Ancient Histories and Modern Cities
19.12.2009 - 26.12.2009
We are now on to an overland segment of our trip were we will travel by bus, boat, and train for a long time before boarding a plane again. At least that is the plan under its current revision! It could not be at a better time after our lousy day at the airport in Sydney. We boarded a very comfortable bus for a 4 hour ride to the town of Melaka in Malaysia. Situated on the straights of Melaka this historic port city was a strategic and wealthy trade center with China, India, Thailand, and Indonesia. In 1405 the Chinese Sailor Chung Ho stopped in Melaka on the first of his 7 sea voyages between China and points west. This led to a long and colorful history that can bee seen in the architecture and read about in the museums. Melaka was declared a World Heritage Site some time in the last couple years. Hopefully this will help preserve the charm and old buildings.
Dutch Buildings from their occupation of Melaka in the 1700’s
Old Buildings along the Straights of Melaka
Old Rooftops and the odd Satellite dish.
We had arrived Melaka on a busy Holiday weekend and the town was bursting at the seams with local Malaysians and Singaporeans out for the long weekend. There were a ton of rickshaw drivers out and about in their over decorated bikes. It was almost like a competition to see who had the most lavishly decorated bike with the most lights, pinwheels, and of course the loudest sound system.
King of the Trikes in his kingdom of happy tourists
Their was also a lively night market going on and the main drag through the old town was closed off and full of vendors hawking food and assorted junk. It was fun to walk around and take it all in even though the crowds were a little overwhelming. At the far end of the walk they had erected a stage big enough for Woodstock 3 and what a scene it was. Folks gathered to sit in plastic chairs while people sang karaoke over an enormous sound system. It was really odd and to make it even stranger their was the scene on stage. The stage itself was huge. Front and center on a small stand was a small TV which the singer stood in front of. Other than this the only thing else on the stage was a 6 foot tall Asian man looking especially feminine and most likely wearing makeup. He was dancing. He was the only person dancing. He was not the MC, did not announce the singers or say anything, just resumed his dancing as soon as the music started. Truly weird.
Eat your heart out Tony, this is Malaysian Karaoke!
Doing the Jonga Walk!
Wooden sculpture for sale in the market
One fun thing we did that felt far from home was a visit to the fish spa. Here for less than $3 a bunch of curios little fish went to town on all the dead skin on your feet. Up to this point we both had accumulated a lot of dead skin and this left our feat feeling soft and smooth!
We also went out for a true taste of adventure dining. We went to a satay restaurant that was not to be missed. Here locals qued up outside in the street to get in for the well known fare. Just as we started to realize we were the only westerners in line a Malaysian gentleman in front of us struck up conversation by asking how we found out about this place! He was really nice and gave us the low down on how things worked and what to order. Unfortunately even with his recommendations, and him pointing things out to me before we got in, we still had very little idea about what most things were and there were not a lot of easy options. All the tables in the restaurant were stainless steel and each was hooked up to a propane tank with a recessed burner in the middle. Here they would place a pot with the magical sauce that made the place so legendary. Along one wall was a open cooler with trays stacked with many many different meats, seafood, vegetables, breads, and other assorted items we could not identify. You loaded up your tray with what you wanted and then cooked it in the boiling sauce at your table. People were going to town! Tables were overflowing with trays and spattered sauce as people crammed in to get their feed on. It was delicious, and those of you that know me know I do not use that term lightly. If we knew what we were eating and had a crew of friends with us I could see how it would be a really fun dinner. When it was all said and done the meal was less than ten dollars and we were both very full.
Queing up for Capital Satay… Can you find Meghan?
Hmmm… so many choices so little clues
Get your tiger prawn on!
From here it was on to the capital city of Malaysia and home to the famous Petronas towers, Kuala Lumpur. Here we met face to face with a gritty city that seemed cosmopolitan in some places and downright grungy in others. The Public transportation system (are you noticing a theme yet) was a mess with 4 different systems that did not work with each other and lousy streets for walking. We tried to occupy our time but generally did not really enjoy it to much. I am sure KL has a lot to offer but we were growing tired of big cities after Sydney and Singapore and were eager to get out to the country side. We did take in a very cool bird park in the city’s gardens. It was advertised as the worlds largest free flight bird avitory. It was a lot of fun and we got to have lunch with a few inquisitive hornbills at the parks hornbill café.
The impressive Hornbill reducing himself to a thief of french fries
Another part of KL that seamed unavoidable was the Mega shopping malls on every street corner. This was almost even more prevalent than in Singapore and as Christmas was getting closer there was even more activity. Muslim families, dressed head to toe in traditional Islamic garb, waited in line to plop their kids on Santa’s lap for a photo while songs glorifying the birth of Christ played in the background? Explain that one to us. Here we found the Christmas commercialism at its best with gaudy store windows and hordes of Malaysians buying into the Christmas spirit.
Is this Malaysia?
In need of escape we found an elusive bus stop and jumped on board for a few days out of town in a small town called Kuala Selangor. This place was a bit off the guide book tourist track and we enjoyed a few quiet nights in a town without tour guides and English menus. Did I say quiet? I am sure I have already mentioned the fact that everywhere you go in Malaysia there is a Muslim Mosque and they blare their call to prayer five time daily over loudspeakers for all the country to hear. The first has been somewhere close to the 5am hour! It is not that bad when it is not waking you up in the morning because the song prayers most places have been actually really good and interesting to listen to. In Kuala Selangor we enjoyed playing with monkeys, walking in a nice nature park when the huge water monitor lizards would let us pass, and a boat trip up a river that was lined with berembang trees that were home to thousands of fireflies. We considered this our Christmas lights as it was a spectacular sight.
Feel free to find some recorded prayers online, crank up the speakers, and spend and early morning with Meghan and I
Water Monitor Lizard
Mangrove forest at nature park
Friendly Monkey, maybe a little to friendly
One more photo and I go bananas
We had to head back to KL for a few nights before heading into the high country so we took a trip out of town to the Batu Caves. Here a flight of 272 steps in the shadow of a giant golden statue of the Murugan, one of the many Hindu gods, leads to a giant limestone cave filled with shrines. This was impressive but had we come about a month later it would have been the bizarre festival of Thaipusam. During this time up to a million pilgrims make their way to these caves. Some devotees display exorbitant acts body piercing in a devotion of fulfillment of answered prayers.
Entrance To the Batu Caves
Lunch at Batu Caves - Best Indian food yet!