Monday, August 11, 2008

Malaysia's Logistics Impress The Doctor

Before this trip I had been to Kuala Lumpur twice before. The first time was just in transit for a few hours en route from Madras to Bangkok, and the second was two days for business back when I used to work at Airtreks.

On both trips The Doctor was extremely impressed with Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), which may be the best in the world. Hong Kong still gets high marks, and while both are extremely functional The Doctor gives KL a slight edge for design and aesthetics. It's bright, open and airy with a decent amount of greenery within the terminal. The Doctor does appreciate style as well as substance, and that's another reason KL gets the nod over Singapore's Changi Airport. While Changi does feature some nice amenities like a pool, it also has low ceilings and just this weird 70's jetset vibe that's in dire need of an update.

On the monorail from the gate to the main terminal both The Doctor as well as The Future Mrs. Logistics commented on the fact that it felt like Florida. The scenery, the modern highways, the fact that we were on a monorail, etc.

KLIA is a good 25-30 miles outside of the city, a distance that can take over an hour to cover in typical Southeast Asian traffic. Luckily the Malaysians, the masters of logistics that they are, have built a convenient high speed train connecting the airport to downtown which takes exactly 28 minutes. Not half an hour mind you, but 28 minutes. All of the locals seem to know this fact and are proud to share it with you.

We got our bags rather quickly (more props for KLIA) and then went to buy our tickets for the KL Ekspres to downtown. The local language, Bahasa Malaysia (which literally translates to "language of Malaysia") is, like Bahasa Indonesia (wanna take a guess on that translation) actually a modern hybrid of many local regional dialects. Many words are simply imported from European languages such as Dutch (such as kantor, which means office) or English, such as ekspres. So when you hop on the KL Ekspres from KLIA it takes you to KL Sentral Steten. And when you have luggage the KL Ekspres to KL Sentral Steten is fare more convenient than riding your motorsaikal.

What was even more convenient was the "VIP" service that was offered, which includes porter service of your luggage from the baggage claim to the Ekspres all the way to Sentral Steten and then "limousine" transfer to your downtown hotel. In other countries "limousine" often just means a nice car, not necessarily a stretch Cadillac. I believe that our limousine turned out to be a Hyundai, although I'm not complaining.

Anyway the VIP service only cost us about $15 apiece, whereas taking the Ekspres and then finding a cab on our own would've cost just over $10, so it was well worth it. I don't think that we had to carry our bags more than 10 feet from the carousel before the porter took them, and it saved us the hassle of dealing with Malaysia's questionably honest taxi drivers with whom we would unfortunately have to deal with later. Sidenote: The Doctor learned long ago to never judge a country by its cab drivers, so he holds no grudges against Malaysia for this.

We were quite pleased when the Hyundai pulled in to the new and stylish Hotel Maya. One of the reasons that we had chosen KL as our stopover instead of Bangkok or Singapore is because it has several luxury hotels that can often be booked for $100-150/night. Well whether it was because of the falling US dollar or for some other reasons, most of those hotels were a lot more expensive this past weekend. Luckily I stumbled across the Maya, a typical cookie-cutter luxury boutique hotel a la the W (which is not necessarily a bad thing) where the rate was just over $100.

Being just a block away from the iconic Petronas Towers we requested a room with a view and were obliged with a corner room on the 21st floor (out of a possible 22 floors), although it did take over half an hour for them to give us any room at all (despite the fact that we arrived after the official check-in time and had a reservation.)

As we were walking down the hallway towards our room we started to hear some really loud construction noise that seemed to be coming from the 22nd floor, and when we walked in to our room it was pretty obvious that there was construction taking place on the 22nd floor - specifically in the room right above us. I can't tell exactly what they were doing, but damn was it loud. REALLY LOUD. We were pretty shocked that they would even consider giving us that room, so we called down to the front desk...which was fruitless because they couldn't even hear us with all of the background noise. So we went downstairs and asked for another room which we accepted...until we realized it was on the smoking floor. As Californians we couldn't tolerate that so they finally gave us another room, which we finally checked in to an hour after our arrival.

