Thoughts on KL

11-13/5/16. We have been taking things easy while waiting for our flight to Japan on Sunday. What follows is a random collection of thoughts, experiences and facts from our time here.

  • The weather has cooled a bit but it is still hot.
  • This has been helped by several heavy storms – but that does increase the humidity.
  • Malaysia drives in the left and uses British style electrical plugs.
  • We were asked to take off our shoes before entering one of the bike shops.
  • A lady in one of the bike shops was the wife of the Malaysian national cycling coach.
  • The traffic is generally pretty well behaved – no worse than in London anyway.
  • On the way to Sunday lunch we passed a monkey.
  • Kuala Lumpur means “muddy confluence”. The confluence is not very impressive but it is muddy!
The "muddy confluence" after which KL is named.
The “muddy confluence” after which KL is named.
  • Stephen had a £2 haircut.
After a £2 haircut.
After a £2 haircut.
  • Public transport is cheap and easy to use.
  • Food is of variable quality but cheap.
  • It is a very relaxed place. People are friendly and the different ethnicities seem to get along.
  • Red bean and walnut pastries are yummy.
  • KL is full of mahoosive roads and intersections that confuse the heck out of us – looks like a plate of spaghetti!

Bike Box Bonanza

8-10/5/16. The big “excitement” of the last three days has been getting ready for the escape to Japan.

Little of this was done on Sunday because all the bike shops were shut, stymieing the first step of obtaining boxes to put the bikes in. So Christine went to the service in the cathedral while Stephen sat quietly in a cafe reading and drinking coffee. There were two concurrent services – a traditional one in the main body of the cathedral and a contemporary one in a side room. Both were packed. Afterwards we were invited to join a group who go for lunch in a shopping mall which was good fun. A couple of them had studied at UK universities (Lancaster & Liverpool – they found the weather a bit different to here!!) and told us that, surprisingly, the cost was similar to studying here at home.

The third phone call to a bike shop on Monday morning struck gold – or so we thought. We made our way out to the address given over the phone via monorail and a 15 minute walk, only to be told that they didn’t have any boxes! After a discussion and a call to the number we had called originally, the only thing they could do for us was supply 4 smaller boxes that we could tape together somehow.

We returned to the hotel and Stephen started dismantling the first bike (you may have seen the unflattering picture on Twitter or Facebook!) while Christine practiced her origami skills on two of the boxes. When we tried to put our efforts together it was less than satisfactory so we decided to try calling another couple of bike shops. The first one said they had no boxes available but they would pack the bikes for 75 ringgits each (about £13). This seemed like a good deal to us so Stephen set about partially reconstructing his bike so that it could be wheeled around.

After breakfast on Tuesday we loaded the bikes into a taxi and headed to the bike shop. The sight of some high end carbon fibre bikes (Colnagos, Cervelos and Treks) together with a display of good old British Brooks saddles (as on our bikes) gave us some reassurance that they knew what they were talking about. Stephen watched the two mechanics intently while they worked – more to get tips than to check they did it right! Next time we fly we will consider getting this job done by the professionals.

With the bikes all ready, we were able to book our flight (for Sunday) and a hotel in Osaka for the first night. So we now have a few days to relax and see a bit more of KL.

Moving onto Plan B

6&7/5/16. Looking at the map revealed that cycling to KL would be tough. There was a town within easy reach but after that there were two stretches of 70-80 km with nothing very much. While Christine was feeling better she was not convinced that she could manage that sort of distance in a day in this heat so we decided to take the train!

When we asked about taking bikes on the train we were told that folding bikes were OK but anything larger depended on the conductor on the day – not a reassuring answer. Still, we decided to risk it and lashed out £11 each on first class tickets (double the second class fare) for the 8 hour trip. We had hoped to replicate what we had done in Korea a couple of years ago and get on the platform well in advance to dismantle the bikes in plenty of time and present a fait accompli to the conductor. However, we were not allowed onto the platform until about 20 minutes before departure and, when we took the lift rather than the escalator like all the other passengers, passengers found ourselves in passport control for travelling to Singapore. With us standing around looking lost, a policeman eventually escorted us past the passport desks, through a door and into another lift which took us to the right platform.

By now time was pressing and, of course, the bikes refused to co-operate in coming to pieces easily (more haste, less speed!). With Christine moving the multitude of bags down the carriage to our seats and then taking wheels as they came free, Stephen eventually carried the second bike onto the train “whole” and dismantled it on board just before the train started moving. He was somewhat disconcerted that it pulled out with the door still open but we found that this was the norm (despite the signs warning of fines for opening the doors while the train is moving).

