The Batu Caves

We have seen so many caves on this trip already that we almost gave the Batu caves, on the outskirts of town, a miss. Good job we didn’t though, nevermind stalagtites and stalagmites, these caves have something completely different to offer. They have become a Hindu shrine and as we drew close in the taxi we could see the huge gold Hindu statue reaching up into the sky.
To get to the main Cathedral cave you have to climb 272 steps which in this heat is quite a climb but it’s ok as there are several well-fed monkeys hanging around the steps to entertain you on the way. At the top and in the cave it is hard to notice any cave like features among the Hindu shrines and statues but once again it is the monkeys that steal the show.
Unfortunately I don’t know enough about the Hindu religion (I know I should being a teacher!) but the myriad of colourful and interesting statues of the many gods certainly do inspire me to want to learn more. Like the huge green monkey/tiger/human god statue. Not surprisingly Si was very interested in the statue of the half cow, half topless woman god.
The next cave was a Hindu art gallery and the best word to describe that would be unnatural! There was not much regard shown here for the ancient cave formations since they were painted in bright rainbow colours which complemented the colourful Hindu art work beautifully! Through the back of the cave we were surprised to find an almost impromptu reptile zoo with snakes, turtles and mini crocodiles. We weren’t really sure about the environmental / conservation policies here, especially since outside there were a couple of monkeys being kept in a cage whilst being taunted by one of the free monkeys leaping about on top of the cage!

Hopping around KL

Once again our day began with a visit to the Petronas Towers in an attempt to get up to the skybridge. But despite us being much earlier today (well it was before ten am!) we were still too late to get a ticket (turns out there are only one thousand given out each day and people start queueing at eight am! Not sure we are THAT keen!)
We may have mentioned that it is hot here but just to paint a picture, it is so hot that merely walking down the street and around the corner from one sight to the next leaves you hot, sweaty and exhausted. The only solution was to do the lazy touristy thing and jump on the KL Hop on Hop off bus. It probably took a lot longer than walking by the time the bus navigated the congested traffic of KL but the air conditioned comfort made it so worth it.
We hopped off at many sights from Freedom square (with KL’s answer to Big Ben), parliament house, the National Palace (reminiscent of Buckingham Palace where you peer in the gate but the most interesting thing to look at are the armed guards on horse back!) a colourful Hindu temple, the National Mosque (impressively simple inside but with the capacity to accomodate 15,000 praying muslims at any one sitting. Wow.) And lastly Central market where we practised our bartering and bought some more things we shouldn’t have.

Kuala Lumpur

Another day, another city to explore. Since the Petronas Towers is probably the most famous building in Kuala Lumpur we decided to make it our first port of call. Unfortunately our late night last night and our buffet breakfast with its many tempting offerings (we passed on the curry – not for breakfast!) meant that we were too late to get one of the free tickets up to the skybridge. So for today we had to make do with amusing ourselves in the tat, I mean tourist shop (selling every conceivable souvenir emblazoned with the towers or in the shape of the towers) and in the huge shopping mall at the base of the towers. I know it sounds like we spent a lot of our time at the moment in shopping malls but don’t worry we are not enjoying ourselves and spending lots of money on fine clothes, mainly we are just enjoying the air conditioned comfort!
We were in the mood for going up a high building today so we headed towards the KL Skytower, which is the fourth tallest communications tower in the world. We didn’t think 100 extra metres (compared to the Auckland tower) would make much difference but when we got up there it really did. It was high and everything down below looked like little dots. Even Si wasn’t tempted to do anything crazy like jump off from this height. Which was just as well since the ‘adrenalin’ entertainment in the form of a flying fox (only from the base of the tower which is at the top of a small hill) looked pretty tame. We weren’t quite sure what all the screaming was about, we could only conclude that these people obviously haven’t been to New Zealand.
As we left the tower we saw a couple of monkeys hanging around the sign that read ‘Don’t feed the monkeys’ (ah, if only they could read!). The sight of Malaysia’s answer to the kangeroo tempted us into the city rainforest walk to see if we could see anymore. Sadly the monkeys remained elusive, however we did encounter some wildlife, in the form of our arch enemies the mosquitos (is there no escape?)
On our way home we called into the Malaysia Tourist Centre and ended up trying lots of exotic Malaysian fruits, some nice, like the hairy mangosteen, some not so nice, like the rotten feet smelling durians, that are also banned from many public places, including our hotel!

