When you embark on your first trip to Malaysia, you will be truly enthralled by its sights, its people and, of course, its shopping malls. I was no exception.
Ours was a six-day trip from Mumbai to Kuala Lumpur [KL]. We did not want to pack too much into the trip as the idea was to get that much-needed relaxation, in addition to sight-seeing. But, as it turned out mall-hopping was the best way to relax in KL!
Taking off from Chennai, an uneventful flight dropped us at the KLIA [KL International Airport] in the wee hours of the morning. The glitz and glamour of the airport was enough to wake me up - ah, the modern delights of KL!
Having done my bit of research, I decided to try out the super-fast train to take us from the airport to the city - which by road is usually an hour's drive. It's probably more during peak hours. The train takes exactly 28 minutes, and it is literally a joy-ride. At 35 RM [1 RM = Rs 11] and free porter service thrown in, this is the best it can get.
We alighted at KL Sentral, which is the main train terminal in KL City. Pre-paid cab services make life easy for one to go to any place from here. You can also avail of Information Services in KL Sentral.
After having caught up with sleep, we decided to spend the day sniffing around the city. Being vegetarians, we also had to find some suitable places to eat. I'd like to point out that most local restaurants have limited vegetarian options. Even a chain restaurant or cafe serving quality food like Secret Kitchen have just one vegetarian item on their menu. Also, having had the only vegetarian thing on their menu - which I must admit was very good - we continued our walk along Jalan P Ramlee.
The afternoon heat "poked" us as we walked around the Petronas. The air-conditioning environ of the Suria KLCC Mall now beckoned us. Every shop was on "sale." The most note-worthy in my opinion was a Malaysian pottery shop - Tenmoku Pottery. They sell vases, cups, mugs, artefacts, ash trays, and magnets - all ceramics in beautiful natural shades. These are good gifts to pick up as souvenirs, provided you are the type that packs well.
We were excited to see regular suspects like Marks and Spencer, GAP, Diesel, and Oakley and checked out the goods on sale. When we realised we could walk no more, we took a break at Starbucks as we drew out some "back-of-the-tissues" plan for our trip. Later in the evening, we met a friend in KL who showed us newer parts of the City, like Damansara, where the malls got even bigger!
I must emphasise that all you, party animals, make special note of Jalan P Ramlee and the adjacent Jalan Sultan Ismail. These two roads are the nerve centres of the City's party circuit and nightlife. The most happening pubs such as Beach Club, Hard Rock Cafe, Poppy, Bar Ibiza, etc., are located right here. Bangsar is also one such area that has a throbbing nightlife.
Hop-on, hop-off tour
At 38 RM per ticket, it is great value covering 22 spots in KL city, which is pretty much all you need to see. Just as the name suggests, you can get off at any stop, spend time there and catch the next bus that comes that way. There is a special bus service in conjunction with Visit Malaysia 2007. A hop-on, hop-off tour is the best way to get a quick overview of all that there is to see and make plans for an in-depth visit during your stay. These double-decker buses are stacked with plenty of brochures, are spacious and replete with a glass roof.
Bird Park and Orchid Park
The Bird Park in KL is supposed to be the world's largest free-flight aviary. Entry fee is 30 RM per person. Varieties of hornbills with their colourful beaks were a delight to watch, so were the screeching parrots in reds and greens. The highlight of the park was the photo-shoot, where you are allowed to take pictures with trained exotic birds at 5 RM per person; developing a print will cost you 18 RM. I was a little scared initially about letting the huge birds sit on my bare forearms, but a bit of prodding from my husband, and I was game. The bird-master [if I may call him so] placed one large green bird on my arm, and one mischievous orange smaller bird on my head, the sole purpose of which was to push down my newly-acquired fashionable glares sitting on my head! My husband managed to look as calm as the Buddha while the birds pecked and played with his hair - in total contrast to myself, a nervous lady trying her best to smile for the camera.
