In September, my mum and sister came all the way from Australia to visit me in Singapore, presumably to assess whether I was really going to college like I claimed to be, and to also confirm to my grandparents that I have a real boyfriend and not just a cardboard cutout of one.
As we sat in my college room looking at the haze outside, we made the last minute decision to escape the poor weather and head to Malaysia. With only two available days to travel, we wanted to visit the capital, Kuala Lumpur, and do it for as cheap as possible. For consistency I have put the costs of the trip into US Dollars ($USD), which I might change later on.
Getting to Kuala Lumpur
To avoid wasting a day travelling we took the night train to KL, so instead of spending money on a hotel we paid RM39.00 ($9.13 USD) for a Superior Night Class sleeper carriage from Johor Bahru to KL Sentral. It can cost three times as much booking directly from Singapore, so here is how I got it on the cheap:
Book the night train in advance from JB Sentral to KL Sentral via the KTM website, taking train 24 – Senandung Sutera, departing from JB Sentral at 2230, arriving at KL Sentral at 0715 the next morning. Bear in mind that Sentral Kuala Lumpur and Kuala Lumpur are two separate stations. I’m not sure what you’ll find at Kuala Lumpur station, maybe a few lost and bewildered tourists, maybe Hogwarts, I don’t know.
To reach the night train from Singapore, head to the bus interchange at Woodlands MRT and take any bus headed to JB Sentral (which costs around a dollar). You will pass through the Malaysian checkpoint during this trip, so you might want to check your visa requirements here (if you don’t want to trust a random stranger on the internet, check with your embassy).
If you have time in Johor Bahru, you can check out the massive shopping mall adjacent to the train terminal. Baby wipes and a bottle of water will be your best friend on the night train, so stock up before you leave. As you will be hurtling across the country in a shaking metal room full of sleeping people, earplugs or headphones are a godsend – and be sure to set your alarm in the morning, as there is no wakeup call!
Of course I made the rookie error of booking our beds next to the door. When you select your beds try to situate yourself in the middle of the car unless you find the sound of two 100 tonne boxes clanging together for 8 hours soothing.
The train is a bit run down – my curtain was broken and Lucy had an empty wasp nest stuck to hers. On the plus side, the bedding was nice and clean with fresh sheets and a pillow, which is really all you need.
If you are on a budget I would definitely recommend taking this train, but just remember, don’t expect the Hilton when you just paid the equivalent of a Big Mac meal for accommodation.
Arriving in KL we stopped for breakfast whilst I winged a last-minute deal for accommodation. We ended up with a 4-star 2bed/2bath apartment with a separate kitchen and living room for $17.50 each for the night. The hotel was reasonably close to the KLCC/Petronas Towers and the MRT.
We dropped off our bags at the hotel and headed to the Malaysian Tourism Centre at the Petronas Towers and bought a 24 hour ticket on the Hop on/Hop off city tour bus for $10.74 each. They have bus stops at 23 places of interest, and a new bus is meant to arrive at each stop every twenty minutes.
Unfortunately we didn’t account for peak hour and became stranded for well over an hour at an arts and culture centre (which was closed aside from the gift shop). If you are pressed for time and take this tour I suggest planning ahead and only getting off at the places you really want to see, so you don’t get stuck.
Though you can select a 24 or 48 hour ticket, the tour finishes at 8pm daily, dropping you back at the Petronas Towers at the end of the day. The tour is great for families and a good way to get your bearings when visiting KL. I also rate it for those who don’t like taking the MRT or town buses, and recommend it as a perfect use of time on a rainy day – bring a poncho!
Highlights of Day One included:
- Perdana Botanical Gardens
- The National Mosque
- Petronas Towers, the 11th tallest building in the world (452m). Notably, the round shapes of the towers are based on the 5 pillars of Islam; declaring faith (Shahada), prayer (Salat), compulsory giving (Zakat), fasting during Ramadan (Sawm) and the pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj).
If you like markets, Jalan Petaling markets and the Night Markets are worth a look. I’m not really into markets because my life has a 22kg baggage limit, but if you’ve never been, don’t go all the way to South East Asia without checking one out. Sample some street food, take in the sights, but always be aware of your belongings because crime can happen.
Also, simply picking items up and asking a price in a market can be seen as initiating the haggling process, and often tourists walk away feeling harassed, not realizing that they initiated it. In KL however, I found some vendors to be aggressive, physically blocking my way in some cases. But all in all we had a good time, ate a lot of great food (particularly the cook-your-own skewers) and picked up some lovely fruits to eat on the way home.
After being squeezed into a college room for the past four months, waking up on a huge bed in a massive room was bliss.
For the past three months I’ve been sleeping on a hard single mattress covered in plastic, so I can’t stress enough just how much I missed having a real bed.
We ate breakfast at the hotel, lazed around for a while, and then travelled to Batu Caves, a beautiful area of religious significance consisting of three caves, a Hindu temple and shrines. The world’s largest statue of Murugan is there, towering at 42.7m. A taxi company tried to offer us a trip there for RM150 an hour (about $145 USD for 4 hours), but instead we took the RM2.00 ($0.48 USD) option: the KTM Komuter Train from KL Sentral – Batu Caves.
There are many cheeky monkeys around the area so hold onto your food, and unless you want rabies don’t bare your teeth at them – it’s a sign of aggression!
I wish I had more time to explore the area as we didn’t get the chance to go inside the caves. Aside from the scenery and cheery markets, some amazing Indian vegetarian restaurants were located nearby. It was here that Lucy and mum were shown the magic that is ghee masala paper thosai.
We began our journey back to Singapore by taking the KLIA Ekspres from KL Sentral to the airport (RM35/$8.35 USD). The day we left for Malaysia I snapped up some RM104.00 ($24.80 USD) flights with Jetstar Asia back to Singapore. If you are in the region it is worthwhile signing up to their sale emails.
PRO TIP: When you use your credit/debit card Jetstar will charge an additional $15.00 USD per passenger, per flight. To get around this surcharge, purchase Jetstar gift vouchers and pay for the flights with them. I saved us about $60.00 USD on this flight by doing this.
All up, transport to and from Malaysia (train+flight), two nights’ accommodation (train+4 star hotel), the Hop on/Hop off bus tour and Ekspres train to the international airport cost us $71.00 USD each. I was pretty happy with this as I only had about an hour to organize most of it, and I think we made good use of our time whilst we were there. It also made me think about how lazy I can be with my cash, and how much further I could go if I were more frugal. But most of all, it made me think about how much I miss having a bed.
I’ll leave you now with some photos of the fluffy friends I made along the way.