Ricketty trains

Today we left Singapore again, this time by train and in the direction of Kuala Lumpur. Just before we crossed the causeway to Malaysia, and only minutes after leaving, everyone had to get off the train, go through Singaporian Immigration then get back on, I’m sure there’s an easier way. We didn’t get a stamp in our passports for Malaysia, the train just carried on, hopefully we don’t need one…
The train had left half an hour late, and the driver seemed intent on making up the time, but the train did not agree. Rocking furiously from side to side, it made me wonder what it would take for a carriage to come off the rails. To get between carriages required a leap across a wobbly bit of metal, with the tracks whizzing past underneath. Even after safely navigating that, there was the small matter of open carriage doors. Not so bad until you add the movement of the carriages. After several attempts I concluded that it was safest to just stay in our seats!
All fun and games though, seeing as we made it to KL in one piece. The taxi system here is the best, you pay at a counter in advance before even finding the taxi – no bartering, unexpected charges etc, just pay and go. Our British pounds stretch a bit further here (the taxi ride cost £2:10, how far could you go for that in the UK?) and so we have splashed out on a rather plush hotel, our room is great, and so long as you push your nose up to the glass of the window and squint a little, it boasts views of the top of the Petronas Towers, sweet!

Raffles – not so posh

Having been lured into buying cheap tickets for the bird park, it seemed rude not to go. The talking birds were suspiciously quiet, giving you odd looks when you talked to them (maybe I need more of a chinese-english accent), but at least we weren’t as bad as another western tourist who tried speaking to every single bird in the park in the hope they would talk back (which they didn’t!). It was also weird seeing the Australian birds captive in a zoo, like the Australian Pelican that had a fish wriggling in it’s mouth, and was then chased around by another, much larger pelican in hope of a feed. As soon as we walked into the Lorikeet enclosure (another Aussie bird, a small red parrot), one landed on Caroline who screamed, so it landed on me instead, pirate style. At $2 to feed them, who could resist, within seconds a flock of them had landed on me, all jostling for a slurp of the murky brown liquid, and only outnumbered by the gathering Japanese tourists. Occasionally, one would take a nibble of a t-shirt or finger, I wonder if they get bored of the same old slop (the birds that is, not the tourists…).

With 2 pairs of shoes to choose from and only one night to drink in Raffles, Caroline had to pick her favourite. Saying that, we needn’t have got dressed up so much, the place was full of tourists (who’d have guessed!), and the floor littered with peanut shells that crunch unpleasantly underfoot, as the thing to do is eat peanuts and chuck the rest on the floor (if anyone knows why please let us know). But we had our one or two Singapore Slings, revelled in the colonial surroundings and left, another landmark done.

Shopping in Singapore

It’s what every tourist brochure we have found tells you to do in Singapore, so today we went shopping. We began in what should have been shopping heaven for Si, Sim Lim Square, an electronics shopping mecca. Indeed his eyes were goggling at all the gadgetry on offer but alas it was quite expensive and all the shops had the same boring stuff.
Next up was a return trip to Mustapha’s in Little India. We must have been feeling in the mood for a little crazy but it was the cheap shoes that lured me there. We are hoping to go for drinks in Raffles later and I’m not sure they will let me in with my flip flops!
Cheap shoes in hand we set off to do the touristy thing around Clarke Quay (and buy yet another pair of shoes!). We found the statue of Sir Stamford Raffles, a rather dapper looking man who was responsible for creating Singapore as the international trading post it has become today.
In the evening we met up with a local, my friend Faz from university. It was fab to see her despite the fact that it reminded me that it has been almost ten years since we left uni, man we’re getting old! Anyway Faz took us to Arab street where we had a meal in a Morrocan restaurant almost at the entrance to the mosque (we made sure not to embarass Faz by trying to order a beer!). One of the most interesting aspects of Asia so far has been the food so I feel the need to describe the new things that we try. Tonight I had chicken tangine which is chicken and potatoes cooked in a clay pot and served with pitta bread. Very nice. Si had a kebab so I don’t really need to describe that.
After our meal Faz drove us up to Mount Faber for a drink overlooking the views of Sentosa Island, the city lights and the oil refinery! She then dropped us off at our hotel where she informed us with a grin that we were staying in the red light district. (I hope she was joking!)

