Two Savages in Southeast Asia

Going Peninsular

| Comments

Plane time once more! Early flight out of Siem Reap International, which means an even earlier tuk-tuk ride over from our guesthouse. The tuk-tuk drivers have sense enough to know that flight passengers have money, so the going rate is 5 USD (as compared to 1 USD for just about anywhere in Siem Reap proper.) We have an unfortunate incident at the airport: we forgot to repack the bamboo liquor into our checked baggage, so it is duly confiscated by security. It seems we are fated not to bring it home for Valkyrie’s father, so we content ourselves with a farewell picture and seek consolation in food.

The flight itself is quick indeed, a short 1.5 hour hop over Cambodia that narrowly misses Thailand’s east coast on the way down to Kuala Lumpur. Maybe it’s best that the liquor was confiscated; Malaysia is nominally secular, but as a Muslim majority nation looks somewhat unkindly on alcohol. Some provinces (though not the one we’re landing in) ban it altogether. We’re back in romanized script-land, something we’d left behind in Vietnam – but here it’s completely different again, no tonal accents, words borrowed from English rather than French (for this was a British colony once! Crazy colonials.)

KL itself has that familiar city-feel of most mid-to-large Southeast Asian cities: large, bustling, eternally hazy, a mash of cultures, an architectural hodge-podge of colonial, traditional, and modern punctuated sharply by destitute shantytowns, air conditioning blasting from malls and storefronts, food vendors and hawker centers, durian scent, all blended together into a bewildering stew in the stifling muggy heat. The most notable differences: here the airport is way more distant than in Singapore, so that we have to hop a bus (which, at only 9 RM or 3 USD each, is more than reasonable); mosques are far more prevalent here; the iconic Petronas towers mark our approach to the downtown core; the public transit is a bit of a shambles, but still functional and fairly cheap; walkability is close to zero in many areas. We manage to find a guesthouse out the back of some large mall, a cute little joint with dorms that have giant flags painted on their doors. There’s a slight smell of durian in the room, but we’re mostly used to that by now; in any event, it’s centrally located, which is good enough by our standards right now.

We run into another Westerner in the hostel, a guy named Bo who works in Shanghai for a company that makes equipment for engineering stress testing; we find out that Cummins, which Valkyrie’s father works for, is one of their clients! Such strange connections are not unusual in the traveller world. He makes a valuable addition to our city-exploring team: his time in Shanghai has equipped him with a working knowledge of street/hawker Chinese, which comes in handy when we hop over to Chinatown for some food at the market. After that, we grab some coconuts by the Central Market and wander around, ending up in a Ramadan market over by one of the large downtown mosques. Sunset prayer is in session, so the market isn’t doing much business yet. We feel a bit, well, foolish and Western wandering through with our coconuts, as if our mere existence is blasphemy, but we get over the feeling and head for KLCC.

No dice on Petronas: we’ve missed the last admission to the towers! Oh well; we wander some more, ending up in KLCC Park, and are shooed away from the pond in the middle by some security guards. Apparently no fun is allowed at this time of night, and certainly not for people as old as we are, no matter how childish our inner disposition. After some searching, we locate an incredibly chic bar with Leffe on tap at the eye-popping price of 25 RM. We consider it our consolation prize for failing to go up the towers…

Then it’s back to the hostel, where we consider our options. KL is nice enough, but after our time in Cambodia we’re itching to see something a bit less tourist-capital-y. We fire off a salvo of requests on CouchSurfing, hitting all directions in the hope that this will inform our next plans. Hope something comes up by the time we awaken in the morning!