Backpacking in Malaysia: Batu Caves, Hindu Shrine and Snake Handling

Backpacking in Malaysia: Batu Caves, Hindu Shrine and Snake Handling

We made the trip to the town of Batu, which is north east of Kuala Lumpur, and only about 1 hour by bus. The reason for the trip would be to visit the Batu Caves, a famous Hindu Shrine built within natural caves and rock formations on the edge of the town of Batu. The idea was in my Berlitz guide to Malaysia, and was also recommended to me by Richboy and Ricky (two Northern Irish friends who had also been there). Plus it meant we got to see something in Malaysia, away from the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, where I toured the main sights, drank in the Beatles Bar and visited the famous Twin Towers.


We were having breakfast in Dunkin Donuts (of all places) in Kuala Lumpur Sentral Station (deliberately spelt like that) when I noticed a young lady reading the Lonely Planet guide to SE Asia (the “on a shoestring” one). I gathered that she must speak English, or even be English to read such a book, so I ventured over and asked her if she knew of any decent hostels in Kuala Lumpur. We hadn’t booked a hostel there, and the Berlitz guide listed only the posh hotels, so we were needing somewhere to stay in the capital city, before we even thought about heading to Batu.

The lady in question was indeed English, Niki, and had just been on the same Singapore sleeper train as us. We spoke for a while and in her book I highlighted about 4potential hostels/guest houses to stay in. The one which sprung out immediately was “Wheeler’s Guest House”, for some reason, maybe because I’d been playing Ash on my iPod on the sleeper train. Their lead singer being Tim Wheeler from Downpatrick, Northern Ireland hence the subliminal connection. We decided there and then that our twosome should become a threesome. And so Natalja and I were joined by Niki for the day trip to the Batu caves. From Kuala Lumpur Sentral, we went one station north on the metro system, getting out at Pasar Seni. The KRT (metro) cost just 1 Ringitt, which is around 20 pence. I had directions to Wheelers and it was barely 9 am, we had to hope that they were open and we could at least leave our bags there for the day before checking into our room.

After a walk down some dirty dingy unrecognised side streets, we passed a bar called “The Beatles Bar” that immediately made me smile. It was another of those moments influenced totally by fate and random decisions. If I’d never have spoke to Niki, we’d never have walked past that bar. On the next street, Jalan Tun H.S. Lee would be Wheeler’s Guest House. With a red sign, it was noticeable on the approach, nestled in behind a lady selling drinks and chocolate, up an alley way and a flight of stairs and into a bright welcoming reception: we had found Wheeler’s Hostel. “We need a room for 2 for the night please” came the request. “No problem” was the reply. Phew we thought. Even better the room was ready, so we checked in, paid the money – 56 Ringitts (around £5 a night each I think) and were sweating badly and in need of a shower. We hadn’t had one for just over a day, from our time in the hostel in Singapore (City Backpackers). We were in room 211. I let the ladies go first (we let Niki into our room to have a shower and chill out while we got ready), the sweat was dripping, so we turned on the fan. I stripped down to my very tight y-fronts in front of Niki. I was in so much need for a shower I didn’t care. And it was nice to be fresh and ready for the day out.

The hostel was clean, friendly and very different – almost arty. Shit, greasy walls and cracked ceilings went hand in hand with natural fish and tortoise tanks in a colourful reception. It felt like home. Stuck in the middle of a smelly Malaysian capital, the trip to the Batu Caves could finally begin. The bus to Batu was bus number 11a, and it departed at a location only 5 minutes walk, north of our hostel. As we arrived at the bus stop, the bus came. The cost for a single ticket was 2.5 Ringitts. We were the only 3 foreigners on the bus. We were the only ones heading for Batu Caves. The bus journey was as ever scenic. I checked out the temples and mosques as we left Kuala Lumpur behind, before a short bit of countryside road and arrival at a junction with a flyover. Rather than in the middle of nowhere and in isolation, this was actually the entrance to Batu Caves. I had anticipated a much more spectacular approach, but our eyes were already feasted upon the gates, the steps up to the caves and a massive golden Hindu statue. There it was as random as anything – The Batu Caves. In the foreground a surprised football pitch looked bewilderedly at me, from a rusty iron goal post with torn netting, it was surely one of the most finely located football pitches in the world. Batu FC I joked as I dandered past a net I can only imagine Warren Feeney would have revelled in the busting of.

