The much-awaited excursion to Malaysia began today! In order to get an early start, we left the apartments at 7 am. For most of us, this early wake-up call led to a swift jump on the bus before curling up to go back to sleep. Our napping was short-lived however because it did not take long to get to the Malaysian border. Maneuvering through customs was surprisingly easy and painless. We were quickly on the road again and in the capable hands of our humorous and knowledgeable tour guide, Eddie.
The Malaysian countryside was an interesting mix of terraced land and natural vegetation. Oil palm and rubber plantations dominated the scenery as we made our way down the highway. In a town about one hour outside of Kuala Lumpur, we stopped to have lunch at a local seafood restaurant. We sat at tables equipped with lazy Susans and were served dish after dish. We had chicken, shrimp, vegetables and even a tasty whole fish. Having thoroughly enjoyed the meal, we got back on the bus to finish our trip.
After only a short drive, we were confronted by the incredibly impressive Kuala Lumpur skyline. Downtown Kuala Lumpur is reminiscent of a sprawling version of Singapore’s clustered colonial district. We checked into the Swiss Garden Hotel, but after putting our luggage in our rooms, we were herded back onto the bus for a tour of the city. We saw the National Monument, the War Memorial, the National Mosque and a ton of traffic. We toured the National Museum which was particularly interesting because it was doing a special exhibit on Zheng Ho, the Chinese trader who was in a large part responsible for the blooming of trade in Malaysia. We ended our tour with a visit to the Petronas Towers (the second tallest building in the world!) and the Central Market.
The highlight of the day came during our visit to the Royal Palace. The Palace was the first stop on our tour, and it was simply stunning. As we were occupied taking pictures from outside the fence, a huge commotion started among the guards, and the gates opened. Not knowing what was happening, we gathered around the road to wait. As we stood there, the Sultan and Sultana drove out of the gate and waved to us, before being led off by their police escort! Our brief brush with royalty was not finished yet. In cars following the Sultan’s, came the Crown Prince and several important generals! What a way to be welcomed into a new city!
Needless to say, we were happily worn out by the time we finally arrived back at the Swiss Garden. Sitting in our hotel rooms after such an eventful day, we continue to realize how fortunate we are to be on such an amazing journey. We will truly treasure the unique experiences we are having here for the rest of our lives.