It’s been a long, frustrating day of travel. As I mentioned, travelling in Malaysia is not only expensive but also requires planning ahead – something you don’t need to do in the rest of Southeast Asia. What’s particularly frustrating is, Malaysia appears on the surface to be a modern country – skyscrapers, high prices, booking ahead (transport and hotels) – but has all the frustrations of an undeveloped country. I would say even more frustrating and chaotic than India. Walking around Kuala Lumpur, you have to watch your step, as the sidewalks are uneven – if you don’t, and step into a large hole, you would probably twist your ankle or worse. KL has many transportation lines (LRT, monorail, train, etc.) but none of them work together in any way! It’s not easy to transfer from one line to another, and a lot of times they cover a very similar path! And let me tell you about their bus system…
My initial plan was to partake in a homestay in Malaysia, as I feel I haven’t seen the “real” Malaysia yet. Visited the Tourism Malaysia office yesterday, they were rather snippy, as I had the nerve to interrput their day and ask them for information! They didn’t have any brochures for me to take away, so I had to borrow their one copy and get it photocopied elsewhere before returning. After trying to phone a few places that I was interested in, either I would go straight to voicemail, or the other person on the line spoke horrendous English. I kept asking them to slow down and repeat themselves, but somehow they thought they were speaking perfect English and kept speaking way too fast and incomprehensibly.
So, this morning I needed a new plan to leave Kuala Lumpur… Took a look in the guidebook, and the province of Negeri Sembilan, a tiny one that didn’t seem to be very often touristed, and an hour outside Kuala Lumpur, sounded good to me. Now, there’s at least 5 bus stations in Kuala Lumpur, and the trick is knowing which station is the one that has buses running to your destination… Why don’t they consolidate into one bus station? Maybe that would be too smart.
I tried my luck at Putrajaya bus station, which is the largest one… Passed a few men outside the station asking, “Where go?” Do I look like this is my first time outside my home country?! As in, do I look like a sucker? Was also annoyed for the tourists that do fall for whatever scam they’re running.
Now, in Putrajaya bus station there are 100+ ticket counters for the dozens of bus companies! Why?! Why are there so many choices? Is this capitalism at work? I queue at the largest bus company ticket counter, and when I get to the front, there’s several women taking inquiries and bookings. Except one woman sitting there doing absolutely nothing except looking surly. One man stood in front of her about to ask a question, and she glared back until he moved to another line.
The line I was in, I ask if they go to Seremban, and the woman says “Platform 17”. “What about my ticket?” She continues to wave me away. Okay, doesn’t look promising but I’ll try. I get down there, and a line of people are getting on a bus, tickets in hand. I ask the driver, “Seremban?” Annoyed that I don’t have at ticket, he points upstairs. “Where do I buy a ticket?” “Counter 3.” Walk back up, over to counter 3. Of course, they say, “Platform 22”. Walk back down. One bus down there that doesn’t seem to be taking passengers. Back to square one. Walk to another ticket office and ask, “Seremban?” “Counter 101”. Are people just telling me whatever just so I go away?! Counter 101 – closed! WTF?! A man standing at a counter nearby asks, “Where go?” Seremban. “Oh, you must catch the bus across from Central Market. They don’t leave from here.” Me, skeptical, respond, “Why does everyone give me a different answer?”
I already went through a wild goose chase in the bus station, and decide I’m not going to do it all over the city, so then I decide to change my plans and take the train to Klang instead. Walking to the train station, I pass some buses parked by the side of the road. I notice the sign on one – SEREMBAN! The last guy actually was right. I hop on and I’m on my way. After arriving into Seremban, which just still seems like a big city, though not as hectic or big as Kuala Lumpur, I look at my guidebook and decide to take another local bus to Kuala Pilah, a smaller town.
An hour later, I’m in the town of Kuala Pilah. But – the first hotel I go to (one of two listed in the guidebook) is full! They said there was some kind of “program” going on this weekend? They tried to phone the other hotel but just got a busy signal. I try to set off on foot to find this other place, and an hour later – passed it by accident as they didn’t have a clear sign! Also, asked a local who said it was down the hill, and NOT that place… So walked right by it, down the hill, asked a local at the bottom – it’s up there! Grrr… Got there finally. The woman at reception had the phone purposely off the hook, beeping away. Of course they’re full. She phones every other hotel in the small town, and they’re all full. Great. Just great.
By this point I’m sweating (and swearing) profusely, so I sit down and have a soya milk in their bar. Look in the guidebook – a resort seemed to be a short taxi ride away from the town? Tried phoning ahead this time – but the number wasn’t in service? I ask the bar staff, and they said the resort closed down! Good thing I checked! At this point I’m not having too much confidence in my guidebook.
Kuala Pilah – worth the effort?
Bussed back to Seremban, and found an okay room at Sun Yun Lik Hotel – a bit smoky, but clean sheets – run by a nice, elderly Chinese couple. I think I’m the only one staying in the hotel, and so far I haven’t seen a single (foreign) tourist since leaving KL. With a roof over my head, I went off in search of some dinner. I think constantly eating small portions has shrunk my stomach – I had half of my bowl of rice, a teeny piece of chicken (mostly bones), and 6 of 10 chicken satays, and leaving the restaurant I could barely walk! Stomach is shrunken but I’m no skinnier myself.
Trying to make the best of what vacation I have left now, though honestly I wish I was elsewhere – Thailand, Cambodia, India, China, Vietnam, Laos, anywhere! – rather than Malaysia. KL itself wasn’t too interesting – they have a Chinatown and a Little India, but after already having been in China, Hong Kong, Bangladesh and India already this trip, my reaction is – meh. I’ve also been to Singapore as well, which is pretty similar, except cleaner, with better infrastructure, better food, and better shopping. The massage I had in KL was also pretty underwhelming and expensive at the same time – their interpretation of a Japanese Shiatsu massage feels an awful lot like a painful Thai or Chinese massage. From the photos I’ve seen of Malaysia, it looks like East Malaysia is the place to visit for nature – treks, Mt. Kinabulu and spectacular diving (though the particular region is a bit unstable).
Maybe it’s a good thing that I’m wrapping up my travels since I seem to be easily irritated by small annoyances. I still think that I have the energy to travel elsewhere, just not Malaysia. Nolan flies out to Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, where we’ll meet up for my last few days of travel in Asia. Until then, I’ll be headed wherever I can get a bus ticket and a hotel room…