A week travelling from The Philippines to Cambodia, via Malaysia
08.01.2009 - 11.01.2009 30 °C
We left Port Barton a few days after new year and rode the Lion King, the jeepney from Port Barton to Roxas, with a couple of girls we'd met once or twice in town. We changed onto a local bus and were soon (well 6 hours later) pulling into Puerto Princesa bus station. We decided to return to the guesthouse we had stayed in previously, as it was near the airport, not too expensive and had a hot shower. We were even allocated the same room, so we felt like we were returning home in some way.
After two days, we took a flight from Puerto Princesa to Manila Airport and as we sat in the emergency exit seat yet again we were starting to feel like part of the crew. In our first major transport booking oversight, back in London a few months previous, we had booked our flight for Kuala Lumpar from Clark airport rather than the main Manila airport. This is similar to flying into London City and having to get to Stanstead for a connecting flight. When we booked, needless to say, we didn't appreciate there was a difference between the two, or indeed a distance of 100km. As we discovered the oversight quite early on, we scheduled our flight into Manila for the previous day, the plan being to get to Clark and stay there for the night. So, once we landed in Manila, we knew we had to spend the day travelling on local buses through one of the most notoriously difficult cities in the world. We looked on the Internet for bus schedules, info or anything that could help, but we only had very sparse accounts of it even being possible, aside from paying nearly $100 for a taxi. Actually, it turned out to be really easy. We walked out of the airport and headed for the bus stop right outside the terminal, where there was one bus waiting. We told the bus driver loads of times we needed to get off at the bus terminal, and soon enough we arrived at the ''Five Star' bus terminal where we explained that we needed to go to Clark Airport and were told to board a bus headed for Dau, a large bus station just outside Clark. From here we got a tricycle to take us into Clark to find our hotel. We knew that Clark had a reputation for being very seedy and, with go-go bars and strip joints dotting the road side. We had planned our hotel very carefully (we had considered staying in the Holiday Inn to guarantee a quiet stay but just couldn't justify the £50) and had been recommended Hotel America by numerous internet sources. It was nice enough, but it still had the overall 'sex tourist' theme going on, with the clientele, decor and overall ambiance. We watched cable and got drunk in order to distract from where we were, and went for a walk around the mall across the road. They seem to love malls here. Even though the area had a definite sexual undertone, with horrible white guys walking around with young girls (or ladyboys on occasion), we didn't feel as intimidated as we expected. I think we forget sometimes that we're not from a little village somewhere, we live in London, and quite happily walk around the backstreets of Soho without a second thought. So, a woman dressed in a very fetching red pvc dress inviting us to have a drink in her establishment, was just met with 'no, but thank you for asking'.
The next morning, in another bid to travel like the locals rather than catch a cab, we walked to the local jeepney / bus station, having established the night before that we could catch a jeepney to the airport. We found the stop and a queue of people and a guy sorting them out. He quoted us a price for the ride, we asked a local, found out it should be about 20p each as opposed to £1.20 (ok, this doesn't seem a lot to everyone back home, but this is a huge difference to us as we can get a meal for just over a quid if we look hard enough), and we don't mind paying more than the locals but this was really a bit steep. The excuse was they had to make a special trip to take us to the entrance to the airport. We took the jeepney with the locals, paid the same as them, and jumped out and walked the five minutes to the airport entrance. Feeling very accomplished, we then had our worst check in experience yet, with the slowest, worst check-in desk and passport controls ever, and the cheek to charge us the highest airport tax we'd paid so far. It was so bad we nearly missed our flight as we were still being processed, even though we got there two hours before our flight!
