Southeast Asia, Day 12: The trick to saving money while traveling is spending the entire day on mass transit

Friday, March 30, 2018

After befriending Francisco last night, I now had a buddy with whom I could explore Kuala Lumpur. I went down the stairs from my hostel and had a small free breakfast in the attached cafe, where the offerings were the typical hostel fare of toast, butter and jam, but here, the jam and butter was far superior than what I had in Bangkok. At least this was real butter, unlike their margarine imitation that was leaving a waxy residue in my mouth. And they had BLUEBERRY jam. My favorite! The place also had free biryani rice as well as boiled eggs and sausage links. But who needs protein when you can have starch and sugar, the two basic food groups of any American’s meal?

After chatting with some lovely German sisters who were traveling for about a month together and are just as unaware of Vanuatu as I was 15 months ago, I went off to meet Francisco at a hip café called Lokl Coffee.

He was just finishing up his meal, and we discussed what we wanted to do for the day. Batu Caves is a major tourist attraction, but I’d never heard of it. I was willing to go anywhere and do anything, which at the time I didn’t realize was going to be spending most of the day on public transit.

First, Francisco ordered an Uber. For the two of us to split, it was going to be fairly affordable, so I was willing to go that route. We sat in the coffee shop and waited, until Francisco updated me that the driver was going all over the place and getting lost. Back in Bangkok, I remember Nicole saying the same thing about our Uber driver. Francisco said that from his experience, cab drivers in this region rarely know their way around the city, relying on their phone’s maps, but rarely following the driving instructions (they go up one-way streets the wrong way all the time, and often require you to give them verbal instructions despite there being a map in front of them).

So after Francisco watch the cab go around and around, up one-way streets, he gave up and decided we would take public transit instead. I let him lead the way, as he followed a map on his phone to the nearest train station. We walked in a weird area, not really close to shops, but more in a cars-only kinds of place with limited pedestrian crossings, and eventually made our way to the station.

Upon our arrival, however, we learned that it wouldn’t be a simple route to the Batu Caves stop. If the train were running its normal route, we would just head in one direction on the train line, get off in a few stops to transfer, then follow the second train to our destination. That was if the train was running its normal route…which it wasn’t.

We found out this re-route before we got on the train from the ticket vendor, and it seemed simple enough, so we got our tickets and got on the train, going backwards three stops so we could get a shuttle bus to go forward six stops to the second train’s route in order to get on that second train line. Some stops were down for repair for eight months, and we were here right in the middle of that inconvenience.

We waited about ten minutes for the train, and it quickly took us to the stop where we had to catch the shuttle. Finding the shuttle was a bit of an ordeal, but once we basically walked through the entire station (mind you, this was a massive station with trains leading to the outskirts of the city as well), we got on the shuttle. We then sat in the shuttle bus and waited. And waited. And waited. Suddenly, a bunch of people started getting off the bus to get on another bus, but when we asked the driver if we should get off, he said that was just another shuttle going to the same place, but ours was leaving soon, so it didn’t matter to switch. We, along with about ten other passengers, stayed on our bus. But it didn’t leave for another fifteen minutes.

Finally we were off, but it just meant we were off to the second train station, so we had to again buy a ticket and wait on the platform for the train, and then head off on the train to the caves. FINALLY, about two and a half hours after our journey began, we got to the caves. My lord was this annoying. I guess it was good we weren’t in a rush.

At the Batu Caves stop, there are dozens of vendors lining the sidewalks selling snacks, drinks, and little souvenirs. This was my first day out and about in the city, and before my travels, I was under the impression that Malaysia was going to be expensive for me. But here I was, getting two giant vegetable samosas and a corn/vegetable fritter for only 3 MYR total, which is about $0.75 USD. A steal!

Francisco and I walked past tons of monkeys… my first monkey sighting for the trip! They were scattered about, mostly around tourists and trash cans, as those both offer food. We passed a couple temples until we arrived at the entrance of the caves, beside a large golden statue. In front of the caves, there is a massive staircase, and before the staircase is a giant pile of sand. There are signs requesting the favor that visitors carry a pail of sand up to the top of the staircase, as it’s a material used during restorations and construction. I figured I might as well get the most of this staircase workout, so I grabbed a full pail of sand and went to the foot of the stairs.