Animals in the Dark

We’ve been in Singapore for a couple of nights, we haven’t done much sightseeing, although shopping and eating do seem to be a big proportion of the tourist to-do lists.
Around the corner from the hotel is the Buddhist Tooth Relic Temple, a modern (there’s a car park in the basement!) temple, full of buddha statues and gold. The sceptic in me wondered why they emphasised inner peace resulting from giving money to the temple, and every brick and tile could be sponsored. I suppose they are at least being open about it, and there was a whole lot of gold to pay for.
That evening we went to the zoo, or more accurately the one and only Singapore Night Safari. Suitably laden with mozzie repellent we caught a tram around the park, making out the dusky shadows of animals as we drove past – the photo is of a rhino, and about as good as they got, so unusually for me, I just watched the animals. Finally we wandered around the walkways, constantly imagining mozzie bites, but seeing the animals when they are naturally active puts a new slant on a visit to the zoo. It would’ve been good if the bats in the walk-through enclosure weren’t so active!

Byebye Bintan, Ni Hao Chinatown

All good things come to an end, but at least we had until the afternoon on Bintan before being dragged kicking and screaming to the Singapore Ferry. No longer will we have waiters who keep coming around to pour your drink for you, place your napkin on your lap, or fold your towels if you go for a swim. There’s even a mini culture shock back in Singapore when nobody smiles sweetly and says hello when you pass. In short, we liked Bintan, if you’re passing through Singapore at any point, make sure you visit!
Our next hotel, whilst not a touch on the Angsana in Bintan, is in the middle of Chinatown. We also arrived at the best time to experience Chinatown – dinner time! Our first call was to the food street, deftly avoiding the “pig liver” stall we made for the Thai stall and had spicy chilli chicken, the even hotter Mee Goreng noodles and pineapple rice – served in a pineapple! So simple and so nice.
Next was of course the markets, so cheap yet so full of useless tat, like silk tissue box covers, I mean who has a need for that? So we only bought three.

More sitting by the pool

The weather gods were smiling on us today, during breakfast the sky turned black and there was a heavy tropical downpour, just enough to entertain us whilst we ate, cool down the air, and clear out the pool. By the time we got to the pool, the sun was out in full strength and we got down to some serious sun, swim, sun, snorkel, sun routine. Not that we don’t appreciate all this easy living, our holiday thus far has been as amazing as it has been long, and it still doesn’t feel right that we get to do all this stuff!
Caroline’s parents left today too, the original plan was to spend a couple of nights, but then I’m not too good at reading itineraries! We had dinner down at the beach again, but this time with musicians and countless different types of Indonesian/Malaysian Satay skewers (including little squids!) – the prospect of Malaysia is looking better by the day!


After wrestling with the shower / toilet combo we ventured out into Little India in search of some brekie. Since we didn’t really fancy curry so early in the morning I’m ashamed to say that we ended up in that ubiquitous fast food ‘restaurant’ with the yellow arches! Don’t worry, we won’t be making a habit of it, especially since Si wasn’t too sure about the panackes and maple syrup with sausages and cheese combo – doesn’t sound quite right at any time of day does it?
Whilst wandering Little India and checking out some wonderfully colourful temples we found Racecourse Road, home of the banana leaf curry. And sure enough there were numerous restaurants advertising said curries. Vowing to come back to sample them some other time we headed back to the hostel to pick up our bags, we had a ferry to catch.
We decided to go to Bintan, firstly to see my parents who were spending the last couple of days of their holiday there but also because it is in Indonesia and so gave us an excuse to receive another stamp in our rapidly filling passports. The Angsana resort in Bintan is a little slice of paradise. Our room is luxurious, the pool area is lush and the beach is straight out of a travel brochure. We spent the day relaxing by the pool and diving in for a cool, refreshing dip now and then.
Dinner tonight consisted of freshly caught fish on the beach. Heaven. Already we never want to leave.