Putanga – Life on the Road

Stories from my journeys around the world…

Weekend in Malaysia

Posted by Monica Johansen on September 24, 2008

It is funny how things work out sometimes…

I have been working for a customer in Kuala Lumpur the last couple of weeks, and since I have been to Kuala Lumpur several times but never actually seen anything but the airport, hotel and customer office, I decided that this time I should try to stay over the weekend and do some serious sightseeing.

The Merdeka Building in Kuala Lumpur

The Merdeka Building in Kuala Lumpur

I decided to speak to one of the concierges in the hotel, a tall dark gentleman with a big smile. He knows me quite well since I am a frequent guest in Le Meridien hotel in Kuala Lumpur, and he is always extremely helpful every time I approach him. I asked him if he could recommend some day trips on the weekend, and he gave me a stack of tourist brochures that I could have a look at. He also went through one of the brochures and he told me which sights I shouldn’t be bothered to see and what he recommended.

In Kuala Lumpur there is a hop-on-hop-off bus that takes you around the city, and for 38 ringgit (about 13 Australian dollars) you can hop on and off the entire day. KL is not as safe as Singapore, and several of my colleagues have been robbed on the street there. Taking the bus is a lot safer than walking around alone in the streets, and hence, the concierge suggested that I take bus around the city one of the days and then jumped on one of the organized tours the second day. I had already read about an elephant sanctuary outside of KL, so I asked him if he could help me organize something. He called his tour operator contacts, but unfortunately there were no available seats for the weekend, so he suggested that I ask the concierge at Hilton, which is the hotel next door. The guy at Hilton was very helpful despite the fact that I wasn’t a guest, and he managed to get hold of a tour operator who could do private tours. The only catch was that he did not take less than two people with him, so I needed to find someone else who wanted to come alone. I was starting to realize that my elephant plans could be cancelled, so I decided to start the weekend doing the city bus tour, and then maybe spend Sunday working in my hotel room.

Batics painting

Batiks painting

On Saturday morning I went down to KL central station, which is just across the street from Le Meridien hotel, and I tried to find the bus stop for the tour bus. I saw a European looking woman walking around at the bus stop, and I assumed she was looking for the same as me. I asked her if she knew where to buy tickets for the hop-on-hop-off bus, and she pointed out a guy who was selling tickets. The woman and I ended up talking while we were waiting for the bus, and it turned out she was a Belgian business woman who had been sent to KL for 4 weeks to assist with the opening of her company’s new office, and she had never been to Asia before. She had already been in KL for two weeks, and she felt a bit lonely since her husband and son were home in Belgium and she was alone most of the time after work. I told her my story and why I was there on my own, and I asked her if she would mind some company for the day. She didn’t mind at all, and we ended up doing sightseeing the entire day, talking photos and talking about everything we could think of.

The woman’s name was Patricia, and she was a lovely person. It turned out that she was staying at Le Meridien too, and I asked her if she would be interested in visiting the elephant sanctuary. She thought it sounded very interesting, so luckily she wanted to come along, and when we came back to the hotel that afternoon we spoke to the Hilton concierge and organized our elephant trip. We also decided to have dinner together the same evening, and we ended up sitting by the pool and enjoying a nice meal to romantic Latino music.

The Batu Caves

The Batu Caves

The next morning we met our tour guide in the hotel lobby. He explained to us what the plans were for the day, and since the elephant activities started around 1 PM we had some time to see other things before we drove all the way out. We started off visiting one of the local chocolate factories in KL, and then we visited a leather factory where they made wallets out of stingray skin. We also went to a place where they produced batiks, and we could see how they were painting on the fabrics.

On the way to the elephant sanctuary we stopped at the famous Batu Caves, which houses a Hindu temple and is one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside India. 272 steps lead up to the large, natural, underground chambers, and standing at 42.7 meter high, the world’s tallest statue of the deity Murugan is located outside the caves. The statue is made of 1550 cubic meters of concrete, 250 tons of steel bars and 300 liters of gold paint brought in from Thailand. It was quite an amazing sight.

