Nate and I alighted from our train into the main station in Kuala Lumpur (KL), the capital city of Malaysia. Our Airbnb host instructed us to hail a cab, but we noticed an MRT station and thought it would be a cheaper, faster option in rush hour traffic. Aaaaannnd it might have been had we not been following directions to Regalia Residence instead of Regalia Residence and Suites, the former existing only on the map and not in real life. Moreover, it didn’t exist in a location about a 30 minute walk from where the actual location did actually exist. A little ruffled, but still determined to avoid what might be an expensive taxi ride, we recalibrated our map.me app (great offline map that we learned about from a fellow Couch Surfer in Singapore) and kept hoofing it. [Random Aside: I should start a textbook on English for Backpacking with all these great travel words…alight, hail, hoof.] I felt even more confident when we came to a 4-way intersection where all of the traffic lights were out, and I impressed Nate with my ability to stop traffic with only my hand (thank you, Jakarta). My confidence was sadly deflated when the side walk our map Shel Silverstein-ed into a dirt path with only a pantsless man peeing into the woods.
This is the place where the side walk ends
And before the street begins
And there the grass grows
And the butt shows
Taking this as a sign, we crossed the road, trying our luck with the other side. Another dead end. Now, two hours later, it was Nate’s turn to save the day by actually reading the map and setting a new route. Eventually, we found this angelic, concrete set of stairs that appeared bathed in a halo of orange street light to two sweaty, frustrated travelers. They led to our AirBnb with its roof-top infinity pool. For the next day, we didn’t leave that pool.
KL: The San Francisco of Asia
All pantslessness aside, KL might be my new favorite city. If Singapore is the flashy, all-business New York City of Asia, and Jakarta the sprawling, crowded Los Angeles, KL is the more laid-back, happy medium of San Francisco, complete with its own impressive skyline (see first photo), arts scene, and even a Chinatown.
We discovered a free bus (GoKL) with multiple lines running to most of the must-see attractions in the city and set about taking advantage of this air-conditioned mode of transportation. It was lovely, even when we boarded the green line to reach the Petronas towers with what appeared to be the rest of the citizens of KL. We were the last to make the cut as the driver wiggled the doors shut behind us, and we found ourselves squished, suction-cup-Garfield style to the front window. It wasn’t that bad, actually. It had a real Leo and Kate feel as we hurtled through the streets.
Peter and the Petronas Towers
The Petronas “Twin Towers” are the hallmark of KL, and they are a site to behold. They have an observation deck, but we choose to enjoy them from the small, metro park area directly in their shadow. This seemed to be a popular hangout spot with some fun water-features, old banyan trees, and lots of areas to take great tower selfies and wefies – a word I saw in actual print and for which I now hold with the same horror and distain that I reserve for selfie sticks and casually drinking wine while grocery shopping. This is also where we met Peter Owen, a British gentleman in his seventies who referred to us as “young chickens” while lamenting about how he should have traveled 20 years ago. He merrily told us his tale of asking his girlfriend of 27 years to escape the UK winter and explore SE Asia with him. She said no and then dumped him three days later. He was having the time of his life. His parting words of wisdom were in quote form from Beatle legend George Harrison (paraphrased from the Cheshire Cat below): “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where—’ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
~Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Couch Surfing #2
After a day of our own aimless roaming, we made our way to Couch Surfing Host #2: Kelly. Kelly is a 40-year-old, Malay architect and possibly the best human being alive. After a night of chatting, he decided to take a half day off work to take Nate and I, as well as my friend Tabby who came into town, around the city. After treating us to a traditional Malay breakfast of nasi lemak, he drove us to the Batu Caves and a Buddhist temple (see below) before dropping us off in the city center to explore while he went to work. In the evening, after Nate, Tabby, and I narrowly escaped heavy monsoon rains at Jalan Alor (a great street for seafood hawkers with a street fair feel after the sun goes down – see photo below), Kelly treated us again to roti canai and quite possibly the best peanut butter waffle I’ve ever eaten, and I am the reigning Waffle-weight champion of Columbus, Ohio! Probably even more extraordinary, though, was Kelly’s keen ability to anticipate what we truly wanted without us saying a word. He took cues from us, allowing us to eat, sleep, and explore on our own schedule. Simple and effective. Couch Surfing gets another good mark from me. Stay tuned for Nate’s interview with Kelly on Oyster World Radio!
Kelly also hosted three “Kids” (as he called them) who were backpacking across Asia. They ate roti canai with us and explained how each of them wound up in Malaysia. One girl was working on a sail boat from Australia that went through five days of a typhoon, after which she asked to be let off at the next island to fend for herself. She disembarked somewhere in Indonesia and hitchhiked her way to KL. The other two (a Canadian girl from Quebec and a Spanish-American boy) were also traveling from Spain without a direction or goal, but with a general heading toward volunteer work. One of the Kids began prodding us with questions about how many shirts/shorts we packed, whether we had planned out our accommodations, and whether or not we were the “sandwich type.” We were being weighed and measured. When found wanting (we have our accommodations pre-booked!), we were fervently encouraged to hitchhike as the more authentic travel experience. We politely explained between shared side glances that we’d both done the school and career thing for a bit, and that we were happy with the path we choose even if it wasn’t the one less traveled.
For all my talk of not being a dreadlocked wanderer, I’ll admit to romanticizing the notion. I hold backpackers in high regard, reverent of their Rastafarian lifestyle. But, they choose that lifestyle because it’s what they want. Peter Owen knew what he wanted – a life without winters, and he hopped a plane to make it happen. He knew the why of traveling is more important than the how. I want to see Asia pass by my train window while I blog about it. I want to talk to couch surfing hosts about their careers and life experiences while I contemplate my own. Besides, Frost wasn’t giving importance or to that road less traveled anyways; the roads were basically the same. What made all the difference was in the choosing!
The Road Not Taken
BY ROBERT FROST