Thursday, April 5, 2007

KommerciaL Kuala Lampur

As soon as we arrived at KL Airport, recently voted the best airport in the world, we knew this was a consumer dominated society. At 10:30 in the evening, the airport shops were bustling, and the airport was buzzing. We took a train to the baggage collection, and then nearly took another train into the city. “It only takes 28 minutes and costs RM 35 ($12)” said the young hustler trying to sell me a train ticket. “A taxi will take over an hour, and cost three times as much.” Since I wanted to try the train, I asked how close the city station was to our hotel. I was told we would need to take a 15 minute taxi ride, so we took a taxi all the way.

As we left the baggage area, dozens of young men urged us to ride with them. But not having. been to the city before we were cautious, and headed over to the visitor information desk “You should purchase a coupon over there” said the older lady. “Where are you staying? How many are you?’ When I told her, she told me to get a budget cab. It cost RM 67.40, ($23) and took 55 minutes for the 70 km drive.

I tell this story since I am curious as to what will happen when Vancouver’s RAV line is opened. In a number of cities we have visited, it is cheaper and more convenient for two to take a taxi, rather than the airport train. I just hope we price the RAV system properly, to encourage people to actually use it.

As we drove into the city, I was struck by the number of billboards, all in English, and the effort to use every available space for advertising. I was particularly intrigued by the ads on the elevated train pylons. At night they were well lit up, and I thought that perhaps this is something Vancouver should consider. It might help fund new SkyTrain cars, or at least some landscaping along the corridor, like in KL.

When we arrived at the Hotel Istana, I was shocked. I nearly didn’t want to stay here, since the price was so low at RM199 ($66). But it turned out to be as advertised; quite a grand luxury hotel in the city’s Golden Triangle, with a wonderful lobby just hopping with activity.

The next morning we had an expansive buffet breakfast in the garden, and then set out for the Tourist Information Centre to organize a ‘hop on hop off’ bus trip.While I have spent most of my life ridiculing people who do ‘tourist things’, I now seek out a bus tour in every new city. The 3 hour KL trip gave us a great overview of a very busy city with strong Islamic roots. The highlight, without doubt, were the Petronas Towers. They were my main reason for coming here, and I was not disappointed, especially at night, when the buildings glow prominently on the city’s skyline.It was difficult to enjoy certain aspects of KL having just been in Singapore. The inner city seemed quite dirty and disorganized, with little evidence of any overall plan. But there were some lovely parks and garden areas, including the grounds of the King’s Palace. We will always remember this location since I was accosted by a group of tourists from Beijing. They all wanted to have their picture taken with me! One after the other, about fifteen came forward. First they shook my hand, and then posed for the cameras, holding tightly onto my arm. While I wanted to believe they thought I was Steven Spielberg, Sally says it was probably my white beard that attracted them. At any rate, maybe we’ll find out when we’re in Beijing.

We didn’t spend enough time in KL to truly get to know the city. But our impressions are of a very busy, active place, that is a transition between the organized cities we have visited, and the really disorganized ones we are about to visit in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. There are some impressive modern areas, but also much chaos, and a great need for repair of streets and infrastructure. (Although I must add that the landscaping along the main roads in and out of the city was very beautiful and well maintained.) While I would like to have visited some of the suburban areas, two nights were enough, and at Saturday noon, we decided to set off for Malacca, a place I have always been fascinated by, since my days of stamp collecting. Since it was too close to fly, we foolishly decided to take one of the luxury air conditioned buses. It was an experience we won’t soon forget!

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