At this point though, before we entered the caves, it was time for something to eat. There were a wide range of restaurants, cafes and food places in the main car park/precinct in front of the caves. We chose an Indian restaurant called “Amutha Restoran” and sat down inside, as the only 3 non-locals. The Indian waiter was very pleasant and spoke good English. We ordered ice tea (Natalja and I) and a cola (Niki). Then we each ordered some type of “chicken meal”, it was traditional Indian/Malaysian food and must have been about the fifth or sixth style of food we had eaten in the first 3 weeks of travelling. Before we began, the waiter came over with two large leaves, for Natalja and I. Our meal would be eaten from a leaf today rather than a plate. Niki’s choice came on a more European style silver plate. I was intrigued, as the waiter brought our food over bit by but.

On top of the leaf he placed spicy Indian chicken, rice, vegetables and many other random food items, which included poppadums and butternut squash. It was hot and spicy and went down a treat. Natalja wasn’t so keen as she doesn’t like spicy food, but I was loving it and ate as much as I could. Straight after some Kiwi Crush was bought by me in the shop at the bottom of the steps. It said that the steps were quite strenuous to climb up, but I wasn’t convinced. And I was right. There may have been 272 steps, but it was hardly a killer for my legs! It was easy, given that I’d later walk 40 miles in 2 days in the Blue Mountains in Australia!

The journey up the steps was made more incredible by the constant monkeys running around, almost jumping on top of us, and one monkey even stole a bottle of juice from a tourist at the bottom of the steps. The steps had been conquered, and we were at the entrance to the main cave at Buta, often referred to as the “Cathedral Cave”, but better known locally (or in its best English translation Gua Kecil). This was the time for some very interesting moments.

At the top of the steps there were lots of animals. The snake caught my eye immediately! Natalja and Niki were the first to touch a snake. I was the first to put one round my neck. It was a first for me. I had already seen real snakes in zoos and animal sanctuarys before (including in Belfast, Whipsnade and even Rotorua). The previous week we had seen a dead snake at Kuan Tzu Ling in Taiwan, and also in Taiwan’s capital city of Taipei, we saw white and yellow snakes in the famous “Snake Alley” area of the night market. I had wanted my photo took with a snake in Taipei that night, but photography was banned and they were only trying to make money from the punters. Plus they were skinning snakes alive in “Snake Alley” in one of the shops. Here at the entrance to Batu Caves, I was handed a snake, which I put round my neck, aided by the snake trainer. A few coincidences were to follow. The snake trainer’s name was Joe (my Dad’s name) and the snake’s name was Daniel (my brother’s name).

This was the yellow and white snake (see photo). The second snake was called Jackie (my Uncle’s name). And there we had the coincidences. I had the yellow snake, Daniel round my neck for a good few minutes. We each had to pay 10 Ringitts for the privilege. But it was well worth it. Joe was a great guy and made us all feel comfortable with this wriggly animal round our necks. I preferred the yellow and white snake to the greyey brown one anyway, plus it was bigger. I wasn’t sure if either snake was lethal or poisonous, but I didn’t ask. There was no time for fear. Niki and Natalja both tried the snakes round their necks as well. It was a pleasing moment, and added that extra touch of finesse to the random trip to Batu Caves. Lurking nearby to the snakes were monkeys in abundance and also some kind of weird chameleon creatures (lizard/dinosaur resembling reptiles), but having the snake slithering round my neck was enough.

We were now inside Gua Kecil, it was very dark and mysterious for a start. We expected the caves to lead somewhere and be very long and big. They were certainly very high, and compared with caves I’ve been in they were big! However after walking past a gift shop and two temples (all inside the cave itself, we found ourselves at the back of the main cave, Gua Kecil.

