We left Melaka, which had a lot of charm and character for such a tourist-trodden town. However, we had a schedule to keep to before our flight to Kota Kinabalu in Borneo in a few days time, so we headed to the bus station to catch a coach to Kuala Lumpur. We’d asked a couple of people if we needed to book a bus ticket in advance or not. The hotel we were staying at said “Yes, definitely”, and the tourist office had said “No, definitely not”, so we decided to leave it to chance and just turn up. We arrived at 10am to find a bus for the 2 hour journey. We walked straight up to a counter and bought a bus ticket for a 10am bus – noting it was 10:05am we verified that the bus was still around – and jumped straight on. There was us and two other passengers, and off the bus went. So easy!
We arrived in Kuala Lumpur at midday, and thanks to some skilful navigation by Mahmoud (!), we got off the bus fairly close to our hotel. We lugged our bags around the back of the Times Square shopping centre, to a small hotel called Classic Inn. It was a neat and tidy little place, very good value for money in the heart of the city. Shocked that we’d arrived at our destination at a time of day in which we could actually do something, rather than the 5-7pm arrival time we normally have, we planned our next moves.
First of all we wandered through the massive shopping mall next door – 11 floors of shopping and food goodies, including Malaysia’s largest indoor roller coaster, which you could hear roaring around the track from most of the mall. We had some really surprisingly yummy Malay food from the food court – you wouldn’t have thought it would be great quality there, but it was really nice. We wandered up the road to the Petronas Towers after that, the most internationally recognised buildings of Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia. They were an amazing sight in the mid-afternoon sun, and made me feel very small standing next to them!
The next day we turned up and went on the “free” tour up to the 41st floor skybridge. I say “free”, because in return for turning up and having a look you also get the privilege of being subjected to a 10 minute corporate video about how great the Petronas company is. They give you 3D glasses to make it more exciting, but unfortunately it didn’t make it that much more exciting for me! Still, the view we got after the video was amazing. We were popped onto an express elevator which blasted us up to the 41st floor, and we walked out onto the skybridge. Definitely worth a mundane corporate advertising video!
Another highlight was our visit to Merdeka Square and Chinatown. Here you get a sense of the more traditional side of Kuala Lumpur. We didn’t linger too long in Chinatown, as we’ve seen a few and to be honest it didn’t even touch Melaka’s Chinatown. Merdeka Square housed some impressive buildings, including a massive flagpole with a massive national flag hoisted up it – pretty cool!
On that same day, we walked down to the nearly deserted Kuala Lumpur train station, and then on to the state mosque – a beautiful piece of architecture. We didn’t go in as the mosque was closed to tourists at certain times of the day, but it was worth the look. Our main mode of transport around the city was the metro and the monorail. We planned to walk from the mosque to KL Sentral (the Central train/bus station) to get the monorail back to our hotel – it turned out to be a bit far though, and we ended up walking back to Chinatown to get on the metro from there!
It was pretty hot in Kuala Lumpur while we were there – fortunately for us, there are a lot of shopping malls in the city with good air conditioning systems – perfect for dipping in and out of on a hot day! We spent a bit of time in shopping malls while there – although we didn’t buy a lot, there were some great people watching opportunities. While we were there, preparations were underway for the Hindu Deepavali ceremony. One woman in the Times Sqaure Shopping Centre was attempting a Malaysian record of the largest Rangoli done by a single person within 48 hours. A ??? is a large piece of art created on the ground – traditionally using flour, but in Malaysia done using coloured rice. Her piece was very interesting, but she looked absolutely shattered! I think she’d been going non-stop for nearly 36 hours by the time we left KL – it looked like hard work.
Another highlight was when we went up the KL Tower. The view from near the top was incredible – at around 481 metres you could see the whole city. We chose to go up at night, but when we got there, there was a fair bit of glare from lights within the tower, and the view was spoiled a little bit by that. The other slight disappointment was that even though the brochures we’d picked up from the tourist information office said that the entry fee was 20RM, it was actually 38RM – nearly twice the price! Still, in the end it was still worth it, and the lights of the city were an impressive sight from so high up. It may have been a little better if we’d gone during the day though.
Being in Kuala Lumpur, you could be in just about any western city. English is everywhere, and the multi-ethnic population gives the city a diverse feeling. It’s very different from the rest of Malaysia – you could be anywhere, so it doesn’t really feel much like Malaysia. The only bad point that I noticed was that Buddhist monks tend to come up to foreigners and try to push good-luck charms into their hands and then demand money. This happened to me a few times – each time I just ignored them, but one time a monk followed me for a few minutes down the road, about 2 feet behind me the whole way! I had to dip into a shop to lose him in the end! After seeing the humble and friendly monks of Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, these guys seem like real con artists.
I enjoyed Kuala Lumpur from a sights and comforts perspective. You need to look hard though, or you might forget you’re in Malaysia! Still, from our perspective, it was a great stop for a bit of home comfort, and to see some amazing urban sights. The people are friendlier than you might expect from a big city too, which was a pleasant surprise. I’m pleased we spent four nights there – it was a welcome stop-off before arriving in the more “rustic” Borneo!