Saturday, April 12, 2014

Lovely KL, Temples of Angkor, and Bangkok

Kuala Lumpur.... what a cool city! We just arrived from one week in Borneo, surrounded by nature and animals, and now we were back in a big city. KL is not as big as Singapore by any means - it only has 1,5 million inhabitants - but the city still has the vibe of a large metropolis. The center of town has a new modern part, which is packed with sparkling brand new malls and the highest twin towers in Asia. In the Southern part of town, you can find Chinatown, the park, the national museum, and the biggest mosque of KL. With four days here, we had plenty of time to visit the whole city!

The place we were staying at is about 2 km walking from the twin towers, so in these 4 days we were here, we walked a lot! The first day we probably exaggerated a little bit, as we walked around 10 km I think... Burning some calories in the hot sun, and escape the heat in the air-conditioned malls from time to time :-) Seems like Singapore... ;-). It was very very hot in KL, about 37 degrees. Normally, in the beginning of March, it's still raining season. This means the temperatures are hotter, but you have some showers during the day or at night. However, as in so many countries all over the world, the climate is changing, and it hadn't been raining for days. Result: super hot weather! But these things don't stop us from having fun off course :-). 

We visited two mosques in KL. When we arrived at the first mosque, we were offered a free guided tour. Before we entered, I had to dress appropriately, and wear a long dress with veil. To be honest, I looked a bit like a pink magician in it, so it was pretty funny! We entered the mosque and after a couple of minutes I started feeling the sweat dripping of my back, my neck, my face,... You can imagine, being completely covered up with 37 degrees outside is not an ideal situation! I couldn't really enjoy the moment because it was just too hot for me. The guide kept on explaining very interesting things about Islam, but I left Claudio and headed to the entrance to get rid of my magician outfit. Wow, I really admire Muslim women in Asia who can cover themselves up every day and battle this extreme heat. I could never do it!
                Night out in KL

                                                       Marj the magician ;-)

The next mosque we went to is the biggest in KL. We were disappointed though, because when we arrived only Muslims could enter the mosque. We missed the visiting hours for non-Muslims. To be honest, I thought it was rather discriminatory to exclude tourists with other religions, but hey, what are you going to do? We just saw it from the outside, took some snapshots and left.
Next was a Hindu temple. In these temples, they usually ask you to take off your shoes before you enter. No problem for us. We took off our shoes and went inside the temple. Five minutes later, I see an angry guy kicking ours and some other tourists' shoes. OK?? He told us we couldn't leave the shoes in THAT particular place, but had to put them against another wall. Hm, seems like someone's frustrated. Well, let's say that that day we had enough of religious 'rules'!

So we headed towards the twin towers, which are two beautiful towers in the center of KL. The two building are completely decorated with lights, so at night it's really beautiful to see. Attached to the twin towers, there is a beautiful hyper modern mall (KLCC) where you can shop till you drop. Don't think it's cheaper then Europe though. Brands like Zara, Quicksilver, Topshop, etc. cost the same. But it's nice to walk around in the mall, have a coffee at Starbucks, gaze at the beautiful fountain and light show from your seat, and look at all the people that walk by. Downstairs, you also have a really nice and clean food court, where you eat cheap food (about 4 EUR per plate for a fancy meal). Perfect to save some money! You can also eat for 1 EUR on the street in Chinatown, but with my sensitive stomach I don't really dare to. We always try to eat in clean places, and don't mind spending a tiny bit more rather then eating street food. And still, we had some problems sometimes. Never in Hawai'i or New Zealand, but in Latin America and SEA we did.

Petronas twin towers, KL

After a first long day, we were happy to get back to our wonderful airbnb hostess Burger, a Taiwanese expat living in KL. She was so nice and we had such a comfortable cozy room - with AC luckily! 

The following days we took a slower pace, because after our first intensive day we were pretty tired. We visited the national museum on one day. It was very informative, but compared to the ones of Wellington or Mexico City it was really not that spectacular. We learned a lot about the history of Malaysia though - the occupancy of Portugal and later Great Britain, how Malaysia became a Muslim country, and why you have many Chinese but also Indian people living in Malaysia. To get to the museum, not to forget, we had to cross the railway, the lobby of the Hilton hotel and a highway: not very convenient. If you are planning to go to KL soon, don't worry, they are building a new subway stop at the museum :). Always progressing.... 

We also visited the Lake Gardens park, which is located behind the museum. The park is really beautiful, but it was a pity that also some parts of the park were under construction. We saw a cool  outdoor amphitheater and just hanged there for a while. I felt as if we were the only tourists in the park! All the other Western people were probably in some mall somewhere :D (not that I blame them, they are awesome).

