(Em) Kuala Lumpur – what a cool city! And so bike friendly; no sooner had we hit the outskirts than we were getting waves and thumbs up from every man and his dog! Our first encounter with a super-friendly local occurred when we first arrived; we took an exit off the highway in what looked to be the direction of the Petronas Towers (without GPS or any pre-booked accommodation to head for, they seemed to be a good landmark) and suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a housing estate full of dead ends! We flagged down a passing people-carrier to ask for directions and the guy – wife and kids in tow – just told us to follow him, heading back into the centre of town (he no doubt lived on the estate and was almost home) and a good 20 minutes out of his way just to put us on the right track! The spirit of helping strangers is alive and well in KL. Of course, we stopped for some photos by the Petronas Towers (James geek fact: until 2004, they were the tallest buildings in the world, and still the tallest twin building at a tad under 452m or 1483ft but are not actually as tall as the Willis Tower, formally the Sears Tower, in Chicago as the Petronas Towers’ masts were considered design features and not just an ‘antenna on the roof’) and amused passers-by with our attempts to get the shot of the towers with the bikes by lying in the middle of the road! (James: one more reason why I need a wide-angle lens, damnit!…)
It took a while to locate somewhere to stay – the budget hotels were way out of our price range and even the hostels seemed extortionate in comparison with Thailand (plus we were a bit concerned about leaving the bikes out in the street). In the end, we found a pokey little room – no windows, paper thin walls, smelled of mothballs (James: to the point that we were getting headaches within minutes!) – in an Indian run hostel and charmed the flash hotel opposite into letting us put the bikes in their underground carpark. Result! We couldn’t take our bikes over to the shipping agent until Monday so our first day in town (Sunday) was used for admin and wandering about. Kuala Lumpur is a really happening city, modern like Bangkok but somehow a lot more European; I guess we got that sense from all the English language signs and trendy pubs, bars and shops. It’s busy but immaculately clean so quite a pleasure to explore on foot (although there aren’t many sidewalks –public transport is great but it’s not set up for the pedestrian!) In the evening, we managed to avoid the temptation of euro-food in the many cool looking bistros (there were Spanish tapas bars like you might see in London’s Spitalfields market, i.e. very trendy) and went for some good ole tom yam soup. Can’t go wrong!
Our shipping agent was located quite a way out of the centre of town but we’d printed off a map of the location so it was all good. Or not. What we hadn’t prepared for is the complete lack of any logic whatsoever when it came to signage on the city’s main road network. (James: It’s not only the signs, if you miss a junction you can’t just ride down to the next one and turn around – the next one simply turns off and sends you miles further out of your way with NO option to EVER turn round!) I don’t think we’ve had a more frustrating navigational experience on the whole trip than the complete nightmare that was finding the right road out of the city that morning!… And as the projected forty-five minute journey got closer to two hours, we really started to panic: in order to get our crates on the end of week sailing, Henry at Crown Relo had really wanted the bikes in on Friday but had extended the deadline so long as we got to the warehouse first thing Monday morning… it was now fast approaching Monday lunchtime! Eventually, having been helped by two taxi drivers and an ever-patient Henry on the phone (he confirmed that the road system was almost legendary for its crapness of design!), we made it to the industrial estate that housed Crown Relo’s office and warehouse. It was quite different from Suraj’s little shipping company office in Kathmandu, that’s for sure! We rode the bikes up into the huge warehouse space, which was chock full of crates but extremely organised and utterly spic and span, and set about taking the front wheels off so the bikes could be measured up for crating. It would take a while for the carpenters to make up the crates and we were quite happy to sit on the grass in the sunshine but Henry had other plans and took us out for lunch! An unexpected treat, not least because it meant we got to try Chinese marmite chicken for the first time!
The crates turned up around four and it was nearly 8pm by the time our bikes were all packed up – these things always take longer that you imagine, even with a team of six (yes, six!) guys helping us. We felt bad to have kept everyone late as a result of our cock up trying to find the place that morning but far from being resentful, Henry (James: who as management had had no reason to stay at work beyond 6pm and even less to stick around for us!) then gave us a lift to the station (we were now bike-less of course) and even offered for us to stay at his house the following evening! What a legend! Our plan had been to head to the east coast the following day for some beach action on Tioman Island (our US visa interview appointment – yes, really – wasn’t scheduled until the beginning of the following week) but Henry was offering up an even better plan; to stay and his and then get a lift across the country with him the next day as he was driving over for a meeting anyway. Perfect! So the next evening found we found ourselves in the surreal, but wonderful, scenario of sitting down with Henry, his delightful wife Maz and entertaining son Jake to a slap up meal complete with steak and fantastic red wine at their local – which happened to be an ex-pat bar/club run by a South African fellow cricketer (James: Henry is a cricket nut so most things for him seem to involve cricket to one degree or another!) and came complete with Olympic sized pool – before scoffing blue cheese and port in front of a movie at their home! We felt thoroughly spoiled, which indeed we were, and were really pleased to have made such lovely friends; not something either of us had expected to come out of our shipping experience! (James: All we can say is if you’re looking to ship ANYTHING out of Malaysia, Crown Relo are where you want to be, although we should add, that dinner and hospitality are very much NOT part of the ‘standard’ service! We were just incredibly lucky! Thanks once again Henry and family!) Needless to say, we slept (er, passed out?) like logs that night – we’ve become complete lightweights on the trip so beer, wine and port pretty much finished us off! We were also relieved to have the bike shipment sorted and, with our US visa interviews not until the following week, we were looking forward to some beach time for the next few days….
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