So, it was finally time for Harmony and I to head to Malaysia - a country that was not originally on our list of places to visit. Malaysia's slack visa system made it an excellent solution to our lack of money and changing of flights. Plus, we were looking forward to the country's capital city and seeing the sights that it had to offer.
The chaotic journey started with an uncomfortable, seven hour bus ride with a driver that practically wanted to kill us. Whilst talking on the phone for the entire duration, the driver went at least 20 mph over the speed limit at all times. We couldn't even sleep through it, seeing as we were thrown around every time he hit a bump or went around a corner. Fortunately, the second stretch of the journey was a lot better and more bearable.
After we arrived in Hat Yai, a city close to the Malaysian border, we had a few hours to eat and explore. At 7pm, we boarded a "VIP" bus. The seats were super comfortable and had a power supply each! Unfortunately, food wasn't provided like on some of our bus journeys in Thailand and neither was a blanket, which was a problem as the air con was freezing cold. On the plus side, we made plenty of stops through the night for snacks and toilets.
Eleven and a half hours later, we arrived in Kuala Lumpur. We found ourselves at TBS bus station on the south side of the city and made our way to the conjoined train terminal. Thankfully, the rail system in Malaysia is cheap and generally fantastic. The guy at the ticket counter was friendly and helpful to, and he spoke very good English! For only 2.40 Ringgit each, we were given two tokens that would take us 20 minutes and a few stops up the train line without any changes.
After getting off the train at Kuala Lumpur station, we only had to walk a short way into Chinatown to where we were staying - Le Village Guest House. It was a really hard hostel to find at first because we simply didn't know where to look. When we eventually found it, we walked upstairs and we were struck with an overwhelming positive and friendly atmosphere. It was a cool and chilled out place, and our double room was surprisingly nice for the price! We settled in straight away and then went out to explore the area.
On the other hand, we were given some warnings about the city and told a few strange stories by one of the other guests - making it hard to shake an unwanted paranoia and prejudice when we were out and about. We weren't expecting so much of the city to be so run down as well. In Chinatown, there was an amazing market, but it was always so dirty. Our favourite places in the city were the more modern ones, with clean squares and towering skyscrapers. The lesser areas were going to take some getting used to.
We had walked so far that day that I'm surprised we made it back to the hostel without passing out - especially in the high heat. The map on my phone sent us all over the city, which wasn't a bad thing, it was just a lot of effort. Our hope was to find a park, so we had aimed for Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve, which was relatively close by. We soon realised that it wasn't much of a park after all - it was more of a forest as the name would suggest! On the plus side, I noticed how clean the air felt in this area, or at least a lot cleaner than every other city we had been to.
Where We Ate
The following day, I just don't know where the time went. We ate breakfast at Cafe Old Market Square, where we got cold beans and half cooked eggs on toast. Then, before we knew it, it was time for dinner! We ate at Subway, which isn't exactly Malaysian cuisine, but we did like another place called Restoran Al Ariffin. Like a lot of restaurants in Kuala Lumpur, it operates a self service system. We went up, asked for rice and then topped it with an enormous pile of vegetables. Of course, we didn't have a clue how this system worked at first and everyone stared (probably holding in their laughter). It really wasn't the nicest place, but the food was delicious and it only cost 6 Ringgit each for the biggest portions we have ever eaten!
The Petronas Towers & KLCC Park
After we ate dinner that evening, we decided to check out KLCC Park for the fantastic views of the Petronas Towers. The towers are Kuala Lumpur's most recognisable landmark, and they were only a short train ride away! Plus, it only cost 2.10 Ringgit each from Pasar Seni (the nearest train station to Chinatown). Incredibly, the towers were the tallest twin towers in the world from 1998 to 2004, so they were an amazing thing to see and stand beneath!
We made it to the park in time to watch some of the fountain show at Symphony Lake. With a smaller crowd of people than I expected to see, the park was very peaceful. Overall, the area was really nice and very modern. The only downside was how much we struggled to find a bar!
The next day, we went back to the towers to see them in the day light. Wanting to experience more of the city, we decided to walk the whole way - that's a distance of about 2km! It was hot, we were sweaty and it took forever, but it was well worth it. By this point, the city was definitely growing on us - especially as we got closer to the park where there was an enormous increase in skyscrapers and modern architecture.
As well as there being the fountain show at the park, we also found a kid's swimming pool and play area, which were well used and added a great deal to the atmosphere and feel of the area. Unfortunately it started to rain a little bit throughout the day, but we could seek shelter inside the mall that is connected to the towers and train station. The mall was huge and had everything that you would ever need, including clothing shops, supermarkets and a fantastic food court with options for everyone.
