Tuesday, February 4, 2014

KL is Awesome if You Like Big Asian Cities And Shopping

We landed in Kuala Lumpur, or more precisely at LCCT, which is the low cost carrier terminal.  It's a Third World style place stuck out far from anywhere.  It does have a duty free store with an excellent selection of liquor.  Since Malaysia is run by Muslims, alcohol has a big tax, resulting in beer and liquor which costs about double what you pay for anywhere else because it is the will of Allah.  We got a one liter bottle of vodka, which in retrospect was not enough.  You are allowed to bring in one each.  Bad decision making.
To get to Kuala Lumpur, one needs to take a shuttle to the regular airport, which is pretty far away.  From there you can take the city train into Kuala Lumpur.  We opted for a cab, which was expensive, but got us right to our hotel, Hotel Sentral, in the Little India part of town.
Kuala Lumpur, or KL, is a big Asian city.  I live in a big Asian city, so I don't get real excited when I'm in one.  I had booked the hotel for two nights, but was ready to leave after the first night.  Not that the neighborhood was unpleasant, it was OK.  There were lots of good Indian restaurants, and some neat shops, but the area can be pretty much checked out in about 2 hours.  The most interesting thing I noticed were the abundance of blind people.  There were also several places in the neighborhood featuring Blind Massage.  I found out later that there is also a big school and home for the blind nearby.
We did enjoy lounging around in the hotel since we had spent a couple of days traveling preceded by lots of work.  Since I found KL to be mostly uninteresting, I did not feel guilty about ignoring the great shopping Mecca of Malaysia.
After 2 nights we were more than happy to begin the next phase of our trip, Pangkor Island.  In order to get there, we needed to get to the bus station which involved one of the great features of Malaysian travel--getting hosed by taxi drivers.  I'm using the same travel guide that I did last year,  "The Rough Guide to Malaysia".  I believe that the word "rough" is used in the same manner as in "rough draft", since it is appears to be only partially finished, and there is strong evidence that it has been written by people who haven't actually been to many of the places they describe.  For example, I don't think they have actually taken a taxi in Kuala Lumpur, since they claim that the taxis are required to use their meters.  The taxis state this on the door of their vehicles, but don't actually practice this, a fact that the authors would have noticed had they taken the time to ride in a cab.  Instead the cabby tells you that the traffic is bad and quotes you a greatly inflated fare.  If you refuse, and counter offer, they drive away.  After being refused a couple of times, we finally consented to be driven to the bus station through light traffic, for roughly three times the cost of a taxi in China.
We had been to this bus station (bas terminal) last year and it was pretty much the same, except our bas was less late and we only had to endure the fumes in the basement boarding docks for about 20 minutes.  Someone came to tell everyone that our bas was loading from a different dock and we all scurried over to the next dock and embarked.  
Mmmmm, bus fumes!

Malaysian buses are comfy!  The seats are plush, large, recline a lot, and have tons of leg room.  They are also reasonably priced.  We got 2 tickets to Lumut, four hours away, for about a quarter of the price of a taxi from the airport.
Lumut is home of the ferry to Pangkor Island.  The bas ride to Lumut is very pleasant especially if you like palm oil plantations.  These can be found anywhere in Malaysia that is not jungle.  If you have ever been to Iowa, just replace the corn with 30 foot tall palm trees planted in rows.  After about 10 minutes or so of watching palm oil trees out the window the novelty has worn off and you begin to look for an alternative.  The drive to Lumut is 4 hours of this.  Since the seats are so comfy, napping happens.  Palm oil plantations combined with Malaysian bas seats are the Ambien of Malaysia and have none of the nasty side effects.  Insomniacs should try a bus holiday in Malaysia.
Upon arriving in Lumut we found to our surprise that the guide book was correct.  The ferry terminal was across the street from the bas terminal.  Lucky for us the ferry left immediately after we boarded.  We headed to the back deck and enjoyed the air blowing the palm plantation sleep effects from our brains.  

After about half an hour, we pulled into a dock at Pangkor Island.  We disembarked only to find out we had gotten off too early.  The guide book was not correct for long, and had failed to mention the fact that there were two stops.  Fortunately for us one of the crew set us straight and we got back on.
After that the guide book authors got it right.  I think they may have actually gone to Pangkor, but neglected to add the extra ferry stop.  There were pink mini van taxis to take us to the other side to the village of Nipah, just like the book said.  They charge 15 ringgit, just like the book said.  We didn't go everywhere the book related, but everywhere we went was pretty much the way it was described. 
OK, time to quit hammering the guide book.  Pangkor is a pretty nice place.  The only drawback is the weekends.  That's when people from KL brave the gauntlet of palm oil trees and make the drive over.  Nipah is a pretty laid back place.  The main street is lined with tourist shops, barbecue shacks and water sports places decorated with rows of orange life vests.  In fact, life vest orange is the main color scheme of this street.
Beautiful Nipah

We checked into the Budget Beach Resort, which is out of sight of the beach down a quiet side street.  Not a problem.  The main street is on the beach and is noisy, and Budget Beach Resort is quiet.  It consists of closely spaced bungalows with porches.  They have a fridge full of drinks including ice cold beer at a reasonable price (for Malaysia).  The staff is extremely friendly and helpful.  I would stay there again.
We arrived on a Friday and if I was to make a suggestion to anyone going there it would be to avoid the weekends if possible.  That is unless you like jet skis and motorboats buzzing around everywhere.  Fortunately, it's at its worst on Saturday afternoon.  By noon Sunday everyone is heading back to the Big City.

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