We arrived early today. Clayton and I went out on our balcony and were surprised to see that we were docked in a container port. All around us were stacks and stacks of containers waiting either to be loaded onto a ship or hauled away. Below us, there was some excitement going on. An ambulance had just pulled up (or, in the Malaysian version of English, an ambulans) with its lights flashing. It is not that unusual that when a ship docks, someone needs to be sent for medical care, but being the nosy people that we are, were hoping to catch sight of the person being off-loaded. Yesterday, the ambulance crew put on haz-mat suits before going in to pick up their customer. Very intriguing.
After the ambulance pulled up, five or six police cars pulled up with their lights blazing. Curiouser and curiouser! Had a drug smuggler been caught onboard? Who had been so naughty as to need so many police officers? We had about an hour before we needed to leave our cabin for our tour, so were hoping to see something exciting. Inquiring minds want to know, right? So disappointing to find out that the police were port police with nothing better to do, so met up in front of the ship to stop and chat. We never did see the person being taken to the ambulance either. I guess we need to find better ways to get our kicks!
Today is my last tour for this leg of our journey. And, it went more smoothly than any other tour. Everyone showed up on time. Everyone met up on time after viewing each site. Everyone got along. It was a spectacular day!
I booked the tour with “We Go With Anuar”, a very highly rated company. We had to take a shuttle bus to the port gate to meet up with our tour compadres. The highly efficient port police accompanied us, with blue lights flashing. They take their port security seriously here! I didn’t know it at the time, but this is the 12th largest port in the world. Ten of the fourteen in the group were on the first shuttle bus; they were actually waiting for me on the bus! We found Anuar across the street from where we were waiting. I told him that two couples were not there yet (it was 30 minutes early) and that I would wait for them. He introduced me to our driver for the day, also named Anuar! I chatted with Anuar #1 while Anuar #2 took the others to the air-conditioned van. I reiterated that we wanted to be back at 4:30 pm, even if it meant missing something on the itinerary. I had read that Kuala Lumpur traffic is horrendous, so wanted to make sure that he knew how important it was to us to get back on time.
The final two couples showed up and we were ready to roll. Anuar #1 left, Anuar #2 was to be both guide and driver today. It take about 1.5 hours to get from Port Klang to Kuala Lumpur so he filled us in on some facts and figures related to the area. Kuala Lumpur is a large, modern, metropolitan city of 3.4 million people. In 1963, the 14 states of Malay became the country of Malaysia, adding in Singapore and Borneo. Singapore only stuck around for 2 years; it seceded in 1965 and became independent. It turns out we were visiting smack-dab in the middle of monsoon season, which brings strong winds, heavy rains, and flooding to the area. The Sumatra region blocks most of the monsoons and tsunamis, so this area is not as affected by the weather as others. It gets very hot and humid during “hot season”, aka summer. Anuar told us that we would be getting a free sauna today. Even though it is the rainy season, it was still in the high 80’s to low 90’s with 85% humidity today.
Kuala means “confluence of two rivers”; Lumpur means “muddy”, so the literal interpretation of the city’s name is “Confluence of two muddy rivers”. Islam is the main religion here, but religious freedom is in the constitution, so other religions are freely practiced. Unlike Penang where Chinese comprise 70% of the population, only 18% of the population here is Chinese. Indians make up a small percentage and Malay make up the majority. Rubber used to be the primary product of the region, but now that synthetic rubber is produced elsewhere, the main export is palm oil.
Rice is the staple of the Malay diet. So much rice is consumed that only 60% of it is grown here; the remaining 40% is imported from Thailand and Indonesia. On the west side of the Malay peninsula (where we are), hot and spicy food is popular. To the east, people prefer sweet food. To the north, coconut milk and turmeric are used in cooking, and to the south, lots of chili peppers!
The traditional Malaysian house is built on stilts (to protect from flooding) and is made of wood. Now, wooden houses are no longer built; brick is the most commonly used material.
Islam came to the region in the early 13th century, spread by Arab merchants. Previously, Hindu was the main religion. Some Hindu traditions remain, including the concept of a dowry. Dowries here are paid by the groom’s family, not the bride’s. Unlike in the Middle East where the weekend starts is on Friday and Saturday, the weekend here is Saturday/Sunday. However, there is a two-hour lunch break for Friday prayer (today is a Friday). Muslims here pray 5 times a day, like Muslims all over the world. However, there are differences in how the religion is practiced here, especially in how the women dress. Many women wear a headscarf, but for the most part, do not wear the abbeya. We only saw one woman in a burka.
One thing that becomes obvious quickly here is that there is terrible traffic. There is a monorail system (elevated train), but it is so unreliable that people don’t use it. We didn’t see too many city buses, and the ones we did see were mostly empty. A subway system is being built, but won’t open until 2018. So, everyone drives. And, there are traffic jams everywhere. At least they don’t honk at each other constantly like in India!
