Wednesday, June 3, 2009

KB to KL

Back on the mainland we catch a bus to Kota Bharu, a provincial capital, with a handful of old colonial buildings and traditional Malay wooden houses now surrounded by modern concrete high-rises. We find a cheap room in a guesthouse with partition walls and shared bathroom - this seems to be the norm in Malaysia and is a bit of a comedown after India, especially as we're paying more. But the street food is cheap and cheerful and although there are a few tourists here, there's no hassle and no-one pays us any attention. The town is known for its central market, which is housed in an ugly modern building. Inside it's a warren of stalls selling bright colourful clothes, with fresh food on the ground floor and an endless amount of dried fish and dark jelly-like substance on another level.

Our nightbus to Kuala Lumpur is uneventful, despite the driver's frenetic driving, and we arrive in the city before daylight, meeting Daniel and Alice again. They're heading back to India before their trip ends and we do a book swap with them. We feel that Malaysia has been a good holiday destination because it's ordered and comfortable to get around, but it's also rather dull if you're travelling for a while. This is inevitable I guess after being in India for such a long time, but we have hopes that Indonesia will be a bit more lively. What we have enjoyed here is the food, especially the variety, and the fact that you can eat at anytime more or less and without any fuss - most eating places are simple cafes or street stalls with tables on the pavement.

Our first task in KL is to get our Indonesian visa and we traipse out to the embassy only to find that I am not allowed to enter. The security guard points to a sign that depicts no t-shirts, shorts or flip-flops. He thinks I'm wearing long shorts, when in fact I'm wearing short trousers, but his opinion is the one that counts. While I stew outside Gayle sorts all the paperwork out. Do you have an onward plane ticket? No, not yet, she replies, because we haven't decided where we'll fly from. There's a pause. So Gayle produces a copy of our bank statement to show we're not down-and-outs. Is this in Euros? No, pounds. Ahh, then that's fine. We collect our passports later that day with a 60-day visa. This should get us to East Timor.
We spend the rest of our time here doing a spot of sight-seeing, including a visit to the Islamic Arts Museum, which is fantastic. There's a section on architecture with scale models of classic examples of great mosques and mausoleums across the world: Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Edirne, Isfahan, Bukhara, Samarkand. Apart from Mecca and Medina, we recognise most of them from our journey, and hope to see the one in Xi'an soon. There's also some great textiles, most from Central Asia and Iran. KL is known for its twin towers, now no longer the tallest in the world, and there's not much left of the old city - a few old colonial buildings in a moorish style, including the Friday Mosque. The new National Mosque features a blue/green origami-style roof, rather than a dome, and looks kind of groovy in a sixties way. But the predominant buildings now seem to be the 7-Elevens, KFCs and McDonalds dotted around everywhere. Anyone for a Kenny Rogers Roaster???

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