KL center

Our last day in KL we visited the Batu caves, where you can find a huge golden Hindu statue of the god Murugun in front of a cave. The statue is magnificent. It is 42 meters tall and really impressive to see. Behind the statue, you have the caves. You can climb 272 stairs to get inside the cave, where you have a Hindu temple. Off course we went, but after my cave adventure in New Zealand, I'm terrified to go into caves and see huge spiders. Luckily I didn't see any :). However, there were lots of monkeys everywhere that were very aggressive. You cannot keep anything in your hand because they will try to steal it from you. They also fight with each other over food and make wild noises. Crazy monkeys :). The temple inside the cave was not spectacular. The trip to Batu was worth it though because the statue in front of the cave was just beautiful!!

Batu caves

That was our last day in KL! The next morning we took a taxi at 4AM and headed to the airport. We were so tired... But this was the cheapest flight we could get to Siem Reap with AirAsia. The flight was perfect and when we arrived we took a taxi to our hotel. We checked in and our room was so nice! We paid only 12 EUR and had a huge clean room with kingsize bed. After a long nap in our wonderful bed we got up again and went into town. We found an amazing cafe that had sandwiches... finally after all that fried rice! In Cambodia you could find European food like baguettes, cheese, bacon, pancakes, etc. In those 4 days we were day we ate like pigs! 

The reason for coming to Cambodia was to visit the temples of Angkor. We read in our guide that some people take a whole week to explore the temples. We thought it was probably a bit exaggerated, and decided to take a three day pass. The first day, we wanted to visit the Angkor Wat temple. We rented two bikes for 2 USD and drove 9 km's in the burning sun. It was around 40 degrees that day so we were dying :D. When we arrived we were immediately amazed by the beauty of the temple. We practically stayed there the whole first day because the temple is very big and there are so many wonderful carvings and secret hallways to explore. We started wondering: Maybe they were right after all and we will need a whole week?

Angkor Wat

The next day, it was really too hot , and we had to go 14 km's to the next temple, so it was not feasible with the bike. So, we decided to hire a tuk-tuk driver. For 15 dollars you can hire him the whole day and he drops you off at the temple, waits for you, and then brings you to the next one. Siem Reap is filled with tuk-tuk drivers, so when I got out of the hotel I just stopped one and asked for some information. The guy really didn't speak English at all but he was so friendly and sweet, my heart melted. We hired him and he turned out to be great! We visited the Bayon temple, Ta Prohm, and several other temples in the surrounding. It was an amazing day. Driving back in our tuk-tuk, passing the river, seeing children washing cows in the water and cuddling them, ... it was one of the best moments of the trip. I felt so good, the people there were so positive, and there was an incredible vibe in Angkor. I wish we could have stayed there forever.

The people of Cambodia really touched me. If you read about their history, you can just start crying. Long wars with Vietnam; a genocide during the Khmer rouge regime in which more then 1 million people were killed; and currently a dictator in power who is selling Cambodia's beautiful land to foreign (read: Chinese) investors for his own gain. And still... Cambodian people smile, are happy to see you, are hopeful, see opportunities and try to seize them. They have a wonderful spirit which can only be admired. I really feel like I just want to help everybody. We tried to leave lots of tips, buy food and drinks in local stands, we never bargained but just gave the asking price, bought lots of souvenirs. It's not much, but we were trying...

Our super sweet tuk tuk driver!!

The last day, we visited two temples that were further out of town, about 35 km. We hired the same tuk-tuk driver again and had a great day. We were so sad it was already out last day! We wished we could have stayed longer, but we had to head towards Bangkok to catch our next flight to Indonesia. This sucked... :( 

The next day we took the bus to the Thai border where we were screamed at by every border control official. They must really love tourists here... ? We saw a British couple that was freaking out because one of the officials took their passports, wasn't giving it back to them and wasn't explaining anything. I started worrying obviously! But in the end, all went well and we got another stamp on our passports. Fieuw!
The second part of our trip was from the border to Bangkok. We booked a bus ticket, but were put into a van - NOT comfortable at all. All the other passengers were angry about it (including an old Dutch couple who complained the whooooole trip), but you have to get into the van. What else are you going to do? After six long hours later we finally arrived. 

Our first impressions of Bangkok were not that nice. The city is definitely not comparable to KL. There are a lot of poor neighborhoods, rats and cockroaches on the street, people are not as friendly as in Malaysia (they seemed to dislike any kind of tourist), taxi drivers refused to use the meter and try to scam you, ... I think that after being in Singapore and KL, we has different expectations. We did enjoy the food though! We went to local restaurants, pointed at some pictures on the Thai menu and had some delicious meals :). We also had one really fun day where we visited the Wat Pho temple. It was so beautiful and really special! We saw a huge golden Buddha lying down in a temple of 46 meters tall (maybe he was trying to compete with Murugun of the Batu caves? ;) ). The different buildings inside the temple complex were decorated very nicely. There were also cats everywhere, really too cute...

But overall, Bangkok was a bit of a disappointment. We would have loved to stay a bit longer in Cambodia and a bit less long in Thailand. But you cannot know these things in advance unfortunately! The morning of the 20th we took the train to the airport - next destination: Indonesia!

Talk to you soon... :)

Hugs and kisses,
Marj & Claudio

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