Last Friday, I went off by myself to Malaysia to meet up with a friend. The tickets were booked 1 week before departure. It was going to be 3 days & 2 nights but in reality I only had 1 whole day in KL since the first and third days would be spent mostly for travel. Since I heard that you can change pesos in KL, I planned to have most of my money in pesos and my yen as backup. But in the end decided to buy dollars at BDO which was a breeze as long as you have your passport, travel itinerary & BDO account. I only had my red backpack with me with plenty of extra space, the heaviest thing I was carrying was my iPad mini.
Cebu to Manila
I woke up at 2:30AM with barely 2 hours of sleep. I arrived at the airport before 3:30AM with no fuss as there weren’t that many people yet. If my flight wasn’t that early I would have eaten somewhere else. The Dunkin Donuts coffee was jacked up by P20 so I ended up with Tsim Sha Tsui’s congee which I found to be expensive at P90. Fortunately it was delicious and filling.
To save on cost, I took the earliest flight from Cebu to Manila (I arrived at 6AM) which meant almost 8 hours standby at NAIA terminal 3. The first 1.5 hours was spent sitting and reading on a hard steel chair. The next 1.5 hours was at McDonald’s where I somehow ended up buying a rice breakfast instead of a McMuffin and coffee. Fortunately the checkin counter for my flight to KL opened by 10AM and I breezed in at Immigration (business or vacation?). The departure lounge was deserted so I stretched out on the chairs to relax my back. I was mostly horizontal until people started to trickle in. The flight was delayed but in the end it was reduced to only 10 mins.
This is my first travel not using a travel agency or having a visa beforehand. I had my employment certificate with me but spent less than 5 minutes lining up at Malaysian Immigration. There is a special line for ASEAN so you can use that instead of using the Foreign Passport lane which has more people.
I was concerned that it would be quite late when I arrive at KL since it would take a 1-hour bus ride from KLIA2 airport to KL Sentral where I would meet up my friend. After immigration, I hurriedly changed P400 to have some ringgit for the bus ride (10 MYR) and some extra for dinner. With just a minor confusion on how to get down to the lower level, I managed to find the right bus which left the airport at 6:36PM. As I was sitting at the bus, I realized that the sun had not yet set despite being already 7PM. If you look at the map, you would see KL at almost the same time zone as Bangkok but it still follows the same time zone as the Philippines, so sunset is a little later.
An hour later I was at KL Sentral where I met up with my friend who took reign on where we would go.
The Vacation Begins
From KL Sentral we went to Chinatown via monorail. Unlike other cities they use plastic discs instead of electronic tickets for single journey travel, I guess this way they can reuse them a whole lot more. I rested at the hotel for a bit to give myself a break from all the sitting I had done during the day and also to offload my belongings. We had dinner at a nearby Middle Eastern restaurant where we ordered a set meal, I don’t remember what it was called but I know it had lamb in it and all the meat were really tender! For desert we had pistachio ice cream. I was already full at the time but I cannot say no to ice cream. If you had pistachio ice cream from the grocery, it is nothing compared to the hand made thing where every bite you get a mouthful of pistachio!
After dinner, we walked to Bukit Bintang (2 kms away). It was almost 11PM but the people were still having their dinner while others were already at the bars. Most establishments in that area stay open until early morning the next day. Since Malaysia is primarily Muslim, I thought drinking and smoking are illegal. So I was surprised to see this done not just by foreigners but also the locals. I also thought women are expected to dress conservatively but I have seen short skirts, stiletto heels and cleavages. Everyone is still conservative compared to other countries, I only saw one couple kiss in public and that was even on Valentine’s Day. It was already past midnight when we got back to the hotel. I was tired but my mind was still racing, it took me some time before I finally fell asleep.
I think I woke up at 6AM but I was content to laze around the bed. Unlike other travels I wasn’t in a hurry to be anywhere. I had no itinerary though I was interested to see the Petronas tower. It was only later at night that I realized I could see one of the towers in the hotel window. It was already 9AM before we left the hotel for breakfast.
Our breakfast in Chinatown was at a food centre composed of several stalls selling different dishes, in the Philippines this would be an ordinary carenderia. We had roti and an okra dish from an Indian stall together with our leftovers from last night’s dinner. I hate okra but this one was different, it was not soft or slimy, actually it was crunchy. I ended up hogging most of it. I also had my first cold teh tarik (milk tea).
We then walked around the places near Chinatown. We admired the façade of the Sri Mahamariamman Temple with its depictions of Hindu gods, I could only correctly identify Ganesh and I think I pointed out Vishnu. Then we headed to Central Market and Merdeka Square. It was quite hot walking around and I wished I had my umbrella but it is not allowed as hand carry in the plane. I had to make do slathering myself with sunblock.
We spent considerable time at the KL City Gallery to see the scale model of Kuala Lumpur which shows the projected growth in 5 years time. They are planning to have 300 more buildings including the one that will surpass the Petronas Towers. I was really impressed with the urban planning, despite the proposed additions the city did not look chaotic. The gallery also shows an abbreviated history of Malaysia. The last part is the ARCH workshop which I can only describe as an intricate wooden decoupage. To see the KL scale model, you pay 5 MYR but you can redeem it at the ARCH souvenir shop or eat something at the coffee shop. I was eyeing some durian flavoured pastries and the kaya butter toast but I had to settle for coffee since we just had breakfast and ice cream earlier.
