After the world-famous Petronas Towers, one of the most visually arresting sites in the Kuala Lumpur area is the Batu Cave system: huge limestone caverns housing some of the largest Hindu temples outside of India.
Although tours decidedly exist, Mr M & I are decidedly not Tour People. We determined to set out on our own for the Batu Caves.
We had no idea it would turn into one of our biggest adventures of the trip.
Day # 10,674: Armed with a map of the city, we headed for the metro, which took us to the central station in Kuala Lumpur, where we got on a train to the caves. The trip was SO easy. Don’t fall victim to the overcrowded tour groups.
We stepped out of the train station and just like that, there it was.
As we headed for the Temple Cave entrance, we passed several, smaller stand-alone temples highlighted with incense smoke and candles. I took off my shoes and, wrapped up in a turquoise scarf, knelt on the floor for a moment of reverence.
The 272 steps up to the Temple Cave entrance are guarded by the world’s tallest, gold-plated Hindu god Lord Murugan (he’s 140 feet tall!).
The entrance was also guarded by a whole bunch of long-tailed macaque monkeys. Surprise, surprise, monkeys scare me. Perhaps it was too many lectures in vet school about communicable, zoonotic diseases- Hepatitis B, anyone?- or the gory pictures of simian attacks that we saw in primate medicine.
All of which, much to Mr. M’s dismay, I described to him in brutal detail.
Many of our fellow cave visitors did not have access to my grim tales and thus, had no qualms offering food to some of the large male macaques… even trying to pet the babies with their mothers just nearby.
Oy vay, people. I’m convinced “When Animals Attack” footage is Darwinian selection in action.
Mr. M & I weren’t alone in our healthy dose of fear-respect for the power of simians, as a lovely Malaysian woman visiting the temples on her own quietly asked if she could join us in navigating the Monkey Gauntlet on our way up the stairs.
Like many of the women of Kuala Lumpur, she was fully covered from the neck down, with only her hands and a half-moon of her face naked to the air.
It’s always remarkable to me how strongly-shared human emotion- be it fear, joy, grief- draws people together. As we started up the steps, two very different girls with two very different lives, we were bound tightly together for five short minutes in a shared panic over macaques, of all things.
The world is a funny place.
The Caves themselves are awe-inspiring, perhaps because they allow you to appreciate both the delicious, sacred detail of the shrines amid the epic scope of nature’s backdrop.
I’m fascinated by religion and the ritual of worship. The Batu Caves seemed one of the more fitting settings in which to rejoice the wonders of the world.
After visiting the shrines, Mr. M & I decided to take a ranger-guided tour of the limestone cave system itself.
Armed with flashlights, we headed into the caves and learned all about the caves’ unique ecosystem. The cave was teeeeming with bats, which also meant… lots & lots of guano (bat droppings).
Best not to stare up at the cave ceiling with mouth agape.
Just like in the “Planet Earth: Caves” episode- which, by the way, was filmed primarily in Malaysian Borneo- we saw huge piles of guano that supported hundreds of kinds of insects. Cockroaches and worms, in particular, were everywhere.
We even saw a mummified bat carcass that had fallen to the ground. I imagined taking it back with me in the interest of intellectual curiosity but foresaw an awkward exchange with customs as I tried to explain away a bat mummy in my carry-on.
We made our way back down all 272 steps to hit the loo before our train ride home.
Peeing in a foreign land has been the topic of many a finer post than mine, but I will say this: Pre-Asia, I couldn’t logistically make any sense out of some women’s seemingly supernatural ability to pee in the woods whilst camping or hiking or whatever.
Post-Asia Me remembers this age of innocence, laughs heartily, and keeps a supply of toilet paper in my backpack- ready for any terrain, just in case.
The afternoon’s daily torrential downpour signaled our time to catch the next train back to the city… as we left the peaceful caves of Kuala Lumpur, we had no idea what was to come…
Explore the rest of the day’s adventure getting caught up in tear gas and riots in Kuala Lumpur!
You Can Do It, Too!
Transportation to the Batu Caves: Again, it’s so easy! KTM Komuter trains on the Batu Caves- Port Klang line will take you from KL Sentral station in Kuala Lumpur directly to the foot of the Batu Caves. Something new to me as a westerner in my first predominately Muslim country were the female-only train cars out of Kuala Lumpur.
They’re designed to help lone female travelers feel safe and secure during their commute. As an aside, KL also has female-only taxi cabs… you have to specifically call for these to pick you up, and- obviously- you can’t have any guys in your group.
Batu Caves: Keep in mind that the caves are places of worship. Although you’ll see shameful tourists in far less, be better than that and aim to at least cover your knees for modesty’s sake. Bring a shawl to cover any bare shoulders. To enter the shrines, you’ll need to be barefoot, so easy-to-remove shoes are a plus.
If you’re planning on partaking of the caving tours (35 Ringgit apiece), be sure you wear closed-toe shoes. There were cockroaches a-plenty scurrying across the floor of the cave (not to mention LOTS of bat dung), and the flip flop-wearing gals in our group were none too happy about this. The Malaysian Nature Society will loan you flashlights for the length of the tour.