East meets West in Kuala Lumpur...
On leaving Thailand, the next stop on our travel itinerary was Malaysia’s hi-tech tech capital city of Kuala Lumpur, or “KL” as it’s also known.
We’d been advised against traveling overland to Malaysia from Thailand due to political unrest around the border. In true “flashpacker” style we therefore took an airplane flight from Krabi which was only a short distance from where we had been staying in Railay.
The flight was uneventful and upon arriving at KL’s international airport, we grabbed a much needed McDonalds before taking the 70km bus ride journey to the city centre. The bus was a bargain at around £2 and the journey gave us the chance to see a bit of suburban Malaysia. Immediately the country struck us as “East meets west”. Everybody seemed to have a car unlike other places in Asia where motorbikes are the main form of transport. And, for the first time in our travels we saw housing estates!
We’d decided that we wanted to stay in the China Town area of KL based on its proximity to the tourist attractions, budget accommodation and vibrant atmosphere. This worked out well since the bus stopped right out China Town. Since we hadn’t arranged for somewhere to stay we decided to use the book as a guide for accommodation.
The accommodation search didn’t go as well as we’d hoped. The first place that we looked at wasn’t all that great as it had shared bathrooms which looked a bit skanky. We tried a few other places that had been recommended but they were either fully booked, a bit grotty or too pricey.
Seeing as evening was drawing in and we were having to lug our bags around with us, it was a relief when we stumbled across a place which was recommended in our guide book and it had rooms available, with air conditioning and a private bathroom at a reasonable prices. The guy at reception seemed really nice too so considering all of his we decided to take the room. In hindsight we probably shouldn’t have gone for the room as it seemed pretty gross but given that it was late it was just a relief to have somewhere to stay without being bankrupted.
Once we’d checked in and moved into our room, we headed out to dinner. We just stayed local and headed to a street kitchen along the main road in China Town. Needless to say we had Chinese food. So after having dinner and spending a bit of time wandering around and soaking up the atmosphere we headed back to our hostel. That’s when things took a turn for the worse. We went into our room and up on the bed there was a cockroach. James did a brilliant job of escorting it out of the room with the aid of a towel but within seconds we saw some more crawling across the floor. It is fair to say that the room was infested with them. When we told the guy at reception he said that we could move rooms. This was a relief but sure enough when we opened the bathroom door what should be crawling around the rim of the toilet but the biggest cockroach I’ve ever seen! I was not impressed at this stage and, had it not been midnight I’d have moved hostels. Luckily the hostel had another spare room on a higher floor and we didn’t notice any cockroaches in the room so we agreed to stay there for that night. I cocooned myself in my silk sleeping bag with my head protected and tried to block out the thought of cockroaches potentially crawling over me! The bed was also pretty skanky, it didn’t have any linen on it (not even a sheet over the mattress and the mattress looked about 20 years old!) To make things even worse the hostel was above a bar so the music was pounding right until at least 2 o’clock.
The next morning we didn’t waste anytime in gathering our belongings and checking out of the hellhole guesthouse. We headed to a hotel down the road which we’d been to the night before which we thought was a bit expensive at the time. At this point however, money was not an object!
The new hotel was worlds apart from the previous nights hostel. The room was absolutely spotless with a plasma screen on the wall with satellite TV, complimentary tea and coffee and an amazing power shower!
Although we struggled to leave our comfy room, we had an action planned day ahead of us. The first stop on the itinerary was the National Museum of History. We knew exactly where this was supposed to be so when we headed there and it was nowhere to be seen we didn’t hesitate in asking the locals. Unfortunately they didn’t speak very good English so when they pointed in one direction we decided to head that way. It soon became apparent that we were getting further and further away from where we should have been based on the map and when we returned to the point where it was on the map and where we had started, we realized that the museum had closed!
Luckily for us, the next attraction on our list (Merdeka Square) was just next to where the Museum was supposed to have been so we were able to check this out. Merdeka Square is iconic in that it is where Malaysian Independence from the British was proclaimed in 1957. To look at, it is just a grass square (but very well kept for that matter) although it’s historic significance made it worth a visit. It also provided some great photo opportunities of the city skyline!
After Merdeka Square, the next place we headed to was the Old KL train station. This was constructed in 1911 and whilst it is no longer in operation it is a tourist attraction on the basis that it is similar in concept to the British era train station. Our guide book had stated that of all the European colonial structures in South East Asia, KL train station is “one of the most memorable.” We therefore thought that it would be well worth a visit but unfortunately it was bit of a let down. I’m not sure what we were expecting to see, but to us, especially from the inside it just looked like any other train station. It was however slightly more impressive from the outside although I couldn’t really see any real European influence.
From the Old Railway station, we headed to the Muzium Negara (National Museum). This houses several ethnographic and archaeological exhibits and for the 50p entrance fee it was well worth a visit! It gave a real insight into the history of Malaysia and Malaysian people from prehistoric times right up to the present day.
Before heading home, we headed to Lake Gardens which is a huge parkland area in the centre of the city. Within Lake Gardens there is an area called Orchid gardens which houses a orchid garden. It was alright for what it was!
I managed to drag James to the central market on the way back to the hotel and although I didn’t buy anything James discovered the sweet stall and couldn’t resist a bag of pick and mix!
We had a couple of hours to chill at our hotel before we headed out for dinner. Seeing as Kuala Lumpur has a large Indian population, we decided to head to Little India that evening to sample some Indian cuisine. Walking from KL’s Chinatown to Little India showed us firsthand what a mix of cultures the city really is.
Once we’d polished off our dinner, we headed to the Menora KL Tower. This is slightly shorter than the Petronas Towers but has a viewing deck. Once we’d made our way up the 80 or so floors (in a lift!) we were able to get a fantastic view of the city.
Thankfully that night we had a much better nights sleep that the previous night without the fear of cockroaches crawling over us!
We woke bright and early the next morning ready for another busy day of sightseeing! We started the day with a trip to the bakery. We soon discovered that they did the best carrot cake and coconut cake that we‘d sampled in Asia!
The first stop of the day was the Petronas Towers. Since they were bit of a yomp from our hotel we decided to get the monorail there. The Petronas Towers really were quite impressive, however I was more impressed with the huuuugggggeeeee shopping mall between them!! It had about 6 floors and the best bit about it was the Topshop store!
We headed to the Aquarium in the afternoon. Although the idea of Aquarium's goes against divers ethics it was pretty cool. The highlight was probably the moving walkway inside a 90m tunnel where you can watch sharks and rays swimming around.
That evening we met up with Rob and Louisa as they had just arrived in KL. We decided to head to the lively area of town known as the Golden Triangle. This is described as a must visit in our “South East Asia on a budget“ guide book, however we were not impressed when cocktails were over £8 and a can of coke almost £4! Needless to say we didn’t stay there for long and headed back to our hotels.
The next morning we got up bright and early to catch the bus to our next destination of Melaka. Our overall impression of Kuala Lumpur is that it is a total mix of cultures, but combines the best of all worlds since it retains the energy and charm of Asia yet has the modern comforts of a western country. It’s also refreshing to see how such a diverse mix of people can live together in such harmony.