I had a lot of free time on my hands in Kuala Lumpur. Based on everything I’ve heard from everyone else, food was the main attraction in Malaysia’s capital. Obviously, you’ve also got the iconic Petronas Twin Towers, but aside from that, there isn’t much to do but eat and shop and shop and eat. Although I tried my best, I couldn’t spend every minute of every day eating.
I decided to go to the famed Batu Caves. I wasn’t sure what to expect but a friend I met in Penang excitedly told me that it was awesome. I should have kept in mind that she was literally the most optimistic person I’ve ever met. She described everything as “AMAZING” or “THE BEST”.
It was a journey to get to Batu Caves in the first place. According to my hostel receptionist, it should only take 30 minutes by train. It ended up taking almost two hours, although I’ll admit that some of that time was spent wandering aimlessly and waiting around.
I had to walk to the LRT Station to get to KL Sentral, then take a 20-minute bus ride to transfer to Sentul Station and then take the slowest train I have ever been on all the way up to Batu Caves.
Heads up, I’m not going to sugarcoat this place at all. It is one of the tackiest places I have ever seen. Aside from the massive Golden Statue and the gorgeous natural formations, everything about Batu Caves seems super fake and manufactured specifically for tourists. By itself, the caves are cool and fun to explore. When you throw in cheap sculptures everywhere, it takes away from the magic.
There is a lot that takes away from the magic, actually. The hordes of pigeons that people feed for some reason… The aggressive monkeys that look more pitifully emaciated than cute… And of course, the hordes of people that kind of just… exist.
I spent less than an hour there after my friend told me that it could be an all-day thing. I mean, like, how long does it take you to climb stairs if it takes you that long? My calves did burn towards the end, and unfortunately, the coolness-to-calves-burning ratio was way lower than it should have been.
Is it worth going to? I mean, there’s not much else to do in Kuala Lumpur. Having wasted yesterday nursing a hangover, I felt obligated to do a little exploring and decided I might as well go see them. Most of me still feels like it wasn’t worth the effort.
You have to climb almost 300 steps to reach the end of the cave and honestly, I would have climbed another 1000 if that meant that there was something better waiting at the end of those 1000. It just kind of ends abruptly. There’s really no “final” destination that makes your jaw drop. When an attraction starts off with a majestic gold statue, your expectations kind of soar through the roof a little bit. The statue was probably the coolest part.
If you’ve been to Thailand or Laos or Vietnam or anywhere else in Malaysia, you’ll have seen limestone karst formations before. It won’t be anything new to you. The whole place feels kind of like a sad, abandoned amusement park. They even have a large cage where they lock up a bunch of birds for people to look at. There are a lot more things about it that make you involuntarily roll your eyes. I can’t remember them because it was just that forgettable.
Basically, I can see why people go but also, I can’t. That doesn’t really make sense, but neither does Batu Caves. I read that it started off as a somewhat holy site but any semblance of sacredness is definitely gone in favor of tacky statues and souvenir stands.
I’ve actually felt that way about a lot of things in South East Asia. Maybe it caters to a different kind of traveler but I think that many of these attractions should be left as is. Not everything has to compete with Disneyworld. If something is already amazing, then it doesn’t need irrelevant things added to it to try to make it better. It takes away from the authenticity and makes the whole place seem fake and manufactured.
Here’s a monkey with cancer to end on an even lower note.