OK, I have a confession. Although many people rate Kuala Lumpur quite highly, it just doesn’t do it for me. It’s always stinky hot. Or hotter. There are some nice malls but I’m not a shopper. Especially when you can’t buy anything bigger than a size 2. Tourist spots are always crowded. And previous choices of accommodation certainly didn’t help to improve perceptions.
So I really didn’t want to return, but it was a necessary evil in order to take advantage of a particularly good airfare to Istanbul. My stay was going to be for 5 days thanks to an expiring Indonesia visa and my scheduled (cheap) flight. It realised that I would need an attitude adjustment if I was going to not be miserable during these 5 days, or just stay holed up in a hotel room. So it became my mission to learn to like KL.
The first step was to find somewhere new to stay. Accommodation choices in the past have been driven by cost (which resulted in staying in some seedy area whose name I forget) or by practicality (a couple of short stays in KL Sentral due to convenience to bus/train systems).
This time, I headed to Bukit Bintang, an area that I wasn’t really familiar with. I was here for 4 nights, so I wanted to find a decent place to stay where I could actually feel comfortable (and safe). Sahabat Guesthouse a friendly, quiet, family-run place was recommended to me – and what a difference is made to my overall enjoyment of this city. And it was just one road back from a rather busy tree-lined street that was bustling with restaurants.
But the best thing was to discover of Jalan Alor (Alor St) – which turned into a wonderfully busy night food market. They mainly offered Chinese or BBQ’s.
I opted for the BBQ, were you pick sticks of vegetables (broccoli, mushrooms, mini-cabbages, aubergine, corn), meat (marinated pork, chicken, pigeon, and various weird and wonderful things like intestines, etc) and seafood (fish, prawns, lobsters, stingray…).
You picked your colour-coded sticks, they cooked them on the BBQ (or put the vegetables into a vat of boiling water) then server them to you on a platter with a range of sauces. When you’re finished, the count up the colour-coded sticks to work out the cost. It was fun, tasty and healthy. I went back 3 nights in a row, it was so good.
The second night, the Chinese owner didn’t want me sitting on my own (more likely, he didn’t want me to waste valuable table space that could be used by other paying customers) so he plonked me down to share a table with an overweight, rough-as-guts Aussie truck driver. Not long after, we were joined by a gay-as-they-come Aussie flight attendant, here on holiday with his mother who wouldn’t come join him for street food. What an interesting set of dinner companions!
Mr Truckie was into trying all the weird and wonderful things on offer, including the BBQ stingray wing. He very kindly offered to share it – and knowing that I would never be adventurous enough to buy it myself, I gave it a go. And I was pleasantly surprised! It had the sweetness of crab meat and the texture of tender chicken.
My days were spent playing a camera-toting tourist. I’d try to leave the guesthouse early, and start my day while it was less hot, with the aim to be back in the afternoon for a shower, snooze or whatever.
Day 1 I made my way to the KL Tower, and hiked up to the top of the hill on which it was perched. The cost of going up the tower was ridiculously overpriced so I didn’t bother – it would have only been to snap a few photos anyhow. Instead, I carried on to the Petronas Towers.
I had heard that the roads around the towers would be closed off as there was a special prayer to be held in the afternoon for the passengers of the missing flight MH370. I thought it might be interesting to be a part of that, but once again, was given erroneous information. Yes, the roads were closed, but it was for promotions and exhibitions for the upcoming Formula 1 car race. So often people provide incorrect information here – it’s very frustrating!
I wandered around the outside of the towers and the surrounding lake, taking the obligatory photos. Lunchtime was approaching and the heat was increasing, so it was time to check out the mall inside with its glorious cool air-conditioning and food court.
After a delicious Nasi Lemak for lunch, I ventured up to the 3rd floor to check out the art gallery and some art stores. This is more my kind of shopping, although there wasn’t much on offer within my backpacker budget. But it was nice to see some local art.
After dinner I walked the 1.5km back to Petronoas tower to get some night shots. It was Sunday night and a hive of activity in the surrounding park with a band playing music, F1 promotions, families having ice creams, and young couples having a snog in the shadows.
The next day I hopped the train to Batu Cave, about a ½ hour ride away. It’s a popular Hindu shrine and on the list of must-see places, which means it was one big tourist trap. And it involved a steep hike up 272 steps.
Fortunately, the gazillion monkeys around the place provided plenty of photo-op excuses to stop frequently. The place was strewn with plastic bottles – either stolen by, or given to the monkeys by stupid tourists who wanted a funny photo of the silly monkey. Like this one.
In my endeavours to miss more of the ‘must see’ touristy places, especially during the Malaysian school holiday, I aimed to find some lower key but interesting places. One was the Malaysian Craft Complex which supposedly has a community of artists demonstrating their craft. It was a long hot walk to get there (made worse by getting a bit lost) but I found it eventually. It was a huge complex mostly made up a gift store, and large empty spaces outside. There were a few small buildings that had batik painters and a carver – but it was mostly underwhelming. What a disappointment.
Across the road was the Heritage Centre (Badan Warisan). It’s an organisation that is working to save and restore some of Malaysia’s heritage buildings, and have an old restored 1920’s colonial bungalow on site. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise that they only show the house on tour – and I had missed the morning tour. Bugger!
KL is growing on me. I enjoyed my time there, just taking it easy exploring at my own pace and not feeling like I had to cram too many things into each day. It was bloody hot (even the locals complained) and it can be hard work walking around due to heat, traffic and long distances between destinations. Having a comfortable guesthouse in a nice area with a nice, cool outdoor communal area and kitchen made a big difference.
I wouldn’t make specific plans to return, but no doubt I won’t avoid it in future travels since KL is a major transport hub for airlines in SE Asia and beyond. Next time, though, I won’t be so reluctant to return if plans dictate it.
My attitude has been nicely adjusted. Mission accomplished.