Saturday, May 4, 2013

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Bangkok, Thailand (part 1)

Leaving Kathmandu was nearly as difficult as arriving. The line for passport control was an hour long, and there were maybe only 20 people ahead of us. Luckily, Carter has learned to wait patiently in lines (as long as he has my phone or the iPad to play with), which made it feel much less like torture than it might otherwise. The Kathnmandu international airport is rustic, perhaps one of the most rustic I've ever seen (including Iquitos, Peru). The domestic airport was even more rustic: the baggage claim area is a hut next to the parking lot!

And so I was completely caught off-guard by the incredibly modern, glittering international airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The contrast was stunning, especially considering that it wasn't a very long flight between the two places.

This sign was inside one of the bathroom stalls and it cracked me up. Most of the public bathrooms in places like airports have a combination of western-style toilets and Asian-style squat toilets, and so this sign is apparently there to remind people not to squat on top of the western-style toilet.

Carter really loved this display of airplanes in the airport.

We were only overnighting in Kuala Lumpur on our way to Bangkok, but even before we reached our hotel, I think we realized we'd made a mistake and should have spent a few more days in this city. My first impression of the city as we rode in the taxi to the hotel was how incredibly clean and orderly it is. After several weeks in India and a week in Nepal, the sheer amount of green was nearly overwhelming. It was also amazing how clean the streets were. Even along the highways, there was not a scrap of litter on the ground. Litter is, unfortunately, a huge issue in Nepal. There were massive piles of garbage everywhere, and I had the impression that there wasn't much of an organized system for disposing of it. The main river through Kathmandu had trash all along the banks, and after a while we got used to seeing garbage everywhere. So the clean streets of Kuala Lumpur were almost a shock to the senses.

Unfortunately I didn't take many pictures in Kuala Lumpur. We didn't do any sightseeing there; we got to the hotel in the early afternoon and then spent some time in the pool. Our hotel there had a fantastic pool with a waterslide, and Carter really enjoyed it. We had dinner on the roof of the hotel and watched a gorgeous sunset, and lamented the fact that we wouldn't be back here again on this trip.

The next morning we got up and flew to Bangkok, Thailand. I was amazed yet again by how easy it was to make our way through the airport. Passport control and security lines were quick and efficient, and everything moved so smoothly and easily. Arrival in Bangkok was just as easy, and once again, we were amazed by how clean and orderly everything seemed to be. I think it might not have seemed that way if we'd come here first, but the chaos of India seemed to reset our expectations.

We've been staying in Hiltons as much as possible, and the benefits of sticking to one hotel chain are starting to show themselves. We were upgraded upon arrival to a massive suite, which we really enjoyed. The hotel was also connected to a shopping mall with lots of great restaurants and even a grocery store, and it was nice to have such convenient shopping. There were also several optometry shops in the mall and I was able to buy another pair of prescription sunglasses (the last pair are somewhere in the Indian Ocean).

On our first morning of sightseeing, we visited a floating market in the nearby town of Damnoensaduak. There is a famous floating market in Bangkok proper, but we'd read that it isn't as nice as it was a decade ago and that the ones outside of Bangkok provide a more authentic experience.

A floating market is basically just a market on the water, as you might expect. There are stalls along the sides of the river and your boat floats by them so you can check out the merchandise. There were also merchants in boats, many of whom seemed to be selling food.

Carter always enjoys boat rides, and he seemed to find this one really interesting.

We bought some bananas and some coconuts (coconut milk right out of the coconut is amazing!), and eventually bought Carter a little toy car, but otherwise we just sat back and enjoyed the ride.

We later learned that these are spirit houses, small shrines to the spirits of the people who lived and died on this piece of land in years past. They're everywhere in Thailand, and we've also seen them in Cambodia.

 After traveling through the market on a small paddle boat, we took a larger motor boat and toured the canals where many people live and work. The weather was overcast on this morning and it was almost pleasantly cool, so it was a great time to be on the water.

I found this part of the tour really fascinating. The houses along the water were really interesting to look at, and there were people working on boats, washing dishes, and doing all sorts of household chores as we passed. 

Many of the houses had lovely gardens along the decks, and there were also bars and restaurants and shops along the canal. You might expect it to be smelly (like Venice), but it wasn't at all. 

After this ride we visited a small Buddhist temple, one of many we would see in the next few days. I'll talk more about that in the next post.

The inside of this temple was actually very simple, but many of the others we saw in Bangkok were incredibly ornate.

We spent most of our afternoons in the pool. Carter has been swimming almost daily for weeks now, and it's been really amazing to see how strong of a swimmer he's become, just from having a lot of time to practice.

I'm going to try to make shorter updates more frequently from here on out. I have so many pictures that it's becoming overwhelming to try to make a single post about each place we visit. Add to that the occasionally unreliable internet and I'm suddenly two cities behind! We're currently in Saigon with very fast internet, so I am going to try to catch up this week. :-)

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