Unsuspecting Tourist. Go! Go! Go!

20150112_145404You know that feeling when you’re on vacation—you know, a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, say to Malaysia or something? You feel like you need to try to see as much as you possibly can. This is not a “let’s relax” kind of vacation. This is a GET OUT THERE AND SOAK IT UP kind of vacation.

And this was the message that was bouncing around in my head on Monday morning in Kuala Lumpur. Jim’s brother was heading off to work, Jean-Yves was heading to school, and we had the whole day to do nothing but explore.

Prior to the take-off that almost didn’t happen (if you don’t know that part of the story, go back to this post), Jim had done a little research and identified some must-see sites. We decided to head to the city center because there were several things we could check off that list within easy distance of each other.

Now, in my last post I told you that next we would be exploring hornbills, monkeys, and temples. I actually misspoke…or mistyped. The next step in our journey really involved hornbills, a lack of monkeys and skyscrapers. Forgive me. I still blame jet lag.

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Yes, our cab driver did have a bobble Spiderman clock on his dashboard. Yes he did.

To get to the city center, Jim launched a new-to-us app called My Teksi (aka: Taxi). It’s a nifty little app that allows you to type in your location and your destination. Immediately after you hit enter it shows cabs in your area, and then cabs interested in picking up the fare are highlighted until one, somehow, is determined the “winner.” Then the app tells you how far away the “teksi” is and an ETA. Pretty nifty.

So we successfully got a cab and asked to be taken to our first stop, the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park. A quick and nifty point here…just about everyone in Kuala Lumpur speaks English. Not all are fluent, but we did not run into anyone that we couldn’t at least communicate with on some level. We had drivers who were Malaysian, Chinese, and Indian and all were able to speak English fairly well.

I will admit that when Jim asked some touristy questions…and subsequently prompted answers to aid the conversation…we got a lot of smiles, nods, and “Yes, yes” replies that I’m fairly sure were just default no-clue-what-you-just-asked answers. But for the most part, there were no major language barriers on any part of our trip.

Impressive, really. I don’t believe foreign visitors to America have the same experience. Have you heard the joke? What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call someone who speaks only one language? American. (Oh hey…I can already hear replies being typed by my bilingual friends and family members. You are the glorious exceptions!)

20150112_111453We arrived at the Bird Park in good form (very helpful that I stopped paying attention to traffic, because teksi drivers…eeeek!). I requested this attraction as our first stop because: A. World’s largest free-flight walk-in aviary! B. We were told a lot of monkeys hang out in the park around the aviary. Birds AND monkeys? I’m in!

The bird park was impressive. Here’s the prerequisite responsible tourist information I feel I should supply:

Located in the serene and scenic Lake Gardens, the KL Bird park offers 20.9 acres of verdant valley terrain to be explored. It is home to more than 3,000 birds of approximately 200 species of both local and foreign origin. One of KL Bird Park’s most extraordinary features is that a majority of the birds are free in the aviary, designed to closely resemble their natural habitats.

Legitimate tourism duties aside, here’s my personal observation:

No poop!

Seriously, with ALL of those birds cruising ALL over the park, you’d think you’d see and/or get hit by some waste. But I seriously don’t recall seeing any droppings. And some of the birds were pretty darn big. Now that is impressive. I did see uniformed employees throughout the park, and kudos to those fine folks.

20150112_114021Second observation: That is a HUGE freaking net overhead. Free to fly around, yes. Free to leave the aviary, oh no. I bet there have been some jail breaks, though.

This park is gorgeous. The birds were varied and exotic, reasonably photo op friendly, and truly looked happy. We went into one smaller section of the park (and shame on me for not knowing what kind of birds were on display…) where the birds immediately eyeballed us rather expectantly.

What? Could they tell we were “not from these parts?” Did they think we came bearing gifts?

20150112_121038A park attendant stepped in and handed Jim a cup of magic elixir. I have to believe it was magic because the moment these bright, colorful birds saw that cup, Jim became something akin to a statue in a park filled with pigeons. Immediate popularity. Where was this stuff when I was starting high school?

