Tuesday, 30 March 2010

On to Kuala Lumpur

Up early and breakfast on the balcony of my room at the Rasa Ria Resort. All formalities complete, I was ready for pick-up at 7.00 a.m. Of course, the hotel had to refund most of the 'Security Deposit' they'd taken, because my 'Extras' were modest. The charming young man at reception took three attempts to get the refund right and I'm still not sure it'll appear correctly on my statement. I couldn't be cross, because he was so keen to get it right.

My car was a few minutes late and we hadn't been going long before we started to hit traffic jams. Nothing too serious, but it slowed us down. Somehow, this wasn't how I'd imagined North Borneo! Rather than go through the centre of Kota Kinabalu, the driver took some sort of by-pass inland which took us through more residential areas and eventually, we joined up with the main road I knew, on the airport side of town. We arrived at the posh new airport about an hour after leaving the Resort. The airport was pleasantly empty and I was checked-in within a few minutes. The check-in girl had excellent English and, after examining my passport, exclaimed approvingly 'You've been everywhere!'. I told here that there were still plenty of places I hadn't visited, but agreed I'd been very fortunate. When I got to immigration, my departure card was missing. I thought it was in my passport, but it was not. 'You have a problem' said the rather officious young man. Eventually, I found it in the passport wallet, which I'd put separately. 'Now you're happy!' I said, but the young man was unyielding 'No, I am not happy'. he said. But he stamped my paperwork so I gave him my best smile and found my way to the Malaysia Airlines Lounge. They were a lot more friendly there and I spent the time waiting for my flight on one of their high-speed internet Dell computers.

The flight to Kuala Lumpur was a few minutes late - the ubiquitous Boeing 737 (-400 series, I think). We took off and climbed straight ahead over the city before turning onto our course for Kuala Lumpur. A meal was served, not too much of it to my taste but I was comfortable enough and read for a while and slept for a while. We landed after a flight of about two and a half hours and taxied around the airport for some minutes before coming to our Gate. The airbridge was attached to the forward door very quickly and I found myself off the aircraft and following the signs for the baggage hall. My bag arrived equally promptly and in the arrivals hall I found an Indian lady from the travel company displaying my name. She used her mobile to summon the car and the car arrived a couple of minutes later. After I'd helped the driver to stow the case, I turned to thank the lady and she was gone! No 'goodbye', no 'enjoy your stay'. I admit to feeling surprised. The driver said it would take us around an hour to get to my hotel, even using the toll road.

Kuala Lumpur is set in a valley surrounded by lush hills and the road we took seemed to climb one hill, then fall then repeat the process a number of times. There were a number of overhead power transmission lines bringing in electricity to a power-hungry city. I saw lots of cellphone masts and most of these had been disguised as trees by the addition of clumps of plastic 'leaves'. We passed groups of huge apartment blocks - like all big cities, house prices reduce as you get further from the centre. I caught my first glimpse of the city centre - the famous Petronas Twin Towers and the KL Tower. I'd forgotten the Twin Towers were clad in stainless steel - they glow white in the sun - and I didn't even know that Kuala Lumpur had a separate observation tower. As we threaded our way into the city centre, it started to rain so I was glad of the 'porte cochere' when we arrived at my hotel, right next to the Twin Towers. Pictures around Kuala Lumpur.

The Mandarin Oriental hotel has over 600 rooms, so there was a bit of a queue at reception. A pretty young girl with excellent English quickly checked my booking form and lead me to the Elevators (as you might expect, nobody calls them 'lifts'). There were eight passenger elevators and we were quickly taken to the 24th floor. Here, they have a 'Club Lounge' with check-in, concierge and lounge with refreshment facilities aimed at business travellers. Whilst the check-in process was completed - it only took a few minutes - I sat with a cup of refreshing tea (Darjeeling and very much to my taste. I'd remembered Darjeeling as slightly bitter but the hotel's blend became my staple beverage during my stay).

I was then taken two floors up to my room on floor 26. In common with a number of large hotels, the credit card room key is also used to enable the lift and give access to restricted floors where certain floors form a separate 'business class' hotel, as here. My room was only a short distance from the lifts (always an advantage - I find it depressing to keep walking through featureless corridors lined with a series of identical doors looking for my room). The rooms in city centre hotels are usually a little smaller but all the facilities were there. Pictures of the Hotel.

But the most noticeable feature was the view from the large window which was dominated by the Twin Towers, looking close enough to touch. The Petronas Twin Towers is one of the few modern buildings that I actually like, so I was delighted to have this opportunity of studying it.

I'd been told that Afternoon Tea was served in the Club Lounge and, a little later, they had a Cocktail Hour. I managed to get down to the Lounge in time for warm scones with cream and strawberry jam. The huge windows on one side of the lounge had a view of the Twin Towers similar to that in my room but the opposite wall had impressive views over the rest of the city.

I enquired at the desk about Mass Transit Systems in the city. They were a little puzzled because, rather than enquiring 'How do I get to...', I was asking what systems existed and where it was possible to go. They found me a City Map with a small diagram of the railway lines and I determined to brave the transit system in the rush hour, having had vague directions to the nearest station 'KLCC'. This acronym seems to generally refer to the upmarket area around the Twin Towwers. 'KL' is the old British ex-patriates' invariable appellation for 'Kuala Lumpur', now in general use. 'CC' can stand for 'City Centre' or, just across a park next to Trader's Hotel, 'Convention Centre'.

Built in an arc in between my hotel and the Twin Towers is a very swish, modern shopping Mall on six floors called 'Suria KLCC'. The place teemed with Malaysians and foreign visitors. Every designer label you can imagine was represented but, down on the Concourse Level, there were more basic coffee shops and snack bars which were doing good business. Having an idea of the direction to go, I stumbled upon the entrance to the rapid transit underground station. This was doing a fair imitation of a London Underground station in the peak period but, fortunately, all signage is in English and Malay so I found a ticket office where the girl was able to offer me a 10 Ringit ticket suitable for multiple journeys. Automatic ticket barriers are much the same everywhere so the next problem was to travel in the correct direction. The station had a single island platform with a track on either side and Platform Edge Doors were provided so, even during peak periods, you can't get pushed onto the tracks. After a few moments, my train came in - a 2-car driverless train reminiscent of Docklands Light Railway - already quite full. Being used to London's inadequate tube system, I had no problems insinuating myself onto the train but I was surprised that a number of passengers decided to wait for the next train (my experience is that the next train is often more crowded than the first). After a couple of stations underground, we popped out onto an elevated track. At Pasar Seni, I could see the famous station building, in the Moorish style, of the original railway station in Kuala Lumpur. A little south of this original station, they have built a modern transport interchange called 'KL Sentral' and this is where I got off. After a bit more riding round on railways, I returned to the comfort of my hotel.


Light Rail, Mass Transit, Rapid Transit.