What is the Difference Between a Forest and a Jungle? Monkeys and Palm Trees?
*Semantics Lesson* Definition of Forest: a large tract of land covered with trees and underbrush. Definition of Jungle: a wild land overgrown with dense vegetation, often nearly impenetrable, especially tropical vegetation or a tropical rain forest. Technically every jungle is a forest but not every forest is a jungle. Apparently if the trees don’t lose their leaves it could be a jungle. The trees in the jungle usually have tall trunks with vegetation only near the top of the tree blocking most of the sunlight from the jungle floor. It may also be swampy and wet.
As we ride the Jungle Line Train, I started to wonder what makes a jungle a jungle. We noticed that if you disregarded the palm trees, the landscape strongly resembles some of the highways and byways of forested United States. This hits us even more strongly when we get to Kuala Lumpur where there are four and six lane highways with dense vegetation on either side. We could be in Ohio. But really it is the location that makes it a jungle. Take a jungle out of the tropics and put it in Ohio and pretty soon it will just be a forest. The monkeys are a bonus but not a determining factor. Our lower berths on the train are right beside the door to the platform the holds the bathrooms. *Aside* The carriage is air conditioned. The platform is not. This platform is where many people go to smoke. It quickly becomes obvious that most of the people going out to the platform were born in a barn, failing nearly every time to close the sliding door behind them. With the door open we are treated to the smoke from the cigarettes and the loud clacking of the wheels of the train, since usually the smokers open the outer doors of the platform to release the smoke. I believe I significantly increased the tone of my right arm during the ride by reaching out of my berth and pulling the sliding door closed toward me repeatedly. Our ticket for the train gave us each a lower berth with dinner and breakfast. Dinner was not very exciting and breakfast (we’re back to the cold eggs and rice) was mostly unappealing. *Aside* We both drank the water provided with our food. It was soon dark and eventually we fell into a fitful sleep punctuated by the opening and, sometimes, closing of the platform door. *Aside* I think the porter would close it. It was an interesting experience, if not a high point of the trip. At 8:00AM we reach Kuala Lumpur, grabbing a taxi to Damas Residences and Suites. We left the luxe life on Perhentian and moved into the luxe life in Kuala Lumpur. The reception area is beautiful and our room is ‘da bomb! We have a kitchenette with an apartment sized refrigerator, a double burner stove and a hot pot; a living-dining area with two couches, a dining table with chairs and a credenza with a TV. *Aside* Okay: so we turned on the TV to find that it received NO stations. Then what exactly is the point of the TV? Double sliding glass doors open into the big bedroom with his and hers closets. We even have a washing machine. *Aside*The washing machine is in a closet with vents that open to the outside for ventilation. Well duh! The air-con compressor is also in that closet. There is a lock on the closet door. We are on the 7th floor. I’m pretty sure nothing can get in the vents at that level, so why is there a lock on the closet door? Inquiring minds want to know. The bathroom is as good as the rest of the apartment with (our favorite) a wide ledge for our bathroom stuff behind the sink.
We can’t help noticing the Royal Palace is just down the street from our hotel. Unfortunately it is only open one day a year to the public: at the end of Ramadan. We missed it this year. Maybe next year? *Aside* I keep trying to find a way to be “King for a Day” and just hang out in the Palace, but I can’t get my hands on a copy of the application. The next thing we notice: this is a city unlike any we have seen so far! *Aside* I think Singapore would surpass it, but we really didn’t get to see much there. There seem to be more skyscrapers and hi-rise apartment buildings than New York City. And it’s clean. If we rented a car we could drive here (once we got used to driving on the left side of the street.) The traffic is not insane like the Philippines. The drivers stay in their lanes, using their turn signals to change lanes and the streets are all paved and well maintained. There are even freeways. This is a CITY! An amazing CITY. *Aside* I think they even have theater but we don’t have time for that this go round. There are tons of things to do and see in Kuala Lumpur so we make a plan. Next morning we spot a place across the street from our apartment: the Blue Cow Café. Heading there for breakfast, we meet an American couple with their children also eating breakfast. They suggest several places we should see including recommending a restaurant downtown called Fuego with tapas and a glorious view of downtown KL (Kuala Lumpur).
