Thursday, 1 April 2010

Leaving Kuala Lumpur

I enjoyed my usual early breakfast. I'd arranged a late check-out, so I could retain the room until 4.00 p.m. for a 4.30 p.m. pick-up for transfer to the airport. I fancied somewhere a bit different and I fancied a train ride, so I decided to go to Port Klang on the coast. This is the terminus of one of the electrified commuter routes radiating from KL Sentral.

By this time, of course, I had no trouble getting to the KLTransit station at KLCC. Since I'd originally bought a 'stored value' ticket worth 10 Ringit, there was still credit left on the ticket. Oddly, all the different lines have different tickets, but the government are hoping to introduce a unified ticketing system in the near future.

The commuter line uses automatic ticket machines similar to one of the types used in the U.K., so I was able to check the ticket price and buy a return ticket to Port Klang without going to a manual ticketing window. During the day, there's a train every half-hour from Kuala Lumpur, through the Klang Valley and the town of Klang, to the terminus at Port Klang. The journey is scheduled to take a few minutes over an hour. I kept thinking about Oliver Postgate and his creation 'The Clangers'.

I caught the 8.06 a.m. train running a few minutes late. The train was very well patronised so I had no choice but to stand (but preferred to do so anyway, as I tried to absorb my surroundings and do an informal survey of the railway infrastructure). You'll no doubt be relieved to hear that I'll defer technical discussions about the railway operation until a later post. At each station, the number of people getting off was roughly balanced by the numbers joining. Large apartment blocks and factory premises flanked the line for more than half of the journey, then we saw a bit more green and detached properties started to appear, sometimes of traditional wood construction. A few spare seats now appeared, but I stood 'till the end of the line where we made a long curving approach to a simple island platform with two tracks, flanked on our right by the estuary and a bewildering assortment of vessels.

The station was next to a jetty for ferries but I didn't work out how many routes are served but, at least, there's an important route to Indonesia. The area was infested with porters, offering to deal with luggage, and there were lots of rather clapped-out taxis around, together with their equally clapped-out drivers, drawing on their evil-smelling cigarettes. It looked as if most of the docks were enclosed so I decided to take the road at right angles to the foreshore which I presumed led to the town. Like many seaports, Port Klang looked more like a place to pass through when necessary rather than to linger - the contrast with the opulence of at least parts of Kuala Lumpur was very marked.

After walking past a series of modern reinforced concrete buildings, I came to the bus station with shopping centre attached. I decided to look inside the shopping centre but most of the small shops were locked up. There were a few market stalls selling things like shoes and the central area was occupied by a number of modern tables and chairs, served by a small counter. A young man from the cafe immediately asked if I wanted food so I settled for a Coca Cola, served with ice and a straw in a cast glass mug with a handle. Trade didn't seem very brisk but whilst I was there a number of people ambled in and out and occasionally order food or drink.

Next was a busy crossroads with traffic lights with big lorries with containers rumbling by to an from the dock area. Beyond this, both sides of the road had older shop house premises, some in fairly original condition but most with a fair bit of modernisation or new shop fronts. The overall impression was still one of decrepitude. I was intrigued that it seemed that about every third shop was a jewellery store with massive displays of gold jewellery. It looked as if a lot of the population were dark skinned and probably of Indian origin - I don't know whether this accounted for the profusion of gold sellers. By the time I decided to turn round and return to the railway station, I'd found shops providing most of the services you can imagine - for instance, a print shop offering comb binding and encapsulation, betting shops, cafes, toyshops, mobile phone shops, computer shops, motor cycle repair shops. Everybody seemed quite laid back, with time to stare at the foreigner but generally prepared to smile if you caught their eye.

By the time I'd walked back to station, I was feeling a little tired so I caught the next train back to Kuala Lumpur. Starting out of Port Klang, the train was fairly empty but, by the time we reached Kuala Lumpur, there was standing room only in the three coach train.

I wanted to try out the monorail line which is supposed to interchange at KL Sentral, but I had trouble finding it. There were signs directing you to ground level which was the loading point for a long line of shuttle buses accompanied by touts and porters shouting their availability. But there were no signs to the monorail and no other clues. Interpreting the vague directions of the porter I asked, I had a ten-minute walk around three sides of a massive building site adjacent to KL Sentral and then I spotted the elevated monorail terminus tucked between two blocks of shops on the other side of a busy road. I bought a ticket for a few stations up the line where there was an advertised walking connection with the rapid transit line which would take me back to KLCC.

After an uneventful journey to the interchange station, it took at least five minutes to walk from the monorail to the rapid transit station but, this time, the route was clearly signposted. And so I arrived pack at the oasis of my hotel around 12.30 and fairly tired. After a reviving cup of tea in the tranquility of the Club Lounge, I did more work on the computer in my room, had a bath and packed everything. By this time it was after three o'clock and the Club Lounge has the civilised habit of offering Afternoon Tea with various light refrreshments. I was in the minority in electing for the classic Afternoon Tea of warm scones with cream and jam accompanied by a nice cup of tea. I noticed most people were taking one or other of the coffees on offer with 'foreign' pastries and desserts.

I said goodbye to the hotel staff with some sadness - I'd only been there a couple of days but they'd looked after me very well. I was picked up on time and we made it to the airport in just under an hour despite a couple of small traffic jams and passing through another torrential rain storm. This time, we had a spectacular display of lightning. All that remained was the journey back to England, in the hands of Emirates.


KL to Port Klang.
Port Klang.
Kuala Lumpur to Port Klang by rail.
Around Kuala Lumpur.
Monorail in Kuala Lumpur.