Every so often when travelling you come across an ‘is this real?’ moment. Perhaps you’re extremely jet lagged, walking down a perfectly ordinary city street, surrounded by high rise buildings only to turn the corner and view the Sydney harbour in all its glory. Or maybe you find yourself witnessing the perfect sunset, with awesome people on a beach some would describe as paradise. Whatever the situation, I’m sure every traveller has had at least one of these moments. You stop for a second and survey where you are and what you’re doing, and realise that for some people this is everyday life (Not fair!). But at least you’re here experiencing it, which is better than some alternatives.
I spent almost my entire time in KL feeling like this.
Kuala Lumpur is Malaysia’s capital city. It’s a huge, bustling metropolis, home to several cultures, religions and the famous Petronius Towers – the tallest buildings in the world. I arrived quite late in the evening, and it was gone 9pm by the time I had navigated my way across the city and found myself at the Reggae Mansion hostel. I’d chosen this place mainly because of the pod like beds (they’re fully enclosed other than the entrance at the foot of the bed, and offer a shelf, light and power socket per bed.
Your own little haven after a few weeks of bunk beds and open dorms), and the rooftop bar. Thank goodness it had that. This was the first (and I hope last) place I have ever stayed where no one in the dorm spoke. Seriously. 9 people moving around like little mice, offering one syllable answers to any conversation I attempted. Undeterred I headed upstairs, and was soon chatting to a group of solo travellers from South America. The bar had a fantastic view of the skyline, with the famous towers and the KL tower in close view; also as it was the first night of Eid the sky was often glittered with fireworks. After half an hour or so my new friends got up to leave…’we have to go now, my friend is throwing a house party and he’s here to collect us…unless, you want to come?’
Hmm… Did I want to head out with random people I just met, to a party somewhere I had never heard of, in a city I’d been in less than an hour? Yes. Yes I did.
The next few hours were surreal, we stopped at a store to buy some party supplies (as you do) only for an entrepreneurial chancer outside to whisper that his shop had much better bargains…if we would just follow him? Down a poorly lit backstreet we went (sorry mum, I promise I’m not usually so reckless!) where we had a liquor store open up just for us. I think he has expecting our western crew to be dropping some big bucks (all westerners are loaded, of course)…not to buy the cheapest bottle of rum on the shelf along with some ginger ale and two packets of knock off Pringles.
KL is a relatively young city, which means real estate is cheap and salaries high. This is the only conclusion I can make having met Jessica (the party host) and seen her home. Jessica is my age, and paying around €400 a month to live in a stunning open plan, maisonette apartment on the 31st floor of a central block. Annually she earns as much as I did in my last job, and has been working for a few years, (this kind of conversation is how you know you’re getting old…fyi!). When I told her how much I pay to share a 6 bedroom house with (shock horror) no pool or gym, her eyes nearly popped out of her head. C’est la vie. We all sat and drank, played music and swapped travel stories and snippets from our cultures for the next few hours. Top tip; if you ever want a laugh, get Asians and South Americans…or anyone really, to attempt to pronounce Llanfairpwllgwyngechgogerechgwynrobwchllandysiliogogogoch (my spelling is probably a bit off, sorry!)
All too soon I was back in my pod to catch a few z’s before meeting Thibah for a catch up and tour of the city. This invitation was the reason I had come to the city, and I was really excited to see my old friend!
Thibah and I were at UWE together and met whilst working as student ambassadors. She moved back home after her masters, so his was our first face to face catch up in nearly 7 years! We had an excellent day strolling around the city, hearing stories about the day Malaysia claimed independence from the British, spending way too much on knock off branded goods and eating local food in the shadow of the towers. Here we met Matthew, a 23 year old chef about to embark on an epic journey of culinary discovery all courtesy of the Hilton. They’re sending him to 35 countries, for 2 months each time, to learn the cuisine there before he goes to work as head chef in the Sydney branch. His dad had wanted him to be an engineer, but he wanted to cook and to travel – and now look at him! What an adventure! From there we ventured to little India before admitting we were both dog tired, and it was probably time for a siesta.
A quick recharge and it was back to the roof for a truly international game of pool. You know it’s international when your team represents a continent, not a country! The pool gods were with me that night as I sunk fluke shot after fluke shot, with no one believing me that it was not a normal occurrence. Some time later we were down to a team of 4…Sarah from Melbourne, Danny from Pennsylvania and Hans from Mauritius, aka the prince of KL. Hans is in Malaysia studying; he receives an allowance from his parents each month which covers his apartment (complete with infinity pool, jacuzzi and gym) and party lifestyle. This evening was a lesson in how the other half live. To be 21, living in luxury abroad, taking taxis everywhere and spending $100 a time on rounds of drinks is completely alien to me. Hans took us to his favourite bars, where he has bribed the bouncers so many times there’s no need to queue, and then to a club in a skyscraper which isn’t due to open till August. Remember those moments I spoke about at the beginning? You may wonder what possesses people to accept the invitations which get you into these crazy situations…Sarah, Danny and I have dubbed it ‘following the vibes’.
Sometimes you just get a feeling everything is ok, and you’re probably not going to end up with a Russian name or in a bath of sand. These are the tales which make your travels; you didn’t come half way around the world to sit in the hostel. You have to trust that everything will be ok, or better than ok, it’s going to be an awesome adventure, the memories of which will get you through some bleak future day. This is why we travel.
At around 5am we took a taxi back to the hostel, with an invitation to return the next day for a bbq and pool party with the prince and his friends. Deep down I knew I would decline the offer of utilising his AirAsia contacts to change my flight so I could attend. One evening of this lavish lifestyle was exhilarating and a little crazy, but I was glad to return to my backpackers pad with the promise of new adventures tomorrow. I’m finally off to the beach! Bali here I come 🙂