For our first day adventure we head straight to the National Heritage Park for the Bird Park, claiming to be the Largest Free-Flight Walk-In Aviary in the world. It is huge and amazing. There a so many free-flying birds and free nesting birds as well. Among the hundreds of birds (free-flying Storks; free-wandering Ibis, Guinea Fowl, Peacocks and more) on display, we see two Cassowaries - flightless birds that are native to Australia and New Guinea. *Aside* I have never seen these birds anywhere before. Look them up they are really prehistoric looking although they may remind you a bit of Ostriches but with a brightly colored face and a big fin on their head. After over four hours in the Bird Park we decide we are ready for some dinner and want to try Fuego. We didn’t realize we’d need a reservation. But no worries: there are actually four restaurants here, so we don’t go hungry. At the end of our meal our waiter takes us on a tour of all the restaurants, including Fuego. When we step out on the open-air deck facing the KL Tower and the Petronas Twin Towers we see exactly why it was recommended. The view is fabulous. It’s really hard to tear ourselves away. Next day we spend a quiet day making reservations and plans for the next couple of weeks. We
need to do research while the internet is good!! We wander down into the many layers of streets behind our hotel for dinner. *Aside* It really interesting that there are streets on what appear to be the second or third levels of the structure. You go up a couple of staircases from street level and there’s another street with cars and everything. I’m still confused.
Tuesday we return to Heritage Park to see the Orchid Garden, the Hibiscus Garden, the Deer Park (oops, closed), The Planetarium (main show also closed), The Islamic Arts Museum and the National Mosque. *Aside* Hibiscus is the national flower of Malaysia, chosen in part because it is large and showy and blooms continuously throughout the year, growing all across the country. After all that touring we are starved so we head to Chinatown for late lunch. We have no idea what we ordered or ate, but it was delicious. As we are leaving we noticed they have a TripAdvisor Award for excellence. *Aside* sometimes TripAdvisor Awards are a good reason to avoid a place, but this time it was spot on. It might have been a 2014 award when they might have been a bit more accurate. After walking about six miles we are ready to go back to our luxe living and call it a day. Wednesday we book a tour to take us out of the Kuala Lumpur. The first stop is Batu Caves with a huge statue (140 foot) honoring the Hindu deity Murugan. *Aside* Actually the first stop is at a produce stand. Our driver brings us water apples and another “apple-like” fruit that is crisper and tarter than the apples we’re accustomed to. Both are delicious and leave me wanting to look for them in the market when I have a chance.
Batu Caves is incredible. Let’s start with the fact that there are 272 steps up to the cave. Then there are the Macaque Monkeys that seem to own the property. The cave itself is fascinating with the limestone formations soaring hundreds of feet over our heads and Hindu Deity statues everywhere. Pictures just simply can’t capture the vast interior. But it’s the monkeys that enchant me.
*Aside* As I took a picture of one monkey with its baby, I felt a tug on my hair. I whipped around to find a monkey less than an arm’s length away. He had tried pick the shiny beads of out my hair clip out, but found it quite securely stuck in my hair. He failed, but not for lack of trying.
Next stop was the “Deer Park” which was kind of a mini-zoo. There were all kinds of animals: deer (which we hand fed), snakes, chickens, prairie dogs, raccoons, Chinese pheasants, lots of different birds and lizards, even a hedgehog - many available for close encounters. I held a python. Tom held an even bigger python - about 70 pounds. *Aside* The prairie dogs and raccoons are not native to Malaysia and I can’t help wondering how they ever made it to this zoo. I’m guessing they wonder the same thing. However these are just the opening acts. The main event for this tour is the Elephant Sanctuary.
The elephants of Malaysia are being squeezed into smaller and smaller areas as so much land is clear-cut for the palm oil tree plantations. When the elephants can’t find enough space to live and break out into towns and onto the plantations they often are killed to protect property. There is a group working hard to relocate the elephants to large jungle areas, but it is a poorly funded project and fraught with difficulties. The elephants in this sanctuary are abandoned, injured or otherwise unable to live in the jungle. The admission fees go to feeding the always hungry beasts and the relocation of the problem elephants. We get to feed and touch the elephants - up close and personal. *Aside* We could have gone in the muddy, dirty river and given the elephants a bath. However when we saw the large elephant pooh turds floating down the river, we decided to pass. As we watched the handlers bathe their elephants, there appeared to be genuine affection between them, the handlers more or less bathing right with the elephants. *Aside* The only thing that gave me pause: we watched one handler dip below the surface and come up with a large mouthful of the muddy, dirty river water, swish it around in his mouth and spit it out. He may be indentifying just a little too much with his charge. I don’t care how much I loved my elephant, I’d wouldn’t put that water in my mouth. After an awesome day of being a tourist we packed our bags for the (again) early wake-up call for the airport.
Sipadan Island and Mabul, Borneo, Malaysia here we come!! Kuala Lumpur, we’ll be back to see you again! [if !supportLineBreakNewLine] [endif]