When my friends told me that our next destination after Koh Phi Phi needed to be Kuala Lumpur, the part of my brain responsible for geography simply shut down. I couldn’t have even guessed where Kuala Lumpur was and my assumption is that most Americans would have the same trouble. Google Maps to the rescue! Kuala Lumpur (KL) is located in Malaysia, a half peninsular to the Asian continent, bordering Thailand and half island bordering, Indonesia. KL is a city of over 1.6 million people (~7 million unofficially) and considered a major hub of southeast Asia. Not as large as Bangkok, but much more new and technologically/architecturally developed. Wikipedia revealed the glittering image of the landmark Petronas Towers which vaguely registered a memory deep within my mind. I admit, I was ashamed I had never really known about this metropolis that hosts many an international event like Formula 1 racing and the global oil/energy summit. After my Google Maps/Wikipedia refresher I was ready for the trip and of course for a change of scenery to a big city after being in remote islands for so long.
After a short ferry boat ride, we hopped on an Air Asia (another great Asian airline btw) flight out of Krabi International and landed in Kuala Lumpur Airport 2 hours later. Of course, a new country meant a new currency, so we made for an ATM and drew out a couple hundred, Malaysian Ringgit (RM), at an exchange ration of 3:1 to the dollar. Not as great of an exchange rate as Thailand (30:1) but we could make do since we only planned to be in KL for 2 nights. The bank notes were strangely slim, perhaps 2/3 the size of a Dollar and multicolored much like the Thai Baht.
I had booked us a room at the Swiss Garden Hotel, near the city center of KL, so we hailed a cab to take us there. Little did we know that the cab ride was an hours distance from the city. We soon realized why as the sprawl of buildings and groves of palms showed us how expansive this urban area was. Interconnected with the city center of Kuala Lumpur are smaller metro hubs like Cyberjaya and many more clusters of brand new, futuristic looking skyscrapers, stadiums and row after row of developmental housing. The landscape is hilly as KL is situated in a called around a muddy river, surrounded by mountains slightly smaller than those in my birth-town of Asheville NC. Where there are not modern buildings there are groves upon groves of palm trees.
Malaysia is predominantly Muslim and the influence was evident even without leaving our hotel. Women in headscarves and men in traditional caps were prevalent. I also noticed that a large percentage of the other travelers were of middle eastern decent. Even our ride up the elevator to our 8th floor room was alongside a Saudi Arabian couple: the husband in shorts, sandals and t-shirt, the wife in floor length black silk robes, only a narrow slit for her to see through. The food menus were devoid of any pig products and of course there were the noticeable colored domes and minarets of many mosques around the city.
The whole of KL is very diverse, much more so than Bangkok. I notice all types of nationalities and ethnicities, there does not seem to be a majority anywhere. The diversity is most likely due to the popularity of KL as a business and commerce hub for all of southeast Asia, and the fact that the Islamic predominance makes it a prime Asian destination for middle easterners, northern Indians and east Africans, unlike the hedonistic Bangkok of comparable urban size. The language is easier to understand as it uses the English alphabet, unlike the cryptic Thai lettering. Alongside the Malaysian and English words are also Arabic script and Mandarin symbols in order to cater to the diversity of the city.
Now this is when i get into a bit of a travelers review/rant on our hotel, The Swiss Garden Hotel, which would be described as rocky. Check-in went smoothly but as we made our way to our room we found 2 beds instead of the 3 that we requested. Quarters were tight, but that was to be expected in a downtown hotel, we just needed a place for all 3 to rest our heads. Although for a higher price per night, the room (and hospitality) was much lesser than what i experienced at a similar 4 star hotel in Bangkok. I placed a call to housekeeping to notify them of the situation and we headed off to the hotel gym for a much needed workout while our room was being set up properly. To our surprise we discovered the “gym” was not all that Hotels.com described it to be. A few outdated treadmills and a variety of mismatched dumbbells. Luckily, all of us being experienced in the Tony Horton art of P90X we had no problem getting a sweat on without the proper equipment. Next on the agenda was getting some business done, since the 3 of us make our “skrilla” on the internet we looked forward to the “free wifi” that was described on the hotels.com website before we booked. We soon came to realize that not only was there no WiFi in our room or public hotel areas, there was no free WiFi whatsoever. We inquired with the business center and were informed that we could purchase a 30 min WiFi password for 20 Ringgit, more disappointment and utter shock at both the ridiculously high fee and hotels.com’s misleading description of “free WiFi” that we based our hotel booking upon. Some of us paid the fee in disgust, some of us just went to bed.
