Sunday, April 6, 2008

Muckin' About Malaysia: Part Three (of Three)

(For those of you who haven't been following along, this is part of a series on our trip to the EARCOS 2008 Teacher Conference in Kuala Lumpur.)

We had our last day in Kuala Lumpur free--the conference ended Saturday evening, and our flight back to Seoul didn't leave until late Sunday night/early Monday morning. (Ask me about my thoughts on redeyes sometime.) Ever the gracious host, Dr. Kim (our boss) planned a day trip out into the countryside. We saw our first real-live-wild monkeys up close!

1. Rainforest Hike and Canopy Walk

Sunday morning we all got up early and climbed aboard a hired van to head out into the hills north of Kuala Lumpur. Most of the Malaysian peninsula is covered with some kind of rainforest, but the particular forest we visited is rare-ish in that it's still old growth, and, according to our guide, one of the oldest rainforests in the world. The park is managed by the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia, which gave us the added benefit of knowing whatever money we spent there was going to a good cause.

The hike was brutally hot and humid (heck, this was the jungle, after all), not to mention steep. But we were well rewarded. Sights along the way included bubble-gum trees, wild boar trails, rattan vines, humongous palms, and several quirky medicinal plants (one leaf, which felt kind of like an air-cushioned insole, could be chewed up and used as a super-strong clotting agent). I only wish we weren't too busy sweating out every last drop of my bodily fluids to ask the guide for more detail . . .
Anyway, at the top of the trail, we came to the Canopy Walk, a walkway suspended over 100 feet above the forest floor--and constructed, apparently, with help from the entire nation of Germany.

If nothing else, this made the entire hike worth it: the chance to stand high in the canopy and look out over one of the oldest rainforests in the world.
And yes, Nana's wearing long sleeves and long pants. Brave girl, and admirably aware of local sensibilities. (Aside: Did you know that, in Malaysia, it's rude to point with your fingers? People point with their thumbs instead. Yeah. You just tried to figure out how the heck that works, didn't you?)

2. Batu Caves

After our hike, we climbed back aboard the van for a trip to nearby Batu Caves. The caves are a major religious shrine for Malaysian Hindus--they're one of the most popular Hindu religious sites outside of India, and the caves attract millions (literally) during the annual festival of Thaipusam. (For the facts: my thanks again to Wikipedia, of course.)

Given those numbers, I'm assuming we were there on a slow day, though the local macaques were out in force!

One even "attacked" (i.e., jumped at) Nana, apparently in an effort to get its hands on her Kickapoo Joy Juice. (I can't blame it--that stuff was good!)Note Nana's stylish new red batik skirt, purchased at the Central Market in Kuala Lumpur.

Honestly, the monkeys were as much a sight as the caves themselves--the vast majority of my photos that day were pictures of the macaques--though apparently there's a pretty wild "dark cave" complex off to the site that we didn't get a chance to see.

Also: a rooster? Huh?

3. Homeward Bound

Well, that about wraps up our trip to Kuala Lumpur. All in all, it was a giant double-thumbs-up: we learned a ton of good stuff at the conference, and we got to see a lot of a really cool place. As of today, Nana and I have officially added Kuala Lumpur to our list of places we could hypothetically live some day. Seriously--if you ever get a chance to go to KL for any reason, take it. Excellent food, fascinating culture, beautiful sights. Very friendly, very green. Well worth the dreaded redeye flight back to Seoul!