We reached the elephant sanctuary around 1 PM. The sanctuary, or Kuala Gandah Elephant Conservation Centre which is the official name, was established in 1989 by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks in Malaysia. The centre is a base for the Elephant Relocation Team, which began the elephant translocation program already in 1974, and the team’s duty is to track down, sedate and relocate problem elephants from areas where their natural habitats are getting too close to human developments. There are currently eight residence elephants at the center. Two of them have been brought in from Thailand to assist in the wild elephant relocation exercise, and two others are being trained to replace the two aging elephants. The center also looks after orphaned elephants, which are unable to survive on their own, so there is also a group of younger individuals in the sanctuary.

Girls from the Che' Wong Orang Asli village

Girls from the Orang Asli village

The sanctuary is located next to a small Orang Asli village inhabited by the Che’ Wong tribe, which is one of the smallest groups of indigenous people living on the perimeters of the Krau Forest Reserve in Pahang. The name “Orang Asli” means “original people” or “first people”, and the tribe is believed to be the last of its kind found in Malaysia. The people in the tribe are living the same way their ancestors have done for centuries, in simple houses built on stilt to protect against the flood in the wet season and using blowpipes for hunting birds and small monkeys.

Before we entered the sanctuary we did a quick visit to the village, and as we passed the first house a woman came out and invited us in to the house. The house appeared to be the home of a small family, and we were allowed to look around and see how they lived. The woman showed us some of the local handwork and she taught us how to use the blowpipe. Before we left the house we gave a small donation to the local people, which is the custom when you visit the village. The rest of the village was rather quiet, except for some children playing and a young girl doing laundry using water flowing from a plastic tube. As we were walking back to the elephant sanctuary we noticed three beautiful girls sitting in an open hut, and I asked them if I could take a photo. They laughed and nodded, and they obviously didn’t mind being my models.

Bathing the elephants

Bathing the elephants

The activities in the sanctuary started with a video of how they track down the elephants in the wild. Patricia and I decided to skip the video as we were more interested in watching the baby elephants playing in the puddle in their enclosure. Around 2 PM the elephant trainers came out with the elephants and rode them into the water to wash them. After the cleaning they were brought up to the feeding area where the tourist could hand feed them with fruit and vegetables. The elephants enthusiastically opened their mouths so we could put food down their throat, and I was a bit nervous for my fingers in the beginning, but the elephants were gentle and careful so there were no injuries.

After the feeding it was time for the activity that most people were waiting for, the elephant riding and bathing. We were able to get a quick ride on the elephant back before the animals were taken down to the water and given a bath. The cute baby elephants were also participating in this activity, and they were naturally quite popular. Patricia jumped into the water to play with the baby elephants, while I stayed at the riverbank to watch her stuff and keep my camera dry.

After some more cuddling with baby elephants it was time to head back to Kuala Lumpur. The weather was about to change, and as we drove out of the sanctuary it started to rain and the wind increased significantly. We had only been driving for a few minutes when we suddenly met a serious hindrance. The weather was getting really bad, and a huge tree had fallen over the road and was blocking the way out of the jungle. A few other cars had stopped behind us, and our guide went out in the pouring rain to see what could be done about the situation. Some people had found a jungle knife, and they were trying to cut the branches of the tree, but the attempt was not very successful. Patricia and I were wondering if we had to spend the night in one of the jungle huts, but luckily one of the locals came out with a chain saw, and with it they managed to clear the road pretty quickly.

Elephant riding

Elephant riding

When we came back to the hotel we met my favorite concierge in the door. He looked at me with a huge grin on his face and said “you look like a kid just coming out of a candy store”. I suppose it was quite obvious that it had been a great day!

It is quite funny how things always have a way of working out. I expected a boring and lonely weekend in my hotel room, but ended up having great company, making a new friend, seeing many of the sights in Kuala Lumpur, visiting an indigenous jungle tribe and playing with baby elephants. I definitely can’t complain about that!

You can see more photos from the trip on the following web sites:


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