A December 2004 trip
to Kuala Lumpur by Marianne
Quote: Kuala Lumpur is the ideal city for first-time Asia travellers. Its skyline of futuristic looking skyscrapers rivals London or New York.
Kuala Lumpur has all creature comforts: luxurious 4- and 5-star hotels; shopping malls with designer goods; exquisite dining in elegant restaurants; Starbucks coffee shops; and a perfect city transport system, LRT, that is clean and swift.
Only the climate makes you realise that this is not Europe. But Kuala Lumpur is also a true Asian city: chaotic; motorcycles galore; featureless blocks of flats; narrow alleyways; traffic jams; air pollution; markets; and hawkers’ centres, where you can slurp mee soup or have nasi lemak for breakfast..
For the best bird’s eye views head for the 44th floor of the Petronas Towers, the second tallest building in the world. Do some shopping in the downstairs, six-level KLCC Suria shopping mall, and then stroll in the landscaped gardens at the foot of the towers.
Whatever you do, don’t miss Chinatown and Petaling Street, which is interesting during the day, but this street market really comes to life when it is dark. Thousands of coloured lights give it a special atmosphere. It is a perfect place to find bargains.
If Petaling Street is too much a tourist trap in your view, head for Chow Kit Market. Here you will find real bargains from DVDs and CDs, no longer pirated because copyright laws have put a stop to that, to genuine or fake Rolex watches.
Try Malay food in Jalan Alor, a complete street dedicated to food. Don’t be tempted to go into the air-conditioned international food chains like McDonalds, leave them for what they are. You can eat there again once you are back home. Malay cuisine is as versitale as Malaysia’s population. Chinese, Indian, and Malay dishes are mouthwatering culinary adventures.
That is what we did. Still, our credit card company discovered an unusual transaction made with our card. We were compensated. But I heard from three other tourists that their credit card data was copied and money was withdrawn from their accounts.
Kuala Lumpur’s international airport is 75km south of the city. The fastest way to the city centre is by the KLIA-Express Train, which takes you in 30 minutes to KL Sentral. From here you can change trains or take a taxi to your hotel. Trains run from 5am–1 pm, every 15 minutes. A single trip is RM35 (€8.75)
All I need is a room that is not too confined. I like to have enough space to move freely about without having to resort to the bed when my husband wants to go from the window to the bathroom. I like a decent luggage rack for my suitcase, so that I need not sit on my heels when rummaging in my bags. All I want is a moderately spacious room in a mid-range hotel, centrally situated.
Hotel Nova, at RM$135 (34E), breakfast included, suits my needs perfectly. When I enter Hotel Nova, the first thing that strikes me is a strangely formed, red circular seat with a kind of cone as a back rest. The second thing is the freezing cold. The air-conditioning is on at full blast. The golden rule in Malaysia is: the colder, the chicer. It makes me wonder what the temperature will be in the Ritz Carlton Hotel, with a room rate of RM$380 (95E).
The lift hums softly and takes us to the second floor. A blue-carpeted corridor stretches in front of us, doors on both sides, with a peephole and a doorbell. Our room is at the far end, away from the clicking and burring of the lift. Inside the room, we insert our credit card-type room key in its holder, and the lights flop on. The heat wraps around us like a duvet, but the a/c, on at full blast, chases away the heavy, humid air.
Our room is the standard hotel room: writing pad and pen next to the telephone, a tray with a water boiler, cups and complimentary tea and coffee, writing paper in envelopes with the hotel's logo. And there is more. A shower cap in a neat little carton box, tiny bottles of shampoo and shower gel, toilet paper folded to a v-shape, and glasses wrapped in plastic.
We could be anywhere in the world, until I look out the window. Down below is Jalan Alor, the food street. Across the road a busy cook wipes his hands on his apron, steam billows from a wok, and a slender Chinese lady stirs a family-size pot and adds some noodles. A young man paints Chinese characters on a menu board. I open the window, and an appetizing aroma pervades our room. The whole street is alive with food. It is high time to go down and join the diners.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 25, 2004
16-22 Jalan Alor
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
You can get there under your own steam. Catch an Intrakota bus no. 11D or Cityliner no. 69 from Medan Pasar, next to the clock tower. Buy your ticket on the bus. It is a frequent service that takes 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the traffic.
The caves are in limestone outcrops and were discovered in the late 19th century by an American naturalist who stumbled upon them when collecting rare plants. There are still plants that only grow in these caves.
