27 May 2013

Kuala Lumpur: the highlights

Julie and I at the National Mosque
I have such great memories from my short birthday break in Kuala Lumpur and I’ve already posted about some of them – the bellisimo birds at the KL BirdPark, the striking architecture – but here are a few highlights from those delicious five days.

Cousin Julie comes too
It was so wonderful to see a familiar face and share some of my explorations of KL with my cousin Julie, who flew up from Singapore for the weekend. Gem that she is, she brought Moet, though we had to drink it lukewarm, and treated me to a superb sushi birthday dinner.

She shares my entrancement with Islamic arts, so was as captivated as I was with the National Mosque, the Moorish influences in the heritage architecture, the Islamic Arts Museum. We walked miles, talked more, and, considering neither of us is that keen on clothes shopping, we shopped well. The sale prices and ‘Auntie’, one very persuasive saleswoman and shop owner, also had a lot to do with our success in that quarter, though Julie may not be thanking me when her next credit card bill comes in!

The turrets of the city railway station
I would've gone hungry without the help of this lovely young woman

Charming people
From the delightful elderly Indian gentleman who walked me from his hotel the ten minutes to my hotel after my taxi from the airport dropped me off at the wrong place and I got a little lost to the young Malaysian girl who helped me select some delicious delicacies at a local foodstall where the menu was incomprehensible, I found the people of Kuala Lumpur heart-warmingly helpful and friendly.

At the Petronas Tower, the smartly dressed guide inquired oh so politely as to my age and then delicately suggested that I would qualify for a senior citizen’s discount if I wanted to go up the tower (I didn’t, as it would’ve meant waiting for 3 hours). The Hop-on Hop-off bus tout relinquished his chair and fetched a cold bottle of water for this red-faced, sweaty tourist, then proceeded to tell me some local history while I waited for the next bus. And, by my third visit, the staff at the Secret Recipe were welcoming me like a long-lost friend and all came over to wish me a very happy birthday when I mentioned the cake was my birthday treat.

South Indian food for breakfast one morning
Colourful culture
I was so glad we chose the Golden Triangle area to stay in. Our budget hotel, the Hotel de’Grand Orchard, though difficult to find initially, was perfectly comfortable and had an inviting rainforest shower, but it was the location I particularly loved.

The mostly Indian Muslim neighbourhood is really colourful, with great street food (even if you're not exactly sure what you're eating!), a nearby market selling everything from traditional Muslin headgear to knock-off brand watches, local streets that transform into a bustling market on a Saturday night, and plentiful shopping at cheap prices. It's an easy walk to the Merdeka Square area, to the Central Market, Chinatown, the National Mosque and National Textile Museum.

Check out the little slice of Kiwiana in a stall at the Central Market

From Chinese temple to Petronas Towers
Convenience and contrast
Kuala Lumpur has all the conveniences of a modern go-ahead city yet still manages to retain its small-community charm. There are huge air-conditioned shopping malls, and an efficient transport system of buses, subway and monorail, plus the KLIE express train to and from the airport – for a completely hassle-free experience with no queues you can even check in for your flight at the city station!

In the central commercial area, skyscrapers and tower blocks loom over the tiny pedestrian, yet I still managed to find a fascinating Chinese Buddhist temple just a city block from the Petronas Towers. Heritage shophouses huddle between concrete and glass office blocks, and a vibrantly coloured Hindu temple sits cheek-by-jowl with Chinese shops and supermarkets. 

As you can no doubt tell, I was enchanted with KL and highly recommend a visit to anyone passing through Asia. And now I can't resist adding a few more architecture shots!

The Royal Palace

The Sri Mahamariamman temple

The Petronas Towers sparkle at night

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