Trina and I have been to Malaysia on numerous occasions since it is so close to Singapore. We first went to Langkawi in 2013, then Penang and Malacca in 2015. Oddly enough we have never been to the country’s capital, Kuala Lumpur. This year we decided to check out one of the closest major cities to Singapore. I was particularly interested in seeing the Petronas towers. We also wanted to see more malls. I am convinced that Southeast Asia has made malls into an art form, and apparently Malaysia has quite a few big ones.
Kuala Lumpur is located on the Peninsula Malaysia. It has approximately 1.7 million people in the city itself, but has 7.2 million in the metro area. The city was founded in 1859 after a number of Chinese started settling in the area in the 1840’s to mine tin. The name Kuala Lumpur means “Muddy Confluence” in Malay. The British had already established Straits Settlements throughout the peninsula by that time. They would eventually use KL as its capital of Selangor in 1880. The result of all these influences is a great diverse city.
Saturday, December 17
We departed from Singapore and arrived in KL an hour later. A very uneventful trip. We then took the train into KL Sentral, the central transportation hub of the city. Again, no problems there. At this point I tried to be smart and opted for us to take the KTM to Kuala Lumpur, where we would walk a short distance to the hotel. In my mind this sounded like a good idea, little did I realized that as I walked through KL Sentral there was a place for hotel pick ups. I assumed that my hotel did not have a free shuttle. This minor assumption would come back to haunt me over the next 3 hours.
After arriving at the old colonial era train station we promptly got lost upon exiting the car. We kept looking for the street that would send us to our hotel, but we just kept going in circles around a very large station with all of our luggage. It did not help that there were lots of stairs but few escalators. Apparently, the architects forgot to add those in 1910. After meandering around for quite a bit of time over bridges and walkways we finally spotted our hotel, the Majestic across a busy intersection. We were able to dodge the traffic without a cross walk to guide us. They did not matter anyways since cars and motorbikes do not stop in KL. We avoided entering what looked like another more accessible hotel and trudged up a steep hill to go through the entrance marked “Majestic”. It turns out that there are two entrances, the easier more convenient modern exit that we shunned, and the less accessible but clearly marked historical wing. When we finally made it to the top of the stairs we felt like we just got whisked back in time. We had to go through the Colonial Cafe during high tea to get to the modern wing. There were all sorts of patrons and a live jazz band.
We checked into the hotel in the modern side. After marveling at our room we decided to get dinner in the Golden Triangle. I found out to my dismay that the hotel offered free shuttles to KL Sentral as well as the malls. We could have saved 3 hours of unnecessary toil if I had been clear-headed enough to check with the hotel. In any event we made it to Pavilion KL where we ate dinner at Al Halabi Gourmet Restaurant, where they served Lebanese/Syrian food. We happily scarfed down lamb kebab and hummus while watching other patrons smoke hookahs.
After getting really full we watched Rogue One in the local cinema. So far our experience was similar to being in Singapore, but everything was in Ringgits. Fortunately, we had much planned for the next day.
Sunday, December 18
We woke up kind of late but decided to go to the Colonial Cafe for lunch/brunch. There was nobody there, so it was confusing when we were asked if we had a reservation. I guess people make reservations at all times. We settled on a parfait and chicken rice combination of food. After happily munching on our hybrid meal we hopped on the shuttle to explore on of Mid-valley mall to the south.
This massive structure contained floor after floor of stores and restaurants. It was impossible to determine where anything was located. The traffic flow of people was also confusing. Everyone was heading all sorts of directions. After being thoroughly perplexed we headed back to the hotel to see the Lake Gardens near our hotel. The shuttle ride was as uneventful as a commute through KL could be since there was traffic everywhere around the Mid-valley mall.
After arriving back to the hotel we took a quick walk to the nearby KL bird park. It was pretty neat to see all the birds free-roaming, though Trina and I feared any potential projectiles from an angry bird. There were plenty of tourists in this bird park so there were at least other targets.
After exploring for a bit we went to the Hornbill restaurant at the entrance. The satay was really good and we were surprised by the reasonable prices given its proximity to a tourist site.
We walked off our meal by exploring the Orchid and Hibiscus gardens across the street. The Hibiscus is the national flower and there were plenty of them in the garden. The highlight was being able to see the Petronas Towers and Menara KL from the little hill in the garden. It was a very relaxing and peaceful natural sanctuary. Much different than the craziness of the malls, which we were convinced was where 90% of the city’s population was at all times.
After getting back to the hotel we did some exercising and enjoyed the awesomeness that was our room.
Monday, December 19
The next day we started off with breakfast at one of the hotel’s restaurant, Contango. We were given just the option of having the buffet. Fortunately, that meant at least three continents worth of food choices. There were traditional American, English, Chinese, Malaysian and Middle Eastern breakfast staples. It was really hard to choose so we sampled as much as we could.
