This weekend, for a break from the usual pace, we set off for Genting. Now, I’ve mentioned it before on this very blog, but just to recap, the Genting Highlands is a place that deserves at least something of an explanation. First of all, it’s home to Malaysia’s only casino. Second of all, it’s probably the only entertainment resort reachable in any sort of reasonable time frame from Kuala Lumpur. But the third and most unusual element of the whole place is its exact location; requiring a one hour bus ride from KL Sentral, followed by a 10/15-minute cable car that at times is more or less perfectly vertical, the whole resort – neon lights, tacky signs and everything – is literally perched atop a mountain peak; so high up in fact, that the temperature drops a good 10 degrees compared to Kuala Lumpur’s average. People go up there to gamble, to bask in the cooler climate and to have a ‘good day out’. What I had heard however, was that it was also possibly one of the tackiest places I’d ever be in. So with that, we packed up our stuff, made our way to KL Sentral to get our bus at 1pm on Saturday (seemingly, when we turned up to book tickets the previous day, the earliest bus that was available already was only at 1pm, and the latest back on Sunday at 6.30pm). We’d gotten up quite late that morning so we wound up packing at warp speed, hopping on the coach down at KL Sentral (and they weren’t joking when they said the buses were busy) and before long, we were driving up impossibly-steep inclines, the bus barely able to make it up the hill as we watched cars and motorbikes zip by, before reaching the cable car station, which is where we got our first taste of how the weekend was going to go.
Stretching out in front of us and snaking back and forth any number of times, was a queue that put silence on us almost immediately – it turns out, there’s only one or two ways to get up to the peak and the main one is the cable car, and when the population of KL needs to cool down, they head straight here in their droves.
The cable car journey, barring the obvious discomfort of sitting in a swinging glass box high up above the mountains, was quite scenic. And at first, there was plenty to take in; lush rainforest, mountain peaks, the mist rolling in off the mountains and so on. Initially, everything was peaceful enough as we continued our ascent, sometimes narrowly passing some bush below, sometimes passing over wide valleys, and gradually getting steeper and steeper as we ascended further and further into the mist. And, no joke, it was almost like that, that we suddenly found ourselves shrouded in dense fog, unable to see beyond two cable cars either in front or behind us, travelling blindly up the side of this mountain incline. The Genting cable car is seemingly one of Asia’s, if not the absolute, longest cable car rides and the journey went on through the mist for what seemed like an eternity before finally, just as suddenly as the mist had rolled in, a building appeared literally out of nowhere and we rolled in – with me literally leaping out as soon as the doors opened, determined not to end up taking another trip on the cable car until it was entirely necessary. The second taste of Genting; from the moment we got off the cable car, we were literally plunged straight into a shopping centre, complete with throngs of people, all seemingly seeking to make a getaway for the weekend and simultaneously take in some cool mountain air.
If you’ve never been to the Genting Highlands before, you can actually become quite easily lost in fact, or failing that, you could quite easily go the whole weekend without actually ever being outside. I read before we left that ‘tunnels connect everywhere’ throughout the resort, but that’s not really a fair statement; what they mean is, tunnels are the main thoroughfare that connect absolutely everywhere, to such an extent that you should just dismiss any ideas you had about taking in a cool, crisp mountain walk from one part of the overpriced resort to the next. We walked through this apparent labyrinth of tunnels for nearly 20 minutes, before finally emerging outside the front of our hotel, the Theme Park Hotel, a building not only constructed in the late 60’s, but very much still looking like it belongs to that era. The nice touch however, for those slightly perturbed at the fact that the whole mountain has been destroyed to make way for a bunch of hotels, theme parks and amusements, is that this year they’ve constructed all their Christmas decorations out of recycled plastics, like water cooler bottles and so on. If you’re anything like us though, you’ll soon be asking yourself what they’re going to do with all this trash once Christmas has passed. Best not to think too hard about it.
The resort itself, at first glance (and second, third, etc) looks, without any hint of doubt, to be one of the tackiest places on earth. The walls of the hotels look as if their last (and only) lick of paint was during their construction, the theme park looks, for want of a better word, ‘worn’ to put it mildly, and the whole thing from the off-white stain-dashed walls of the older hotels to the hideous neon rainbow colours of the newer ‘First World Hotel’ looks like it could really do so much better. In a way though, the whole setup, especially when the mist clears slightly and you can see the neighbouring mountain peaks, with their rainforests and lush foliage, comes across as quite unbelievable.
Not ones to linger though, we headed for the ‘First World’ indoor theme park, to see what, beyond the seemingly tacky exterior of the place, Genting really had to offer us. There can be absolutely no doubt; even on the inside of the place, it apparently follows the same thought-process as the whole of Blackpool; as long as people pay for it and it gives them a thrill, it doesn’t matter how tacky or cheap it seems. Our first stop, believe it or not though, was to go out in full sympathy with our currently freezing European brethren still at home and pay money (quite a lot of it) to go to the ‘Snow World’ attraction, which promises a snow-ridden ice-cold experience. Certainly, looking at people coming out, it was exactly that and as I put on my oversized coat, and my undersized gloves and headed in, it became all too-true; quite simply, us going back to Europe anytime soon, is not a possibility. The chamber was frozen to -7 degrees and as a plume of snow fell down on us, we were already pondering how early we could leave without looking completely ridiculous. As it turned out, as my ears started to suffer what felt like frostbite, my feet became soaked from the lack of snow boots, and for whatever reason free ice cream was distributed, we lasted around 25 minutes before having to bail straight back out into relative heat again, glad to be back in Malaysia’s tropical embrace (even if it was still cool highlands air).
From there, and in the middle of a place where everything cost money and was incredibly expensive, it was time to figure what next to do with our dwindling funds…