We were also handed some birdseed and the question was not, “Will the birds come to us?” The question was, “How do we get the birds to leave us so we can see the rest of the park?” I was truly in no hurry, though. I hadn’t encountered an animal of any species for four days and I was in official withdrawal. I probably could have stayed there all day.

giant pigeon

Just sunbathing. I promise.

We did manage to finally bid our new feathered friends goodbye and toured the remaining parts of the park. It did not disappoint. I will be busy trying to look up some of the species we saw, but they included hornbills, all kinds of parrots, macaws, peacocks, flamingos, a freakishly large species of pigeon that liked to sunbathe on the sidewalks (I initially thought one of the birds was injured until three more walked out and plopped down in the sun in the same leisurely manner), and numerous birds I can’t identify.

20150112_115146 (2)We closed out the excursion by stopping in the Hornbill Restaurant for refreshments. I am often a bit skeptical of food served at any sort of zoo…because…you know…fine dining is not their focus. But Jim and I were pleasantly surprised by the menu and the ensuing meal. He tried something with spicy local flare that had him initially guzzling water in surprise (but proclaimed it delicious), and I found a salad on the menu that was tasty and not a teeny bit scary. Adventurous palate and conservative palate—both happy.

Exiting the bird park, I was on the lookout for monkeys. We were told that you often see the little guys just hanging out there. Monkeys hanging out in a park just like squirrels rule the parks at home? Sign me up!

But alas, not a monkey in site. One of the ladies at the gate said that since it was a warm, humid afternoon, they were likely off napping in the trees. Fine. Elusive darn monkeys.

From there we wandered the orchid gardens for a bit. Yes, in Malaysia they can grow acres of the very plant that I manage to send to an early grave within a month or two. My father had the green thumb in our family. He would have loved these gardens. I found them beautifully insulting. Growing them like weeds. In my face.

Moving on, we grabbed a cab and headed to the Menara Kuala Lumpur Tower, also known simply as the KL Tower.

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View from the tower observation deck…the cool outside one.

Prerequisite responsible tourist information:

The KL Tower is a 421 meter high telecommunications and broadcasting tower centrally located in KL. This tower has an observation deck, where you can enjoy a bird’s eye panoramic view of the city. Menara Kuala Lumpur ranks fourth amongst the tallest telecommunications towers in the world and houses the highest McDonald’s in the world. It was constructed over a period of four years and was completed in May 1996.

My personal observation:

Does anyone else see a trend emerging here? Largest bird park in the world. Highest McDonald’s in the world? (And yes, McDonald’s IS everywhere. And no, I did not stop for McNuggets. Though the first food I did eat in Malaysia was Burger King fries. In the airport. I’m not proud.)

DCIM100GOPROOk, once you take the seemingly endless elevator ride to the outdoor observation deck, OH MY GOODNESS. What an amazing view.

You can walk around the full circumference of the building and, on a clear day, you can see forever and back (there is also an indoor observation deck, but it’s on a lower floor, indoors, and has lots of cheesy souvenir stands). If you, like me, love heights and a great breeze ruffling your hair ever-so-perfectly for photos, you will be in HEAVEN. If you do not like heights and wind, did I mention there is an indoor observation area with souvenir stands?

DCIM100GOPROI will also tell you that if you visit during a certain time in September, they allow base jumping off the tower. Good lord I would not be able to get a parachute strapped on Jim’s back fast enough before he yelled Geronimo and threw himself over the railing. There are videos looping on monitors throughout the indoor observation level that show daredevils doing swan dives and flips off of the railing. Jim was transfixed.

During that same time period in September, they will also let you sit on the ledge of the observation deck with your feet dangling precariously over the edge. You wear a safety harness so you won’t actually be able to take the plunge, but you still get the thrill of leaning out and seeing straight down. I would be 100% on board with this. LOVE heights. Love them. We were a little disappointed not to have that opportunity this visit. Reason. To. Go. Back!