At the foot of the stairs was the “appropriate” fashion police, so I had to adjust my sarong to go below the knee, and while the sign read “no shorts” and showed green checkmarks next to men wearing long pants, Francisco walked past with shorts and no issue. He wasn’t the only one, as many men on the steps were wearing shorts, too, while all the women were covered. Also on the sign was a giant red X over a couple kissing. It was similar to the train we just took, which, among its list of forbidden behavior (no gambling, spitting, begging, eating or drinking), it listed “no inappropriate behavior” under a silhouette of a man and woman kissing. I guess the trains didn’t want that scene from the movie Risky Business to get played out in their transit.

So up we went, up hundreds of stairs, occasionally stopping to look at the monkeys who climbed up and swung from the railings to snack on tourist food waste. At the top, I was a bit queasy; it wasn’t a great idea to scarf down two fried samosas before hauling a ten-pound bucket of sand up 272 stairs. I practically emptied my water bottle in one gulp.

Here it is!

After taking some pictures, we head down about halfway to the dark cave, where you can take a tour. The wait is far too long for our interest, so we head off instead, taking the long journey back home.

Best sandwich ever

We left at noon to begin our journey, and now it is nearly five in the evening. We walk through a neighborhood with which I am unfamiliar, or at least, from this angle. Then I realize we are in Chinatown, near my hostel. We are hungry but picky. We agree on the café below my hostel, which offers hot, substantial fare. We gulp down our fresh lemonades and I die and go to heaven with my chicken sandwich covered in peanut sauce. The waiter, when I ordered, tried to offer me some more local Malaysian options but I really wanted this chicken sandwich. It was so fucking good. I can’t even tell you.

Francisco and I part ways with a hug and I head back to the hostel to rest after such an exhausting yet uneventful day. Bouncing around the city on inefficient transit can really drain your energy.

Tonight I planned to meet my friend LaiYuen, a Malaysian I met on my Transsiberian trip. LaiYuen and I communicate and she ends up picking me up near the hostel around 9pm, which isn’t late at all for the locals, as bars and restaurants are open until the wee hours. We head to the Bangsa neighborhood in her car, with friend/coworker Paul in tow. LaiYuen explains it’s a popular area with expats, but it still has some great local fare.

Fried vegetables, some green beans, cucumber, rice, and a small bowl of chicken tikka masala

We eat dinner at a place called Nirvana Manu, which offers Indian food on banana leaves. I have LaiYuen order for me, as I am a bit confused as to how the food is offered. I get a banana leaf, which is places directly on the table and comes with a pile of rice on top, and I order curry chicken to go with it. Then the waiters come around with small metal pails and scoop vegetables, tempura, and sauce on the rice. Things keep coming to the table and I am confused about whether or not they come with the meal or if they are add-ons. As I can never finish large meals, I shoo away a majority of things but enjoy the plentiful serving before me.

After we eat, we walk around the area a bit, and I am craving something sweet as I always do. LaiYuen covered dinner so I wanted to treat her to dessert, and she picks ice cream at Inside Scoop. We pop in and the place offers classic flavors as well as Malaysian favorites, such as jackfruit or onde onde. I go for the latter, which has a yummy swirl of coconut jam in it.

View from the top

We drop of Paul at his apartment and take in the view of the city, as his windows have a magnificent view of the towers and the rest of the skyline.

Bukit Bintang

LaiYuen and I collectively don’t have too much energy to go on much longer, but at the midnight hour agree we could go out for one drink. She takes me to Bukit Bintang, a hopping nightlife area near a cosmopolitan downtown area similar to Times Square or the Magnificent Mile , even at midnight.

We walk through the throngs of people and settle down to The Rum Bar, despite passing loads of options, since hey, I like rum, and they seem to have a lot. I get a honey cider and rum cocktail and we chat and enjoy the late night energy of the road, which is closed to pedestrian traffic at this hour. We watch a woman, who is clearly a prostitute, try and fail at picking up several men, but never losing her spirit. A handful of white hipsters with floral shirts and 1950s glasses sit on the ground near the curb and chat. The bar we’re at offers dozens of rum cocktails and loads of cigar options should the spirt of Cuba strike your fancy.

Our hour of drinks turns into two or three, and LaiYuen takes me home near 3am, despite the energy of the night making it feel early yet.

Unfortunately, the night ends with a minor fender bender, as a motorcycle speeds up to pass LaiYuen’s car as I am exiting and hits the door. The damage is minor, but the driver asks for her to pay him. She gets away with a minor payoff, about $20, since she tells him she’s a student and therefore poor. I was surprised at the whole thing, since his motorbike sustained almost no damage, and he and we were equally at fault.

The ordeal definitely woke me up again despite originally feeling ready to sleep at 3am. We made plans to hang out tomorrow to Melaka, and I was off to bed.