We arrived in Kuala Lumpur in early December, which meant that the heat and humidity was only unbearable for part of the day. Our arrival at the low-cost carrier terminal of the Kuala Lumpur airport was a bit of a shock. You certainly get what you pay for and for our discount ticket we got a large and unairconditioned terminal with malfunctioning ATMs and no easy way out. We also learned, too late, that the tickets for busses and taxis are located within the secure area so we had to talk our way back through security in order to get on a bus into town. Not the best airport experience. For what we paid, though, we really should have been on a cargo plane, so I can’t complain too much.
The bus dropped us off downtown where we had to negotiate with scoundrel cab drivers to get a ride to the hotel. Almost all cab drivers in Malaysia seem to be scoundrels. We found none who would use the meter. We made sure to negotiate fares ahead of time and refused to go with some drivers who were downright unreasonable in their rate (sometime 3x what the meter would say). A hassle to be sure, but Malaysia on the whole is such a bargain that it more than made up for this inconvenience.
Our hotel was within easy walking proximity to the Petronas towers. This means that it was also next to about a dozen overpriced western restaurants, all advertising Carlsberg beer, oddly enough. We asked the concierge about a good place to eat dinner but we seemed to confuse him by requesting a good Malaysian restaurant. I mean, I can get a cheeseburger anywhere and I didn’t fly halfway around the world to eat at KFC. Left pretty much on our own, we found a small hut that seemed to be doing a bustling local business. We ate curried goat over jasmine rice, washed down with lukewarm Pepsi. It was a very good meal.
After dinner, we set out to get a glimpse of the Petronas towers. I thought that I had seen skyscrapers before but these buildings are incredible. They’re architecturally beautiful and they seem to reach up into the sky forever. They are especially impressive at night, all aglow against the dark city sky. This area around the Petronas towers is very well maintained and we enjoyed walking around here, getting acquainted with Malaysia a little bit our first night. After taking in the surrounds and getting some good pictures, it was time to retire to our hotel so we could rest up for our last day in Kuala Lumpur.
We got an early start the next morning, starting with the Petronas towers again. We found some breakfast down below the towers in a food court. Nasi lemak, food court style. It was still good and filling. After eating, we headed over to see if it would still be possible to get some free tickets to the sky bridge. The situation looked grim. The basement area where you wait to get to the ticket window was packed with tourists trying to get a ticket before they were gone. We decided against waiting, as we only had one day and the chances that the tickets would disappear before we even got to the window seemed too great to chance spending a whole morning in a crowded basement.
Next on our list of things to do was the Batu Caves, which are located a little ways out of the city. We couldn’t find the bus that supposedly existed so we were left haggling with another cab driver. He got us there, and it was definitely worth the trouble. The Batu caves are impressive geologically but also an incredible religious site. They are adorned with all manner of Hindu statues and the temple inside is supposedly one of the holiest sites in Hinduism outside of India. The only way to get inside is a very large staircase that is helpfully numbered so you can note your progress or lack thereof. We were glad that we went when we were still fresh and energetic. We were also glad that we remembered to bring bottled water.
Leaving the Batu caves meant yet more haggling with cab drivers but we were dropped off at Merdeka Square, in the middle of Kuala Lumpur, celebrating Malaysian independence. It’s a pleasant place, though without any shade it can get quite hot. It’s also a great spot to get a picture of the Malaysian flag as one of the world’s largest flag poles presides over the square. It’s an impressive arrangement, conveying Malaysian pride in independence quite well.
We walked the distance from Merdeka to the national museum. Had we known how far it was we probably would have gotten a cab. It was a very hot walk. The museum (air-conditioned!) was worth it though. It gave us a great sense of Malaysian history that we had neglected to study up on before the trip. All the way from pre-historic times to the rise of Islam on the peninsula and though the colonial period and independence, this museum is a great stop to get an idea of what you’re looking at when you visit the sights.
As a final stop before dinner, we headed to Petaling Street, where there is always a street market, along with a good selection of restaurants. Most of the merchants seemed to be catering to tourists with lots of knockoff sunglasses and watches. If you’re looking for some cheap fashion of dubious provenance, this is the place for you. It is a good place to eat some fresh Malaysian fruit and take a stroll on an afternoon though. Which is exactly what we did.
Our final dinner in Kuala Lumpur was delicious Thai food, sweet and spicy and simply amazing. It seems that there are unexpected culinary wonders all through the city. This Thai restaurant was empty except for us, situated in the back of an office building. It also offered the best Thai food I’ve ever eaten. The best Kuala Lumpur advice I can give is to think outside of the box a bit when it comes to food. On our way out of town we ate breakfast at the bus station and it was also simply amazing. Nasi lemak with a perfectly cooked egg. In the most humble of surroundings, we found the best food. Stay out of KFC! There is so much great food to experience in this wonderful, lively city.