Next on the Monday sightseeing agenda—the famous Petronas Twin Towers.

DCIM100GOPROPrerequisite responsible tourist information:

Soaring to a height of 451.9 meters, the 88-story twin structure is an architectural masterpiece and the crown jewel of Kuala Lumpur’s skyline. Majestic by day and dazzling at night, the steel and glass structure is the world’s tallest twin towers. A trip to levels 41 and 42 will take you to the Skybridge, a link between the two towers and the world’s highest double-decked bridge. The Skybridge provides a great view of the city. 

My personal observation:

DCIM100GOPROA lot of people crowd around this structure to have their photo taken. It felt like a bit of a party vibe on the plaza outside the towers. We joined right in.

This building is truly amazing. If you enjoy architecture, this is a place you might want to spend some time. It’s also a bit of a photographer’s dream…night or day. We took photo after photo…and yeah, selfie after selfie. We had to prove we were there, right?

DCIM100GOPROOH and the people watching! I will once again say that I think we were the only Americans there. I really ran across no other people from “the homeland”—though the couple from Ireland almost counted. After all, I do have fair skin, freckles, and reddish brown hair (I do feel obligated to state that the people who actually were from Ireland did not have red hair. Or visible freckles. I was the stereotype. Huh.)

20150112_150157And let us not miss a HUGE, exciting point here—tallest twin towers in the world! Tallest two story bridge in the world! (How many two-story bridges are there in the world?)

What a day! Largest free-flight bird park in the world. Highest McDonald’s in the world. Tallest twin towers in the world. Highest two-story bridge in the world.

Malaysia! You over-achiever, you.

20150109_233230This day of sightseeing was brought to a successful close when we finally collapsed into the back of a cab that we were pretty sure was heading in the right direction to get us back to the apartment and that gorgeous, cool swimming pool. Let me add that I had no problem showing my Fitbit step goal who was boss on our first solo foray into the heart of Malaysia. Ten thousand steps? I laugh at you.

The day was nearly perfect. So very nearly perfect. The only thing missing?

Monkeys. Where were the dang monkeys?

photobombed by a bird

Photo bombed by a bird. Awesome!

(Spoiler alert…they were at the temple!)

Unsuspecting Tourist. Howdy Malaysia!

KL Day 2So let’s see. On day one (snuck in a link to it there) of my chronical of the Unsuspecting Tourist, aka me, we got right up to the point where we were about three hours from take-off. My bags were packed. All of the animals were settled and we had a solid plan in place for their care for the next 12 days. I was FINALLY starting to relax and just look forward to participating with Jim in our own episode of the Amazing Race. (Yeah, we pretended. Wouldn’t you?)

It was at this very point that I heard the little chime that tells me I have a text message. How nice! Someone sending a note wishing me a happy, safe vacation. I have the best friends and family!

Huh? Oh no. This was no wish-you-well text. This was a your-whole-trip-is-blowing-up text.

“Sally has the flu.”

This is the part where I had an out of body experience in which I saw our epic vacation waving goodbye to us as it faded away into a fine mist. Sally is our dog sitter. You know…for that collective 800 pounds of dog I mentioned in my previous post? Jim and I just stared at each other in disbelief.

Ok. Breathe. Breathe. (Yes, I did chant this to myself)

Just when it seemed all hope might be lost, I remembered that, hey, I am really good in an emergency. You have a crisis? I’m your gal. I have odd moments of clarity in the most unlikely situations.

My panic addled brain suddenly remembered my trusted veterinarian/dear friend telling me that one of their vet techs was a great pet sitter. OF COURSE! Just call in a pinch hitter. In rapid fire fashion, texts were sent, calls were made, plane tickets from Tulsa to Houston were bumped, and BAM, we found ourselves introducing a new pet sitter to our herd of dogs.

