Two days rolled into one post! Here’s what you can expect: a morning commuter experience, a ride to the 86th floor, the refreshing hill station at Tanah Rata, and hilly vistas.
Suggested song: Le Parc (L.A. Streethawk) by Tangerine Dream
Petronas Twin Towers: Ascension
After the involuntary, traffic induced extension of my wanderings through downtown Kuala Lumpur, the night brought only a few hours of sleep. I had to get up at the crack of dawn in order to beat rush hour traffic into Kuala Lumpur City Center. Destination: the Petronas Twin Towers, where I had a spot on the 9 am tour to the top.
A ride that takes about twenty minutes under normal conditions can easily take four or five times as long in the morning rush hour. 9 am meant the start of the work day for all those office workers that the city swallows up every morning, like a myriad of ants drawn to a honey pot. Ants in compacts and sedans, clogging up the major traffic arteries leading towards KLCC. The affluence of Malaysia means less scooters and more cars, and where the former are nimble and diffuse quickly, the latter soon become stationary metal monuments to the metropolitan office grind.
This was my last day in Kuala Lumpur, at half past one I would leave the city, to be back another time. Getting into town, I thus had to lug my backpack around. Still, the best option to be at the towers on time was public transportation. Mahesh, my host, had graciously offered to take me and my luggage to Bandar Tasik Selatan, the most convenient commuter station to get to where I wanted to go. Luckily, it lay in the opposite direction of the influx of all these cars taking people to work in their downtown high-rises. It still took 20 minutes. At the station, I grabbed my belongings from the boot and we bid each other heartfelt farewells. I promised to be back, on another future trip.
The express train from the airport took me to KL Sentral, a bit west of the National Mosque, in a quick seven minutes. Here, I had to change trains and transport systems. To use the Kelana-Jaya LRT line to KLCC, I had to buy a token at a vending machine. The smallest denomination I had was a 10 ringgit bill, the ticket was 2.40 and the machines would only accept ones and fives. A good excuse to get a coffee in order to make change.
Token in hand, I passed the turnstiles and went up to the platform. What I found there amazed me. Orderly queues of commuters, waiting to board the trains that came and went in short intervals. So, I queued, waited and was onboard the fourth train to leave the station since my arrival at the platform ten minutes earlier. The two-coach train was packed with people, not quite to jam levels, but close enough so that I had to be careful not to knock out a random elderly lady or crush dainty feet with my sturdy boots. My 6 foot 2, standing a good bit taller than the other passengers, helped considerably in not succumbing to a fit of claustrophobia.
However cramped the ride, it was quickly over: the train spew me out only a short while later, less than a quarter of an hour, as a matter of fact, at KLCC Station. Finding my way through the underground passageways once more, I was at the Twin Towers right on time. Another couple of minutes in the queue, checking my back at the entrance, and passing through a security check, I stood in the elevator. First stop: the Sky Bridge connecting the two towers.
Stepping off the elevator, I was the first person of the first visitor group for the day. The Sky Bridge, on the 41st floor, lay before me, empty for a moment, before my fellow sightseers rushed to occupy it. Like everyone else, I snapped away with my phone camera, 170 meters above the KLCC Park below. The view was neat, but I was itching to go up further, to the observation deck on the 86th floor, 200 meters further skyward.
Up there, the swaying motion of the tower, up to 90 inches in high winds, was noticeable by a slightly queasy feeling. Moving around, I did not feel it strongly, sitting down or standing too long in the same spot, however, it disconcerted my sensory organs just the tiniest bit: the eyes telling the brain that everything is stationary, while the sense of balance told it that the ground was moving ever so slightly. But the view compensated for the inconsequential discomfort. The spire of the opposite tower glistened in the sun, the city lay beneath my feet. Delusions of grandeur threatened. Luckily and just at the right moment before I could begin to seriously entertain a bid for world domination (a German hereditary trait), time was up and we were ushered to the lift for the descent back to street level.
