Driving us crazy

In Sydney a bad driver is either one who drives too aggressively or too erratically. Do the latter and the former will ensure that your drive is made a misery.

In Malaysia they just forgive you.

Thanks to the inflexible nature of their banking system we were forced to drive all the way from Kuantan to Kuala Lumpur and back again simply to pick up a cheque book. Mother in law demanded it.

B was initially terrified of driving in Malaysia, but after the easy drive of yesterday she figured that she could at least cope with the motorway between Kuantan and KL. Driving in KL was another matter as it is well known for its confusing road network and huge traffic jams. We figured that we’d find a train station on the outskirts and park there.

As we left drove away from the resort we heard the radio say that, on average, 17 Malaysian died in road accidents per day in 2008. It’s not difficult to understand why when you see them drive. Road rules are considered advisory only and frequently ignored.

They swerve from lane to lane, sometimes drive fast, sometimes crawl. Any gap seen, somebody wants to push in whether it makes sense or not. And everpresent scooters appear out of nowhere.

But Malaysian drivers are incredibly tolerant of the foibles of their countryfolk. If you need to change lanes at the last minute because you have almost missed your exit then they’ll generally let you in. There is surprisingly little use of the horn, even when someone cuts you off at the last moment.

Our journey didn’t start off well. We got a parking fine.

What happened was that before we set out for our roadtrip to KL we needed breakfast. We were driving through Kuantan when we spotted an open kopitiam, unusual as the Muslims were onto their fasting by now.

It was an Indian place, and we ate roti canai and drank really good Milo. When we returned a Kuantan council officer had just deposited a parking fine notice on our windscreen. We queried it with them and apparently you need to find a booth somewhere not so close to purchase a parking ticket. Fortunately, you can pay your fines in the same booths, so I crossed the road, found the booth and paid the rather small RM5 fine.

So now we were set. We drove out until we hit the tollway, where we were issued with a card. The motorway took us past palm oil and rubber tree plantations. Though the speed limit was 110 km/h B was driving over 140 km/h on the very good road surface. Others were overtaking us at even higher speeds.

We saw cops once. Intuition suggested that it was a good idea to slow down near the extensive rest areas along the highway and I was right.

The scenery varied between plantation and jungle until we approached the Genting Highlands area. Suddenly we were on winding roads through a mountainous region and at one stage we even drove through a tunnel. Here the scenery was very attractive, but it was raining as well.

We reached the outskirts of KL around the interesting rock formations of the Batu Caves. It had been suggested that we stop there, but it soon became obvious that the railway line was still under construction.

Soon afterwards we were lost on KL circuitous and confusing motorway system. We decided to try to get to Shah Alam or Petaling Jaya where we had been driven around and B was reasonably familiar with. But everytime we reached an exit for one destination there seemed another option to continue ahead and reach the same destination. And being able to actually make an exit often depended on which lane you were in.

Eventually we started seeing signs to Bangsar. Our ultimate destination was the Mid Valley Mall, located in Bangsar. We even saw a sign pointing towards Mid Valley. Traffic was getting steadily worse, so once in Bangsar B decided to pull over, find a parking spot and catch a taxi the rest of the way.

We found a spot near a shopping area. When we walked towards it we discovered that it was Taman Lucky, or Lucky Gardens. Our luck held and we quickly found a taxi driver willing to take us to Mid Valley.

The first problem was getting out from Taman Lucky. It was a Friday, which is the Muslim holy day and our route to the main road was past a mosque. Cars were double parked along the whole road and more were flowing in. Slowly we edged past them.

It turns out that had we continued just a little longer we would have made it to Mid Valley. Not bad seeing as we had no good map of the area and were pretty well lost once we came into KL! And it had taken us less than 3 hours to get there!

Picking up the chequebook took mere minutes. We did a little shopping, purchasing some CD’s to play in the car and hopefully keep Alex quiet.

Another taxi took us slowly through the traffic jam back to Taman Lucky. I tore my shorts as I tried to get out of the taxi as he had stopped too close to another car.

Again, we had almost no idea where to go in order to reach the E8 expressway back to Kuantan. Getting anywhere in KL was proving difficult with the thick traffic. Alex started crying his head off and the Sound of Music wasn’t working on him, nor the other “loud” soundtrack album I bought. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” on my mp3 player shut him up. Somehow, however, just by following signs and even getting a little muddled again we found a direct route back to the E8!

Suddenly the traffic thinned out and we were on our way again!

It was a quiet, easy drive (according to B) back to Kuantan. We reached there after 8pm and went straight off to look for food. Nara Seafood had been recommended. It’s south of the river and adjacent to a number of other seafood eateries. It was pretty quiet and the choices were largely limited to the breaking of the fast sets. We ate there, were not particularly impressed by the food, but continued to be impressed by B’s driving skills. She couldn’t believe it, she had just driven in KL!

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