We climbed up the final steps to a small area, and that was it. It was a dead end! I looked at my Berlitz guide once again where a golden shining Hindu Shrine was shown (in artistic detail). We couldn’t see that cave anywhere, but had a walk round again. The main temple had a constant ceremony on, with a guy talking very fast in his native tongue. All the guys were topless while they worshipped.

The Main Temple in there was known as “Sri Velayuthar Swamy.” It was very impressive, having such an open ceremony in front of the public, and us tourists/travellers snapping away, enjoying the views. From the top of the caves there were stalagmites and stalagtites hanging down. Some of the side walls had been painted which angered us a bit, we felt the cave should have been preserved.

After a final walk round Gua Kecil, we searched for the image in my book and couldn’t find it. One of the guys near the snakes told us we were in the right cave, but we decided to go back down the steps and look in the other two caves. On the way we bought some postcards and stamps. There were two other caves there, open to the public. Gua Kecil though, was the only free one. And there are dozens of other caves, not even open to the public, so we never saw them. The other two caves that we could see were down at the bottom and were much smaller and more commercial/ruined by human intervention. As such we had to pay to get into these two caves. It was 15 Ringitts entrance into what was known as “Cave Villa”, it features the Art Gallery Cave and the Poet Cave. We paid in anyway, but it wasn;t really worth it.

We got to see peacocks, chickens, snakes, crocodiles, monkeys and lizards. Almost all of them were in their cages/tanks and it was basically a mini zoo. We enjoyed it all for what it was worth, and also there was a lot of art and poetry on the walls, most of it written in Malay. We were also horrified at the random animal/human statues, including a horse with a big willy underneath and a lady with 8 arms.

We exited this paid area quite quickly and walked over to the right, where there was a Hindu Temple, with the golden architecture on top. This was similar to the one in my book, and looked pretty against a backdrop of unpredictable trees and rocks.

To the left of this, and in front of the football pitch we saw on our way in, was a massive statue of a Hindu God, who looked like a mixture between the Incredible Hulk, Tony Blair and Homer Simpson. It certainly looked a bit silly to me.

On that note, we had seen all we needed to see at Batu. We waited on a random street corner, where we eventually flagged down and got the 11a Bus back into Kuala Lumpur. Although the Batu Caves were great, and definitely worth a visit, we were slightly disappointed not to find the actual Shrine shown in the photo in my guide. Small caves, great atmosphere and history. And the best bit was having the snake round my neck. My usual confidence was back. Another location had been ticked off on our magical random mystery tour round the globe. The next post on here will be all about Malaysia’s capital city…Kuala Lumpur.

What was it? – The Batu Caves

Where was it? – Batu, Malaysia

What are they? – Ancient caves where Hindu’s have worshipped

What’s so special? – Once a year (in January or February), thousands of Hindu’s flock to these caves to worship during the great Thaipusam Festival. Its a holy shrine

Who went? – Niki, Natalja, Jonny.

How to get there? – Number 11a bus from near Pasar Seni, Kuala Lumpur (takes around 1 hour or so and costs 2.50 Ringitts)

Strange Currencies – Malaysian Ringitts

Key Song – The Hindu Times – Oasis (did Noel Gallagher pen that song here??)

Best Food – Indian Curry and Vegetable eaten from a large leaf

Best Drink – Natural Kiwi Juice

Where to stay? – Kuala Lumpur and bus it out to Batu. No hostels in Batu.

Where we stayed – Wheelers Guest House, Pasar Seni, Kuala Lumpur.

Some videos of our trip to Batu while backpacking in Malaysia:

BUS TO BATU:

ARRIVAL AT BATU CAVES, AND FOOTBALL PITCH:

NATALJA WITH SNAKE ROUND HER NECK:

MONKEYS AT BATU CAVES:

LIVE WORSHIP FROM MAIN TEMPLE IN BATU CAVES:

TOP OF BATU CAVES:

INSIDE BATU CAVES, Alligator behind cage:

UNPROUD AS A PEACOCK:

OASIS – THE HINDU TIMES:

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