Category Archives: Malaysia

The Majesty of Kuala Lumpur

When I was younger I watched a movie with Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones called Entrapment.  There was a part in the film where they went to Kuala Lumpur to steal something from the Petronas Twin Towers.  The first time I laid eyes on that tower in the film, I knew that one day I wanted to see those towers in person.  Years later, my desire came true!

I landed at the KLIA 2 airport which was built specifically for Air Asia to accommodate their traffic needs.  While the airport itself is great, it is a bit far from central K.L.  Plenty of options are available however to get to the center of the City, including taxis, trains and buses.  The bus (cheapest option to the city) took about an hour to drop us off at the K.L. Sentral (that’s not a typo, that’s how they spell ‘Central’).  It was quite a scenic trip to the City and honestly I was surprised how hilly surrounding K.L. was.  From there, numerous trains and skyrails were available to take one to any corner of the city.

I had pre-booked (so unlike me, I know!) a little B&B about a kilometer from the towers called The Orange Pekoe for several nights while I awaited my next flight out to Indonesia.  While they did provide great directions on how to get to the B&B from K.L. Sentral, for some reason I ended up getting a little lost once on foot.  I’m just going to blame it on being shell-shocked after coming from a sleepy and chill city to the booming energy of K.L., and of course on the heat of the day as well!  Long story short, though I did wander in the wrong direction several times for about a half hour, I finally found my way (i.e. I stopped and asked for directions) to The Orange Pekoe.

The B&B is located in a partly residential, partly small business street of K.L. and is so obscured that I probably never would have noticed it had I not been looking for it!  While the room was a teeny bit on the dirty side, the rest of the charms of the place made one feel at home.  The staff were really helpful and friendly, and the breakfasts, while basic, were filling and satiating.  Overall I couldn’t complain about the place at all, especially considering its distance from the Towers.  It was perhaps only a 300 meter walk to the covered skywalk that led directly into the heart of the Towers.

I felt like a kid in a candy store having finally arrived in K.L. and able to see the Towers up close and personal.  So needless to say, after quickly settling in to my room, I headed over directly to the skywalk to get to the Towers.  Let me give a warning now to all those who really enjoy finer shopping… If you aren’t looking to break the bank or ring up thousands in retail purchases on your credit card, LEAVE THEM AT HOME!!!  The lower floors of the Towers are essentially a gigantic mall filled with every top clothing/jewelry name in the industry!  From Gucci to Ferragamo, Tiffany’s and Bulgari, the 5 levels and endless hallways of the lower towers are a shoppers dream come true!  Dozens of delicious but top-dollar restaurants are also found there along with at least another dozen coffee shops, a huge food court and a movie theater!!

Again for me it was a bit shell-shocking to arrive in such a grand place.  I normally shy away from larger crowds and detest malls because of the crowds, but I wrestled my way through them to the first level and out the front doors so I could stand in front and view those majestic Towers in their full glory.  Generally I can’t say I’m that impressed by buildings and their architecture, but the Petronas Twin Towers are very impressive!!  The way the light hits off the windows during the day and how brilliantly it lights up at night is mesmerizing.  I could have stood there for hours (and over the 4 days I was there literally did) gazing up their heights, taking in how stunning they are.  In front and behind the buildings they have water displays that light up in an array of colors and even have a water show to music nightly, similar to (but honestly not as grand) as those at the Bellagio in Vegas.

Just like in any large city, there is a lot to see in Kuala Lumpur.  And like many cities, K.L. is well-organized with their transportation options.  One of my favorite features was the ‘Go K.L.’ busses that offered free transport to various parts around the city.  During my time in K.L. I used the free service to get to a starting point, then walked on foot around various parts of the city, eventually rounding my way back to the towers in time to see them light up at night.

