Sumatra to Malaysia

Once again I’m very behind in blogging, so first a quick update on my current whereabouts. I’ve been in Bangkok for a week and a half now trying to book a Chinese visa and taking a bit of a vacation from traveling. I’m staying with a friend in luxury – I even have a guest membership to a gym in downtown Bangkok! If all goes smoothly with the visa (fingers crossed), I will pick it up tomorrow afternoon and fly to Shenzhen tomorrow evening. From there, I’ll take the overnight bus to Yangshuo, one of the most beautiful places in China and one I visited too briefly in 2007. When I get there, I’ll be finished moving around for a while. I’ve signed up for Chinese classes in Yangshuo. If the classes are good, I’ll stay there for at least a month. There’s all kinds of stuff to do there, mostly outdoors stuff like rock climbing and hiking, plus there are lots of travelers going through all the time. It should be a perfect balance between working on my Chinese and relaxing, without being too isolated.

Now, back to where I left off in Sumatra…

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Back in Bukittinggi for just a night on my way to the Padang airport, I decided to try the Hotel Dahlia out instead of returning to the Orchid hotel.  I’d met the Chinese-Indonesian woman who runs the place and liked her, plus it seemed clean and about the same price as the Orchid.  They tried to sell me on a nicer, more expensive room at first, but when I didn’t want it they just gave it to me anyway for a huge discount, barely more than the bare bones budget room.

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The Hotel Dahlia, indeed my home away from home for the last night in Bukittinggi.

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The Bedudal cafe, hangout for most of the guides in Bukittinggi. The food is just ok and the prices are nothing special, but the guides are friendly and it's a good place to meet other travelers.

My plane left at the awkward time of 8:30am the morning of Friday February 24th from the Padang airport.   The Padang airport is pretty new and was built a terribly long way from both the city of Padang and even farther from Bukittinggi. To save money on early morning transport to the airport, when public cheap transportation is not running, and avoid waking up any earlier than necessary, I decided to make my way toward the airport Thursday evening.  The only downside is that no one knew exactly where I could stay.   The guides in Bedudal were pretty sure there was something available about 5km away on the highway, so I took them at their word and had my minivan drop me in a random spot on the street when we were about that far out.  It was already getting dark so I just walked along asking people if there was a place to stay nearby.

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Left on the side of the road to the airport to try and find a place to stay.

I walked just a few hundred meters before I found a place.  It was not ideal, but you can’t really be picky when you’ve been left on the side of the road at dusk.  The room was windowless, super hot and stuffy, and it looked like someone dirty had taken a bath right in the mandi.  There must have been something amazing in that water though, or maybe in the food scraps that guests had been leaving behind, because the rat in my room was not only extra large, it had superpowers.

After checking in, I left my room to go for a walk. When I came back I opened the door, turned on the light, and watched this rat run along the floor to the wall, along the wall to the corner, then keep running right up the wall through a hole in the ceiling.  He never slowed down, it was like the wall was just an extension of the floor.

But a little rat, or even a big one, never stopped me from getting a good night’s sleep.  I was up at the crack of dawn the next morning and took a motorbike taxi to the airport.  Mission save money, accomplished.

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The Padang airport at dawn. In this photo we have CFC, one of many KFC knockoffs, on the right; a classic Minankabao roofline on the left, and an airport control tower behind.

After flying to Kuala Lumpur, I just had 12 hours to see the city until my overnight train to Georgetown (a colonial town on the Malaysian island of Penang).  Without any time to waste, I made my way straight to the Petronas Twin Towers, the highest building(s?) in Malaysia.

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The twin towers shortly after I arrived in KL in the early afternoon.

Unfortunately the tickets were all sold out for the day to go up in the towers (it’s a real office building and they have a daily limit for tourists).  Anyway, the tickets only let you go up to the level of the skybridge linking the two buildings.  A little anticlimactic if you ask me; that bridge is only 2/3 of the way up.

Luckily there’s another option for viewing KL at elevation: the KL tower, which was fitting for me since it bears a striking resemblance to the space needler.

While I was taking photos at the base of the twin towers, a woman asked me to help her out by taking her photo and we started talking.  She was also traveling alone so we decided to team up to see the KL tower.

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Walking to the KL tower from the twin towers.

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View from the top.

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The KL tower isn't as tall as the twin towers, but it's on a little hill so it's actually a bit higher. Also, you can't get to the top of the twin towers so this is definitely the best vantage point to see Kuala Lumpur.

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Mila, my Khazak travel companion for the day. Spunky is the word I would use to describe her. She regaled me with stories about making trouble for her hotel staff and struck excellent poses when the camera was pointed her direction.

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Sweat stains start popping up in unusual places when you hike through a tropical city with two backpacks.

Mila took pity on my sweaty self, who hadn’t showered since leaving Bukittinggi, and invited me back to her presidential hotel suite (she’d been upgraded free after stirring things up with the hotel staff).  Thanks to her, I had the pleasure of a luxurious shower before I had to get on my night train.  She also fed me Italian bread and sausage.  What a champion!  It was like having a mom for the day.

Freshly showered, I wanted to see the towers at night.  My plane didn’t leave until later that evening so I had time, and as expected they were even more photogenic with all those lights.

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Twin towers at night.

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Side view, not half bad either.

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A behind the scenes look at the making of this blog, courtesy of Mila.

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I also ran into this band playing great jazz in a market near the train station.

I love the night train and this one was no exception.  It’s so easy to sleep with the train rocking and clacking along.  This one was a little lacking in the storage department though, so I had to share my bed with both of my backpacks.

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--

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Cuddling with luggage.

I slept like a baby even with the space constraints and popped up around dawn the next morning at Butterworth station.  The train stops on the mainland across from Georgetown, so I had to catch the very convenient ferry just a quick walk from the train station.

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Pre-dawn train station.

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A quick jaunt over to the ferry which leaves every 10 minutes and costs about 50 cents round trip.

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On my way to Georgetown!

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Looking back at the mainland.

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Georgetown doesn't look too nice from the ferry, but the charming parts are waiting once you get there.

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--There's also a bridge connecting Penang with the mainland, and it's really long. The ferry is faster and cheaper.

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Inside the ferry.

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