She only needed to survive a night or two until Sally felt well enough to take over. Despite looking a bit startled by the herd of canines greeting her, and despite the mind-boggling instructions being rattled off by two slightly crazed tourist wannabes, Sky, our shiny new pet sitter, assured us that she was up to the challenge.

We left her with something like eight pages of instructions and phone numbers for Sally and any and every one we felt could help her out.

Ok. Not-so-small bump in the road handled. To the airport! GO! GO! GO!

Slightly delayed, but still in good form to catch our international flight, Jim and I made the first leg of our journey from Tulsa to Houston. One small step on a trip to Malaysia, one giant leap for the trip that very nearly didn’t happen.

We collected Jim’s 12 year old nephew, Jean-Yves, from his grandparents and headed through security…where Jim was immediately frisked and scrutinized because the bag that Jean-Yves was carrying tested positive for some sort of explosive or something. Yeah, they don’t pat down the adorable minor child…they go straight for the guardian who likely forced said minor to carry that bag. My theory is that Jim’s father rubbed a little gun powder on the bag and stood just outside security barely suppressing tears born of laughter.

Once they determined that the Xbox One Jean-Yves received for Christmas was indeed an Xbox One and not a weapon of mass destruction, we lined up to board the flight that would take us to Dubai for a brief layover before a connecting flight to Kuala Lumpur.

Sounds simple until you realize that the first leg of that journey takes more than 16 hours and the “shorter” flight to Malaysia takes about six hours. I would like to tell you that we traveled in the first class lap of luxury…or even the relative comfort of business class…but no. It was economy all the way, baby. Have you priced those first class tickets? Yikes!

It was a humongous plane. You know, the double-decker kind that makes you wonder how this hulking thing can possibly get off the ground, let alone carry you safely over an entire ocean? Yeah, I don’t focus on that stuff too much, but don’t you know that Orville and Wilbur would be high fiving each other for hours if they could see this feat?

We settled into our seats and, with a little time on my hands, I decided to give the Sky Mall catalog a gander. You know the magazine. It’s filled with stuff you can purchase…clever, fancy stuff that you can ONLY find in Sky Mall.

For example, there is Fit Desk. This is basically a laptop desk attached to a stationary bicycle. Yes, you too can sweat and prepare for that huge presentation in one calorie burning session.

john lemonOr how about the glow in the dark toilet seat? No more excuses for poor aim! And there’s the Micro Kickboard Luggage that combines carry on convenience with play yard fun. Just flip down the handy scooter on the back of the suitcase and hop on! Look out granny, I’ve got a plane to catch!

By the time I got to the “John Lemon Scented T-shirt” I decided it might be time to find a new diversion. Ahhh…inflight entertainment. Movies, television shows, music! Perfect.

While most people on the flight found some way to sleep a number of the hours away, I managed to watch three movies and 19 episodes of Two Broke Girls. You know…rich girl loses everything, meets spunky streetwise girl, moves in, gets waitressing job, AND they start a gourmet cupcake business while exchanging nonstop witty repartee? Got it? Any questions about season three?

Dubai pepsiSo finally, after hurtling through space and time, beaming up with Scotty, and, I’m fairly certain, at least one alien abduction, we landed in Dubai with about three hours to kill. Our to-do list included, in order of priority, bathroom, snacks, finding our gate, and people watching. That last one might have actually been tops on my list…well…after bathroom. But OH the people watching! We were certainly not in Oklahoma any longer.

Our stop in Dubai was the start of my curiosity about Muslim culture and confusion over the different clothing involved. I quickly realized how very naive I am about different cultures and customs. Such a deal…a vacation, an education, and a soft drink that looked and tasted like Pepsi…but I’m still not entirely sure that it was.

Ok, one more six- hour hop, skip, and a jump and we landed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Time to check in with our friends at customs and head off on our who-cares-about-Waldo, where-the-heck-are-Jim-and-Nancy adventure.

