Fragrant Harbouring Feelings

Eventually my time in Australia came to an end, but that didn’t mean my trip was over. Without being able to fly back without a stop off somewhere, I also had a few days in Hong Kong.


I can’t speak for everyone, but my “wise old Chinaman” was wrong…

I arrived in the “Special Administrative Region of China”, to give it its official designation, just prior to the Chinese New Year, and although I wasn’t there to enjoy the full festivities, I did get to see the city decorated and celebrating the time of year. Not only did I see displays in shopping centres honouring each of the animals of the Chinese zodiac, but I also discovered Dragon performances whilst wandering the streets, and was even given the chance to hold one when visiting the Happy Valley Racecourse. I was also told that doing so would bring me good luck, although my wallet at the end of the evening told a different story.

Although I obviously won’t complain at being there during this time, it was also hardly needed as the former British colony had its own sense of style regardless.


Didn’t see his son, Luke, aged 5…

No longer part of the Empire and yet not fully Chinese either, Hong Kong’s uniqueness is around for all to see, with attractions such as the Avenue of Stars boasting its own home-grown film and TV talent, including Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Located on the waterfront of the main harbour, not only does it also offer a great view of the world-famous skyline on the opposite shore, but the way it is lit up at night effectively offers two for the price of one.

While their unique architecture ensure they are even more impressive than most found in other cities (despite all my time in Australia it was here I found a skyscraper designed to resemble Koalas), when lit up they all combine to become one instantly recognisable dazzling display.


It’s even bigger up close.

Although the city may have embraced the modern as much as any other, it is also one which still appreciates the more traditional as well. On Lantau Island is the Tian Tan Buddha, a Bronze statue which has dominated the landscape since it was built in the early 90s not just due to its 34 metre height, but also because of the 268 steps it takes to reach it.

It was built next to the Po Lin monastery, and the entire site is such a great contrast to the hustle and bustle of the main city. Not only are there various walking trails throughout the woodlands around the site, but there are also cattle which freely wander the ground. Despite being used to tourists and locals alike, they also are also at home enough to make you realise that you should be the one to move around them, rather than vice versa. Although this is all located some way outside of the city, it is easily reached via the metro and bus routes, or there’s also a cable car for the more adventurous, but will take up the better part of a day trip.

Although I had always wanted to stop off somewhere in a similar way to Kuala Lumpur on the way out to Australia, one reason I chose Hong Kong is that a housemate from university is now living over there, who I hadn’t seen since his wedding some four and a half years previously. Although we were only able to catch up briefly, it was still great to share a meal at a street market restaurant, and have someone a little more experienced than me when haggling for souvenirs to take home with me.

The light at the end of the travel

For those of you thinking I didn’t enjoy Kuala Lumpur, please don’t worry as I can assure you I did. It might not have been all it could have, but believe me when I say that KL is an amazing city to get lost in. You can believe me because getting lost here is also another of those unplanned activities I managed to fit into my three days.

I’ve been lucky enough to travel to many places which now includes four continents, but the Malaysian capital has to be the most unique. For a start it was the most foreign, but in more ways than you’d think; as much as I was one of the few white people surrounded by an Asian population, I use the term Asian in a general sense rather than Malaysian, as it was populated by those from China and India just as much as Malaysia itself. It’s one thing to have read this in my guide-book before I arrived, but quite another to see such an array of ethnicities living together as one community, with no tensions or problems (at least that I could see) arising from this. There’s sitting down and people watching, and then there’s peoples watching.

As much as I never got to see the KL tower with its more luxurious surroundings, luckily Kuala Lumpur has plenty to do indoors, such as the roller coaster I mentioned previously. I figured that just because I’m stuck indoors, it doesn’t have to be boring and this time I would actually ride it, but technical difficulties on the monorail line soon meant I had another change of plan. Luckily it had stopped raining by now (although I can only assume it was the rain which had caused the difficulties in the first place), and in an effort to explore some of the city on foot rather than public transport, set off back to my hotel. Figuring out which side of the road stations are situated is obviously not my strong point, as it was here I set off in the wrong direction. I had my suspicions about this not long after, but it wasn’t clarified until a passing stranger pointed out that to get to Chinatown I had to take the foot bridge I would find just past the monorail station I had come from.

One attraction I did get to see was the Petrosains (pronounced Pertro-science) museum, which is dedicated to various sources of energy. Perhaps unsurprisingly for an attraction owned by Petronas there was a heavy influence on oil, and it was highly fascinating. The exhibits are hugely hands on and interactive, but only once you get past the hordes of families and school children playing with them. Not that I minded really as it was pretty much geared to their age group, and I can only imagine I would have been the same if I had a classroom this exciting. Plus it had a singing Tyrannosaur, which is always a bonus.

Suddenly it was all worthwhile.

Suddenly it was all worthwhile.

