July 1 in Hong Kong is Special Administrative Region Establishment Day. Celebrated since 1997, the day recognizes the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong from the UK to China and the establishment of the Hong Kong SAR. We took advantage of the opportunity for a long weekend, booked the following Thursday and Friday off, and decided we needed to get away. That’s a big part of the reason we’re here, after all! We hadn’t seen Braden’s brother, Daren, since we moved here and made plans to head over to Malaysia to see him. Yay, an adventure!
Do you know where Malaysia is? My geography knowledge of Asia is fuzzy (but getting better!); if you’re like me and want to know more, you can get your bearings by looking at a map of Malaysia here. It’s a 3.5hour flight for us from Hong Kong, so we got up early Wednesday morning and landed in Kuala Lumpur by noon. We grabbed cash from an ATM (Malaysian Ringgit), which is approximately 3 RM : 1 CAD or 1 RM to 2 HKD. This is where it starts to get confusing for me. Generally when I travel I convert to CAD, but now that we live in Hong Kong and earn Hong Kong dollars I feel like we should be thinking it HKD. I know that in Hong Kong I divide a price by 6 to get an approximate price in CAD, so in Malaysia I divide by 3 to do about the same. Sometime I also divided by two to think in HKD. If nothing else the next few years will strengthen my mental math skills! Anyways, we took the train from the airport in to the city (not super cheap – about the same as a cab – but reliable and not affected by traffic) then transferred to the LTR system and met Daren at his office (aka the Petronas Towers – how cool is it that he works in the iconic building?) We dropped our bags off at his place and then went out to explore while he finished work.
Three years ago when we first experienced Asia, we flew to Kuala Lumpur as our first stop. It was fun to experience a foreign city and have it feel a bit familiar. We enjoyed walking through the park near the Petronas Towers again to experience the massive structure. Here’s some interesting facts about this iconic architecture:
- The towers took 7 years to build
- They were the tallest buildings in the world from 1998-2004.
- They are currently the tallest twin towers in the world.
- They cost 1.6 billion to build.
- They are 1483 ft tall (451.9m) with 88 floors.
- Total number of elevators: 78.
- The towers are connected at the base, as well as by a double height Skybridge at the 41st and 42nd floors.
- They are built with over 55 000 sq m of laminated glass.
After sweating our way through the park we decided to go up to SkyBar in the Traders Hotel to get another view of the towers and cool off a bit. Our friends Matt and Lisa told us about this bar last time we were planning our trip to Asia and we thought, why not go back? Last time we went it was at night, it was beautiful to see the towers lit up and we thought we might catch the sunset. We were there around 5:30 and sunset wasn’t until after 7:00 so we cut our losses and went back to Daren’s place to hang out for a bit before dinner.
Daren took us to a really cool area a bit outside to KL for dinner. The neighbourhood is called Bangsar and has many unique shops and restaurants. We had a really interesting meal there – what an experience! Apparently it’s always busy and we caught it at a good time when we didn’t have to wait forever…always a sign when there’s a line up for a restaurant! I’ll let the photos tell the story.
The next day Daren had to work again and left us to explore on our own again. We took off on his little Vespa where we experience what I think many would say you haven’t truly experienced Asia until this has happened: be involved in a scooter crash. DON’T WORRY MOM, WE’RE FINE! A millisecond short on the brakes, a small scrape on a bumper, a slow-motion tumble over later, and it was all behind us. Save for a tiny scrape on my elbow and a small bruise on Braden’s thigh you’d never know it happened. The driver checked for damage, shook hands with Braden and took off (phew!) and now we never have to experience anything like that again. We continued on our way and got to Bukit Bintang, a retail / restaurant area in KL. Daren took us to Alor Road last time we were in town for dinner and Braden enjoyed the satays so we thought we’d hunt them down again. It turned out that during the day the street was pretty quiet and the restaurants we closed or very quiet. This could have been because it is currently Ramadan; about 60% of Malaysia practice Islam and fast from sun up to sundown for an entire month. As a result, many restaurants change their business hours during this month to adjust to the decrease in customers. I cannot even image how hangry I would be if I were Muslim and participated in Ramadan.
Next stop: the largest walk-in free flight aviary in the world, The Kuala Lumpur Bird Park. It had good reviews on Trip Advisor and was halfway between where we were and Daren’s place so we thought we’d give it a shot. We paid RM 50 each to get in and didn’t expect too much, but we thoroughly enjoyed it. There are over 200 unique species and over 3000 birds. Some birds are in cages, but many are left to fly freely within the net enclosure and are quite comfortable around humans. We got incredibly close to some funny looking creates – I even got to feed one – and easily spent over two hours exploring the park.
A full day of exploring behind us, we hopped back on the Vespa to make our way back to Daren’s place. By now we had a good little system down on the scooter (or scoot, as well call it). I sit on the back with the map on the phone set up and follow the blue dot to navigate our way to our destination. This allows Braden to concentrate on driving on the ‘other’ side of the road and all the other scooter traffic. It’s not a foolproof plan, that’s for sure. Sometimes if I don’t give enough warning or if there are quick lane changes required we miss our route and have to scramble to figure out what to do next. We definitely try to avoid freeways, but other than that we know that we’ll get to where we need to go. We basically always double the estimated time it’s supposed to take us to allow for some wrong turns. When we left the Bird Park we didn’t have much battery left on the phone, so I was strategic about turning it off and only using it when necessary. I was holding on to Braden with one hand and the phone in my left hand, and we were scooting along, when a scooter suddenly came up next to us on the left very close. I noticed out of the corner of my eye and before I knew what was happening the driver reached over and grabbed the phone. DON’T WORRY MOM, WE’RE FINE! Luckily I was holding it super tight and instinctually pulled my arm away and he didn’t get it. It all happened in a split second and he buzzed off before I could even explain to Braden what had happened. We were a block from Daren’s place and got back without any more trouble. It wasn’t a pleasant experience and another unfortunate Asia rite of passage, hopefully never to be repeated again.
Our original plan with this trip was to head north of Kuala Lumpur to explore Penang, an island in Malaysia that Daren’s girlfriend Joyce is from. Joyce ended up having to stay out of town for work over the weekend so we decided to save that destination for when she can show us around. We developed a Plan B: drive south to Melaka and Singapore. Check back in a few days for the account of the rest of our weekend away.