In my last post, W1801 – Electric Views, I described our visit to fabulous Singapore, where we saw more of the iconic destination by electric boat, electric trishaw and from the Sands Skypark on top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel. The crazy cruise itinerary meant we left way too soon, in the late afternoon of the same day, on our way to our next destination, Port Klang, the port which serves the capital of neighbouring Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur.
Kuala Lumpur, which means “muddy river confluence” in Malay, has grown from a small sleepy Chinese tin-mining village to a bustling city of some 7 million people in just 150 years.
We had a day in Port Klang on our around the world cruise last year, and from there I had taken a very long 9 hour tour to see the best tourist attractions in Kuala Lumpur, or KL as it is so frequently called, this is documented in my post W1702 – Towering inferno. I remember that it was extremely hot and particularly humid in KL, and with getting stuck in traffic jams on the way back to the ship it had been a desperately long and tiring day. Both Carol and I had been very unsure whether we even wanted to leave the ship this time around, but after seeing the port talk on board this cruise we decided to book a ship’s tour after all.
The tour we decided to book was called ‘A Taste of Local Life’, and in a similar way to the great tour that Carol and I did in St. Petersburg last year, it was designed to show us what life is like for local people in the city. There were three main elements to the tour, visits on foot to the Little India and the Chinatown areas of KL, and a visit to the iconic Petronas Twin Towers buildings and the vast shopping mall inside them.
Although our tour was not due to leave until 8:45, our check-in time was listed at 8:05, strangely allowing much more time than had been given the day before in Singapore, despite the latter being renowned for the delays from the rigorous immigration checks. However we had a much longer wait than that as we were late docking, and our tour eventually set off an hour later than planned.
It is about a 75 minute drive by coach into KL, and like last time I found nothing of note worth photographing. Like last time, our local guide was very enthusiastic, and talked continuously for the whole time about Malaysia, it’s history, it’s economy and it’s political system. The coach dropped us on the edge of area once known as Brickfields, now known officially as Little India – it would only pick us up again at the end of our day in KL.
Our local guide led us on foot through Little India, telling us about the various shops we passed and the wares they sold – both Carol and I were astonished at the quantity of gold in some of the shops. He also stopped various local people and interviewed them, and helped us to understand about them – where they came from, their ethnic background, way of life etc.
Next he led us into a modern shopping mall so that we could use the facilities there – I was surprised to see one of the shops there in a majority Muslim country – and then on to a metro station where we caught a train for just a couple of stops, and alighted close to where the two rivers that flow through KL, the Klang and the Gombak merge. Here we had great views across the rivers of the Masjid Jamek mosque and the Mahkamah Perusahaan courthouse, once the former colonial administration buildings.
From here it was another short walk to the Central Market, the same huge covered market that I had visited on my tour last year. I found it an interesting place, full of stalls selling all sorts of different things, unlike some markets where everyone seems to be selling the same things and you wonder how they can all pay. However by thus time Carol was really flagging in the heat and humidity, and all she wanted to do was sit down with a cold drink and an ice-cream. This did the trick, and she soon got her mojo back and we did wander around a good part of the market before our time was up.
From the market our guide led us on foot to Chinatown, where he showed us comparison pictures of how it used to be, and how it is now. He warned us against buying things there as he implied either they would be genuine fakes, and/or they would not last very long, so we all just walked through ignoring the hawkers doing their best to sell us their wares. On the way through I was surprised to see signs for a hotel, but in the unlikely event we should ever come back to stay in KL, I don’t think this will be the place that we would choose!
Our guide then led us to another metro station, taking a short diversion on the way to see a Hindu temple. I was also impressed by some Street art I saw on the way.
This time it was a slightly longer train ride – four stops – until we reached our final destination, the simply vast shopping mall close to the iconic Petronas Twin Towers buildings – the Suria KLCC. Here there are 320 shops spread over six floors, many of which are international designer brands. Neither Carol or I are much interested in shopping, and so all we splashed out on was a bar of local chocolate – Carol said she had to try it for research purposes! – and a top for Carol that was reduced in the sale at Marks & Spencer – how sad are we? We did venture through to the lobby of the Petronas Twin Towers, where there were models of the two Mercedes Formula 1 cars that are partly sponsored by Petronas, and outside to photograph the twin towers themselves and the other impressive buildings in the area.
Our coach collected us from outside the twin towers building, just as there was thunder and lightening rumbling around. However it was dry there, we only encountered rain during the long drive back to our ship, and fortunately by then it was dry once more. I was also very relieved that we had a pretty clear run through without the traffic jams of the previous year, presumably because this time we were visiting on a Saturday rather than a weekday.
It had been an interesting tour, our guide was very knowledgeable and we learned a lot about how ethnically diverse and tolerant the country is, despite the majority being Muslim. It was also good to see some different areas of the city like Little India and Chinatown, and the tour made a good contrast to the tourist-based one I did last year.
We were both very relieved to get back onto our air-conditioned ship and have a refreshing shower and rest after such a hot and sticky day. Our ship did not sail until late into the evening – we now have a couple of days at sea en route to our next port of call, Yangon in Myanmar, where we will be staying for two nights. Our adventures there are likely to be the subject of my next post or two.
I really don’t want this blog to be a place where I keep having a moan, because so much about this epic cruise that is so wonderful, and the crew work so hard for us. However there was an example of where things aren’t done right in Port Klang which I do feel I need to mention.
The tours in Port Klang are long, they have to be because of it’s distance from KL, and often they run late. In addition this port was the end of a leg of the cruise, so new passengers were joining the ship after a long and probably arduous journey to reach it. Despite this, they decided to close the café, which has open seating so that people can turn up and eat at any time between 6:30 and 9pm, and instead have a barbecue out on the hot and humid deck instead. When Carol and I went into dinner for our usual first sitting at 6:15 the place was almost empty – they were almost as many waiters to be seen as passengers. After a while passengers started to arrive in dribs and drabs, some from long/late tours, some just having flown in, and to start with they were allowed to come into the dinning room although they were late. However there came a point where people were then told you can’t eat here, you have to go to the barbecue. The people were hot and tired, the last thing they wanted was to be forced out onto a hot and humid deck to be able to get any food, and also be subjected to the loud music there. The common sense solution would have been to declare it open sitting in the main restaurant, so that people could have eaten in the cool and quiet there whatever time they reached the ship, and also keep barbecue events to sea days when people are not already hot and tired. It’s not as if this was the first time the ship had been in Port Klang…
On a more positive note, a big thank you to Alexandra, the Guest Relations Manager, for so promptly sorting out a minor problem I had.