By far the highlight of my short stay came on my last evening however, when I headed back to the Petronas Towers, fully confident in how to find them, only this time in the darkness of the evening when they were illuminated by as many flashes from cameras as actual lights in the building. This time I also manged to find a kind German tourist who, by crouching at the bottom of the stairs I stood atop, at a nice distance away, managed to get a photo I could only have dreamt of during my daylight attempt. So happy was I at the fashion in which my too short a time in this fantastic city was ending, I headed straight to the food court for an authentic Malaysian meal. Upon discovering the still pink pieces of chicken and finding what I could only identify as a spinal column that put a similar experience in Tijuana to shame, I soon headed straight to McDonalds, but you can’t have everything.

By the time I left Kuala Lumpur I was more than satisfied to add it to the growing list of cities in which I have gone in completely the wrong direction (others include Bremen and New Orleans), even if I hadn’t been able to see as many of the sights and attractions as I’d hoped. But when you’re somewhere as exotic as Kuala Lumpur, there’s so much more to savour than mere tourist hotspots.

It never rains, but it Kuala Lum-pours

After my much sought after snooze I awoke ready to properly explore some more, something which Kuala Lumpur is perfect for. Home to the Petronas Towers, the city’s most famous landmark(s) and former tallest buildings in the world, it may be surprising to know that they can actually be harder to find than you my realise. Particularly when you are right up close, but most particularly if you’re me.

In my defence, five hours wasn’t enough sleep and just because I was no longer paranoid it doesn’t mean I wasn’t still suffering from jet lag. Scanning the horizon for two skyscrapers, regardless of how recognisable they might be, is also rather futile when you’re essentially inside of them.

If only I'd turned left....

If only I’d turned left….

At the base of the towers is the Suria mall, which I arrived at from the KLCC underground station. The station which according to my guidebook was right across the road from the towers (which technically it is), although the main passageway leads under the road and straight into the mall. This lead me to emerge from the mall out of one of the two skyscrapers I was looking for. I even managed to walk round to the back entrance of the mall completely nonethewiser, my lack of sunglasses meaning I also couldn’t look straight up on those rare occasions where there wasn’t a canopy obscuring my view.

Eventually I discovered them however, as they are situated on the edge of the KLCC park, a grassy/jungly area that also provides a great foreground for photos. I walked round a couple of times, saw the towers, and asked a few other tourists to take my picture in front of the impressive structures. As the park was quiet however, the only people I found who were free to take them were also far too close to take any decent pictures. There was one couple some distance further back, but considering he was busy taking pictures of her essentially modelling herself in front of them, I figured my cheesy Brit-Abroad touristy grin would be somewhat lacking in comparison

Happy I had at least a picture of me in front of the towers though, I set about my next task, getting inside them. Although I had heard from several sources that heading up the towers wasn’t necessarily worth it as it involved queuing up ridiculously early in the morning (my de facto bedtime) to only go to the walkway halfway up, I am a sucker for a gift shop. A gift shop which I was close to thinking consisted entirely of the single market trolley in the mall’s entrance.

My main problem comes with using and confusing different sources, although the lack of signage was also a major factor. Browsing online I was told that the ticket office was on the concourse level (a floor sandwiched between ground and lower ground), which I was searching from one end of the mall to the other. What I had failed to realise this time was that the corridor to the towers themselves was on the ground floor, and then you have to take the staircase on that side of the divide down to the office. Eventually I not only discovered this, but my prediction of the office and gift shop being side by side was accurate, even if it was the only thing I seemed to get right. Hardly my finest hour, but then if you were looking for the Petronas towers, you wouldn’t think you’d have to walk under a banner for the Philharmonic Orchestra either.

Photos just don't do it justice.

Photos just don’t do it justice.

Quest complete however, I set out to walk to my next destination, the KL tower, which as the highest point open to the public and complete with revolving restaurant, I had heard was indeed worth going up. It is also surrounded by the Bukit Nanas, a park of a more tropical rainforest nature, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when it started raining. And then there was an awful lot of thunder, and yet more rain. In fact it was so stormy, that the wind was blowing the banners were inside the mall, which were attached to the dome roof between the towers, only (relatively speaking) about six stories high. Luckily as you’ll remember, you can get from the mall to the underground without going outside, and getting therefore without getting wet.

Although I ultimately didn’t get to see the Kuala Lumpur Tower, or the Kuala Lumpur skyline from 276m above ground, the thing with such a major Asian capital is that you also have an amazing view from the ground.

Fear and loafing in Kuala Lumpur

If there’s one way to describe Kuala Lumpur, at least from my perspective, its extremes. My first experience of Kuala Lumpur was of flying low and coming in over green shrubs which I soon noticed were easily as tall as the people tending to them. This soon gave way to a bustling city that was in places either shabby, or extravagant. My hotel, naturally, was in the shabbier part.