I explored China Town (which honestly wasn’t that impressive as it was mostly all about bargain shopping and not food!) and the very impressive sentral market; enjoyed a lovely picnic and walk around the park with a couple I’d met at the B&B from Norway, as well as a visit to the Muslim museum.  I was also there during Deepavali, which is the ‘festival of lights’ celebrated by all Hindus, so I got to enjoy several nights of fireworks up and down the streets.  I had thought to visit the caves while in K.L. but sadly the weather wasn’t as cooperative as I was hoping for, and honestly I was content just spending my days lingering around the city, spending time in the Towers and chilling with my new friends.  I did of course take advantage of the movie theater in the towers and  watched the movie “The Wire” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt based on the true story of the high-rise wire walk between the NYC twin towers.  Kind of ironic I believe…

On to Teaching English in Indonesia

Back to Malaysia 

Further tidbits on the Towers: The Petronas Twin Towers are so named because of the oil company (Petronas) which occupies the majority of the office space of the towers.  They were designed to resemble motifs found in Islamic art, reflecting the Muslim religion. A joining walkway is found on the 41st and 42nd floors of the towers and tours are available most days for about 80 ringgit (if memory serves!).

It took a total of 7 years to construct from its groundbreaking to the inauguration at a cost of $5.6 billion!  The towers were the tallest in the world for 6 years, until Taipei 101 was completed.  However, to this day they still remain to be the tallest twin towers in the world!

Facts about the towers were provided by Wikipedia

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Reunited with Horses

For two of my weeks on the island of Langkawi, I took time out from volunteering at the Bon Ton animal shelter and headed over to Island Horses to volunteer there.  I had originally planned to volunteer there longer, but due to an unforseen event, was only able to do two weeks.

I’ve been a rider for most of my life but hadn’t been near any horses for over a year at this point, so needless to say I was so thrilled to finally be back in their presence.  Perhaps only horse people will be able to relate to that the smell in the air when approaching a horse facility.  It is perhaps my favorite in the world as it smells like coming home to me!

Island Horses is a working stable with three main functions.  First, they train endurance horses and have a team that competes worldwide (in fact during my time there the owner and his son were in Argentina for a competition!).  Second, it’s a breeding facility for Malay Arabian horses and finally, they offer jungle and beach riding tours for tourists.  They are very safety conscientious when it comes to taking riding tours out, which of course is very important!

As a volunteer at Island Horses a bed and bathroom were provided (shared with staff) but meals were not.  However the GeoPark (where the cable car was located) and the seven falls waterfall national park, were only a 5 to 10 minute walk away.  There, a variety of foods could be found all reasonably priced.

As a volunteer I was assigned 5 horses to care for and an aisle of horses to water 3 times a day.  Our days started at 7am until 7pm with a lunch break from 12-2:30pm.  All that was expected of me was to groom each horse twice a day as the stalls and feeding were done by the staff.  While I did spend my first day simply grooming my five horses (essentially with a fine-toothed comb so I could get to know every inch of them to get a baseline for any changes during my time there), three days didn’t even pass before I’d incorporated other little tasks to my daily duties.

I will admit that the first several days there were tough for me.  And not for any other reason except perhaps a bit of cultural differences and the natural environment.  The way I’d been raised to care for horses was not the standard I’d found there.  I’m not saying the horses were not cared for, because they were all fed quite well and watered appropriately and such, but other things in my opinion, were not up to snuff.  However, what made it extra tough was the natural terrain and weather of the environment, which made caring for horses in general that much harder.  Wounds don’t heal as fast as they would in dry environments and keeping stalls dry is equally difficult during the wet season.

As someone who was simply coming and going in only two weeks, my business there wasn’t to complain and point out all the things I thought weren’t right, but rather to simply lend my hand and do my job (so to speak).  So it was by the third day I’d made up my mind to take care of my five horses as if they were personally mine.  On top of daily grooming I also began to take care of cleaning their stalls, treating their boo-boos and cleaning equipment used for them.

