Note from the Editor: Even Mel has now conceeded that while travelling the world on a budget and schedule, you have time for either:
- Doing stuff; or
- Writing about doing stuff.
Sadly, these two things are mutually exclusive, so you’ll have to forgive the recent radio silence. We know you’ve been concerned, but handily you’ll be pleased to hear that a
rainy dayearthquake in New Zealand has afforded the opportunity for a little of item 2. Enjoy!
It might have been a over a month ago that we arrived in Kuala Lumpur, and it might not have been our favourite desintation, but far be it from us to neglect to document any of our travels! Whilst we, as many do, headed to the South of the Malaysian Penninsula primarily because that’s where Cheapo-wings took us, we did so with some encouragement from travel guides, such as the below from Trip Advisor.
Once known as a convenient stopover for airline passengers on their way further afield, Kuala Lumpur (KL) is now an exciting destination in it’s own right.
With the benefit of hindsight, I’m inclined to call BS. Caveat for the rest of this
rant post – as with everywhere, experiences vary from one individual to another. Personal preference, individual circumstances and lady luck could all mean that you’d love KL. That’s the beauty of long-term travel, whilst you may be following in the footsteps of others, everyone has a different experience.
Upon arrival in Kuala Lumpur, and having spent a sleepless night in Krabi airport beforehand, we dragged our dazed tired husks through the huge shopping mall attached to KL airport’s shiny new low cost carrier terminal. Cue my first two observations(1) of Malaysia’s capital city and its pertinent traits. Having eventually fought our way through the shops, wallet intact, we settled down for the hour-long journey on the peasant wagon into the city centre.
Whilst one of our group (clue: who’s the one documenting this journey?) rested their sleepy head, the bright lights and the opportunity to organise something had jolted the remainder awake. All the better for it, as the trip in was an intriguing one. You wind your way through forested hills, only catching glimpses of the city at the last moment, almost as if it is still a secluded mining base in the jungle. First impressions might have left room for improvement, but things were looking up.
Oh, more fool you Alex. What does pride come before? A fall, of course. Dumped at KL Sentral station by the bus, we wrestled our way through the rush hour crowds to our hostel, a couple of stops and a change on the LRT. Sadly, the hostel wasn’t party to the fact we were arriving, and had royally screwed up the booking. After some confusion, we were sent marching further into Chinatown to their sister accommodation, Submarine Guest House. Thankfully they did have a room for us, not that it was ready to be occupied yet. After a wait and a coffee (yay!) we dumped our bags and decided the only appropriate course of action was to get a KFC and have a nap.
We only had a short amount of time to spend in KL (shorter now, having slept for the best part of a day), so the time that followed was spent visiting the main tourist haunts, as well as wandering around a few of the areas local to us, including the Central Market which was right on our doorstep, but felt pricy by comparison to what we’d been treated to in Thailand.
Stop 1 – Petronas Towers
Probably the most instantly recognisable landmark in Kuala Lumpur, first stop was always going to be the Petronas Towers. In my opinion, a landmark best viewed from a distance. Up close, the buildings are pretty harsh and cluttered, with none of the clean lines of the admittedly fairly generic(1) skyscrapers around them. Whilst it would no doubt have been cool to go through the skybridge between the two towers, a combination of difficult to justify cost and very little to actually see from the top meant that we decided to explore the guts instead and check out the Suria KLCC.
It was a shopping mall(1). However, as our visit inadvertently coincided with the Malaysian Grand Prix (honest, I’d have booked tickets had I realised!), the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team were putting on a bit of a show in the atrium. Think F1 cars, simulators running the F1 2016 on PS4 and VR pit stops. It was cool, but still just a shopping mall. Combine my disinterest in consumer tourism with Mel’s disinterest in motorsport, and it is abundantly clear why we made a beeline for the park outside which was lovely, and also contained some local folks attempting Tai Chi for your amusement (probably).
Verdict – Petronas Towers: Best viewed from afar. Preferably a park in the sunshine.
