Adventures in trying to get places

Published January 1, 2012 by Christa Maurice

Kuala Lumpur has a terrible train system, which puts it ahead of places with none, but not by much. I like to use trains and subways when possible while traveling because the train station is going to be exactly where I left it, something I can’t count on with a taxi. Ever need a taxi and couldn’t get one? My point exactly. Plus, you get to see the natives in their environment. You’re on vacation, they’re trying to get to work, school, home, wherever. So I like trains.

I can’t say I liked these trains though. Kuala Lumpur’s train network is actually a couple of different companies so you have to buy a new ticket every time you switch trains. Sometimes you have to move to another station, which may be blocks away.

When I went to the Butterfly Park, the concierge told me I had to go to the central station (called Sentral) on the monorail and change to the Putra line, which I only had to take two stops to Masjid Jamek (and then start the Bataan Death March.) I got to Sentral, followed the crowd and found myself standing on the street. Assuming this was wrong, I went back into the station and tried staring at the map. Didn’t help. I asked the nice people perusing the map with me and was told I had to walk down the block and across the street. So I joined the crowd again down the block, across the street, through the construction, up the stairs and into the station/mall. I followed the crowd to the ticket counter and waited in a long line, but when I got to the window I was told it was the wrong one. I went across to the other side and got into the amazingly short line. When I got to that window I found out why it was so short. You didn’t buy tickets there, you had to get them from the machine. At my grimace, the woman behind the counter laughed and assured me that someone would help me. She also called over to the woman helping at the ticket machines to warn her I was coming. She needed warning. I couldn’t find the button to put the instructions in English. Then I couldn’t work out how to pick the right station. Then the machine wouldn’t take my money. Eventually the woman just took my money and got the ticket from another machine for me. At least once I got on the train, I was okay.

On the way home, I had time to study the map and I realized I could get on the Ampang line, change trains at Hung Tauh and eliminate four stations including the horrible Sentral and a half an hour of travel time (which I really looked forward to after the march to the Butterfly Park.)

One thing I did learn when I got in the wrong line the first day. There was a train that went to Batu Caves. Try as I might, I couldn’t weasel around going back to Sentral, but if I could get a train to Batu Caves instead of relying on a taxi (spelled teksi in KL) or a driver it was worth it. The trip out was nice once I figured out the cars. The middle car was women only which was novel. The trip back however, that was interesting.

Abhorring the idea of wading through Sentral again, I located a way out of it by getting off at one station and setting off a few blocks to another station so I could do the Hung Tauh interchange again. Well, easier said than done!

First, getting on the correct train proved tricky. Normally, you get off the train on one platform and get back on going the opposite direction on the opposite platform. Batu Caves happens to be the last stop. Apparently they have two trains. One going one direction, another going the other direction. When one train reaches the end of the line, it simply switches directions. I’ve never encountered this before so when I was directed down the steps to the platform I had gotten off at, I was confused. So was the Japanese family attempting to board at the same time. I asked two different people and so did they. Then we pooled information. Since every single person said this was the right train, we boarded.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

I’d like to say it was half an hour because it was. I happened to look at my watch when I sat down because I was calculating how likely it was that I could get back to the hotel in time for a late lunch. Eventually the train chugged off and out the window I saw a nifty little tourist attraction that would have handily eaten up that thirty minute wait had I known about it. Pooh.

After the second station, the train stopped on the tracks. We sat for about ten minutes before resuming our journey. Then after the third station, the train stopped again. This time we sat for a long time. I hadn’t conveniently checked my watch so I have no idea how long, but the woman across from me fell asleep. The trip out had taken maybe half an hour. The trip back was over an hour. Ah, the joys of public transportation!

I knew getting to the other station was something of a leap of faith, but security guard directions had gotten me this far. The directions I was given by the security guard were “follow the walkway to the mall. Ten minutes.” Out I went, through the walkway, over a river and a road to another station, but not the one I was looking for. However, there was another walkway over a street that appeared to lead to a department store. Department store, mall, same-same, especially in Asia. I was hoping that the department store would have a food court because the long train stops had eaten into my projected lunchtime and I was starting to think I was going to end up at a McDonald’s. If there was one, I couldn’t find it in the swarms of humanity. I chose retreat and headed out to the street where a number of hawkers were selling unidentifiable fried this I wasn’t willing to risk my stomach on and headed in what I hoped was the general direction of the station. My sense of direction must be getting better because I came up to the track and followed it to the station with a minimum of broken crossing lights or staring down roads trying to figure out where the street sign was and the train deposited me at the station nearest my hotel in a few minutes and well before I fainted from hunger.

One last, non-train story. I arrived at the airport the prescribed three hours before my flight and headed to the gate. At the gate, I stopped outside the unattended metal detector, look around and proceeded through. It went off causing the three security guards chatting at the desk to look up. One came over so I asked her if I needed to go through yet another scanner. She said I wasn’t allowed in the waiting area yet. (We’ll just put aside the fact that there was already a family, who by the looks of their fast food bags, had been camping there for some time.) I asked why. She said, “the plane is not even-” at this point, she paused to glance over her shoulder at the plane, which was sitting at the gate like a giant Labrador Retriever. “You can’t wait here. You have to wait in the concourse.” Where all the shopping is. I walked away snickering at her almost telling me the plane wasn’t there when I’m pretty sure the plane had been sitting there for a couple of hours already. It’s the little things.

The wait did give me the opportunity to go through the jungle in the middle of the airport. Yup, jungle. In the airport.

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