Petaling Street Market

Petaling Street Market.

Not that this was a bad thing however, a little rough round the edges and big cracks in the pavement, but everything was clean enough and nothing that jumped out as alarming or dangerous. I got to my hotel when the market sellers were setting up their stalls in Petaling Street, the main market thoroughfare through Chinatown. But whilst everyone else was setting up for the morning, I had already been up for what had pretty much been a full day; it wasn’t much later than four am that morning back in Britain, but I didn’t actually seem that tired. Although I’d managed some rather light on and off dozing on the plane, it was most likely because you don’t really use that much energy sat in one place for nearly 13 hours.

Either way, I eventually managed to figure out the rather unique payment on KL’s metro system that I needed to get me there (rather than single tickets they use plastic tokens that I can only compare to the fairground variety, although they do also have MyRapid, an Oystercard equivalent), and soon found the door I was looking for. In front of this door were three ladies who I have to admit were wearing quite possibly the brightest and shiniest dresses, and had the most dolled up faces I saw throughout my entire time in Kuala Lumpur. Needless to say they stood out from their surroundings (especially considering the time of day), and the few reviews I had read about the hotel also having rooms booked by the hour didn’t seem that far-fetched. It was the sign above that said “Alamanda Hotel” which assured me I had the right place, however.


Who says men can’t multitask?

Much like on the outside it had everything that was needed to serve its purpose, but just wasn’t very glamorous (I’m talking about the general area again, not the ladies). My room had a double bed and a TV, but that was about it. There was just enough room on the floor for my backpack, and despite not having a window, the walls were decorated with a stylishly ornate picture, and several smears I couldn’t recognise. I did have my own bathroom however, although this had only enough space to stand and face one of two directions; either towards the sink with a mirror attached to the wall above it, or the toilet and shower that were arranged in much the same way. It also came furnished with what’s known as a hand bidet. Despite this being the subject of possibly the first conversation I ever had with a good friend from Indonesia, and essentially being in essentially a tiled wetroom, I have to say curiosity didn’t get the better of me.

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The Supersonic Odyssey.

Finding myself in a strange new city however, and pleased with myself at having finally mastered the short Kelana Jaya LRT journey from KL Sentral to Pasar Seni station, literally just the next stop, I went out for a bit of an explore. I headed out on the monorail to Berjaya Times Square, a massive shopping mall to ease myself in gently, but one filled with small vendor stalls rather than the big international chains that would be found in the others. I also chose this particular mall as it had a small indoor theme park complete with roller coaster, although my need for speed was overcome by that for food, and I soon found a good compromise between Asian cuisine in a familiar style: the Chicken Rice Shop.

Stifling a few yawns I made my way back to the hotel in full expectation of my head hitting the pillow and falling straight to sleep, although I kept myself busy until the (very) early evening so as to sleep through the night rather than wake up fully refreshed in the middle of it. Despite my planning however, this wasn’t to be the case, and I instead spent the night awake until half 6 the following morning, in what was probably the most delirious night of my life. Jet lag is quite possibly the strangest sensation I have experienced; a lack of sleep when I was expecting it to be over abundant, something made even worse by the fact that throughout the past days travelling I hadn’t actually felt that hungry (I only had my small lunch at the Chicken Rice Shop after realising how long it had been since I’d last eaten), and remembered that although two meals were served on the plane, over such a long journey it was as in short supply as a decent kip.

Lying in bed spending several hours always expecting to fall to sleep but not quite managing it, I at least had Bill Bryson, wifi, and decent enough friends to put up with my ramblings on the other end of it to keep me company. By half 11 I ventured downstairs to see if the bar/fridge in an alcove area had anything to eat, and was served by the same man who earlier was at reception, and had to fix my room’s air con. He was also the same man who had pointed to his kicking foot saying “Ah, Rooney” when I told him I was from England.

Their selection hardly rated any Michelin stars, but far too hungry to be picky, I figured that if there’s anywhere I can get away with scoffing down a pot noodle as a midnight feast, it’s in the middle of Asia. This at least kept me going until six, when I figured there would now be somewhere I could get something a little more substantial, and on advice from a friend, filled myself up on stodge from the corner shop I found less than 100 metres away. A corner shop which happened to be a 7-11, known to those in countries which have them, as being open 24 hours. Far too hungry and tired to be annoyed however, after a breakfast of muffins and cream buns, I was finally able to get some proper, actual sleep.

Throughout that sleepless night though I was having visions of changing my next flight to an earlier one in order to escape, or even flying straight back to England, as I felt it was all too much for me. Luckily this was only symptoms of my brain being just as confused as my body, and I soon came to enjoy a place which only those not in their right mind I (trust me, I know!) could dislike or consider alien and unfriendly, and the three days I spent in this glorious city just weren’t enough.

Three nights in the Alamanda was pushing it though…