Finally, I'm getting around to writing about my Malaysia trip...
About six months ago, my cousins and myself had been to Talkad to show the beach to the youngest of the cousins (< 10 years old), and during the journey, I planted the idea of watching a Formula 1 Grand Prix, live, in my cousin's head. He said that Malaysia was a good place because the Sepang circuit has seats from where you can see a good part (almost 70%) of the circuit. 5 months later, my cousin calls me up and he says there's a package tour being planned for Malaysia revolving around the Sepang Grand Prix and the cost seemed good. I just said yes without even thinking. It's the same package that was advertised on Indiatimes, and it was organized by a company called the Desimators.
18th March, 2006, Saturday
Our flight was at midnight and we entered the Bangalore international airport at around 9.30. What a mess! I mean we have shamiana cloth covering the walls, boring nondescript checkin counters which look like they'll fall off any moment, and hardly any place to sit considering the number of people in the airport at that time. I never thought it would be this bad.
Anyway, we travelled by Malaysian Airlines and reached KL (Kuala Lumpur) at 7.30 am local time (there's a time difference of 2.5 hours between India and Malaysia). The plane trip... I think I've had more comfortable seats in the buses I have travelled during treks.
As soon as I entered KLIA, the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, my jaw dropped. This is (supposedly) the third largest airport in the world and it was very posh. There were 5 levels and each exit had proper road connectivity. We had to take a bullet tram to reach the other end of the airport to collect the baggage.
One of the interesting things I noticed in the directions sign in KLIA was the "Surau" - a Muslim Prayer room. I had never heard of it before, but in hindsight, it shouldn't have been surprising because "by constitutional definition, all Malays are Muslim".
Our tour guide, Kanan Manickam, soon picked us up and we got into his very comfy bus. Our first stop was Putrajaya city - the administrative capital of Malaysia. Kanan was explaining many things about Malaysia - from how it got independence, to the various states, to the Ustad who had 10 wives and won a court case that he was in the right.
Putrajaya is an extremely well-planned and beautiful city. The Prime Minister's office and other offices are truly palatial. We couldn't see sign boards for street names, but it seems that streets can be identified by the type of street light it has!
The best thing I liked about Putrajaya (and Malaysia in general) is the blend of the old and the new - for example, the buildings have the traditional architecture (and as per feng shui the offices face towards the river) but have ultra modern facilities, the girls wear traditional scarves to cover their head but are modern in attitude ...
Putrajaya is probably the most perfect city I'll ever see.
Next, we proceeded towards Kuala Lumpur and we came across many tin-mining towers which Kanan kept mentioning. It was a smooth 45 min ride and we reached Hotel Nova where we were going to stay. After checking in, we went sight-seeing and saw many landmarks - from the single tower which has a revolving restaurant to the famous Petronas towers. Unfortunately, we couldn't go up to the sky bridge of the twin towers because there is a huge queue for it, and the only way to get in there is if you reach 7.30 in the morning, the gate opens at 9 and you get to go in by 11 ... It was only after I saw the Petronas towers I realized why they call such buildings "skyscrapers".
In our bus, there was a Kannada-speakin' gang of friends, a big North Indian family, a Punjabi group, a daughter-mother-grandmother trio, and most of the rest were loners. I was amazed at how many people had come alone by themselves for this trip. I made quite a number of friends during the bus journey.
Next stop was the Chocolate Museum. We got a short history lesson about chocolate. I couldn't resist buying loads of chocolates here.
Outside the chocolate museum, I saw a Mini-Cooper parked in a garage. Damn, I want one of those...
Next stop was the King's Palace. The other Kannada gang and myself agreed that Mysore palace was way better. There was a royal guard at the gates of the palace, they were standing still and unmoving similar to the British guards I have heard about.
We then saw the National Monument, the Lake Garden, and the Independence Square. The heat was intense and many people didn't come out of the tour bus for that reason, but I was bent on seeing as much as possible. There was this monument dedicated to the soldiers. The interesting thing was that there were exactly seven soldiers in the monument indicating the "seventh heaven" of their service and duty to their country.
Next stop was back to the hotel, and then on towards a club for dinner, but my cousins and myself decided to skip the club and explore on our own. So, we got down in one of the main roads and went to Berjaya Times Square - a huge shopping mall. I got to see some Ferrari and Porsche cars on display, and an F1 car as well (after all, it was F1 season).
We watched a NASCAR 3D movie in the IMAX theatre. The 3D effects were quite startling. Especially the part where a tyre from the car cuts loose and hurls towards the audience... Yes, I did half-jump but so did the rest of the people in the theatre. I never knew NASCAR was so popular in USA. We got to learn about the history of NASCAR, about the famous Daytona Beach, about the technology involved, the famous drivers, and it's huge loyal (family) fan base who go hunting for autographs.
There was a rollercoaster inside the mall and I couldn't resist climbing in. I liked the part where it turned 360 degrees, but it got over pretty soon. There was a Malaysian sitting next to me, and we talked just before the ride, and screamed throughout the ride. I noticed that typically, Malaysians are quite friendly and unassuming. As long as you're courteous, they'll go to many lengths to help you out.
Food was generally a problem for us, especially because one of us was a vegetarian, and we were forced to visit McDonalds for some "veggie burgers". Ordering veg food resulted in delays because very few people order vegetarian compared to majority non-veg orders which were processed fast.
Next, we caught the monorail to get to the Petronas towers. I was totally enamored by the MonoRail - you could reach any part of the city within 15 min and the city was well connected by it. In general, it is very easy to get around KL - whether it is taxi, monorail, metro rail or the metro bus. The monorails are driven by a driver and his seat is pretty much like the cockpit of a plane.
We visited Petronas towers again, and went to see the fountain behind the towers. We sat there for a while and watched the musical fountains, and just enjoyed a cool Malaysian night.
After that we got back to our hotel rooms in taxis. The cars move so fast here on such fantastic roads, I wondered where's the need to go to a race track? I wanted to sleep on those roads. They were so good.
We had trouble finding a phone so that we can call back home and the only way we were able to do it was via our hotel, who charged us enormously for it.
That was just Day 1 of our trip. 3 more days to go...