We then walked over to the National Mosque down the street from the hotel. In order to enter we had to cover ourselves and remove our shoes. The entire grounds were very clean and peaceful. Trina kept commenting how clean it was. There were numerous workers sweeping the floor. That combined with the no shoes policy explained the tidiness. Within the Mosque were the tombs for the former Prime Ministers of Malaysia. We were allowed to look at but not enter the main worship area. There were some friendly Mosque representatives there available to answer our questions about Islam, the Mosque and Malaysia in general. They were extremely knowledgeable and very friendly.
After returning the borrowed shawls we went to the Islamic Art Museum just up the hill. Again, it was very peaceful and tidy. There were a large collection of Islamic art from throughout Southeast Asia. I really liked the exhibits on the Mosque architecture throughout the world. It contained miniatures of some the largest Mosques in the world. I was struck by the wide variety of styles, but there were some very consistent features in everyone such as the minaret. One other thing we noticed was that these museums were quite empty. Trina and I theorized that everyone was at one of the numerous malls.
For lunch we stopped at the KL Sentral train station where I enjoyed ayam penyet, which is an Indonesian style chicken dish. It was really tasty but I just wished the restaurant had more napkins because my nose was running from all the spiciness.
After blowing my nose, we hopped on a train to the Batu Caves north of KL. The Batu Caves are a collection of large caverns in a ledge overlooking KL. The caves are sacred Hindu sites, so there were numerous temples built into the caves themselves. We climbed up the main ones. Along the way the local wildlife, pigeons and macaques, threatened to attack us. This made for an exhilarating climb. The steps were being repaired, this insured that all the tourists had to climb up one narrow section together. That made the ascent even more interesting. After eating so much food I was not in the best condition to climb those steps. Fortunately, Trina and I persevered and made it to the top. Inside we were amazed by the large cavernous caves. Yes, I am aware I just wrote “cavernous caves”. The opening must have been 10 stores high. We were also surrounded by macaques who were happily attacking tourists and playing with litter. After wandering around and avoiding the wildlife we headed to one of the caves on the ground level. It contained dioramas of Hindu stories. It was pretty neat to see, but it looked like a number of features of the cave, such as the waterfall, were man made.
Having our fill we headed back to the hotel. After a bit of exercise, (yeah I know I just climbed some steps, but it helps me stay awake), we went back to the Golden Triangle. There we had Japanese food and watched the movie “Sing!”. We originally wanted to watch “Moana”, but our alternative was entertaining enough.
Tuesday, December 20
For our last full day in KL we headed first to Chinatown where the Petaling street market is. It is an open air market consisting of numerous row houses. We went to Kim Lian Kee where we had my favorite dish, beef hor fun. The restaurant had a great view of the market area. We then wandered up and down the street shopping for knock-off sun glasses and gifts for the family.
When we were done we went over to Merdeka Square, where the former colonial administration building was located. It is now called the Sultan Abdul Samad building. As we crossed the river we saw Masjid Jamek, another Mosque, and the confluence of two very muddy rivers. That explains the name now. After taking some photos of the square and a massive Malaysian flag we went into the KL City gallery. It consisted of a miniature model of KL with existing and new proposed buildings. One that caught my eye was a zig zag structure that will be taller than the Petronas towers. I can not wait to see that one. The gift shop of the gallery consisted of a lot of handmade wood carvings that we happily bought.
We explored the square a bit more, passing the Royal Selangor club and St Mary’s Cathedral. We took a break from the heat in the National Textile Museum. It was at this point that we were a bit overwhelmed by all the cultural handicrafts that we have seen. It was a good time to head over to see the famous Petronas towers.
Before we did that we stopped at LOKL to have some Hainan meatloaf. It consisted of meat between two pieces of fried bread. I enjoyed it immensely. Trina liked it too but was skeptical of its cultural authenticity.
We then took the train over to KLCC park. There we marveled at the twin towers. We hung out there for a bit, gawking at the towers and playing video games in the park. It was pretty neat to see. The park’s water fountain drenched us a few times during its cycle. Finally, we headed in for our evening tour of the towers. We first started with a view from the bridge that connected the two towers, 40 stories up. It was a bit nerve wracking to see that the engineers left a gap in the walls to allow for the bridge to sway in the wind. After we took in the view we proceeded to the 86th floor where we could see all of KL. It was a pretty massive spread, especially with the buildings and streets lighting up for the evening.
Afterwards we had a dinner in the adjacent mall where we enjoyed good old food court fare. To end the night we had a mille crepes, which was amazing. Trina vowed to learn how to make one.
Wednesday, December 21
For our last day we did some exercising. After breakfast we wandered around the old Kuala Lumpur railway station. It was odd seeing a music video being taped in subway. I think there could have been a more classier place to do that, but it did have an interesting dank atmosphere. In any event, we headed back to Singapore shortly after lunch. Overall, it was a very enjoyable trip!