At some time a Hindu shrine was built in what is now known as the Temple Cave. It developed into the most important Indian pilgrimage centre in Malaysia. The caves are the scene of the Thaipusam Festival, when thousands of Hindus crowd the caves. It is a movable feast held during full moon in the month of Thai, which is in January or February. Male pilgrims pay homage to Subramanian, a Hindi deity, by piercing their tongue, cheeks, and back while in trance.
We visited the caves in July, and it was pretty quiet apart from a handful of Indian tourists. To reach the caves we climbed 272 steps. If you like to be glued to a voice bleating in your ear the names of deities and a catalogue of important dates, you can hire an audio tour from one of the custodians.
Inside the cave is cool, dark, and damp, a good breeding ground for mosquitoes, which attack bare arms and legs. More steps lead to more shrines There are numerous statuettes of Hindu deities, all very colourful but of mediocre craftsmanship.. At the far end, a sheer rock face overgrown by huge ferns opens up to the sky. The view from the cave is not spectacular; once it was outside the city and in a rural area, but now it is engulfed by an ever-expanding city.
The Cave Museum on ground level displays paintings of Hindu Gods and mystical deities.
There are many vegetarian and non-vegetarian restaurants and souvenirs stands at the foot of the caves.
If you have never seen monkeys in the wild, this is a good place to observe them from very close. They wait for goodies to be passed on to them and do not shrink back from helping themselves and emptying your bag. Soft drinks are their favourite refreshment. They are very clever and can unscrew the top and drink from the bottles, spilling quite a bit, but they are resourceful and lick up what they spill.
If you have seen Hindu temples before, I would give the Batu Caves a miss. If you fancy a bus ride, take close-ups of cheeky monkeys, or like a vegetarian banana-leaf meal, it is a morning or afternoon well spent.
The museum is open from 9:30 am to 5 pm, but is closed on Friday. Admission is free.
Orang Asli is Malay for original people. Today there are 100,000 Orang Asli. Just over half of them live in the jungle; the others are coastal people and often fishermen. They speak different languages and many of them are animists.
Animists believe that humans and spirits share the universe and that the human soul has two distinctive lives, one before death and one after death and that animals, plants, and celestial bodies also have spirits. They feel strongly connected with the spirits of their ancestors and attach much value to sacred items and sacred places for worship. Medicine men act as a medium to communicate with the invisible powers.
The first display in the museum is a huge map of Malaysia, which shows where the 18 ethnic groups of Orang Asli live. Then you pass a portrait gallery. I liked this very much, as the pictures showed their different features and characteristics.
It was easy to recognise the Negritos who have lived in Malaysia for more than 8000 years and who may be considered as the first inhabitants. They are mostly dark-skinned and frizzy-haired. They are nomads and pride themselves on their mobility. They have few possessions, as this would be a hindrance to their lifestyle. Although some have left the tribe and live Kuala Lumpur or other cities comforted by televisions, DVD players, computers, and mobile telephones.
I also like the display of blowpipes. There was a jungle Orang Asli hunt with blowpipes for birds and little monkeys. Blowpipes are made of bamboo. The darts are made from palm leaves and the tip is coated with the lethal sap of the lpol tree. The blowpipe is deadly accurate within 20m.
The jungle Orang Asli live in small communities, sometimes not more than 10 houses, made of materials found in the jungle. It takes about 2 to 3 hours to build a house. They live in one place until a death, an illness, or an evil-spirit disturbs them. Then they move to another place. It is the tribe’s chief who makes the decision.
Originally the Orang Asli made their clothes from leaves and tree bark. In the museum there is a a man’s and a woman’s outfit on display in showcases, so I was unable to feel if they were stiff. They looked as if they were made of chamois leather.
The scale models of long houses and other shelters were a good example of how the Orang Asli lives. There is also a large display of hunting weapons such as blowpipes, traps, and spears. Fishing and hunting monkeys, wild boars, squirrels, and other small animals are done by the men. The spoils are brought home and eaten.
I especially liked the wooden masks of the guardian spirits. They show abnormal features, which distinguishes them from normal human beings, who are at their mercy.
Not many people visit the museum. We had the place to ourselves, which I liked because this way I could see everything at leisure.
Next to the museum is a small restaurant. It is a good place to have a meal and wait for the bus.