Photographing The Petronas Towers
We basically had all day to spend at the park so, when it wasn't raining, I could scout out some possible photo spots. When the sun started to set, I headed to my first spot, which was where the swimming pool met the lake. When the city lights started to switch on, I moved to a spot above the swimming pool where I could include more interesting features in the scene. Next, I headed over to get a shot of the fountain show, just for good measure. Thankfully, I could get exactly where I wanted to be on the edge of the lake. I love the movement that I captured in the clouds and the colours in the fountains. I might actually say that it's my favourite shot of the evening! The other shots needed a total butchering in Photoshop and the removal of trees, leaves and people. Nevertheless, the evening overall was a massive success!
I also returned to photograph the towers a few days later at sunrise. I found a spot on the west side of the towers and set up in front of a long, leading fountain, thinking that the lines and reflections in the water would add something different to a much photographed subject. I had the place to myself and the light was perfect! Then, I ran through the mall so I could retake one of my previous shots inside the park before the light disappeared. It was such a nice morning and the park was so peaceful that I staying to watch the sun come up with only a few runners and workers around me.
A visit to Kuala Lumpur wouldn't have been complete without a trip to Batu Caves! This collection of caves is located 13km and just a 2.50 Ringgit train journey away! From China Town, Kuala Lumpur Train Station was the nearest station, conveniently conjoined to Pasar Seni via bridge. The journey took about 40 minutes and, before we knew it, we were approaching the large, limestone mountain.
We found ourselves immediately in awe of the scenery and huge statues of Hindu deities that we quickly found after getting off the train. The golden statue of Lord Murugan is actually the tallest in the world at 43m!
There was one street that was lined with food vendors selling sweet and savoury snacks, and a few souvenir stalls. Most of the people that we spoke to were from India and Pakistan. They showed us the sounds and smells of Indian culture, and what an important place this is to the people of Malaysia as well as the international Hindu community. Honestly though, there was a little bit of annoying hassle - from the people and the monkeys!
The monkeys inhabited the caves and also seemed territorial over the 272 set of stairs the lead to the Temple Cave. Luckily, we made it up without experiencing an attack, though we did see some sneaky snatching of food. At the top of the first set of stairs, we found ourselves in the first incredible cave. Then, we just had to walk up another set of stairs to the main religious site, with a temple, tall walls and an opening that let in sunlight. Here, we found more animals - including pigeons, chickens and bats!
The cave's rock face walls were also covered in lush greenery and the birds would occasionally fly down and around you. So, I accepted the challenge of capturing a cool shot of all the different elements. I used an overhanging rock to block out the opening (avoiding issues with dynamic range and haze), and then waited at least an hour for a pigeon to fly down. Luckily, we weren't pooed on like some of the other people!
After exploring and photographing Temple Cave, we didn't really fancy seeing the other caves. Well, we did try to check them out, but there were long waits for guided tours. We just had to brave the monkeys again before heading back to the train station.
The KL Tower
On our final morning in Kuala Lumpur, I decided to shoot the KL Tower, as I felt it was iconic and important to the city. It pierces 420m into the sky and gets illuminated in a variety of colours, so you might think that it was easy to snap a good photo of something so interesting, but it was actually a massive challenge!
The train took me to Dang Wangi station and I then walked to the corner of the road where I thought that I'd be able to cut through the forest reserve. When I saw that the gate was locked, I had to go right around the perimeter, hoping to find another way in. Eventually, I came to Jalan Puncak Road which is where the main entrance is.
With confidence, I walked past the big barrier and security guards and began climbing the stairs up to the tower. At the top, I found more security guards and barriers that blocked the tower, so I walked around to the upside down house to the place that I wanted to be at in the first place. I thought to silhouette the palm trees and use them for leading lines. At first, it was hard to frame the top of the tower without the palm trees blocking it, but I got a few cool shots in the end.
Knowing that the train would be jam-packed because it was rush hour, I decided to walk all the way back to the hostel. Because of all the walking and exploring Harmony and I had done, our bodies were incredibly achey when it came to leaving Kuala Lumpur. Luckily, we didn't have to carry our bags far to MYDIN Sinar Kota bus station, where we paid 12 Ringgit each for a bus to KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport). There were a few taxi drivers hanging around at the bus station that tried cheating us into missing our bus and needing a 150 Ringgit taxi trip instead, but we were too smart for them!