Everything was closed for Chinese New Year but it did give us a good opportunity to get the more touristy things done without crowds of people clogging the streets. Walking tours of China town, the old colonial area, a cheesy photo of us at Stamford Raffles statue and a trip to the Asian Civilisations Museum ensued. The Museum was the highlight with great content from all over SE Asia. One of those museums you could go back to several times and just concentrate on a certain area. After having my brain warped by too much input in the museum I came outside for a break and came across an impromptu Chinese dance performance with pounding drums and juddering dragons. Cool.
Later in the evening we went to the zoo for the night safari - since alot of the big cats hunt at night, this is the best time to see them. The zoo is quality, with large natural barrier enclosures and great viewing areas. Tigers, leopards, clouded leopards, lions, fruit bats were a few of the creatures we encountered with the big cats coming right up to the glass windows while foolish punters cooed at them as if they wouldn’t rip their arms clean off.
On Tuesday, we went to the science museum. This was pretty good, with nice optical illusion displays and a range of stuff on power, human body, flight and genetics. Zapping hydrogen filled balloons with a massive tesla coil was a nice gambit but not sure it would have passed UK health and safety law. Afterwards, we toured around the city a but more and had a look at the famous Raffles hotel. I had a few beers, my first in about a month and after stumbling into a pond that looked like black marble in the dark much to the hilarity of passersby, it was clear that I can no longer hold my liquor.
By Wednesday we were running out of things to see and starting to think Singapore’s reputation for tedium might be justified. We headed over to Sentosa island, which is a small island just of the coast. It has been turned into a theme park island with a shedload of different themes mostly for kids. Its quite horribly tacky. However, the aquarium there was supposed to be good so we gave it a spin. They had some cool, massive Japanese crabs and a Dugong (strangely ugly seacow-like creature) but not much else and it wasn’t a patch on Hong Kong’s aquarium. There was a show by the pink dolphins included which wasn’t bad though. In the evening we had the misfortune to be bored enough to watch Ghostrider. I think the worst film of 2007 award will undoubtedly go to this abomination. Nicholas Cage is about a good an actor as Keanu Reeves, Brian Blessed or my sofa.
By Thursday we’d had enough - Singapore is a really clean, well laid out city, with excellent organisation and transport and its probably a decent place to live and work. As a tourist destination though it doesn’t have many draw cards and although cheaper than Europe its 4 or 5 times as expensive as Malaysia. There wasn’t anything more to see so we went to the Automobile Association to find out the enraging requirements for driving into Singapore as by this time we’d pretty much decided to ship from Singapore to Fremantle. We got a bus out back to KL and checked into the hostel again for the night.
On Friday, we motored around, clearing up what we needed to do for shipping and getting ready to explore Indonesia on foot. Indonesia had a few rum requirements of its own - you have to show a ticket for getting out of the country to get in (genius) and you can only get a visa on arrival at certain points of entry otherwise you have to get one beforehand. We didn’t have time for that so we decided to fly into Jacarta and fly out again from Surabaya which would give us 14 days in Indonesia. It would be tough going to try and fit everything we wanted to see into that time but there was nought to do about it.
It nearly went wrong from the start when we showed up to KL airport and sat around congratulating ourselves on arriving in good time. However, when check in time came we couldn’t find the desk only to be informed that the sly old dogs have another airport for budget carriers which is 20km from the main airport. A run to the bus luckily got us there in time and the flight to Jacarta passed off smoothly. Upon arrival it was fairly late so we got a bus into the centre and walked to a hostel without seeing much.
The next morning we set off on a walking tour to see the sights. The hideous national monument was first on the list. A brutally ugly tall pillar with a tacky flame on top, with a massive queue to take the 10 man lift up to the summit we decided not to bother and headed off. We had a look at the massive Istiqual mosque (also ugly), the nearby catholic church with weirdass see-through spires (ugly) and the freedom monument (not as ugly). From there we headed to the disappointing national museum before a walk around the old Dutch colonial area of Kota and the Chinese Glodock area. The city is not pretty and there’s not much to see but people are genuinely friendly and twice we got roped into doing interviews for school children learning English. The constant cries of “Hello mister” can get a bit tiring after the 70th time you’ve heard it in 5 minutes but its meant to be friendly. Even the touts are pretty cool and happy to have a chat even if you don’t want to but their stuff. Given the time we have available we decided to get an overnight train to Yogyakarta which would get us there at 6.30 the next morning.
