Kuala Lumpur (often shortened to KL) was full of surprises for us.
First, its size. We hadn’t been in a big city for a while and hadn’t really researched this one before we arrived. So our first view had us jaws agape as we ogled the skyscrapers that populate the city.
Second, the view from our condo, which was on the 38th floor of a 42-storey building. Both our living room and bedroom windows provided ever-changing views of the city, including the iconic Kuala Lumpur Tower and Petronas Twin Towers.
Our AirBnB was great, picked based on another blogger’s experiences in the same building in KL (earthvagabonds.com). The location was good and the Olympic-length pool was nice (though more seating around it would be welcome). We didn’t use the many other amenities but would have enjoyed them had our stay been longer.
The surprises continued when, while searching for a place for dinner, we happened upon a frenetic street of food (the Alor Street Food Night Market) where quiet or closed restaurants by day fill the streetscape at night with tables and chairs, many of which were full when we strolled along. The center of the street is an undulating mass of people checking out the signs, buying from the kiosks that squeeze in between the dining areas, or just moving through to the high-end malls and shops at the other end of the food street.
Only because we had heard a recommendation for it, we tried grilled stingray for the first time. It was beautifully cooked and delicious.
Though the Chinese New Year decorations in Penang were bright and colourful, and sometimes a little over the top, the decorations at the malls here were ostentatious, both inside and out.
The malls are crazy and big, and blessedly air-conditioned offering a cool reprieve, even for we non-shoppers. Times Square, an older and more closed-in mall, which was not to my liking, houses a full amusement park with a twisting roller coaster.
Another surprise was the KL Forest Eco Park, a jungle right in the heart of the city, complete with canopy walks and interpretive signs describing the various tree species.
Connected by pathways to the Eco Park is the KL Tower. It was very quiet around the tower, despite tourist attractions nearby, like the Upside Down House (we’ve seen these in almost every town we’ve been to in the last few months, along with multiple 3D art galleries).
We walked into the Chocolate Museum (?) only to find a very large candy store with giant bags of only a few kinds of chocolates. Far too many bored clerks looked like they were waiting for the tourist bus to arrive, which it did as we were leaving.
Except for our visit to the Batu Caves, we spent most of our time in Kuala Lumpur on foot, wandering the streets. We discovered colourful buildings and street art, and beautiful colonial architecture.
The building on the left now houses the National Textile Museum, which we visited. Exhibits included the full process of batik making and traditional costumes through time.
On one walk, we ended up at the covered Petaling Street market area and the Central Market.
A not-as-pleasant surprise was our walk through Kampung Baru, a neighbourhood we had read about as a must-check-out. We found a walking tour map and followed it. Though occasional sewer smells are normal as you walk along the streets in other parts of the city and country, the smells in this neighbourhood were unceasing. Some restaurants and food stands had tried to reduce them by blocking the grates that were embedded in the sidewalks with various mats, but with so many openings it seems an impossible task to create a pleasant olfactory environment.
Still, our map did provide good directions and explanations of each stop along the way.
And we did take advantage of a couple of the food stalls–Ken tried an avocado shake with chocolate drizzle (not my thing, but he drank the whole thing!), and we both tried another sweet snack that we cannot name. It is a crispy crepe with several toppings including palm sugar and corn, folded and eaten while warm. Quite tasty.
Masjid Jamek Kuala Lumpur (Jamek Mosque) sits picturesquely at the confluence of two rivers. We had viewed it from a bridge some days earlier, but Ken wanted to return and go inside.
On a very hot day (they all were), we walked up to the temple. I was about to pull my trusty sarong out of the pack, when I was told I would need to cover up everything and that the sarong wouldn’t do. The sign outside shows acceptable garb and inside robes are handed out to all of the women, and skirts to men wearing shorts.
I could not bear the heat of being fully covered, hair to ankles, in multiple layers (the robe wrapped around on top of my own clothes). We took a short walk around the temple and then I made a beeline for the wardrobe area, ripping the velcro open as quickly as I could.
Just outside the gate we recovered in the shaded plaza.
Over another bridge, we came across another surprise, though we heard it before we could see what was going on. Little kids, adorned from head to toe in riding gear, zipped around a track on what seemed like chain-saw-motor powered tiny motorcycles. I hope that they were also wearing hearing protection under those helmets.
In the same area, and apparently part of a family day of sorts, we saw lanes of coconut bowling laid out and ready for action.
Walking back along the river we enjoyed different views of buildings we had seen before from the other side, including the temple.
We can’t forget the ubiquitous Petronas Twin Towers. We were surprised by the green space on one side of them. It offered a massive playground, a waterpark, and plenty of shade, and joined up with a dancing water fountain.
The other side of the towers was more formal, with a circular driveway and a long water fountain running between the towers and the Public Bank building.
In the lobby of the towers, we thought we were being treated extra special as staff rolled out the red carpet in front of us. But then they erected barriers and we weren’t allowed in. Turns out the Malaysian Prime Minister was attending the symphony that evening at the Petronas Philharmonic Hall, which is housed inside the towers.
We didn’t go up the towers to the viewing area because, surprise!, tickets for the day were sold out. Tip: Order your tickets online ahead of time.
- KL Forest Eco Park: Entrance is free.
- National Textile Museum: Entrance is free.