Explain to me why I always feel guilty when facing authority? I really have led a fairly crime-free life, yet I get the jitters every time I have to pass through customs. Maybe that time when I was five and I accidentally took a balloon from the grocery store without paying for it will come back to haunt me? My mom made me take it back in the store to pay for it, but still…

Sweat beaded on my forehead as they scanned the fingerprints on my index fingers. The agent studied my passport…looked at his computer…read the report about the nearly stolen balloon…and let me enter Malaysia anyway. Whew. That. Was. Close.

Jim’s brother Jeremy was right there waiting and we safely delivered Jean-Yves into his waiting arms. Responsible escorts no more, let the vacation begin!

KL wrong sideFirst jet-lagged impressions of Kuala Lumpur:

  • Wrong side of the road! WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD! Oh. Never mind.
  • Palm trees grow there like maple trees and oak trees grow here. Forests of palm trees.
  • You think America is a melting pot? Have you been to Malaysia?
  • Motorcycles and scooters swarm through heavy traffic like gnats. Traffic laws apparently do not apply to two-wheeled vehicles. Eeek.
  • Roads in Malaysia are as intense as the streets of New York only take those streets in New York and tie them into knots that make no sense whatsoever. There you go.
  • A lot of the architecture in Malaysia is amazing.
  • So many people.
  • Sidewalks in Malaysia = an extreme sport (or are non-existent).
  • The view from the 17th floor of the Embassy View Apartments on Jalan Ampang (that means Ampang Street…see how much I learned?) can only be described as a postcard. Couples on House Hunters International would take this apartment on the view alone before even noticing the open floor plan and the four beds/four baths.
  • A shower never felt so damn good (this after that 32 total hours of travel time…you can only re-apply deodorant so many times before you just turn into the creepy smelly woman).

The rest of day one/two (they melded together at some point) is a bit of a blur. I know we settled into a nice room in the apartment. I know I got to put on clean underwear (TMI?). I know a nap was involved somewhere. I know the Xbox One we risked life and limb and body cavity search to bring home was immediately fried by plugging it into the wrong converter. Twelve year old boys LOVE it when their dads accidentally do that (Don’t worry…Jer later fixed it. Happy 12 year old). I believe we took a trip downtown to see some sights and have some dinner. I think. I’m pretty sure. I do have photo proof, if not conscious memory.

And the news from the home front? In the time it took us to get from Tulsa to Kuala Lumpur, Sally the dog sitter’s Tamiflu kicked in and she felt good enough to head out to Tails You Win Farm to keep the dogs company. All was well in KL…all was well in Mounds. Now we just needed to figure out how to exchange our nights for days so we could actually stay awake long enough to experience Malaysia.

(Hint…we succeeded! There will be more…)

KL night  KL towers

The Unsuspecting Tourist

plane to KL 2So…what would you do if you found out that you had two weeks to prepare for a 12 day international vacation? What would you do if you were ME and you found out you had two weeks to prepare for a 12 day international vacation? ME! The one who lives on an E-I-E-I-O farm with a herd of animals that like to eat once or twice a day…every day.

Well, Jim’s prediction for my reaction to his wildly generous Christmas gift was that I would say, “Wow. Oh f*ck. Wow.”

So yes, I opened a gift on Christmas day and inside I found a travel itinerary for a 12 day tour of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with side trips to Langkawi, Malaysia, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, both in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

WOW!

And then I saw the departure date: January 7. The upcoming one.

Oh f*ck!

My brain immediately came up with 43,107 reasons why I could not possibly leave the country in two weeks.

And then I looked at the travel guides detailing our destinations. Back to WOW.

Yep…you nailed it, Jim.

So let me admit right here and now that I am not necessarily the most spontaneous person in the world when it comes to travel. We have dogs. Lots of dogs. We have a borderline cameo on Animal Planet Hoarders number of dogs (disclaimer: lots of foster dogs…that do find great homes…this keeps us out of the headlines and still in the “good guys” column).

We also have horses, pigs, donkeys, a mule, and one very unintelligent ram.  It takes a village for us to just leave town for a long weekend. Twelve days? Out of the country? Um…yes, I may have been screaming on the inside, and a little on the outside, just thinking of the logistics.