Mingling again with the mere mortals and with my stomach being fully awake after the subliminal swaying on the observation deck, it was time for breakfast and the trip to the bus terminal. A coffee and a sandwich took care of the former, the Uber-App of the latter. My visit to Kuala Lumpur had come to an end as I stepped on an executive bus to Tanah Rata hill station in the Cameron Highlands, heading for a colder climate in the Malayan mountains.
Tanah Rata: A Hill Station and a Dream
The comfortable bus left the city and headed north on a Malaysian highway so smooth that I quickly fell asleep. I woke up a few hours later when I noticed a swaying motion once again. We had turned off the highway and onto the serpentine road into the mountains. While the bus climbed from sea level towards Tanah Rata, at more than 1400 meters, bamboo forests of stems as thick as my lower leg, gushing waterfalls and wooded hills passed by the window. Townlets appeared from time to time, arranged on the road like pearls on a string, as we moved closer to the destination.
We arrived at Tanah Rata late in the afternoon. The town presented itself demurely, compared to the busy, crowded and hot metropolis I had just left. A former resort town, similar to Indian hill stations, it came into splendor in the early days of the twentieth century, serving as a means for British colonial officials, family and hangers-on to escape the sweltering heat of the lowland regions. The clean mountain air was refreshing and the temperate climate felt extraordinarily good after ten days of humid and often smog-ridden surroundings. The day was getting on, and after having a very late lunch, well, actually, a regular supper, I let it meet its demise while chatting with my friends who had arrived a few hours before me. Because the next day would bring a Dream.
The next morning was to be one of independent exploration. The guys decided to go on a guided tour. Not wanting to be squeezed into the middle seat of the back row of an old Land Rover, I decided manly men don’t need no guides! Argh, argh, argh. The chest thumping done, I watched my friends go off in the Land Rover and walked down main street. At its end sat a squat, little white building, like a little guard house, where I had heard Dreams were to be got. A very nice lady at the counter explained to me the procedure for attaining my Dream (safety helmet included): hand her a photocopy of my passport and license, pay 45 ringgit, put down a 100 ringgit deposit, sign here and here, initial there. Done! And there it was, my Dream.
A Honda EX5 Dream, to be exact, also known as the Honda C100EX. It was a monster of a motorbike: 97 cc of engine displacement developing an earth shattering 8 horse power at 8000 rpm and 8.1 Newton meters of torque at 6000 rpm. This power is transferred to the back wheel through a 4 speed centrifugal clutch semi-automatic, which means that it can be push-started… quite useful, I thought, because the choke on my little bike did not work. Neither did the speedometer, so I could never really tell how close I got to the little underbone’s nominal top speed of 110 kmh. Probably not too close, because at an altitude of 1400 meters and up, and given that it probably has been quite a few years since the little thing saw the factory floor on which it was birthed, the 8 hp rating seemed to be purely theoretical. Well, we all get slower with age. I called her Jeannie, obviously. You can call me Captain Nelson, thank you very much!
I could do with a cup of tea, I thought. Wouldn’t it be great to see where that comes from? I thought so, so I set off towards the BOH tea plantation, in the hills just outside Binchang. Jeannie purred along, and soon the sign reading ‘Top Gear’ lit up in her small head unit. Ah, so something is working. Well, the brakes didn’t really though, at least not any better than on an old Dutch bicycle. The horn, too, was only semi-functional, a quiet buzzing croak instead of a mighty bellow. Riding her was magnificent!
Jeannie and I reached the plantation, which sports a nice café encased in glass, overlooking a picturesque valley of rolling hills and tea bushes, here and there picking crews Stripping the leaves off the plants. We arrived before the hustle-bustle of the tourist lunch hour when all the Land Rovers unleash their contents at this place. I left her right next to the entrance, enjoyed a sublime green tea, Palas Supreme, gazed into the distance, and felt serene. To conserve the feeling, I continued when a throng of busses and 4x4s snaked down the access road. On the way out, plantation management put up a sign that may also double as a bit of life advice: no sitting on the fence!