It is most likely that you will arrive at Kuala Lumpur’s ultra-modern international airport, known as KLIA. It is 75km south of the city. The fastest way to the city centre is by the KLIA-Express Train, which takes you in 30 minutes to KL Sentral. From here, you can change trains or take a taxi to your hotel. Trains run from 5am to 1pm, leaving every 15 minutes. A single trip is RM$35 (=8.75E).
The Golden Triangle is central and a good place to stay. There are many hotels, from very simple backpackers’ places to luxurious 4-star-plus hotels and everything in between.
Unpack, take a bath, and relax in your comfortable, air-conditioned room. The temperature in Kuala Lumpur may be a bit of a shock to you. It is a year-round 30 degrees C (80F), and humidity hovers around 90%. Therefore, it is best to move about by air-conditioned taxi.
DAY 1 Morning: Colonial District
Your first port of call is the old Railway Station. It was built in 1911. It looks like an Oriental palace with its spires, towers, minarets, and copulas. Only a few trains leave from here, as KL Sentral is the city’s main transport hub.
Have a coffee in the Heritage Station Hotel. High ceilings, old-fashioned furniture, and slowly revolving fans evoke a colonial atmosphere.
Across the road, you will see Masjid Negara, set in landscaped gardens and one of the largest mosques in Southeast Asia. Its roof is an 18-pointed star, which symbolizes the 13 states and the five pillars of Islam:
1. Faith in one God and Muhammad is his prophet2. Ritual prayers five times a day3. Abstaining each day of Ramadan4. Giving alms to the poor5. Pilgrimage to Mecca
Remember to remove your shoes and dress appropriately.
Open 9am - 6pm, Saturday - Thursday2:45 - 6pm Friday.
Time to cool down in your air-conditioned taxi. Ask the driver to go to Merdeka Square. This was once the heart of colonial KL and known as Padang, which means ‘field’ in Malay. This was the place where cricket was once played, but also the place where in 1957 Malaysia’s independence was proclaimed.
Across the street, you see Sultan Abdul Samad Building. It is a typical colonial-style building--a mixture of Victorian and Moorish architecture. Behind it you see KL’s skyline: tall, modern skyscrapers and the Petronas Towers.
Time to have a bite go to at Jalan TAR. Numbers 1 – 19 is a block of buildings with neo-classical features. Giant pillars support the façade, enhanced with embossed emblems and scrolls. Restoran Abdul Maidony at No. 11 specializes in vegetarian Indian banana leaf meals. Rice and several vegetable curries are served on a banana leaf. Traditionally, this is eaten with your right hand, but spoons are available.
Afternoon: Golden Triangle, Shopping
Time to go back to your hotel to refresh and then explore Jalan Bukit Bintang. This is a busy street with shops and numerous shopping malls: Lot 10, Low Yat Plaza, Sungai Wang Plaza, and if you want to do some serious computer and digital camera shopping, Imbi Plaza is your place.
Evening: Jalan Alor, Ethnic Food
Jalan Alor comes into action when the sun is down and it is cool enough to sit outside. This street is completely dedicated to food, mostly Chinese. Order a cool, refreshing Tiger Beer and enjoy the seafood.
End the day with a stroll through Petaling Street in Chinatown, a short taxi ride away. Mix with the crowd and walk past market stalls laden with fake Rolex watches and Gucci handbags. Of CDs and DVDs, only the real ones are sold, since copyright laws have put a stop to pirating.
If your hotel is in the Golden Triangle, it is a short walk to the Petronas Towers. It’s the world’s second tallest building: 452m, 1,483 feet from street level, 88 floors, 58 elevators, and 32,000 windows. You can go up to the sky bridge, where you’ll have a spectacular view of Kuala Lumpur. This visit is free, and this is how to get your entrance ticket. Join the queue--the earlier you are there, the shorter it is. You are issued a ticket that states your time slot. To while away the time, take pictures of the towers from all conceivable angles. Walk in the park at the foot of the towers. Shop at the luxurious, six-level Suria shopping complex. When it is your turn, you are whizzed up 44 floors by speed elevator. From the sky bridge, you can take interesting close-up pictures of the towers ’architecture.
Time to have lunch. Take a taxi to Jalan TAR No 100, The Coliseum Café. Have a pre-lunch drink at the bar, where Somerset Maugham was a regular. Enjoy sizzling steaks or traditional Malay food in colonial-era ambience.
