought was around 80km away, but in fact we were able to take a shortcut that reduced the distance to 60km, so we were in before lunchtime. After lunch and a brief whizz round the colourful Chinatown on our bikes we decided to move on to the city of Muar, around 40km further south, to avoid too long a ride the next day. Muar was pleasant enough but uninteresting, and we were happy to spend the evening watching National Geographic which we had on the TV. The next day would be our last in Malaysia, and we hoped to get as close to the border with Singapore as possible, to give us an easy day into Singapore. However our plans were thwarted by a headwind which dogged us for most of the day, and by the time we had cycled 110km to the town of Simpang Renggim (about 70km from the border) we called it a day. This proved to be a wise move as about half an hour after we checked into the hotel the heavens opened and it rained harder than we had seen it rain in a long time. Despite the presence of numerous storm drains on the roads the road quickly flooded and we entertained ourselves looking out our hotel window at the cars almost aquaplaning down the high street. Clearly the drivers here are used to these conditions as they all did an impressive job of maintaining control! Nevertheless we would definitely not have felt safe or happy being on the road in those conditions.
We were due to meet Christine’s friend Graham – who currently lives in Singapore with his wife Charlie, and with who we stayed in Singapore – at 2pm the next day just past the Singapore border, so to give us plenty of time to get there we got up earlier than normal – so early that unfortunately it was still pitch-black outside! It was just getting light by the time we set off at 7.30am and we had a nice quiet ride into Johor Bahru, the border town. On the way we were lucky enough to see lots of monkeys and parrots along the side of the road. After a quick lunch break we headed across the bridge that links Malaysia with the island of Singapore, and through immigration. We had been warned that this might be a protracted and difficult affair – people travelling by bus have to get off the bus and walk, with all of their luggage, up and over the separate pedestrian bridge – hard work with heavy bags as it is quite a long walk. We, however, just joined the motorbike lane and were able to whizz straight though without even getting off our bikes – they have special booths set up to process two-wheeled vehicles – very fast and civilised. This meant we were 45 minutes early to meet Graham, giving us enough time to change some money and grab a couple of banana smoothies. Graham arrived on his rather swanky new racing bike – a very nice bike indeed. He had planned a route involving mostly minor roads through the countryside (of which there is a surprising amount in Singapore) back to his and his wife Charlie’s flat. To our slight embarrassment we found it difficult to keep up with Graham, but then he wasn’t carrying any bags and our bikes are starting to look and feel a bit worn-out now. That’s our excuse anyway!
We were distinctly hot and sweaty from the ride so it was really nice to arrive at Gray and Charlie’s lovely flat, which has a great view and is in a block that has its own very nice swimming pool – great! Once we had refreshed ourselves it was really nice to spend some time catching up with Gray and Charlie, who we hadn’t seen for a while as they have been living and working in Singapore for three years now. That evening, which was a Saturday, they had organised a barbecue at their flat, and had 16 or so friends around. It was really nice and very interesting to meet all their friends and hear about their lives living as ex-pats somewhere like Singapore. Plus the food was great – although we had had access to western food such as KFC or McDonalds for a few weeks now, this was the first time in ages we had the sort of food we would eat back at home – Christine was particularly excited by the mozzarella, which we hadn’t eaten in many months!
The next day we had a lazy morning – we both had tax returns to do, which can thankfully be done online, but which take a good amount of time to make sure you do properly. We got going on those while Gray and Charlie ran some errands, then in the afternoon we went out first for a lunch of paratha and dosai – Singaporean specialities that are delicious – before heading to the botanic gardens for the afternoon. The botanic gardens were really nice, particularly the orchid garden, and were a great place to people-watch – very few people in Singapore have their own garden (most live in flats) so the public parks and gardens are heavily used. Gray and Charlie pointed out the large numbers of Filipino maids out for a stroll – Sunday is typically their one day off in the week. Apparently many of the better-off Singaporeans employ live-in housemaids – who typically come from the Phillipines – indeed most flats are built with an extra tiny living space for just this purpose.
