Gong Xi Fa Cai! We’ve just celebrated Chinese New Year here in KL (which lasts from the new moon to the next full moon), and it’s now The Year of the Ox. So that’s now two new year celebrations down, and one to go. I’ll be going to Bangkok in mid-April to celebrate at their annual Songkran festival, commemorating the new year according to the Dai calendar. Chinese New Year is a major holiday in Malaysia and, although the official public holiday is two days, many Chinese-owned shops and businesses close for the entire week, and some close for even longer.
So one of my friends, Matt, from Denver, who is currently living and working in Seoul, had some time off and wanted to visit (and escape the cold Korean winter for awhile), so he flew down to KL and spent the week here. He arrived on the eve of the lunar new year, which is almost like visiting an American city and arriving on Christmas Eve. The following day, nearly everything was closed, so we decided to go to Batu Caves which is just north of KL proper and very much still in the greater KL area. Batu Caves is a massive limestone formation containing a series of caves. The largest of these caves has a ceiling over 300 feet high. Apart from its geological interest, Batu Caves is also one of the largest Hindu shrines in the world and, every year, is the focal point for Hindus attending the Thaipusam festival, attracting over 1.5 million pilgrims annually. Thaipusam is actually today (February 9), the day I’m writing this, and is yet another in Malaysia’s enviably long list of public holidays.
There is a large, rather garish golden statue outside the main cave. Standing 130 feet tall, it’s the largest statue of Lord Murugan, a Hindu deity, in the world and was unveiled three years ago. Though it honestly looks a bit like injection-molded plastic that’s been spray-painted gold, it’s actually made of concrete, reinforced with over 250 tons of steel bars. Just to the left of the statue is a very steep flight of 272 steps which we climbed to reach the Cathedral Cave. We walked around and marveled at the cave itself as well as all the Hindu shrines. Since it was a public holiday, there were loads of Hindus there for ceremonies and such. All the color and activity made it a really neat experience and we even saw a large band of macaque monkeys on the way out. I’ve grown accustomed to seeing monkeys here (and on my many trips to Indonesia), and I’m not a huge fan of monkeys to begin with, so it was definitely more of a treat for Matt. I made a noise at one of the larger males as he passed by on the railing and he just bared his teeth and hissed at me. Nice.
We also went to KLCC Park, beneath the Petronas Twin Towers. Many visitors see only the lake and fountain display from the mall there, but the park itself is actually quite large, with jogging trails, sculptures, and wading pools. We set off with our cameras, wandered around, and enjoyed the crowds. Since it was a holiday, the park was full of people. The weather couldn’t have been any better… it was clear and sunny, but surprisingly not that hot.
The next day, we went to the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia, which is quite near to where I live. It’s a 1500-acre (600-hectare) site of rainforest that, while still a working research center, is much more popular with the locals as a place for day trips, hiking, picnicking, and exploring the jungle. We had a great time and the highlight was the Canopy Walk, a series of rope bridges suspended 200 feet above the ground through the canopy of the rainforest. It took a bit of time before I became comfortable walking on the thin planks that high above the ground, but it was a great experience, and from one of the bridges, we could see KL in the distance. We didn’t see any animals there apart from lizards (some quite large), but the flora was simply astounding in both its diversity and its scale. When given abundant rainfall and sunlight, plants can truly grow to immense size. We also found these plants that, when touched, immediately—and rapidly—folded up their leaves, presumably as a protective measure. After a few minutes, they would relax back into sunlight-collecting mode, but seeing a plant react that quickly to something was a treat to behold. Kind of like a trapless Venus flytrap plant. After doing the Canopy Walk, we got somewhat lost in the rainforest since, in true Malaysian fashion, there were absolutely no signs of any kind to direct us back to the proper place. To even get to the Canopy Walk, we had to hike uphill along a pretty long and challenging forest trail; it’s not like the Walk is just right there by the road. And after completing the series of bridges, you’re not at all in the same place you started. You come down from the final platform and there you are, alone in the jungle. There was a waterfall and something of a trail, so we followed that to a t-junction on a much more well-defined trail and chose what “felt” like the right way to go. So we wound up wandering the trails for awhile until it dawned on me that I had my GPS with me (as well as having GPS on my mobile phone), so we could at least see where we were relative to a road! That worked and it turned out we were heading in the right direction anyway, but it was nice to have it confirmed. As a result of our directional ineptitude, we got in an additional two miles of hiking without even meaning to. When we finally found the car and piled in, we emptied the bottled water, cranked on the A/C, and headed back home to recover!
I’ll continue with more adventures from Matt’s visit in the next entry… want to get this one posted and don’t want it to be too long. In addition to recounting my first experience eating durian, the next entry will include what was probably the highlight of the week: our visit to an elephant conservation center in the neighboring state of Pahang. At this place, people can get very up close and personal with as many as seven adult elephants and two calves.