In the short time I was there, I rode twice on the beach and through the jungle.  It was such an amazing feeling to be back on a horse!!  Words simply can’t express the exhilaration I felt!  It was also funny to me because while I’d been used to riding draft horses and having to physically put in a lot of work just to make them and KEEP them moving forward, I’d almost forgotten how easy it is to get Arabians to move forward, lol!!  And while I would have loved to have ridden more, since I was young it’s been instilled in me that as horse people our primary concern is for the care of the horse.  Riding is a privilege and comes only after all the needs of the animal are met.

The facility itself is undeniably in one of the most beautiful locations on the island.  Surrounded by lush jungle, nestled at the base of one of the mountain ranges and only minutes from the beach, I certainly got spoiled living in such a beautiful environment.  The wildlife in the area was also fantastic.  Aside from the horses, cats and dogs at the stables we would also be frequently visited  by deer, two types of monkeys, water monitors, bats, snakes, wild boar and stray dogs!  It practically was its own zoo!

While I was only there two weeks, leaving was just as hard as if I’d been there years.  Leaving the animals of course was the hardest part for me but also leaving Amirah (my staff roommate) and Shanto (a 12 year volunteer) was very tough.  Even in that short time I felt like part of the family and welcomed in ways I hadn’t imagined.  I think of them daily, as I do my family at the Bon Ton shelter, and look forward to being able to return there again.

On to The Majesty of Kuala Lumpur

Back to Malaysia

Bon Ton Animal Shelter

The Bon Ton animal shelter, located on the Duty-free island of Langkawi originally started in Kuala Lumpur over 20 years ago.  There, a restaurant/hotel owner and animal lover began a shelter and several years later moved the operation to Langkawi.  The shelter consists of several parts.  One is the retirement ward where over 60 dogs spend the remainder of their lives in spacious yards or in the owners home and are tended to carefully and lovingly by full-time staff members.  The second part is located at a different location near the base of the mountains of Langkawi where over 70 dogs are looked after by full-time staff.  The last is also located at the Bon Ton Resort and they are the “regular” shelter dogs.  Over 50 young to middle-aged (or even old dogs who think they are still young such as 16-year old Nemo) dogs call the shelter home and are walked daily by volunteers and have play-time or social time in the afternoons.

The volunteer program is organized by another avid animal lover volunteer of over 10 years, Dorothy, who is a resident of Langkawi and joins in on the morning walks daily.  There are of course other staff members who assist in the cleaning and general caring of the shelter dogs and over 100 cats there as well.  For with so many animals, it would be impossible not to have staff on board!!  While volunteers help with walking dogs, feeding, general cleaning when needed and play time in the afternoons, the staff concentrate on deep cleaning the dog and cat shelters daily and assist in the clinic when a vet is present.

Though I’d only really had one other experience volunteering at an animal shelter, I will say that volunteering at the Bon Ton animal shelter, well it was like the gold standard or 5 star of shelters!  Why do I say this?  Simply because of the standards of care given by the staff to the animals and the way that volunteers are treated.  Accommodations are provided for, daily meals are taken care of, and even one meal weekly from the restaurant is provided!  And let me tell you, the Bon Ton restaurant food is absolutely delicious!!!  To this day I’m still missing their steaks with mashed potatoes in balsamic gravy!!  Accommodations included a bed, private bath with HOT water (almost fainted hearing this), TV (what???) with a DVD player (pinch me now!!).

But of course all this came with actual work.  Six days a week, from 9:45am (sometimes 9am depending on need) until 6pm (lunch break of course provided) we worked with the dogs and cats.  Feeding, walking, cleaning, playing, bathing, constructing new shelter bits, raking yards, putting up new fencing, etc, etc.  The work in my opinion wasn’t difficult, and because I was there for the animals, it didn’t really matter to me how long the work days were.  In fact, there were several times that I or other volunteers worked well past the 6pm mark, but it was all for the animals.  And as animal lovers know, animals know no time!  They are 24/7 responsibilities who in return offer the most amazing and purest of love.

