Spending My Birthday At The Batu Caves
As some of the readers of this site may know, March 16th is a wonderful day. In fact, it was this day some 26 years ago that I was born. Yes, March 16th is my birthday. We didn’t have much planned for Sunday other than a visit to the Batu Caves, but we got sidetracked at the Malaysia Visitor’s Center and somehow let them talk us into a tour. (Big Mistake!)
You see, upon inquiring about how to get to the Batu caves by public transport, the government paid worker told us it was much too difficult and that we had to book a tour. Given that this was the official tourist office (and a beautiful one at that) we figured the information would be accurate. Unfortunately, after the tour was over, we found out that admission to the caves was free and the other two places we visited were not much more than tourist traps.
The day started simply enough with me sleeping in. We opted to do the afternoon tour so the bus didn’t come pick us up from the hotel until 1:45pm. From the hotel we were taken to the Tourist Information Office where we waited for twenty minutes before another bus arrived. The tour officially started at 2:30pm.
For the three of us the tour cost a total of 130RM or just over $40USD. For this amount we shared a comfortable sized air conditioned van with 5 other people and our driver. Among the other tourists on the trip were a man from South Africa, a Norwegian Couple and two very jet lagged Americans from Wisconsin. Our driver spoke good English and provided a nice commentary of the city as we drove through it.
Our first stop of the day was at the Royal Selangor Pewter factory. While the pewter factory was a sort of tourist trap, we were given a 10 minute tour of the factory including a demonstration of how they make some of the fancy pewter souvenirs that are sold in their gift shop. We did find out an interesting tidbit while on the tour. Did you know that the Oscars (Academy Awards) are made from pewter. Only the outside of those coveted statues is plated in gold. The other claim to fame of this pewter factory is that it is home to the world’s largest pewter beer mug. Got that? Yes I couldn’t believe it either. Right here in Kuala Lumpur! Who knew?
While I am being a little harsh on the pewter factory, they did try to make an effort and didn’t hard sell anything. In addition to that, given that this tour is mostly targeted at packaged tourists, the other people on our tour did seem to walk out with their wallets a bit lighter. To tell the truth, if I had just been there on vacation, I might have bought one or two things.
The next place we visited didn’t try to disguise their position as a tourist trap. Our tour driver brought us from the pewter factory to an industrial area about ten minutes away. When we walked inside our next destination it looked like a clothes store. We were there to see a demonstration of the dying technique known as Batik. The demonstration lasted for thirty seconds and we were followed around the store for the next ten minutes by a pushy sales lady. It seemed that each group of tourists got their own sales person. I couldn’t wait to get out of there, but once again our fellow tour groupies managed to walk out with “souvenirs” in hand.
Finally, after all of these shenanigans we were on our way to the Batu Caves. When we arrived, our driver told us that we had a little over an hour to explore the area. We quickly found out that there was no admission fee like we had been led to believe. Basically we paid over $40 to be shuttled around to two places that we didn’t care to see and one that we could have reached on a $1USD bus ride. (After nearly a year on the road we should know better!)
The Batu Caves are one of Kuala Lumpur’s main tourist spots and house a Hindu Temple. I remember seeing them on the Amazing Race a couple of years ago. Two things stick out in my memory from that television show. The first thing was the 272 steps up to the biggest cave and the second was the monkeys aligning the walkway. Luckily, we would experience both.
Overlooking the whole area around Batu Caves is the world’s largest statue of Murugan. (A Hindu Diety) After taking a few pictures of the statue, we then began our ascent up the four hundred foot staircase. It didn’t take long for us to spot the dozens of monkeys along the side of the stairway. Before long, one grabbed a carton of juice and began to drink it. It was obvious that they were working the crowd looking for any scrap of food to steal. When they found something, they were quick to attack.
At the top of the stairs we finally entered the temple. Just inside the entrance I was surprised to see souvenir vendors selling their wares. Apparently a temple is not holy enough to keep enterprising souls at bay. Once again, they weren’t intrusive and we moved right through into the Cathedral Cave. This large opening in the limestone housed several Hindu shrines. We stood around for a few minutes observing many people practicing their faith before exploring the rest of the large open cave.
After walking around some more and finding nothing else, we soon began our trip back to the bottom. Once again we took some time to admire the monkeys and snapped photos whenever it seemed right. There are a couple of other caves to visit at the site, but we weren’t able to see them. Of course the real draw of Batu Caves is the temple and the monkeys. We were satisfied in seeing both. After twenty minutes of sitting around in a small restaurant nearby, our driver gathered everyone up and we headed back for the city.
Our driver dropped us off at the hotel around 6pm. I was rather underwhelmed with the tour, but in good spirits given that it was my birthday. Somehow I managed to talk Jasmine into letting us go back to the mall under the Petronas Towers for some more Chili’s. I know eating Amercian food in Malaysia is horrible, but we have been away from home for almost 11 months now and a treat is just what the doctor ordered.
While my birthday wasn’t too eventful, it still was a fun day. We really enjoyed the Batu Caves and Shawn Reece had a lot of fun watching the crazy monkeys steal everyone’s food & drinks!