Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Palm Trees and Pollution

Leaving Langkawi from the calm of The Westin Lounge at the airport was a good experience - the departure lounge there is pretty crowded and chaotic.  It took a while for us to check in and move through security to the quiet of the lounge past the rabble.
Monorail in front of The Sheraton
It was an even shorter flight with Air Asia to Kuala Lumpur (KL) and this time I found myself sitting next to a Saudi Arabian couple, the female partner in full niqab.  They held hands all flight so I think they were on honeymoon, which was very cute.  We also spoke to each other about where we were from and our thoughts on Langkawi and Malaysia, which they had also really enjoyed.  It is hard with Muslim dress to completely make out someone's personality but I could feel, and sense, the warmth and curiosity of this lovely Arabic lady who also waved hello at my children and asked me about them.
Inside the Sheraton
Once again, our driver from The Sheraton picked us up and drove the one hour trip from the airport to the city passing through four tollways on a highway that reminded us of Los Angeles.  Two nights at the Sheraton was part of the Luxury Escapes package deal although we opted for a third night to give us extra time to experience KL.  The first few thing you notice as you head towards the city is the proliferation of palm trees growing on either side of you as well as the smoke haze that covers the entire city.
I didn't fully appreciate that Malaysia has been primarily founded on oil and gas with banks and insurance companies everywhere in the city, and its most famous Petronas Twin Towers building named after a petroleum company.  The city is dragging itself into the 21st century with building going on all around the place.  I'm not a fan of palm oil nor burning of rainforest in Sumatra but understand that developing countries have to make their money somehow - I just hope that they can do it in a more sustainable way.
KL cityscape from our hotel window
We arrived at the Sheraton, which has the same sophistication and feel that most CBD-based hotels have no matter where you are in the world - we were also very happy to be there and the view of Kuala Lumpur's cityscape at night was quite spectacular.  I often think we should do more of this in our own home cities (and I have stayed a number of times at the Sofitel in Melbourne) to see the eyes of our city through that of a tourist.
KL Tower at night
I have to say that while it was still hot and polluted, KL has a very different feel to Singapore and Mr Rosanna and I both enjoyed it more as a place.  Whether we were more relaxed on the back of our resort holiday in Langkawi or simply more in the groove after so many days in Asia, we enjoyed all that KL had to offer.
We grabbed pizza at one of the in-house restaurants, Villa Danieli, the first night and checked out the gym, day spa and outdoor pool, complete with Moroccan-style shisha lounge.  We also got to experience the complimentary food and service at the private Sheraton Club Lounge on the 38th floor as part of the deal, which Mr R in particular loved.  It's held from 5 - 8 pm every night with free cocktails and hors d-oeuvres on offer, although given the time slot, I'm sure many people just treated it as dinner.  It was all very civilised, again with great views of the city including the Kuala Lumpur Tower which offers the highest viewpoint for the general public.
Shisha lounge by the pool
I didn't hear it the first morning we were there but the following morning and at night-time, both Mr R and I heard the Muslim call to prayer which is beamed live from the closest mosque throughout the city and is quite haunting.  I found it a beautiful thing to listen to as much as I didn't understand the words or meaning and again, it added to the whole cultural experience of Malaysia as a place.
Mr R and me at the Sheraton Club Lounge
We spent our last few days in KL shopping - Quill City shopping centre is across the road from the hotel which had an H&M store and a cinema we took the boys to one afternoon.  We also made our way to pre-eminent mall Pavilion in the east of the city where most of the shopping malls are located.  KL fashion week also happened to be on so there were lots of beautiful people there to watch or participate in the runway parades as well as shoppers in general.  These mega malls are something else and while I'll never be a huge fan of them, people need something and somewhere to escape to from the heat and there could be worse places to go.
Pavilion Shopping Centre entrance
I did buy a lovely dress on sale from a shop called Bauhaus and Mr R also stocked up on clothes for his wardrobe.  We managed to leave Pavilion and head to the art deco Central Market in the west near the KL cultural precinct including the Botanic Gardens and Islamic Arts Museum.
KL Fashion Week runway at Pavilion
Our boys surprisingly loved the Central Market with all its handicrafts, kitsch and artisan products.  If you go remember to take cash as the queues for ATMs are long.  You'll also need to pay for toilet paper and entry to the toilets!  I bought a hand made woven rattan table runner and bag as well as two batik sarongs from Sarawak at the market for myself and as gifts.  Mr R and I also liked the more modern, mid-century look of one of the Selangor Pewter water jugs but in the end we decided to leave it behind.

We took the monorail and train around the city where you can buy single trip/destination tokens every time - it's not the most efficient way to travel - and again, it's pretty energy zapping with the heat.  Our boys were also exposed to the sights of beggars on the street and poverty, giving loose change to some of the old men they saw and understanding how lucky we are in the west, and in general.  I also found the different styles of dress worn by Malaysian locals fascinating - some of the people I saw on the street looked so majestic in their national costumes - again it added another layer to the overall experience that was KL.
Sheraton Hotel pool
We spent our last morning having a swim in the pool on level 5 before we headed out to shop and then returned to the hotel to rest and have dinner at the in-house Japanese restaurant Sasagawa, which was quiet and calming.  We were impressed by the Japanese we encountered while overseas and will definitely consider Tokyo 2020 for the next Olympics although I suspect our next major holiday will be a lot closer to home.
Art Deco clock opposite the Central Market
I really enjoyed both Singapore and Malaysia for different reasons but while I liked Singapore, I really loved Malaysia as a cultural experience and gained a greater insight to its people and place, while we were there.  Perhaps because I'm already a westernised Asian (or vice versa), Singapore didn't really feel all that different from being here in Melbourne.  While in Malaysia, we definitely felt like we were somewhere else in the world and I would be interested in visiting Penang (the Georgetown arts festival was on while we were there) and other places like Borneo if we were to return.
Masjid Jamek Mosque - the oldest mosque in KL
At the end of the day, we're all glad to be back in Rosanna here in Melbourne.  Holidays are great but there's no place like home.

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