Afternoon: China Town and Sri Mariamman Temple
This is the buzzing centre of KL’s Chinese community. Wander through the narrow streets and look up at the beautifully decorated fronts of the Chinese shop houses. On Jalan Tun HS Lee, you will see Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple. Its pyramid-shaped entrance gate is decorated with thousands of multi-coloured deities. Entrance is free, and don’t forget to leave your shoes at the entrance. This Indian temple in a Chinese street is not incongruous but shows the ethnic composition of Kuala Lumpur’s inhabitants.
Early evening: Central Market: Hawkers Stalls
The Central Market, or Pasar Seni, was once the city’s wet market, which means that it was a fruit, vegetable, and fish market. This Art Deco building has been transformed into an arts-and-crafts market. Downstairs, you can find good-quality souvenirs from all over Malaysia, but also from Indonesia and Thailand. There are the usual t-shirts, but also traditional handicrafts: hand-painted shadow puppets, batik sarongs, porcelain statuettes of Chinese and Hindu deities, and orang asli wooden sculptures.
On the second level, there is a good selection of hawker’s food, and this is how it works:
Late Evening: Pasar Malam or Night Market
If you are in KL on a Saturday night, go to Lorong Tuanka Abdul Rachman, just off Jalan TAR. This night market, or Pasar Malam, is open from 5pm to 10pm every Saturday and hums with activity. Stroll along the stalls and enjoy the variety of goods on sale, the busy crowd, and smell of local delicacies. And if you decide to buy something, bargain--bargain hard.
Very Late Evening: Bangsar
Bangsar is 10 minutes by taxi from KL Golden Triangle. It is the place where chic, young Malays want to be seen. It is an interesting mix of restaurants, bars, pubs, cafés, fast-food outlets, coffee bars and ice cream parlours.
Two days are not enough to see all Kuala Lumpur can offer. Come back another time and stay longer.
Chow Kit Market
The Lake Gardens with the butterfly and bird park
KL telecommunication tower
And there is more, much more.
The Golden Triangle is Kuala’s business, shopping, and entertainment area. It runs roughly from Jalan Raja Chula via Petronas Towers, Menara Kuala Lumpur, and the telecommunication tower to Jalan Imbi. Its throbbing centre is Jalan Bukit Bintang. This is a good part of the city to find accommodations.
We stayed in:
Hotel Malaysia, 67-69 Jalan Bukit Bintang, promotion price RM 85 (€22)
The sparsely furnished lobby is cool but not cold, as the air-conditioning is on half-blast. The façade and windows of this two-storied hotel are hidden by a metal grill, which prevents people from jumping down (which they may well want to do after they have inspected the room).
Our room is big enough to walk about freely and the air-conditioning is off. When we switch it on, it makes a noise as if a diesel train puffs through. It smells of trapped heat and cigarette buts, but the ashtrays are empty and clean. It is definitely a smoker’s room.
The faded wallpaper is peeling off and the wall-to-wall carpet is threadbare and has absorbed all odours to which is has been exposed over the many years of intensive use. The mattresses have been slept on by too many people, as the springs support only the lightest of persons.
In the morning a rustling of paper wakes us--The New Straits Times, an English-language newspaper is shoved under our door. Breakfast is served in the downstairs restaurant. There is a choice of Malay, Chinese, or American breakfast, but it is not included in the room price.
The Malay breakfast is fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk accompanied by tiny dried fish in hot chili paste, Chinese breakfast noodle soup with tiny slivers of chicken, and the American breakfast toast and eggs with marmalade.
Better value for money is:
Hotel Star Town Inn, 198-200 Jalan Pudu, RM 75 (€19), key deposit RM 40 (€10)
The temperature in our room is in sharp contrast to the cool reception area downstairs. The room is a sauna and smells slightly stale with a whiff of camphor. The window opens up to a light shaft and brings no relief. There are mothballs in all corners, in the drawers, and in the wardrobe. They bar creepy crawlies and cockroaches from marching in.
Our room has the usual hotel furnishings, including an empty wardrobe with jingling metal coat hangers whenever we walk past and a television at head level, which forces us to duck each time we enter the pixy-size bathroom. There is also a wobbly table, one chair for two persons, curtains loose on its rail, a double bed with a sacked mattress, flimsy towels, and a noisy air conditioner (but it doesn’t prevent us from having a good night’s rest).
There is no shortage of accommodation in Kuala Lumpur. They range from budget to four-star hotels and everything in between. There is something to suit all tastes.