In the morning we hit the beach to continue my swimming education and I successfully got my 5m front crawl badge -hooray. However, I did hold my breath the whole time so its not that great. We then took a ferry over to Pangkor island where we tested my new found skills by going snorkeling along the beach. Swimming is alot more fun when you don’t have to worry about drowning so much I found though we did have to avoid crabs and jelly fish. After bumming around a bit more we got the ferry back to the mainland and hit the road back to Kuala Lumpur, kipping for the night in a motorway services. The joy of life on the road.
Arriving back in KL on Tuesday we found that the carbs were detuning themselves. Another trip to James’ was in order but he assured us that it was just a matter of changing the o-rings on the carb screws. We also got a quote for cleaning the car for shipping to OZ (it has to be “clean as new” to meet Aussie customs requirements - they don’t want another cane toad incident eh?). The quote was about 200 quid but we figured we could knock it down to 50 by cleaning and repainting the back cabin ourselves so thats what we did.
The next two days were spent taking everything out, slinging most of it in the bin and setting about cleaning and repainting. A torturous job it was and for a while I thought it was going to be a rum finish but after the second coat of white it actually looked pretty sweet.
Friday we went back to the garage to see if we could do anything about our LPG issues. The little black controller box for the switchover had nuked itself so I knocked up a new system with a few relays. It works nicely but we found that the engine just doesn’t like LPG and dislikes re-starting on petrol after using LPG. We decided to sod the LPG and not use it. That night we headed to the inauguration party of Albert’s new house. The custom is to have a bit of a housewarming before moving anything in then leave it for a while to let the wandering spirits make themselves at home.
Sunday we decided we’d had enough of KL and made haste to hit the road to Singapore. Too much haste because I forgot my passport and had to get the bus back to get it then up again to get back into town. Nearly 4 hours of bus rides ensued. Joyful. Still it was done and we managed to find a luxury coach to Singapore. Now the Malaysian idea of a luxury coach is a far cry from the English idea of a luxury coach. The English idea of a luxury coach is a normal rumass coach with luxury written on the side. The Malaysian version had seats with electrical full reclining, electrically adjustable calf supporters and foot rest, an individual TV screen for each seat from which you could choose from a range of movies and computer games. Awesome. We didn’t want to get off but Singapore customs made us to get our stamps which thankfully was a quick and easy process. We arrived in at 10.30pm and walked to the “Little India” quarter to find some cheap accommodation. After a ridiculously priced pint (nearly 4 quid) we decided we wouldn’t be doing much drinking here and would have to amuse ourselves by stamping around like colonialists and patronising the locals by telling them we invented the country. Much better fun.
While all this was going on we were emailing and calling companies to try to arrange some shipping for the Landy to Oz. Unfortunately, it’s Chinese New Year and most places have shut down until Tuesday so it may be a while before we get something concrete in place.
Monday was like any other day in that the engine wouldn’t start. A liberal dose of start pilot didn’t work either so we resorted to throwing a cap full of petrol into the carb to get it going. Then we brought it back to the garage much to the dismay of James who was going to spend the next 6 days working on it. Now in the course of this trip we have had the misfortune to come across a great many mechanics and with very few exceptions they have been incompetent fools and crooks with less mechanical knowledge than either me or Richard which adds up to about half a tablespoon combined. I’m very pleased to say that James is the complete opposite of this. With decades of experience working on marine and car engines this man is a shining example of competence and knowledge and a top bloke to boot.
In the course of the week, we reran every cable in the ignition system until we narrowed it down to the one which was the source of all our woe. This cable had a habit of occasionally supplying the wrong voltage to the coil and fuel pump for reasons it was keeping tightlipped about. The pump could handle this and keep running but the coil and ignition module couldn’t which was what was causing our unpredictable and erratic running problems. We also changed the front brake pads and discovered that the calipers needed doing too. We changed the engine and gearbox oil and put some additives (slick 50) into the gearbox to stave off the irreparable damage that we know is coming sooner or later. Also, we repaired the shoddy work done by the Land Rover garage in Thailand - the carbs were set up and tuned incorrectly and the ignition leads were a shambles. On top of this we put in a new air intake hose to take cold air from in front of the engine, slung out the blocked air filter and replaced the inline fuel filter with one that wasn’t leaky and dirty. The last thing was to get the cracked back and side windows replaced. Not bad for a weeks work. The result - the engine runs better than it ever has before and the power and sweet sound it pumps out makes you understand why people love V8s.