Stop 2 – Bukit Bintang
Billed as the go-to shopping/eating/drinking district, we were excited to check out Bukit Bintang. Sadly, most of it is currently being dug up. Even so, as we wriggled between stationary Chinese tourists, bollards and barriers we could see the attraction if it wasn’t for the chaos caused by the roadworks. The whole street is lined with shops, from highstreet to high-end, as well as a smattering of bars and eateries. In my opinion though, the mall we accessed the main road from (Pavilion Kuala Lumpur) was actually nicer – bars and restaurants with al fresco dining, a big screen showing Mr Danny Ric drinking Champagne from his sweaty shoes, and fully air conditioned.
Either way, neither the mall nor Bukit Bintang itself were priced for a traveller’s budget, so when the ol’ receptors began nagging for some amber nectar we made tracks for Changkat Bukit Bintang, a side street lined with decent bars that have all been priced off of the main drag. Another night we also had a cracking impromptu curry at the far end of Jalan Alor, which comes off of Changkat and runs parallel to Bintang, equally nice but a fraction of the price of our meal a Betel Leaf the night before (yeah, two curries in a row, so sue us). There’s also a vast range of Chinese restaurants, all with hawkers trying to drag you in and as far as we could tell, all offering identical menus.
Side note – the food. A sweeping statement I know, but we found that the hodge-podge of cultures resulted in an abundance of Thai/Chinese/Indian food, but nothing that you can pinpoint as being uniquely local. Infact, I think the tastiest ‘Malaysian’ food I had was the Nasi Lemak on the plane as we left! A bit of a dissapointment after all the new and interesting tastes of Thailand.
Just as we thought all was lost for this area of KL, who would we stumble upon but the one and only King (Eric) Cantona himself! I have an inkling that he wasn’t there just to see us, but nonetheless we managed to slip past all the die-hard Malaysian United fans (all Manchester born and bred, I’m sure…) and stand within a swift kung-fu kick of the man himself. Trip salvaged.
Verdict – Bukit Bintang: Worth it for football legends. Availability may vary.
Stop 3 – KL Forest Eco Park
The recently renamed Bukit Nanas Rainforest Reserve bills itself as the smallest rainforest in the world, sandwiched as it is in the centre of the city, and crowned by KL Tower. It supposedly plays host to a variety of birds, monkeys and the like, all of which can be viewed from a cool tree-top walkway.
Now, I can confirm that there is definitely a tree-top walkway, and that the 420m KL Tower definitely calls the park home. Other than that, there’s a whole bunch of trees, some of which are cool, and precisely zero species of wildlife that we sighted. Now, it might just be us (at this point in the trip I was no David Attenborough, although subsequent events would impact this view), or it might have been the noise from the base jumping event taking place at the tower when we visited, but something seemed to have scared off the critters.
Verdict – KL Forest Eco Park: Good free walk, just don’t expect something akin to Simba’s return to the pridelands.
Stop 4 – Batu Caves
Our final day on the Malaysian Penninsular also played host to our final nearly free spot of sight-seeing. Batu Caves can be reached for a pittance (something in the region of 2.50 Ringit single each) on a KTM Komuter train from KL Sentral. You’ll also want a bottle of water and a good feed in ya to fuel the walk up 272 steps to the caves. Just ensure that said water bottle is hidden, else you can gauruntee a Macaque will happily relieve you of it. As a reward for your troubles, you get a great view of KL and the second tallest statue of a Hindu deity (Lord Murugan) in the world. If you’re as lucky as we were, you’ll also be able to sit back an enjoy the comedy as tourists try desperately to retrieve their bags from the pesky monkies scampering off up the hillside!
Verdict – Batu Caves: Price vs. time vs. experience, the best thing we did in KL. Don’t miss it.
So, there you have it, Kuala Lumpur. If you come to SE Asia, by virtue of the need to get somewhere else the chances are you’ll probably visit ‘just because’ at some point. You might really like it, you might be indifferent. I for one fall into the latter category, just incase I’d been too ambiguous thus far. Do try it for yourself though, if nothing else it’s definitely better than a night in an airport.
(1) Observing with Alex – Kuala Lumpur:
- Huge shopping malls. Everywhere.
- Shiny genericity.
- Imitates a western high-rise city, to the detriment of anything uniquely Malay.
- Free activities in abundance.
- Missing uniquely Malaysian cuisine.