Malaysia – Kuala Lumpur
Last year I had planned a trip from Singapore, through Malaysia and into Thailand, but a family emergency lead me to call the trip off short. This year I returned to Malaysia after only being able to spend about 20 hours there the year before, but my intention this time was to spend around two weeks just in Malaysia (with a brief weekend stop in Singapore again on the way back).
For most people Kuala Lumpur is the starting point of any trip to the country. My first piece of advice, everything in Malaysia is cheap, including the five star hotels in KL. A three day stay for two people in the Shangri-La costs as much as a single night in the London equivalent, so if you’re up for it it’s worth making the investment. (I won’t go into the spiritual repercussions of doing so, this is one of my travelogue articles as you can tell, not an Islamic one).
Our first day in KL started with a very long nap as we were both very jetlagged. After our initial wanderings we made our way to KL Menara or KL Tower, which much like the Petronas Towers offers you great views of the city, the main difference being the viewing deck being a circular platform so you end up with a more panoramic view. From there we made our way to Bukit Bintang, a bit of a shopping area just on the fringes of the city centre, this is where you will find a lot of Arab residents and tourists to KL. For those who are interested you can also pick up some oud or perfume in this part of town. Oud comes from this part of the world, but from what I can tell the locals don’t really use it and export most of it to the Gulf, so I’m not sure which of the few shops around are actually any good. I decided to make my purchase from Oud Line, which I found out about before we flew out, and it seemed to be the only large well stocked shop we came across during our travels.
The next day was our first full day in Malaysia and we started off at the Petronas Towers. Another bit of advice, we got there around 8:30 in the morning on a Sunday when that whole area of KL feels deserted, but yet there are still tourists queuing up waiting for tickets in this small antechamber area in the bottom of one of the towers. They’ve recently started allowing people to pre-book tickets online and it’s definitely worth it if you’re keen on going up the towers, otherwise I’ve heard the wait can go on for hours. The tour includes a visit to the skybridge which connects the two towers, and then a trip to the top where, as you can expect, you can get a great view of the city. Though be warned, pollution and rain is quite common in KL so you may not necessarily end up with clear skies. The area around the towers is made up of a large complex containing a number of different things, one of which is the KL Aquarium, which was OK, there’s also the Suria KLCC shopping mall if you’re into that sort of thing. Though given the glitz and glamour of the place I was wondering what normal Malaysians must think about it.
From the the City Centre, we made our way to the colonial district, which as my brother pointed out, actually makes you feel like you’re in Asia. The City Centre is a mass of skyscrapers, expatriates and big business, but KL certainly hasn’t forgotten its roots, once you leave KLCC you’ll soon be reminded that 1) this is actually still South East Asia and 2) that this place used to be a massive rainforest. There’s a still a lot of greenery around pockets of KL, particularly if you walk between KLCC and the Colonial District. You also will end up walking past the edges of an area known as Kampung Baru, the traditional Malay area of town that still has a few wooden houses. The main sites in the Colonial District are the Jamek Mosque, built in a Victorian-Moorish style of architecture familiar to many sub-continentals, Merdeka (Independence) Square, as well as a few museums that follow on from the architecture of the Jamek Mosque. Not too far down the road is Masjid Negara (National Mosque) which took over as the main mosque of Kuala Lumpur from the Jamek Mosque when it was built. The mosque, like many modern mosques in Malaysia, is a mixture of different architectural styles, mostly modernist, but the Mihrab is built in a beautiful Andalusian style:
Nearby the masjid are a number of sights, the Islamic Arts Museum was, given my addiction to museums and Islamic art, high up on my list and it’s definitely worth paying a visit. Reading descriptions of pieces it’s clear to tell the people who work here are enthusiastic about the subject matter, there area number of permanent and temporary exhibitions, plus a well stocked shop with original calligraphy pieces, and even a Lebanese restaurant. Up the hill from the museum is the KL Bird Park, which was nice to visit, but it’s evident a number of the birds don’t enjoy being in their cages. If you’re interested nearby the mosque and museum is KL’s old train station, built again in a Victorian-Moorish style but on a much grander scale. Think the Brighton Pavilion x 2. Heading back towards Jamek Masjid we visited the Central Market south of the mosque. The market is in Chinatown, and at night when the market is open you can end up going down narrow streets clogged up by stalls which makes for an interesting experience.
The next day we travelled to the Batu Caves north of KL. You can take a taxi which is quicker, but I would recommend taking the train from KL Sentral which is a lot cheaper and doesn’t take too much longer. The caves form an important part of Hindu culture in Malaysia and KL in particular, and there are a number of temples located in numerous locations around the caves. Aside from the temples the natural scenery is definitely worth checking out. There are about 200 steps leading up to the main area up into the mountain, there are large steps along the way that you can rest on before carrying on. We were both under the impression the area would be a lot larger than we thought it would be, but we ended up going up the stairs and coming back down again in just under an hour. The Batu Caves were the last thing we wanted to see in KL, so the rest of the day was spent filling it up with shopping mall wanderings, and also taking the opportunity to take pictures of the Petronas Towers at night. We also decided to have a wander around Kampung Baru, which ironically given that it lies in the shadow of the Petronas Towers feels like a world away. There’s a large hawker centre on the main thoroughfare going through the area which was quite busy when we walked through in the early afternoon, which is usually a good sign of what the food is like there, but unfortunately we didn’t get to try any (my tips on Hawker Stalls will follow in a subsequent piece). The next day we made our way to Puduraya Bus Station (or Pudu Sentral) to take a bus to Penang, which will follow in the next article God willing.