Initial difficulties aside, we were able to enjoy a quite pleasant stay at the Maya. Jet-lagged, we struggled to stay awake for the complimentary tea & coffee at the Sky Lounge in the evening. It was worth it for the views (see photo above) but we each had two sips of tea then went upstairs and passed out exhausted. There was also a cool hydrotherapy pool, kind of a cross between a regular pool and a jacuzzi.

Overall we didn't do much in KL besides sleep, eat, drink, swim in the pool and venture out to the Central Market where we saw this interesting graffiti:


We opted not to try out the "Cute Fish Spa" (see photo below) where little fish come and nibble on you in what's described as an exfoliating treatment. I have to say that it sounded intriguing, although at the same time I do remember being freaked out by little fish nibbling on me at summer camp so maybe it wouldn't have been so cool after all.

We also watched the first couple of days of the Olympics on Malaysian television. As much as self-hating American liberals might complain about the media in our country, it's at least professional and slick. The Malaysian broadcasts were sloppy and the hosts had no chemistry, constantly interrupting each other, beginning each sentence with "ok then" and generally offering totally useless comentary. And that was on the English-language broadcast. On the Bahasa Malaysia broadcast they had this fat, old and grotesquely ugly guy with a wispy mustache (which all Malaysian men have) which made me appreciate all of the plastic surgery that newsies in our great country get. U-S-A! U-S-A!

There was a rain delay during one of the tennis matches and they had no alternative programming to offer, so instead they just showed the same 30-second promotional clip 100 times in a row. I'm not kidding.

As we said good-bye to Malaysia we were once again treated to its outstanding logistics. we took a taxi (or as it's called in Bahasa Malaysia, a taksi) back to Sentral Steten. Just like in Hong Kong it's possible to check in for your flight, including checking your bags, at the train station. This meant that we didn't have to deal with our bags at all on the train, and got back to KLIA in plenty of time for our flight.

We did experience two disappointments on our way out which did slightly sully my extremely high opinion of KLIA. First we got stuck in an glass elevator, but luckily it only took us about 5 minutes to get rescued. However, while we were stuck we were taunted by two dreadlocked hippie Australian bitches and a whiny queen who shouted "See ya! Wouldn't wanna be ya!" as they walked away without offering any assistance. I was really hoping that we'd see them again at someplace like the airport Starbucks so that I could "accidentally" spill hot coffee on them.

On the subject of Starbucks, the one thing KLIA is really lacking is dining options. On previous trips here there used to be a Rainforest Cafe, which while tacky, would have at least been entertaining. It appears that although the Rainforest Cafe corporation no longer runs the restaurant, the decor was kept by the new owners who now call it Rimba Jungle Cafe. Unfortunately the food there looked greasy and too spicy (not advisable before getting on an airplane), plus it appeared to have been sitting there for hours. We decided to opt for noodles instead at the Nooodles House (yes, there are 3 o's in Nooodles) which was right next door to the Cheers bar. Yes, as in THAT Cheers from TV. I've seen it in other airports like Cincinnati as well. Anyway as we walked past Cheers I commented that it was the worst-smelling bar in the world, until we realized that the smell was coming from the Nooodles House, so we scratched that off the list. Our dining options were now down to Sbarro (where, ironically, I had eaten 10 years ago on my first trip through KLIA after suffering 3 weeks of diarrhea in India) and Burger King. We initially opted for Sbarro before deciding that the food there also looked like it had been sitting around for hours, so we just bit the bullet and went to BK instead. We did justify it by reminding ourselves that this would be our last chance to eat beef for a couple of weeks since that's never an option in India.

It turned out that we were 2 of the only 3 white people on the flight, a fact that did not go unnoticed by the security personnel at our gate who stopped us to make sure that we were getting on the right plane.

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