Malaysia used to be under Portuguese rule, then Dutch, then British. From 1943-45 (during WWII), they were under Japanese rule. They achieved independence from Great Britain through negotiations rather than war.
Our first stop of the day is the King’s Palace. The king’s position here is largely symbolic; the Prime Minister is the one that actually has power. Since Malaysia is a former British Colony, there are similarities in how the country is run. Nine of the fourteen states in Malaysia have Sultans. One of the Sultans is selected to be King, and serves for 5 years. At that time, another Sultan takes his place.
We were able to take pictures with the guards, but were only able to peer through the bars of the gates at the actual palace. We had 15 minute to wander around. They had a nice, large restroom here. I was unpleasantly surprised to find that the lovely building contained fancy squatty potties. As we were about to get back on the van, guards on horseback appeared. They were there to switch places with the guards on duty (a very informal changing of the guard).
Off the Batu Caves! I am sure there is a Batman joke I could make, but I can’t think of one. The Batu caves is a Hindu Temple built into caves. It is dedicated to the lord of knowledge (Lord Maruta??). In order to reach the temple, you must climb up 273 steep, narrow steps. It had been raining earlier, so the steps were slippery as well. To add to the fun, monkeys hang out by the handrails and try to steal things from people climbing the steps. One monkey snagged a brand new bottle of soda from someone, turned it upside down and took a bite out of the bottle and drank it. Our guide warned us that they will try to steal cameras as well (I kept a death-grip on mine).
When you reached the top, you enter into a large cave that has temples all around it. You can climb another set of steps to reach the final temple. The temple wasn’t that spectacular, but the cave wall with monkeys climbing all over it was! Many of the monkeys had babies. Very cute!
The walk down wasn’t much easier than the walk up. There is a very real danger of falling given the steepness of the steps and the unsteadiness of those walking up and down them. In other words, someone might lose their balance and knock you over. And of course, the monkeys add to the fun. At the bottom of the steps are some shops. We looked around a bit but didn’t find anything too compelling to buy, so sat and chatted with some in our group instead.
Our next stop was the famous Petronas Twin Towers. These used to be the tallest towers in the world, but no more (a mere 452 meters tall). We were dropped off for a quick, 20-minute visit which turned out to be just long enough to take a few pictures outside and use the really nice clean restrooms inside. There is an upscale shopping mall on the lower levels of the towers.
Everyone made it back to the van on time! Go team! The driver suggested skipping the stop at the pewter factory. I readily agreed! On to Independence Square! We had plenty of time to look at shops and read billboards as we sat in traffic. So many cars. . .I was amused to see McDonalds signs advertising that McDonalds was halal here. I suppose if they weren’t, they wouldn’t have too much business. I would say that there was a lot of traffic, but since we are in Malaysia, I will say that there was a lot of trafik!
We made a quick stop at Independence Square and took photos of the square and its surrounding area.
Our final stop of the day was at the Central Market. We were given 1.5 hours to shop and eat. I wasn’t sure what to expect; most markets are outside. We were pleasantly surprised to find that this was a two-story indoor market with an enormous amount of small shops with all types of interesting items. There was a food court on the second floor. All of the food stalls had some type of Asian food. Fortunately, there were pictures of the food items so we could pick something out without knowing what its name was (we just pointed to what we wanted). Both of us had delicious lunches.
Next up was a bit of shopping. I found a batik wrap skirt for a decent price so bought that for myself. We are still looking for a couple of gifts for family members but didn’t find anything here that said, “Buy Me!”. We still have quite a few ports ahead of us, and we will have 4 days in Hong Kong before flying home, so I still have time.
It cost .5 Ringitts to use the bathroom, but worth it considering how much traffic we were likely to encounter on the drive back to port. Don’t you wonder why this sign is necessary?
Again, everyone in the group showed up promptly at the agreed upon time. As people entered the van, Anuar collected the funds for the tour. After paying for our tour, I am proud to say that I managed to spend all except 2 of our Ringitts (about 50 cents worth).
We were supposed to get back to the port by 4:30 and we were. I have nothing but positive things to say about the day. We had a great group of people, a great tour guide, and a great itinerary. We all cooperated and everything ran smoothly. I would highly recommend this company (www.wegowithanuar.com).
We were dropped off at the port gate and promptly go onto the shuttle bus back to the ship. For some reason, there was a long line to go through ship’s security. Crew members brought us cold, wet washcloths to help us stay cool. Clayton got some cool drinks for us, which was nice, too. NCL always has ice water and some type of fruity drink waiting for you when you return from excursions, as well as the cold washcloths.
As we departed the port, we were amazed at how truly enormous it was. We thought it was huge when all we could see from our balcony. After cruising from the port, we were still passing container ships more than a half hour later. Massive!
We have a sea day tomorrow, and then will be in Singapore. Leg #2 ends in Singapore and Leg #3 begins!