It took an hour or so for the conductor to appear and he was completely unconcerned about the bikes so we settled back to catch up on our podcast listening and watch Malaysia go by.

For the first half of the journey the view was almost entirely of palm oil plantations with little natural vegetation and only 4 or 5 small towns where the train stopped. As we neared KL the countryside became marginally more varied with a few smallholdings and more built up areas but still vast swathes of palm oil trees. Worrying from an environmental perspective.

Arriving in KL was less traumatic thankfully and we were soon ensconced in our hotel near the station (with the help of a man who, after we asked for directions, led us to it on his motorbike and disappeared before we could show our appreciation). A quick meal in the nearby shopping mall food court was followed by an early bed – travelling is hard work!

Saturday was spent wandering slowly around KL. We visited 2 Buddhist temples (pyromaniacs’ heaven – fire and smoke everywhere!) and a Hindu temple, a covered market full of tourist “tat” and a street market in Chinatown with an hour of “cool down” in a low tax, Seattle based coffee emporium.

All the while we were considering what to do next.

Christine in particular, but Stephen as well, was suffering in the heat. It has cooled down a touch, to 33 or 34°, but it is still very humid and Christine feels that she really cannot face cycling here. As a result we have decided to “bale” from SE Asia (for now – we are fascinated by the place but it is just not “cycling country” and fully intend to return). Plan B is to move to Japan (before it heats up too much) and then go to Europe for “high summer” before hitting the UK in September. We have an unmissable event in Somerset on 30 September – Christine’s sister, Lynn, is getting married!

We’ll keep you posted.

Still Sweltering

4&5/5/16. With Christine still feeling a little delicate we set off at 7.15, shortly after sunrise, to cross Singapore island and into Malaysia, country number 13, since we left home last April.

The idea was to avoid the real heat of the day but with nighttime temperatures of around 30° this was pretty much a vain hope. Christine was soon feeling the effects of the heat, probably compounded by the last vestiges of her tummy upset, and we were having to stop every couple of kilometres to allow her to recuperate in the shade. We spent more than half an hour in a convenient McDonald’s slowly sipping cold drinks while watching the highlights of the weekend’s Premier League action (including the newly crowned champions!).

We were able to use bike and foot paths all the way until a couple of km before the Causeway where we had no choice but to join the heavy traffic. The traffic is separated by type as you approach the crossing with cars segregated from buses and trucks, and a separate lane for motor wayes (of which there is a very large number) and bikes (just us two!).

 

At passport control there was an issue with the computers not recognising ours! We wondered if this was because they were scanned both when leaving and rejoining the ship on Friday but not when we left on Saturday but, whatever the reason, we were whisked off to an office (thankfully air conditioned) while they worked out what to do. After half an hour of conferences, telephone calls and much staring at screens, the passport stamp was put into action and we were allowed to leave.

The crossing of the Causeway itself was pretty brutal being in full sun with the temperature around 37° and Christine was not feeling good. Climbing a small rise on the Malaysian side Stephen looked behind to see her pushing but could not stop in the narrow lane with hundreds of motor bikes buzzing past. Just before passport control the road widened and he could pull off out of the way to wait. And wait.

Eventually she rolled around the corner into sight, having had to sit down for a while (despite the motor bikes) before she fell off. The Malaysian formalities were less problematic and we were able to find somewhere for her to sit in safety and shade to recover a little even though it was still mighty hot.

We made for the nearest hotel and struck lucky with a brand new one in “soft opening” mode. Christine was grateful to get into the air conditioned room with a bottle of water and a comfortable bed for a couple of hours before a light meal in the hotel restaurant and 11 hours sleep.

It was not a difficult decision to stay an extra day in Johor Bahru (the name of the city – Malaysia’s second largest) to allow Christine to recover and to plan our next move. This was spent wandering around the large shopping mall just across the road from the hotel and watching The Jungle Book (in English with Malay and Chinese subtitles) in the attached 14 screen multiplex. (It’s a great film by the way.)

By 5 o’clock Christine was feeling in need of a rest despite having done very little (confirming the wisdom of the decision not to cycle). She suggested that Stephen have a “nice dinner” and, not feeling at all hungry, asked that he bring her a pot noodle. On his return she was a little miffed that his meal had cost 55 ringgits while her noodles were 2 ringgits! (The exchange rate is almost 6 to the £.) But he was only following orders!