Saturday, 7 July 2012

Saturday 6th July, Kuala Lumpur Airport, LCC terminal

On checking in we're told we can use the BMI Lounge which worked very well. It's comfortable and had free WiFi, free snacks and free booze so had what I assumed was to be the first of a few bloody marys on this trip which I mixed myself. It kind of made us wish we hadn't bothered with the Sainsbury's sandwiches we'd got the day before. The problem with this is we didn't want to have too much to drink before our flight.

The flight from Manchester was fairly uneventful. We hit a patch of turbulence which added a little fairground excitement to proceedings, but that was it. We had a long time to wait around so wandered around the terminal and had a couple of drinks. Disappointed at Garfunkels where we had a bit to eat. Very expensive for Wetherspoon's quality and I'd expect Paul Simon would be rolling in his grave if he was dead at what was being prepetrated in his former music partner's name

Our flight from Heathrow to KL, when we eventually boarded, seemed to really drag. This was probably a combination of the fact that by the time we were on the long haul part of the trip, we had already been on the road for 10 hours, the fact that it was a night flight, and the sheer length of a 12 hour flight (the most recent long trips we've done have involved going on one of the Arabian carriers like Qatar or Emirates, making for a convenient break mid trip). The plane was a rather tired looking 747, as opposed to the newer 777 we were expecting. Service wasn't especially great nor was the entertainment system on board. Still, it's got to be better than the old fashioned way of having the old drop down screens shared between everyone. Food wasn't especially good either, being Asian in style, but made in London so not quite having that authentic feel. Worst of all was the fact that I couldn't get another bloody mary for the whole flight and had to content myself with a couple of beers and (the horror!) soft drinks. It was also the most bumpy flight I've ever been on, with a few spells of quite feisty turbulence. Despite this it was comfortable enough.

We arrived and queued for about 45 mins to get through immigration. It was rather annoying that all of us foreigners were waiting at 5 or 6 foreign passport desks whilst locals could go through an express barrier system then, when there was a slight rush of locals, a man in a fancy uniform with all his epaulets and gold piping, opened the furthermost foreign desk for more locals saving them a good 10 minutes wait. Then after that small rush cleared he shut up shop again. At least we didn't need to wait for our luggage as it was already on the belt as we came out

Getting through we grabbed some ringgit and got a cab into town. KLIA is a good 60+ KM out of the city. It's like a Ryanair city destination in that way, taking a good hour and a half to get to the city, though it is actually called Kuala Lumpur Internationl Airport as opposed to being actually another town. The driver was mental, tailgating, speeding etc. Well, speeding until we hit the city traffic. He said there had been heavy rain a little earlier which had caused disruption. Not, of course, that there was any evidence of rain. The roads were bone dry, but that's one of many things I love about this climate, that there can be a complete deluge then 30 mins later no evidence it had occurred. The excitement of being in Asia built as we got closer to the city, really hitting when I got the thrill of seeing the Petronas Twin Towers as we approached. They looked magical, subtly lit up in the dark, twinkling in the distance

We arrived at our hotel off of Bukit Bintang in the heart of the city, an area we knew fairly well. The hotel, the Hotel Capitol, was just off Bukit Bintang, really handy for a few bars and restaurants. We checked in and had a shower before setting off into the city for some food and a couple of drinks. On getting our room, we discovered a fantastic view of the city, taking in the Petronas Towers. 

This gave us a second wind after feeling lousy on the inward flight as we approached KL, wondering why we had decided to do the short stop-over in the city instead of using the airport Tune hotel where we'd stayed on our last visit to the country. As soon as we got out onto the street your senses are given a hearty kicking by the damp heat, the flashing neon, the sound of traffic and most of all the smell of a big city in the tropics. There's always the underlying smell of drains (not especially unpleasant, but always there), exhaust fumes and most of all the smell of food. All these exotically flavoured dishes, spices and strange meats from all over Asia and beyond (Malaysia, and KL in particular, is such a melting pot of people thanks largely to British colonial rule) and then the weird and wonderful fruit. Especially now since it's durian season and nothing screams exotic fruit like the legendary durian, a phenomenon in its own right. They look evil, like something that comes of the end of some mediaeval weapon of close-quarter combat, about the size of rugby ball, covered in nasty looking spikes. But its their odour that really hits home, the (in)famous aroma described as “carrion and custard”, sweet and heady but with an undertone of something three days past the Asda “Oops!” fridge. The smell is so strong they are actually banned from many buildings and public transport. They are also highly regarded as a delicacy. The smell of these things is so heady and evocative, and anyone who has spent any real time in this part of the world (or perhaps it's just me) will catch a whiff of durian and feel like they're home.

We made our way to Chankat Bukit Bintang, a real expat ghetto but with some rather nice bars and restaurants and settled for dinner at a place called 21 where we had essentiailly western food plus a Tiger each. After this it was back towards our hotel where we eventially found our way to a small covered area which has some really good places to drink and again stuck to the Tiger, ordering a jug for MR50 (+++, so including service and local taxes came to MR56). We had just begun to watch Andy Murray playing his Wimbledon semi again Tsonga and by this time could have stayed out all night but had to curtail the evening as we needed to bu up very early next day for a 10:30 flight to Thailand. We made it to bed at some time after 11 and realised how noisy the room was despite the fantastic view. However, this didn't seem to bother me as I was straight off to sleep once the day's travel (which was about 30 hours to that point) took hold

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