Temples, Crafts and Goodbyes

Blue mosque in Kuala Lumpur.

By Carla Sue Broecker

With Singapore in the Seven Seas Voyager’s “rearview mirror,” so to speak, we sailed toward Port Klang, Malaysia. It is the port for Kuala Lumpur some 44 miles away from the cruise terminal. Klang town itself is a very busy port and can be reached in about 20 minutes from the ship. The shore excursion of choice for this one-day stop was a traditional six-hour tour of the “Highlights of Kuala Lumpur” by coach.

We had been to KL, as it is known, several years ago. Back then, we were impressed by the city’s modern infrastructure, and this time we wanted to see what new changes had come about. The city’s name translates to “muddy confluence” or “muddy city.” It is the capital of Malaysia and the country’s largest city, with a greater metropolitan population of more than 7 million people.

88-story Petronas Twin Towers in downtown Kuala Lumpur.

Forty minutes into our excursion before reaching the city limits of KL, we had a photo stop at the Blue Dome Mosque. Officially known as the Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Mosque, it is the country’s largest mosque. It has a stunning blue and silver dome and four 467 foot tall minarets on the four corners of the structure. There wasn’t enough time on our packed schedule to go inside, but we enjoyed a beautiful view from the entrance gates.

Then, we were off to Thean Hou Temple. It is a Buddhist Temple that was constructed in the 19th century and finished in 1894. We were able to go inside and see the entire place. It has an open courtyard with hundreds of bright, red lanterns overhead. Its red pillared entrance and golden swooping roofs are nothing short of spectacular.

Our next stop was the Sri Kandaswamy Temple. A Hindu temple, it was completely different from our previous two stops. Completed in 1902, its architectural style came from Southern India and is known as Dravidian. It is characterized by pyramidal shapes and is highly ornamented with very colorful ceramic figures.

Now, if you want to see a doozy of an official residence, you need travel no further than our next stop: the Istana Negara, home of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Monarch of Malaysia. Construction began in 2007 and was completed in 2011. This was only a photo stop from the entrance gate, but what an entrance it is. Included are enclosed arches where soldiers stand at attention. At certain hours, they are mounted on horseback. The whole view in glorious sunshine with bright blue skies is absolutely stunning.

Having seen a number of overwhelming structures on this excursion, it was interesting to next visit Independence Square in the downtown area. It is a lovely, grassy area and was formerly a cricket green. It is the actual site where in 1957, the Malaysian flag was hoisted for the first time – signaling the country’s independence.

Our final stop was the one that most of the crowd was looking forward to: a visit to the iconic Petronas Twin Towers. These César Pelli-designed twin towers were the tallest buildings in the world until 2004 and are still the tallest twin towers. This is what we wanted to take time to fully appreciate. That said, within view from the Petronas Towers is the Signature Tower that is under construction and will top out taller than its twin-tower neighbor.

Thean Hou Buddhist temple in Kuala Lumpur.

The Petronas Towers are 88 stories tall, constructed of concrete and clad in shiny steel and glass. Its design has many curved lines and is not simply tall and rectangular. The more you look, the more you see the beauty and thought that Pelli, an Argentine-born architect, put into what many think is his most significant work.

Back on the bus, we headed for “home” or ship, looking forward to a late afternoon libation and dinner with the “Social Travelers.” This is a group of people who are sailing by themselves. The ship has a social hostess, Marla Sanders, from Nashville. She is our friend and she looks after this group to make sure they are having a good time and meet others on the cruise. At times, we pitch in and help Marla, who also is an entertainer and once in a while appears as part of the evening entertainment in the ship’s Constellation Theatre.

We awoke the next morning in Penang, Malaysia. We were sort of “templed out” and needed a rest from overwhelming religious structures. So, we scheduled a revisit to a place we visited two years ago. It was a “Batik Creation Experience,” and it is exactly what the title implies. After a pleasant breakfast on the top deck overlooking the really lovely Penang Port, we headed off to a batik factory.

The factory has a shop where there are all sorts of wonderful dresses, shirts, scarves and other things with batik designs for sale. But the main objective was to create our own batik piece. In this case, it was a four-by-four foot creation that could serve as a scarf or wall hanging.

Having done this before, we knew what to expect. In advance of our arrival, the shop prepared a piece for each of us and had it mounted on a frame ready to be painted. The fabric is cotton and the design is “printed” on the fabric in paraffin wax.

Chalong Temple at Phuket, Thailand.

Each of us selected small bottles of water-soluble paint in concentrated colors. Armed with the colors we liked and a bottle of clear water, we set out to create. The purpose of the water was to dilute the concentrated color that is dabbed on the flowers and leaves. It allows for the dilution of the color while the wax design keeps the colors separated.

When the design is complete, the shop allows them to dry. They are then boiled in water to remove the wax and then ironed. With the wax gone, there are white lines remaining to create the typical batik look. Our creations were delivered to the ship before we sailed away that evening.

That night’s entertainment was an Australian vocalist named Beven Addinsall, who was once a child star on an Australian variety show. He has been entertaining on cruise ships for quite a few years. We not only enjoyed his performance on stage, we had dinner with him and his fiance the night before, where he was so very charming. We were surprised to hear them say that they were getting ready to move in two weeks from Australia to Penang to live permanently.

We closed the evening with a trip to the casino and my favorite penny slot machine. I am still down $14! I don’t think they are interested in giving money away.

Phuket was our next stop and last stop in Thailand. When we arrived, the dock was filled with souvenir vendors and my mouth began to water. Brad’s did as well because they were cooking local Thai foods on the dock, and there is nothing he likes better than sampling local food. So, we went off on a relatively short excursion.

The first stop was a cashew nut factory. The process is interesting and the opportunity to purchase cashews with all sorts of flavors was fun. We next drove to Chalong Temple, which is practically a whole campus with all sorts of beautiful buildings. The most interesting though was not beautiful at all. It is best described as a brick chimney approximately 10 feet tall. In it, the faithful can place huge quantities of firecrackers, which are set off in grateful appreciation for prayers answered. The sound can be deafening.

Brad’s batik creation.

We got back to the ship in time to say goodbye to the ship’s captain, Felice Patruno. He was off on vacation and we were going to miss him. We have had dinner with him several times, all of which were punctuated with much laughter and storytelling.

He first headed toward the sea at the age of 16 despite objections from his family. He accepted his first post as a cadet on a cargo ship on his birthday in 1980. He subsequently served on 23 Carnival ships. He has authored three books on shipboard safety and created numerous safety-training programs. He joined Regent in 2009 and soon became master of the Seven Seas Mariner, a ship similar to the Voyager where we are today. We are sincerely going to miss him and look forward to sailing together again in the near future.

Next week, we will get to Sri Lanka and India. VT