We landed in KL in the afternoon and caught a bus into the centre of the city, and after just over an hour, we were pulling into the terminal at KL Sentral station. From there we caught the monorail - which excited us way too much, mostly because of a Simpsons episode that revolves around a monorail, but also because it offers a great birds eye view of the city and leans at seemingly impossible angles. It was a good way to take in the city before we got to our Hostel. We had booked Equator Hostel months previously, when we first booked our flights from Philippines to KL. We knew accommodation can book up quickly and as we were there for such a short amount of time we wanted to be sure of staying in a nice place. Equator was a budget hostel but seemed to have a nice feel to it. We sensed there was an issue when we first turned up at the gate and nice Irish guy, Andy, who greeted us said "Oh you must be Johanna" then looked confused when we corrected him. It turns out they have a system of entering reservations on to a spreadsheet, and as our names hadn't been entered they didn't have space for us, even though there was a print out of our internet booking confirmation on the desk in front of him. This was very frustrating and we were tired and hungry, but didn't fly off the handle; we gently explained to them that we were really unhappy and an apology did nothing to help us. We ended up staying in the hostel a few doors down, Classic Inn, which luckily had some dorm beds. When Anna had spoken to the manager of Equator on the phone, she admitted that Classic Inn was actually nicer than her place, and it was cheaper. We found it to be excellent - really, really clean and the people that worked there were especially nice. The free breakfast was delicious, and was enough to make us return there if we swing by KL again in the future.
We were staying next to the biggest mall in KL, which is always a good idea. It seems if you stay near a mall you have access to loads of food places and the transport links are excellent. We had paid a visit to the third biggest mall in the world (apparently) in The Philippines, although it seems all their malls are competing for a similar title. The SOMETHING mall we were staying at seemed like the biggest building we'd ever been in, let alone shopping mall. It is impossible to convey how massive the place was. There were something in the region of 14 floors, 10 of which were shopping floors. If you stood in the middle on the ground floor and looked up, you could see all 10 floors. There was an indoor theme park, with full sized roller coaster, at the top of the building. There was no way you'd be able to come here and see the whole place in one day, it would take all weekend. With our minds blown with the scale of things, we had an early night and prepared for fitting in as much as possible the next day. We had planned this part of the trip very carefully, as we didn't have much time.
The biggest mall we've seen, we couldn't fit all the floors into one photo, but this gives you the general idea of how tall it was!
The next morning, after our delicious breakfast, we headed off to see KL tower in person. It is similar to Tokyo and Kyoto tower in design and reaches far into the sky. We took the long way round, and although unintentional, it turned out to be perfect. The tower is located in a small forested park area surrounded by roads. At one end there is a rainforest information point and a marked path leading to the main area. We went exploring and surprisingly we didn't meet one single person on the walk. We couldn't understand, but we weren't complaining as it was so peaceful and really nice to be alone. The trees were so tall, and there was loads of plant life that we've not seen before.
Brads in the jungle in the centre of KL
We soon emerged into the concrete base of the tower, had a little look around, but decided against paying to go up. We strolled over to china town and found a place to get some noodles which had been recommended by Jane and Steven who we met in Port Barton (thank you!).
Our next destination was also our favourite - the Petronas Towers are simply marvellous. We had watched a documentary on the building of the towers a couple of times, so to actually see them in person was fantastic. We hung around and went to the mall in the lower levels. The view at night is spectacular, with the whole thing lit up and shining. Photos we've seen in the past always look like they've been photoshopped, but it did really look that good in real life.
We headed back to our hostel for the night and chilled out. Our flight for Siem Reap was scheduled for 7am the next day, which only occurred to us as a ridiculous time once we were preparing for it. Ok, it was incredibly cheap, but having to arrive at the airport at 5am seemed almost impossible. It wasn't that bad in the end, but we were surprised that the airport was so busy at that time in the morning.
We really enjoyed KL. There is, no doubt, a very strong commercialised, capitalist feel, with the amount of malls and emphasis on buying things, but aside from that it is a very culturally diverse and a seemingly very integrated society. Just wandering around China Town and Little India, you get the sense that everyone gets on, and everyone seems happy and friendly. We weren't really there long enough to draw any firm conclusions, but from what we saw, we liked it immensely.