Birthday Surprises and Elephants in Malaysia Kuala Lumpur
It turns out we really weren’t kidding when we said we were going to be glampacking. Not quite ready to settle into four months of slumming it, Joe arranged an amazing birthday surprise for our time in KL… with a luxury stay in the Grand Hyatt hotel, complete with flowers and birthday cake in the room and a spectacular floor to ceiling view of the Petronas Twin Towers. Wow. I think this stay may have ruined me for the rest of our trip. I’m just not going to be satisfied unless there’s a tropical paradise pool and an army of nothing-is-too-much-trouble staff.
Nonetheless, we thought we should leave the hotel luxury to explore the city, rain or shine (and it did both, with vigour). KL is undoubtedly dirtier than Singapore, with more obvious signs of the have and have-nots, and horrendous air quality as old cars choke out fumes. But it is also fun and lively, with tons of character and a more bustling, authentic vibe. Highlights include the beautiful fountains in KLCC park behind the Twin Towers, which dance to music in an impressively choreographed display, and lively Jalan Alor, with its tasty streetfood and pretty Chinese New Year lanterns. Yum.
Day two had more birthday treats in store with a trip into Malaysian countryside to visit the Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary. This long-running government-led initiative rescues elephants who have been injured or orphaned and also works to relocate elephant herds whose habitat is threatened by expanding palm plantations. The sanctuary team were reassuring that their work has a genuinely positive impact to protect elephants from harm, as well as educating the public about the impacts of deforestation. Some of the elephants that can’t be re-released into the wild are trained to work with the relocation team, providing some muscle-power as well as a familiar form to reassure wild elephants as they are moved to their new home.
Getting up close to the elephants was truly heart-warming – I hadn’t realised quite how intelligent they are, or how huge. We let them scoop food from our hands with their trunk – some with a delicate touch, others with more slobbery eagerness. And then the absolute highlight, bathing and splashing them in the river and brushing down their surprisingly tough skin. A fantastic and unforgettable experience! My mum is jealous.