The following day was a Monday so Gray and Charlie headed off to their respective jobs (oh the joy of Monday mornings – not something we are looking forward to returning to!) while we spent the morning doing some more work on our tax returns and enjoying the swimming pool, before heading into the city centre after lunch. We headed first to the Chinatown area, which was nice and busy but a touch cheesy, before wandering down to Boat Quay and across to the colonial area. We ummed and ahhed over whether to have a stupidly expensive Singapore Sling in Raffles hotel – it is kind of the thing to do in Singapore, but is extortionate (around 14 pounds), but then a downpour started and we thought ‘sod it, we’ve earnt it!’ so we enjoyed a cocktail while waiting for the rain to stop. While we were there we got chatting to a nice couple who run a B&B in Milton Keynes, and who were out visiting their daughter who lives out here. They were rather impressed by our trip – so much so that when we first told them the man looked rather astounded and asked ‘does the British press know?!’ We were sorry to have to inform him that well, we did contact the Brisith press but other than our local newspaper they weren’t in general very interested!
After our Singapore Slings we had some time to kill before meeting Gray and Charlie in Little India later on, so we had a drink on Boat Quay, a popular spot for ex-pat city-types to hang out after work. While we were there we witnessed a rather dramatic rescue of two poor window cleaners who had been cleaning the windows of a skyscraper when a sudden gust of wind blew their cage around the corner of the building, where it snagged. It was too firmly stuck to be winched back up to the top, so the fire brigade were called so the window cleaners could be hoisted out the cage and through a window into the building. They were a good 20 storeys up and a good crowd had gathered below to watch events unfold. We saw the first guy successfully rescued, but the second one seemed to be suffering somewhat from vertigo and didn’t want to step out of the cage – can’t blame him really! By the time we had to leave he was still being encouraged to step out by the fireman, but according to the next day’s papers he was eventually successfully rescued. A good bit of drama for us though!
For dinner that night we went to the famous Apollo restaurant for excellent curry served on banana leaves (with cutlery thankfully). According to a big sign in the restaurant they recently won an award for serving the biggest fish head curry (a local delicacy) – it had over 1000 fish heads in it! Not to our taste but each to their own. The next day we decided to check out Singapore zoo, which is famous for being an ‘open concept’ zoo, which means that fences and railings are kept to an absolute minimum, with natural features such as water and rocks separating the animals from the people and each other. This concept really worked for us – we thought it was the best zoo either of us has ever been to. It even has free-ranging monkeys, birds and monitor lizards, which definitely adds to the feeling of being in the wild rather than a zoo. We were also able to see a number of animals being fed, including the very rare white tigers, which was quite something to see. All in all a thoroughly enjoyable day out that was topped off by a visit to one of Singapore’s latest additions to its skyline, the remarkable Marina bay hotel and casino. This consists of 3 skyscrapers side by side, connected at the top by, believe it or not, a structure resembling a ship. At almost 60 storeys high the view from the viewing platform and bar up there is pretty stunning. There is also an infinity pool which looked rather impressive, but that was reserved for hotel use. We poked our heads into the casino for long enough for Pete to lose a whole dollar or two on a slot machine, before heading over to the Arab quarter for dinner. We opted to go Turkish, which we really enjoyed as we both really like Turkish food. After dinner we went to a shisha cafe and shared a water pipe over some apple tea – very pleasant and civilized!
The next day was our final one in Singapore, and indeed in Asia. Quite something as we had been on the Asian continent since we crossed the Bosphorus in Istanbul over six months earlier. The experiences we had in Asia – from the hospitality in countries such as Iran, to the hardships and adventures of Central Asia, the uniqueness of China, and the fun and laidbackness of SE Asia – have really been the defining moments of the trip and will always stay with us. So although we were excited to be getting to Australia, we were certainly sad to leave Asia.
Our flight wasn’t until the evening so we had a leisurely morning packing up, before cycling to a nearby bike shop to get our bikes boxed up for the flight, then taking a taxi to the airport. Changi airport is an exceptionally civilized and well-run airport, so we had quite a pleasant wait for our flight. Unfortunately we had not thought to pack our swimming gear in our hand baggage, or we would have checked out the pool there. We definitely plan to do that in the few hours we have between planes on the way back from Australia though!