I ended up staying at the Bon Ton Animal Shelter for about 2 months in total.  During my time there I also learned about a horse stable on the island that also allowed volunteers to come help, so I ended up moving there for a couple of weeks, then returned to Bon Ton for the last few days I was on the island.  Then sadly had to say my goodbyes for good and had to head to Kuala Lumpur, then out of the country as my 3 month visa was coming close to expiring.

Volunteering at the Bon Ton animal shelter was an amazing experience.  The loving care provided to the animals by staff and volunteers made the experience so very rich.  I look forward to returning there when time permits and miss the animals (and people of course who I think of as family) daily!!

On to Reunited with Horses

Back to Malaysia

Duty-Free Langkawi

I finally left Thailand via ferry from the Tammalang Port at Satun and about an hour and a half later was greeted into the Northernmost island in the Andaman sea of Malaysia, called Langkawi.  After clearing customs I grabbed a cab for the T-Star hotel in Cenang.

During the 40 minute cab ride my driver informed me of some interesting facts about the island.  According to him,  Langkawi was barely visible on the map of tourism and tourists until the 70’s when the Prime Minister declared the island Duty Free.  Since then, Langkawi has skyrocketed as a hot spot for tourism (loads of tours from feeding eagles to snorkeling are available) and shopaholics looking for the best deals on booze, makeup, chocolate, perfumes, etc.

Another tidbit he shared with me was that the population on the island was about 85% muslim, 10% Indian and the rest a mix of Chinese, Expats, and Europeans.  After having been in Thailand for so long with diversity in foods only being available in larger cities, Langkawi was a breath of fresh air on that front with a large variety of cuisine choices to choose from.  Of course they also had traditional Malay foods, which consist of rice, fish, chicken and lots of vegetable varieties.  The foods are generally a bit spicy (though not as spicy as Thailand) and their national meal is Nasi Lemak, which is a rice dish cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf 🙂

I went to Langkawi with one specific goal in mind: to check out the animal shelter on the island and see if they needed volunteers.  T-Star, my chosen hotel for the week was an absolutely delightful place and only about a 45 minute walk to the shelter.  Every day, at least twice a day troops of the macaque monkeys came through the hotel leaping from balcony to balcony in search of any sort of food.  There were signs everywhere to beware of things left on the balcony as they may be snatched and for good reason because those little guys were fast in snatching things!!

The day after I arrived I started my wander toward the animal shelter to check it out.  I was a bit confused about it at first because online they seemed somehow located at a hotel resort, which didn’t make a ton of sense until I got there and learned the story.  The Bon Ton resort, located next to The Temple Tree hotel is owned and operated by an animal lover.  The owner started both hotels and the restaurants attached to them and uses moneys from the hotel and restaurant to fund an animal shelter located just in front of the resorts.  There, over 100 dogs and over 100 cats find shelter and a loving home.

I arrived a little after 10am and chatted with the volunteer coordinator, Dorothy, and began the next day doing half days at first (since I was walking 5 km there and 5 back daily).  Morning activities consisted of taking over 50 dogs for walks around the hotel grounds with fellow volunteers, then picking up after them and finally serving them lunch, which consisted of rice cooked in beef broth with chunks of beef and a variety of vegetables, all prepared FRESH daily by the restaurant chef!!

So for the first week I walked to and from my hotel to help walk the doggies in the morning, then spent my afternoons trying out new restaurants in the area and walking along the Cenang beach.  As my week started to come to an end, it turned out that one of the Nepalese workers for the shelter had to go back home, so I was asked if I wanted to stay in one of the volunteer rooms so I could help with full-day activities along with the other 2 full-time volunteers.  I agreed and moved in to my new accommodations (complete with 2 yard dogs, John and Mummy) and began full day activities.  Of course, though I’d only planned at first for a month there, it quickly turned into two:)

On to Bon Ton Animal Shelter

Back to Malaysia