So I finally did it: I left Singapore. I know, I’m so brave (truly inspirational).
Honestly, it was one of the most extensive and eye-opening $40 trips I’ve ever taken. It wasn’t long, but it was jam-packed, and we certainly didn’t hit everything that we wanted to. One thing is for sure, we got A LOT of pictures.
For those of you that don’t know, Kuala Lumpur is the capital city of Malaysia, and was only about a 6 hour bus ride north from Singapore. It’s only about the distance between Syracuse and Vermont, although more northwest than northeast. However, we actually had to travel halfway through Malaysia to get there, because most countries in the world are small and America just chooses to be Extra™.
So I went to KL with a large group of 10, but we all had our own schedules to work around, so we really split up between Team A (definitely our group) and Team B. Team B didn’t have class on Fridays, so they left Thursday night and had already been in KL for a whole day before Team A arrived Friday night. However, Team A didn’t have class on Mondays, so we got to stay an extra day that Team B didn’t get to have. Then there was Felix and his girlfriend, who got a separate AirBnb and honestly were their own team.
So Team A consisted of myself, my Swiss friend Judit, my American friend Jeremy, and my Taiwanese friend Jason. The four of us grabbed a bus that left from Little India at 8pm, although it was supposed to leave at 7pm. As such, we didn’t really get into KL until 3am on Saturday, and we then had to pay much more for the cab ride to the hotel then we probably should have.
Along the way we met a few friendly folks. There was a local woman who gave us a few tips about KL and how to get around (and how to avoid getting pick-pocketed), and there was another student around our age who originally goes to school in Dubai, and is traveling between Singapore and KL for an internship.
Upon arrival, we were exhausted and sweaty and disgusting. We rolled into the Airbnb not expecting much, but WOW. This place was a full service suite with a view to kill for, cleaner than clean, and definitely worth more than the price that we paid for it. I just wanted to cuddle up and sleep in it for the rest of the trip. But the rest of the group had plans to be out the door by 8am, so guess what we f*cking did.
Bright and early and on four hours of sleep, we took an Uber cab to the Batu Caves, a very famous Hindu temple just right along the outskirts of the city. Batu is a very popular tourist attraction, but apparently not this weekend, since we unknowingly stumbled upon the Hindu festival of Thaipusum.
The festival is in honor of the Lord Subramaniam, who represents virtue and power in the Hindu religion, and is the destroyer of evil. Thousands gather to climb the steps of Batu Caves in the most painful and physically demanding way possible in order to show their devotion. The man pictured above inserted a few dozen hooks into his back and is weighing them down with melons, and will also climb the steps while carrying the large ornament (which were a very common sight).
The ultimate goal is to achieve a level of meditation in which you do not feel the pain or the suffering in the pilgrimage. We saw a few in such a deep level of haze that they were dancing around in a frenzy, and even one laying seemingly unconscious at the foot of the steps. I can imagine how they could get into this state: in the oppressive heat and constant sound of the banging drums, it’s enough to separate anyone from themselves for a little while.
Many women and elderly would simply carry jugs of milk over their heads, which is a symbol of abundance and fertility (since cows are sacred to Hindus), while other more extreme devotees went to outrageous lengths to make the trek.
The first one that we saw was a women who was, in the moment that we entered, piercing her bottom lip with a very thick needle. She wasn’t in the meditative state that you are supposed to achieve: she was screaming. But by the time she was moving to walk up the steps, she had fallen silent. Our group was debating the ethics of this for a solid hour.
There were many other sights that shocked us; more needles in the back, people walking with tongue piercings or carrying items so large they were hyperventilating up the steps. The whole trip was honestly surreal and astonishing, outside of the normal beauty of the Batu Caves.
After that, we didn’t really know what to do with ourselves, so we split up and went from there. My group was most of the girls, and we decided to hit KL Tower and the Twin Towers before the end of the day, and also ended up finding a TreeTop garden that takes you between the two!
Later that night, we managed to get up to a bar with an amazing view of the city, and we made it just in time for sunset. Definitely the best view of the city that we’ve seen. A few of us decided not to stay for drinks, though, and instead we headed out to the Night Market for some late night shopping!
Day 2 was a lot less jam packed than the first, mostly because we were still exhausted from the day before. My friend Judit and I did some exploring together, including finding a few local eateries, and getting our hair cut in one of the shopping malls!
Highlights of the day included a visit to the National Mosque, where we were required to put on full gowns and headdresses to enter; a surprise visit to the Butterfly Park, which was a breathtaking spot of greenery full of butterflies so big we thought they were birds (lots of pictures in the album); and a impulse buy of a Joker themed milkshake from the DC Heroes cafe in Malaysia 🙂
By the end of the day, only Team A remained, as Team B had class the next day like a bunch of nerds. We were going to go to the late night food market, but Jeremy had already been there the night before, we had difficulties finding it, and we were just too damned tired at this point. So instead we went to the Hard Rock Cafe, and played cards in the suite.
The third day was short and sweet, since we had to be out of there by noon. We decided to hit up the KLCC Aquarium before we left, and that was such a good idea! It was a little pricy, but everything else in Malaysia is cheap, so it was definitely worth it. I saw sea creatures that I didn’t know existed, pet a baby tiger shark and got to watch it eat, and walked through a tunnel that completely surrounded me in an aquarium. All of the pictures are in the album!
We took the bus home at 2pm and we were home by 9pm. All in all, certainly not bad for $40, and an amazing first trip out of Singapore!