Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.
– Helen Keller
Being a short and cheap flight [on a Taylor Swift plane], we couldn’t pass up adding another passport stamp from Malaysia, so we jetted to Kuala Lumpur following our adventure in Singapore. Seeing as we worked so hard to make sure our passports had space for said journey, I was disappointed – ok, closer to fuming – that Malaysia immigration put a fifth stamp on one of my already-full passport pages! Sigh.
Anyhow, after arriving in KL, as it’s referred to by most Asian residents and familiar visitors, I can’t say I was too impressed. We stayed at a lovely villa surrounded by the urban center of Malaysia, but even this couldn’t really combat my very neutral feelings on the place. I would love to say this was another enthralling adventure for the Marasiaks, but I would be lying if I said that.
In truth, it had its enjoyable parts, which I’ll get to in a moment, but my overall impression didn’t have me itching to come back. Ironically, AirAsia (yes, I’m aware they had a tragic incident recently) has its major hub in KL, making it almost unavoidable if you’re searching for cheap flights between Asian destinations.
Note: I learned upon our return to Korea that my opinion is just one of many [obviously], and that other expats with whom we socialize did enjoy their trip very much. If you’re really up for it, book a flight and decide for yourself.
My recommendations if you are in the area, for business or otherwise, include the following activities:
The major difference between Food Tour Malaysia and others we have done in Asia is that it visits some of the suburban areas of KL where cuisine varies by ethnicity. The other major difference is that our co-participants didn’t show up, so our guide ended up taking us around the city in his personal vehicle so it was like going out to eat with a friend.
Looks like worms, but those are tasty noodles, I swear! Bottom-right: J-Mar inspects the sting ray.
One upside to KL is that ethnically, it’s pretty evenly split ethnically between Malay, Chinese and Indian populations. Our food tour gave us a really good sense of this unique culture through both the flavors and the sights. We tried a lot of various foods, including sting ray, red bean dessert with green gelatin at a popular coffee shop and Indian banana roti (kind of like a tortilla?). Nothing super desirable according to my palette, but fun to try and interesting to get local flavor.
So many cars driving the streets of KL were plastered with fast-food chain window decals. The marketing gods have discovered that freebies and discounts by way of window decal can seriously move some product. You don’t have to look further than Malaysia’s whopping 44% obesity rate to see this reality. That’s a lot higher than the US, believe it or not! Dessert shops like the one above, located in Little India, aren’t necessarily helping the problem. KL’s Little India has a lot of flair, by the way; we really enjoyed a walk through the flower market and I picked up a few cute pairs of earrings.
Last, we hit up a “friend’s house” aka the Royal Palace, which has a strikingly fake looking facade at night, reminiscent of an amusement park after closing. Still pretty though!
Dining in the Dark
Another popular outing we experienced in KL was Dining in the Dark. You might wonder what the heck that means. Don’t think too hard! The whole experience, really, is hard to put into words. It’s probably everything you imagine eating in the pitch black to be – difficult, a little nerve-racking, and a bit educational all at once. Try it out! Totally unique and really enjoyable, you don’t want to miss it if you’re in the city.
Dragon Back Trek
I can honestly say Kuala Lumpur put me a couple of the most uncomfortable situations I’ve ever been in while traveling. First, we had some uneasy interactions with cab drivers in the area. Haggling for cab fare is legally prohibited, but all bets are off on that. Many of the drivers we had to negotiate with were extremely unfair and downright rude. Though we were clearly foreigners, I just didn’t appreciate the hostile treatment.
Taxis are obviously unrelated to trekking, but the thing they have in common is that both were pretty distressing situations at times. We signed up to take the Dragon Back Trek with Amos from Open Sky Unlimited. I should start off by saying that Amos was extremely accommodating – he actually rescheduled another tour so that he could take J-Mar and I due to our time restraints. We read a bit about the trek online, and figured we could handle it, being for average to above-average fitness levels. The mint pants always give me that extra confidence boost, too. 😉
What we didn’t know were two things. The first was how dangerous it would be in some sections. The hike started off pretty easy, just walking the trail up to the first peak. It was relatively steep in some areas, but we got in our exercise.
It looks fine. That large pipe was the very beginning of the hike. Seriously, the very first steps we took.
It was so steep in some areas, in fact, that at times a rope was required; one that reminded me sourly of elementary school gym. And I don’t even think we had a spirit-breaking gym rope to climb at Goshen Lane, did we?
As we started our ascent up the second peak – there were four in all, things started to get a little shaky. The terrain became a bit more jagged, but still nothing we couldn’t physically handle. I can’t remember exactly when it happened, but sh*t started to get terrifying at some point when we came up to what I can only describe as a sheer cliff.
It couldn’t have been a 90 degree rock wall… no, maybe it could have. Either way, it sure as hell was the closest thing I’ve ever come to a vertical rock wall in nature. Look, guys, I’m not a rock climber and I don’t pretend to have the same amount of arm strength that I used to when I was going to barre regularly. (Hello, it’s so hard to train on your own when you’re not a born athlete.)
There was no harness to be had, by the way, just a pair of garden gloves so my fingers didn’t get cut up by tiny rock pieces as I grabbed for jagged edges to save my ass from falling to my death. There’s a reason there are no photos. (It’s because I’m totally making this story up.)
As our guide, Amos was first up the rock-wall-of-impending-doom, and I went second so my man could catch me if my grasp didn’t hold. I am not kidding when I say this is the most terrifying physical activity I’ve ever partaken in. I swam with freaking whale sharks, yo! It’s all about moving one appendage (or two) at a time, and keeping calm. You know, while clinging on for dear life. Maybe I don’t remember the details because I have chosen to blackout the fear from my memory. Perhaps adrenaline kicked in and my body just figured out what to do. Like suddenly being able to kick down a door when there’s an emergency? I hope I can do that. That would be awesome.
Sometime before the rock-climbing incident. There are no photos of the actual event.
Because that would have been too dangerous.
Despite the heart-wrenching fear of then having to watch my dear husband climb the cliff (with no one at the bottom to catch him), the rest of the rigorous hike led us to the second thing we didn’t know about this trek: how incredibly beautiful the view from the top would be.
We saw pictures on the website but photos just can’t grasp the stunning landscape, and particularly the feeling of looking over your right shoulder to see an amazing view of the city of Kuala Lumpur, and then turning your head over your left shoulder to see an awe-inspiring stretch of undeveloped scenery that you just can’t put into words.
I wish my blog had some more pixels so you could see this pano a little better.
Photos also only sort-of display the sheer terror of looking over this cliff that (obviously) marks the end of the hiking path:
The trek back down was terrifying as sh*t too. Yep, Amos neglected to tell us we’d be going down the same way we came up. Now I had to descend the cliff while looking down at the freaking ground the entire time. Thankfully, as you know, we’re both still breathing. There was some slightly-terrifying “tree running”/leaping at the end when we were literally hurdled our body weight down the side of the mountain and catching ourselves by grabbing tree to tree to tree. “Just like the monkeys!” Amos exclaimed. I have never wanted to be a monkey. Needless to say, I felt pretty dang strong (and somehow, ironically, fearless) when we gazed back up at the dragon we had just slayed.
If you’re in the area, I’d highly recommend the hike, for the view alone. Although if you go, just give yourself a safety talk beforehand (there won’t be one given to you) and really pay attention to what you’re doing at all times.
So that more citizens of the world can enjoy this view, I truly hope that KL is someday on-par with other major Asian cities I have enjoyed. Who knows; the world is ever-changing. Maybe the T-Swift plane will bring me back someday to an entirely different city. One can hope.