We had had The Talk.
It had been decided that I was going to throw away my pills and change our lives for good. But before I did, there was time for one more trip. We had to make it a good one, and thank God we did as who knows when we’ll manage another…
It came down to two choices, Peru or Borneo. Both destinations had what we wanted in spades; some adventure, great scenery and nature, and lots of culture. In the end we chose Sabah in Malaysian Borneo, with the promised turtles and orang-utans for me and the climb up Mt Kinabalu for the husband.
There being no direct flights from the UK to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, we stopped off for a couple of days in Kuala Lumpur. The airport was about an hour’s drive from the city and just about every square metre of the land between the two was dedicated to palm oil trees. These plantations were absolutely everywhere in Borneo too; it’s big business.
We stayed at the Mandarin Oriental next to the Petronas Towers which was a great location. High end hotels aren’t normally our M.O. but as this was just for a couple of nights and we were going to be roughing it in the jungle, we decided to treat ourselves. It was beautiful and the husband made full use of the rooftop pool. I think we’ve ranked it as the best hotel we’ve stayed in.
Jet-lag seemed to affect us more than we were expecting. We must be getting old! The first day we managed the Petronas Towers, though the view was a little hazy from smog. I had wanted to do the Batu Caves but we were just too tired and didn’t really have the time. I’m sorry we missed it though.
The second day we got a bit more done; we walked to the KL Tower and looked around the cultural exhibit, then took at look around the Islamic Arts Museum. I love the shapes and colours of Islamic art, and there were some beautiful pieces on display. There were some interesting historical exhibits and the husband was fascinated by the armour and weapons. The building itself is modern, all white walls, pillars and glass, and has some stunning domes.
Just up the hill from the Arts Museum is the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park which we went to next as the National Mosque was closed to visitors for a few hours. Some birds are in enclosures but many are free to roam about under the huge netting that covers the sanctuary. Monkeys scamper and play on top of the nets, and try their best to find a way in.
Opposite the Bird Park is an orchid garden which I dragged the husband round. This was calm and quiet with too many species of orchid to count. The husband put up with it admirably before we decided we’d better see the Mosque, so we walked back down the hill.
The Masjid Negara is Malaysia’s national mosque and was built in 1965. It has a beautiful blue star-shaped dome with 18 points which represent the five pillars of Islam and Malaysia’s 13 states. It is huge and can accommodate 15,000 worshippers. The dress code here is strict; despite wearing a loose maxi dress and having my arms and shoulders covered I was required to wear a robe and hijab to walk around. Men should not show shoulders or knees, or they will get a robe to wear too.
The main prayer area here is vast, and though we weren’t allowed in we still got a good view. While it may not be as ornate as other mosques I’ve seen, such as the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, the stained glass windows are beautiful. The ceiling must be impressive too as it is under the blue tiled dome, but we couldn’t see it from outside the hall.
On our way back to the hotel we stopped at Merdeka Square, where Malaysia declared independence. There are some lovely buildings fringing the square, the most eye-catching being the Sultan Abdul Samad building which is built in the Mughal style (see top picture). In colonial times, the square was used as a cricket pitch and we definitely got a cricket vibe as we looked at the Royal Selengal Cricket Club across the former pitch.
We had dinner at the hotel (delicious) and then had an early night as we had to leave at 4am to get our early flight to Kota Kinabalu. This did absolutely nothing for our jet lag.
We enjoyed our time in Kuala Lumpur, though the husband has since been to Singapore with work and said we should have gone there. Next time then.
Read our next post about climbing Mt Kinabalu here.