The next morning we started our first full day in KL. Things started off well as the free breakfast included at out hotel was extensive and delicious. An unlimited buffet of items covering all the major breakfast appetites: Jok with condiments for the Thai, Nasi Lemak for the Malaysians, Roti with curry for the Indians and English breakfast for us westerners (minus the bacon of course). Swiss Garden Hotel was certainly earning some points back in their favor by stuffing out bellies with all types of international cuisine for free. Once refueled we headed out into the streets of KL for some sightseeing. It was oppressively hot so we took an air-conditioned cab to the Kuala Lumpur City Center (KLCC), which is not only a large spotlessly clean and park but also the location of the famed Petronas Towers, the largest twin towers in the world.
The surrounding KLCC park was beautiful, filled with banyan trees, pools, playgrounds, fountains and spotlessly clean everywhere. We played around a bit on the parks massive playgrounds and took silly King Kong-esque pictures of ourselves with the towers.
Below the towers is a huge shopping mall with all the high-end brands you can imagine. We explored 5 floors of shops until our feet were sore and then decided to catch a movie at the mall cinema, actually, we caught 2 in a row. Both films, “Safe” (starring Jason Statham) and “The Avengers” were in English with both Malaysian and Chinese subtitles. The movie tickets were only 10 RM each (~$3.30) and the theatre was luxuriously comfortable. After treating ourselves to 4 hours of Hollywood action, we ventured back into the KLCC park to bask in the nighttime glow of the towers and surrounding skyline.
Dinner was consumed at Dome, an Italian restaurant in the park which served up all types of cuisine. I decided to try the national dish of Malaysia, Nasi Lemak. Nasi Lemak can and is consumed at breakfast, lunch and/or dinner in Malaysia and Indonesia, it usually consists of coconut scented rice, peanuts, boiled egg, cucumber, dried sardines, spicy red sauce and tender chicken or beef. Sometimes served on a plate sometimes wrapped inside a pandana leaf, this isthe multi-tool of Malaysian food. My version of the dish at Dome was of the higher-end Nasi Lemak spectrum.
The red sauce was a spicy puffer-fish concoction and the dried sardines were kind of like fishy pork rinds. The best part was the spicy tender beef mixed with the coconut scented rice.
After dinner we walked back home since the air had cooled off considerably. We passed through shopping district after shopping district, all sparkling clean and aglow with LED light. KL is by far one of the cleanest cities I have ever experienced and also one of the most beautiful. Parks and fountains are everywhere, litter is non-existent and the smells were quite pleasant (unlike the constant stench of Bangkok that you learn to deal with). KL is also a city built for cars and even though motorbikes are prevalent, there are certainly more Lamborghini and Porsche than scooters.
Upon returning to our hotel that night, we visited the business center once again to unhappily request more WiFi time. This time a different lady was working the counter and she informed us that it would be only 10 RM for 24 hours of WiFi. We were all at once elated at the new information and furious that the previous help was so badly misinformed. The WiFi was still not free as the website described, but the situation was infinitely better than the night before.
The next morning started with another hunger crushing buffet breakfast of delectable variety followed by checkout at 11am. After multiple attempts we were not able to book flights online for some reason, so we decided to do it the old fashioned way. We got a cab back to the airport and walked up to the ticket counter for Air Asia Airlines to request 3 one-way tickets to Bangkok. Air Asia’s staff is friendly and polite and gave us a great deal on the 3pm flight. Once aboard the spartan clean plane we were treated to further kind service by Barbie-doll like stewardesses, only adding to my newfound appreciation for Air Asia and other Asian airlines. Goodbye Kuala Lumpur, and thanks for the memories, we may remember you next time we need another 30 day passport extension for Thailand.