However, we aren’t prepared to be taken by surprise by this car again so we embarked on an extended test trip into the Cameron Highlands on Saturday. The cooler weather up in the highlands was absolutely wonderful after so many days sweating over a hot engine in KL. Bizarrely, the Cameron Highlands is absolutely packed full of old series Land Rovers. We counted literally about 200 in the space of a few hours. We haven’t got to the bottom of the why and wherefore yet. The highland scenery is beautiful too and we spent Sunday visiting a tea plantation and enthusing about the cool temperature before we went and ruined it all by heading back down into the sweaty humidity of the lowlands but we had to drive the machine to make sure everything is ironed out now because the chances of coming across a good mechanic again are remarkably small.
After a fairly rum nights sleep and a 3am dump in some bushes we drove across the 13Km long bridge to Penang Island and up to the city of Georgetown. This was where Captain Francis Light first set foot in 1791 paving the way for British colonisation of Malaya through the East India Company. The city still has many building from that era but they are not particulary noteworthy or well maintained. After visiting Fort Cornwallis, the old clock tower, some churches and the museum, Georgetown was pretty much covered in terms of tourist interest so we left on Tuesday morning for Kuala Lumpur.
We arrived in the city at 7pm and ended up doing a long tour of the city trying to find somewhere suitable to park. We eventually wound up in an industrial estate after getting in contact with a guy called Albert who had read about our trip in Land Rover Monthly and kindly offered to help us out. We arranged to meet up with him on Thursday which gave us Wednesday to explore the city.
In the morning we relocated the Landy to a more suitable location near a huge mosque and headed out on foot to see the sights. A walking tour of the city centre brought us to some mosques, a Hindu temple, China town, central market and of course the Petronas towers. Formerly the highest buildings in the world (until Taiwan built a tower with an extra few metres), the Petronas towers are now the highest twin towers in the world and do make an impressive sight. The free tour up to the connecting bridge isn’t that great though because the bridge is only 170 odd metres off the ground.
Kuala Lumpur turned out to be a nice, clean, modern city but doesn’t have that much to interest a tourist unless they are into shopping. There are a huge number of shopping malls here, overflowing with any consumer item you can name. Luckily though, we had arrived in time for an exciting event - Thaipusam. This Hindu festival commemorates the birthday of the Hindu deity Lord Murugan. Devotees prepare for the celebration by cleansing themselves through prayer and fasting. On the day of the festival, devotees shave their heads undertake a pilgrimage along a set route while engaging in various acts of devotion, notably carrying various types of kavadi (burdens). At its simplest this may entail carrying a pot of milk, but mortification of the flesh by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with vel skewers is also common. The most spectacular practice is the vel kavadi, essentially a portable altar up to two meters tall, decorated with peacock feathers and attached to the devotee through 108 vels pierced into the skin on the chest and back. The congested train ride to the Batu caves where the event takes place was a pain but when we got there it was pretty cool. A typical Indian festival, its was dirty, overcrowded and squalid but also a unique and exciting spectacle. The huge crush of people walking up the steps to the cave, with the smog of burning incense and the lunatic vel kavadi carriers, some of whom were in an ecstatic trance was a great experience. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. Afterwards, we headed back into town and met up with Albert who arranged a place for us to stay at his brothers house.
On Friday morning, we met the president of Alberts Land Rover club, Vicash. Since the engine had been giving us trouble in the mornings by refusing to start unless it was given a good coat of start pilot we needed to find a decent mechanic to sort it out once and for all. Vicash recommended a guy and we drove it up there to leave it in his capable hands while we checked out the shopping centres and saw Babel at the cinema (it is nice to be back in civilisation sometimes).
On Saturday, we took the Landy for a test drive but it was clear that further work was needed. The rest of Saturday and Sunday was spent bumming around catching up on some reading. On Monday, the car will be back in the garage for further work so we may be in Kuala Lumpur for some time.