Oh, and I co-own a business with a friend that I would like to keep as a friend. There’s that.

But Jim had been planning, apparently for months. And this was not a randomly selected destination. Jim’s brother lives/works in KL (that’s what all of us savvy travelers call Kuala Lumpur) and we were going to serve as escorts for his 12 year old son who was returning home after spending the holidays in Houston with his grandparents and mom.

Let me just say here that we also got to take a great trip to Thailand a few years ago while serving as escorts for Jim’s nephew. Of course this kid has made these trips enough that he could likely navigate just about any airport in his sleep, but yes, we played the part of the responsible adults. As a side note, I will volunteer to escort this kid well into his adulthood as long as Jim’s brother keeps landing in exotic destinations. To the point that he has to spoon feed me oatmeal on the plane. Yes I will.

In reality, Jim really had things well planned. He had cleared our travel dates with my dear, wonderful business partner. He had booked our pet sitter. He had looked into getting a different pet sitter to care for the barn animals so that our doggy pet sitter would not be overwhelmed.

Our passports were current thanks to Jim’s five day birthday celebration in Los Cabos, Mexico, this past July. (We planned that one for six months. We planned that one to death.)

Ok. So a trip to the other side of the world in two weeks. Go with it Nancy. Relax. Just be excited. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime. Who wouldn’t jump at this chance?

Oh how I wish I could have followed all of that grand advice. But in reality, I might have been a wee bit panicky about the whole thing. Just a wee bit.

The date approached and I prepared. Thanks to that five-day Mexico trip I actually had the clothes I needed for our warm weather destinations. No stress on the packing front.

The house sitters were ready to roll. No stress there.

The travel plans were in place. I didn’t have to contribute a single thing. Just show up and get on the plane, Nervous Nancy.

As our departure date approached, I started to embrace the adventure. How many people from Mounds, Oklahoma get to hang out in a high rise apartment in KL? How many get to go to a lovely beach resort on the island of Langkawi? And then how many get to top it off with a whirlwind 24-hour tour of Dubai?

Not many, bordering on none. Most likely none.

In hindsight I think it was wise of Jim to only allow me two weeks to get my head around this trip. Who knows what dark places my brain might have traveled with too much time to overanalyze every last detail. Obviously, since it is now January 20, 2015, we all realize the trip happened and I survived. In fact, I not only survived, Jim and I had a great time…that I have yet to write about.

windowYou see, we responsibly decided that I should not write about the trip while we were actually ON said trip because of the line of burglars that would surely form at our front gate if the world realized we were away. You know, those burglars who are willing to break into a house with about 800 collective pounds of dog waiting inside the doors and windows.

I honestly didn’t believe that home invasion was a likely threat. Plus, I have to imagine that burglars would be pretty discouraged, after braving all of those dogs, to find that the thing of greatest value inside this house was my collection of had-to-have-it gorgeous skeins of yarn that I bought with no clue what I would make out of them. They were just too pretty to pass up. Is there much call for baby alpaca wool yarn on the black market?

Anyhow, for the security and sanity of our house sitters, we wisely opted to not advertise the fact that we were far, far away. Very grown up of us, right? I know.  Now I just have to decipher all of my scrawled notes that I faithfully wrote in my journal each day of the trip so I can share the journey here.

It is possible that I need to check in with my grade school teachers to see where we went so very, very wrong with my handwriting lessons. I can’t decide if it says we flew on a plane or chewed on a cane. Bear with me. I swear I will decode it and get to the good part…that would be the actual trip.

KL balcony 2And in parting, you know that quote “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry?” Yeah, well, on departure day…mere hours before we were going to leave on our well planned vacation…we got word that our dog sitter had just been diagnosed with the flu.

Now THAT proved to be a great way to get the old blood pressure pumping. Ahhh…but I’ll save the rest for future tales. Stick with me…it gets really good. Bon voyage!