I was surprised to learn that you can go around some parts of KL for free using the GoKL bus. Among its stops are KL Towers, Petronas Towers, Pavillion and Bukit Bintang. First stop was KL Towers where we opted to walk towards the base instead of taking advantage of the free shuttle from the main entrance. We did not go to the top which costs 99 MYR but I enjoyed watching part of the KL skyline and see a lot of trees all around. I have noticed while walking around KL, there is minimal pollution and it is refreshing to see trees at most places.
We took again the GoKL bus to Petronas Towers, the bus went around so you can see all sides of the towers from afar. In the lobby there is Suria KLCC where you can shop at high end and middle end stores. The picture on the left shows the towers from the base, this is where people mostly try to have their picture taken with the towers in the background. Then we had a late lunch at the food court in Suria KLCC, I ordered chappati with 3 kinds of vegetables including roasted chickpeas and my new favorite okra!
We decided to go back to the hotel for a bit of rest but instead of using the GoKL we hiked the air conditioned skyway from Petronas Towers to Bukit Bintang. I wished that we had something like this back home! From Bukit Bintang there wasn’t any skyway so we took the same route as the previous night but now in humid heat. I could have gone on walking but I wanted a shower and a drink of cold water. However my friend insisted to have some cold teh tarik in the hole-in-the-wall at the back of the hotel before we went to our room. It was probably the most welcome drink I had during the entire trip.
After a cold shower and a couple of hours sleep, we had dinner at the hole-in-the-wall. I ordered kangkong with black bean sauce and eggplant with minced meat. It took 30 minutes for the food arrive but it was worth it. It brought back memories of the food that I used to eat in China. For the 2 vegetables dishes, 3 rice and 1 barley water, I paid 24.5 MYR (approx P302) which was not the cheapest thing we ate in KL but was worth every centavo. Besides for that same price in pesos, I would be hard pressed to find that kind of good food in Cebu.
We took again the GoKL bus and walked the skyway to go back to Petronas Towers. This time we went around KLCC park which is right beside the towers. Then we hang around the pool (we may have missed the display earlier) and watched the local people. It was already past 11PM so we decided to head back to the hotel using the GoKL. However after waiting in futile for 20minutes (GoKL bus is supposed to be available until 1AM), we took the train to the station nearest to Chinatown.
The next day we had no agenda so it was another late breakfast at the same place we went the day before. This time we just placed food on our plate from several lined up dishes. Most people end up paying only 4 MYR no matter what they choose or how much they take. Then we went back to Central Market to try Old Town White Coffee which was recommended by my work colleague. I saw it several times the previous day so it seemed that we had to try it. However it was disappointing, my cold white coffee was like drinking McDonald’s iced coffee.
We headed back to the hotel to lie in. I finally packed my bag at 1:30 PM to have lunch at KL Sentral before heading to the airport. We had lunch near Little India and I ordered nasi goreng cina. It was kind of ironic to eat something Malay in an Indian restaurant. Right beside the restaurant was a Sivananda Centre, if I was still in KL after Tuesday that would have certainly been part of my itinerary.
I said goodbye to my friend at the KL Sentral bus station around 3PM. I will be always grateful for the bed, the food, the tour and the conversation.
Just like when I arrived, the bus only took 1 hour to arrive at the airport. Check-in and immigration was fast, the only long wait was for the delayed flight! My work colleague asked me to bring Old Town White Coffee instant packs but I couldn’t find any at the departure area. So no souvenirs for anyone!
After I had my dinner in the plane to Manila, I was groggy the rest of the flight. I had a 5-hour stopover in Manila where I was hoping that I could lie down at the benches in the departure lounge like the last time but the check-in counter opened only at 2AM with barely an hour before boarding the plane. I snoozed at the departure lounge and in the plane. I knew I needed sleep at home before I headed to the office. I finally woke almost noon so I decided to take the day off.
- Cebu Pacific is notorious for being late especially for planes that are coming and going to Manila. Always have enough time for connecting flights however more than 4 hours standby at NAIA Terminal 3 can be agonizing and boring especially when you are tired and haven’t had any sleep.
- Always travel light. Although I went minimalist I had an extra shirt, bra and underwear just in case I had to change more than necessary because of the humidity at KL.
- Buy dollars before leaving. Have smaller denominations to use at the airport which has a lower conversion rate.
- I am glad I did not stop at any shops although I was tempted to buy something at Uniqlo but that would have entailed an hour of agonizing whether I need a new shirt or pants.
- Wear walking shoes. I love walking around in new places so this is mandatory.
- I had minimal expenses during the trip itself because I had free lodging and I did not pay every meal. We took advantage of the free things that KL had to offer and just by walking around where we were staying.
- Most people in KL understand English but don’t expect scintillating conversation with the old waiter.
- Despite being a big city, KL is laid back compared to HK and Manila. It was not crowded or polluted and there were trees everywhere. When the plane descended at KLIA2, I could see coconut & palm trees for miles!
I thoroughly enjoyed my KL trip, it is totally different from my last overseas trip. I am eyeing another vacation in visa-free ASEAN countries.