Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Jer's Highlight from Kuala Lumpur

I kind of felt like I was getting to live a real life Discovery Channel special. Finally, I was getting to see one of those amazing sites that they do hour long highlight reels of. The Petronas Towers are near – I can feel them! We jumped on the train, walked a country mile worth of transfer then hopped another train and voila – we're there! You walk out of the train in the basement level of what else, a giant mall occupying the bottom six or so floors of the towers and an adjacent building. Unfortunately we got there a bit late in the day to make the scheduled tours. They hand out free tickets each morning for tours at set times that run from 9:00 to 3:00. I guess we'll come back another day... Lucky for us, the mall had a Chilis and a movie theater. Sweet.

So after a few more trips to the KLCC mall (the Petronas Towers are a part of the Kuala Lumpur City Center master planned area that includes a huge park, pools, convention center, etc..) for another movie and a failed trip to the nearby Vietnamese consulate we finally made it for the tour. Well, I made it... Courtney slept in. After she'd witnessed my love affair and the ensuing hour-long photo session of the towers the day before, she decided she probably wouldn't appreciate the more intimate look (and undoubtedly hundreds more photos) the way I would. Especially given it required an early morning wakeup as well. Aka – she'd be bored out of her mind. Whatever! With the free ticket giveaway starting at 8:30 in the morning, a limited number of tickets, and huge popularity of the tours, it was highly advised by all that you show up nice and early to get in line for the tickets. I was up at 6:00, on the road by 6:45 and in line by 7:30. And yes, there was already a line – almost 200 people deep by that time. Good thing the iPod came with so I could wait for the opening with a few games of Klondike. It's a good time waster.

So 8:30 rolled around, the gate went up and the ticket handouts began. Depending on how things go, this could work out to be a long day. Each tour time has a limited number of tickets but the cool thing is that you get to pick your time once you get to the front of the line. Fortunately for me there were still spots available for the second session of the day, 9:15, by the time I made it to the counter. After a few minutes spent wandering through the small exhibit center that they have set up our tour was called. They sit you down for a short 3D (oooooooohhhh!!!) video on the Towers that turns out to be a 7 minute advertisement for Petronas (the national oil company and owner/namesake of the Towers). Then it's up the double-decker elevators to the 41st floor where the skybridge is located. I was a little bummed that we didn't get to go all the way up near the top, but hey, what can I ask of a free tour of such an amazing site? When you step off of the elevator you are told that you have exactly 10 minutes to explore the lower level of the skybridge. Essentially you have ten minutes to snap as many photos as you can, hoping that one of them turns out through the surrounding smog and fingerprint-smudged glass. Then, sooner than you can fill up the memory card on the trusty Sony digicam, you're being ushered back into the elevators and on your way back down. This tour runs like a well oiled machine.

Even though you make it less than half way up the towers, when you look out over the city you are still high above just about everything else there is. Looking up at the towers, down from the skybridge, finding a vantage point from anywhere around the enormous grounds, at night or during the day, the Petronas Towers really do draw you in. Their design is largely based on Islamic symbolism, so there's mystical allure to them that you can feel. We had three or four visits to the towers and every time we were there I had to snap more photos – finding a cool new vantage point or seeing some amazing new feature for seemingly the first time. While not quite as awe-inspiring as when we got to visit the upper reaches of the Empire State Building and Twin Towers in NYC a few years back, the Petronas Towers were an amazing site to visit. Hopefully I won't end up in a Dirty Jobs episode next week.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Here they come...

Okay, people, keep an eye on the blog if you're interested. We've got over a week in China at fabulous Jamie's place to be at "home", relax, enjoy friends and catch up on blog and picture posting.

With the best of intentions, Malaysia, Cambodia and Vietnam are on the way!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bats Buzzing Heads, Butterred Breads and Torture Beds

After the rustic island paradise of Pulau Tioman, we made our way inland to Kuala Tahan and the Taman Nagara (National Forest) at the interior of peninsular Malaysia. Here the island paradise leaves the equation and you're left with rustic. Pretty much the whole point of going to Kuala Tahan is to make your way into the Taman Nagara and do a little exploring, so there isn't a whole heck of a lot there except what's needed to support the passers-through. It's a nice enough little town, albeit basic. From the main street you head down to the banks of the two converging rivers. This is where most of the restaurants in town are. Floating barge restaurants. All well and good until the rainy season comes, the rivers flood and rise 30 or so feet and your establishment is now two blocks inland and sitting on top of a half dozen parked motorcycles. Seriously, we saw the flood line markers. No exaggeration. .

Now you can go serious-style and head into the 130 million year old jungle with ambitions of conquering a few of the 2,000+ meter peaks, or you can have a nice little walk over to the suspension bridge for some photos. We opted for an adventure somewhere in the middle, choosing to hike into the jungle for about two hours and then spend the night in one of the wildlife observation huts (bumbuns). We chose Bumbun Yong for our stay and made our way to the trail one afternoon. Now this wasn't quite as much of an ass-kicker as the hike over to Juara, but there were definitely a few sections of the path that were crazy steep and seemingly never ending. The few hour hike brought us to some massive trees, tree root staircases, nomadic jungle tribes, bat-filled caves and plenty of hot jungle.

The hides are as basic of accommodation as you can get. They are little houses built up on stilts with a toilet, wooden bunk beds and a deck that looks down over the area where hopefully you'll spot some wildlife. Our place slept 12, but fortunately we were the only ones there. This bade well for walking around in our underwear while the sweat-drenched clothes had time to dry over the railing. We had brought with us enough food and water to get us through the evening and back to town by late the next morning. This consisted, of course, of Pringles, canned tuna salad (which was surprisingly quite good), crackers and a pre-buttered package of bread that DID NOT worry about sparing the butter. Oh God, there was probably a quarter cup of slightly banana tasting butter on each section of bread. Not so good a choice.

The evening consisted of lots of card games and the burning of several mosquito coils. We did get lucky and see a little bit of wildlife. A huge barking deer (yes, they sound like a dog barking when they call) made its way down to the watering hole in the early evening and drank a bit until it got spooked and ran back into the forest. The closest encounters other than that were the who-knows-how-many bats flying around inside the hide all night. They never got too close, but you could never really tell where they were so it was still a bit uncomfortable. There were also a ton of fireflies which were quite entertaining to watch.

A nearly sleepless night was assuaged by a few episodes of Family Guy and many a game of Klondike on the iPod, but alas, neither of those helped with the pain of bony hips on hard wood beds. Let's just say I was looking forward to daylight so we could make our way back to town. It was a fun little adventure – just you, a hard ass bed, creepy things going bump, screech, hiss, bark and crackle in the night and your thoughts. Well worth the sleepless night. Funny how we left our blow up sleeping pads packed away back at the hostel...