Next stop: the mossy forest. Getting there took all the power the little scooter had. The road wound up the mountain, first gear was the only possible mode of operation. And because I am somewhat heavy-footed and unused to the funny semi-automatic shifting levers on Jeannie’s left lower flank, I accidentally shifted into second and immediately stalled her. Right under the eyes of a merry gang of onlookers, who were doing I know not what up here (I would find out on my way back down, and it is quite interesting). It appears I flooded the little engine, kickstarts get her did not work. Immediately, 3 of the onlookers sprang to my rescue, offering to push start me and the bike up the hill. Hmm, that’s nice, was my first thought. They arranged themselves around the rear of the scooter and started pushing. My second thought came, slow either by impractical nature or the altitude: wait, this is stupid! I hatched an elaborate plan for starting the scooter without wearing out the bones of helpful inhabitants! Turning Jeannie to face downhill, a 2 meter roll down the road made her roar, well, purr, to life. Another turn, a wave and thanks to my helpers, and I was up a progressively deteriorating mountain road to the mossy forest.
The mossy forest, ar 2,000 meters above sea level, is just what it says on the tin: a high altitude rainforest, often shrouded in mist. Helpfully, the tourism authority had made it accessible via by installing wooden walkways and stairs, making fern gazing and moss watching an easy enough endeavor. From here, a muddy jungle trail branches of to Mount Irau, some kilometers away. Given the visibility on this day (practically nil) and my jungle trail needs still met by last years vacation, I walked only a little ways up the trail to snap some pictures before heading back to Jeannie.
This proved to be fortunate. Pretty much at the exact moment I exited the forest, the heavens opened their gates, unleashing a deluge. Standing in the shelter, I pondered my luck, when, one after another, school kids came running through the rain for the shelter. The shelter filled quickly with an entire class on a school trip. The bolder ones started asking me the usual questions: what was I doing here? Where was I from? Wasn’t it a bit wet to ride a motorcycle? I told them it was a Dream. After a nice chat and the usual selfie, a lull in the rain presented a chance for the kids to get down the hill and for me to continue on to the top of Mount Binchang. The road led straight towards it, but when I arrived, I found only fog as thick as pea soup and weary hikers huddled in another shelter. Another chat and it was time to go down the mountain again. Time for afternoon tea.
On the way down, I was stopped by the guys who so graciously had offered to help me on the way up. I would have to wait for a bit before continuing on; they were shooting a chase scene for a movie. I parked Jeannie and chatted with the producer, the director and some idle crew members. Apparently, the movie is called M.O.X. A Malaysian spy-thriller. They were in day 21 of principal photography, pretty much halfway through. The release will be in mid-2017, leaving ample time for digital post production. After the car chase had been shot, the hero’s -8 Mercedes being pursued by baddies in an old Land Rover, they were off to the next location. I trundled back to the tea plantation, cold and damp. I needed a hot tea and a tasty piece of cake.
I found what I was looking for, along with a very pleasant conversation with a retired couple from Ipoh, the next bigger town. They told me about the pleasant drive up here from there home and how much they liked the tea, the sedate atmosphere of the plantation and the beautiful valley. Oh, they drove up here in a BMW M5. After having had so much fun on the twisty roads on an underpowered scooter, I could totally relate, when the husband spoke of this region being Malaysia’s perfect driving country. I was starting to miss Lucy, my big black KTM990 Adventure. She would be at home on these streets. Feeling guilty for thinking of other bikes, I finished my chocolate cake, said my farewells and went outside to caress Jeannie. Now I also knew who owned that nice M5 across the parking lot.
The next hour was spent aimlessly exploring and riding the roads. It was marvelous fun on the little bike. Traffic was so light as to be virtually nonexistent, a stark contrast to Indonesian roads. Before long, it was time to turn around and get back to Tanah Rata, to meet with Dan, my Airbnb flat mate friends m Kuala Lumpur who had decided to spend the weekend in the Highlands, for a coffee, return Jeannie home, and then have supper at the Cameron aa curry house. Before all that, I had to fill up Jeannie, though. Topping her up, after a full day of riding around cost a backbreaking 3 ringgit. She’s not a thirsty girl!
The talk with Dan was very pleasant, the butter chicken for supper was tasty and tomorrow will bring Penang.