The Orchid Park, just across the road from the Bird Park, is a heaven-like setting with more than 30 varieties of orchids. This was the perfect location to go "trigger-happy." We took hundreds of pictures of colourful blooms. Entry to the park is free on all weekdays; there is a nominal RM entry fee on weekends and holidays.
After a quick trip around the Merdeka [Independence] Square, the Titiwangsa Lake, and the Eye on Malaysia, we made our next major stop at the swankiest mall complex around, Bukit Bintang.
On a Sunday morning, our friend in KL decided to drive us to the famous Genting Highlands. We first passed by the Batu Caves en route to the highlands. The main cave holds a shrine of Lord Subramanya, a Hindu deity. A cave gallery is located at the foot of the caves featuring clay figurines and wall paintings depicting scenes and figures from Hindu mythology. This is a popular tourist attraction among Hindus. There is a 272-step concrete staircase leading to the temple cave.
Genting Highlands is famous for the cable car ride that shuttles from the highlands into the resorts, and I am told it is the best part of the visit to Genting. Genting is famous for its casino and golf. There are several affordable resorts dedicated to golf alone and the pleasant weather makes playing golf a pleasure. The casino in Genting is probably the only one in Malaysia, a Muslim nation, where gambling is prohibited.
After driving back from Genting into the City, we decided to pay a visit to KL Tower. Also called the Menara Kuala Lumpur, this is a 421-metre high telecommunication tower, the fourth tallest in the world. At the entrance itself, you'll be forced to stop and admire the intricate glass Muqarnas' architecture on the ceilings outside the elevators. Things to do while in the KL Tower are - view almost the whole of KL from the observation deck, have the pleasure of eating amongst the clouds [outside of an airplane] in the revolving restaurant, and souvenir shopping at the deck level. The revolving restaurant serves lunch, dinner, tea and hi-tea. Making a reservation is advisable.
Being vegetarians we could not sign up for the entirely non-vegetarian dinner option, high up in the sky. An Indian restaurant D'Tandoor in the ground floor was our only choice, and the food served there was good.
At a dizzying height of 452-metre, Petronas Twin Towers are on every tourist's "must-see" list. These two 88-storey edifices are the world's tallest free-standing towers. Apart from offices, the awesome towers also house a state-of-the-art concert hall - the Petronas Philharmonic Hall, home of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra and the Petronas Performing Arts Group.
The designs are based on geometric patterns common in Islamic architecture. Special features of the towers include the double-decker sky-bridge and high-speed double-deck lifts. The first few floors house shopping arcades, restaurants, a science museum and the concert hall, and are the only floors open to the public. Admission is free. However, tickets are limited and issued daily on a first-come-first-served basis for which one has to get to the basement, early in the morning, and queue up to collect passes before they run out.
Getting to the top of the sky-bridge for a bird's-eyeview of KL is a thrilling experience for everyone.
Passes are issued at 15 minutes or half-hour intervals, so you may end up getting a pass for several hours later, depending on how far behind you were in the queue. It is a good idea to visit the Aquaria which a 5-minute walk from the basement of the adjacent KLCC Suria Mall.
Aquaria KLCC is based on the "passage" of water from the land to the sea. The journey starts in the highlands, across the rivers, the rainforests, and mangroves to the sea. The idea of being able to touch baby sharks as they swim in a man-made pond is quite indescribable. The highlight of the Aquaria is a moving walkway in a 90-metre acrylic tunnel where you can see sharks, sting rays and many other ocean species which you could have, otherwise, seen at such close quarters only if you were a diver. There are feeding schedules at various times of the day where one can buy food and hand-feed some of the fish under expert supervision.
This is a hill resort in Pahang state located at an altitude of 1,829-metre.
It was discovered by William Cameron, a Britisher. It was also the British that first decided to grow tea on these hilly slopes.
The catalogue mentioned about tea plantations, rose plantations, and so on, which seemed enticing enough to make the 600-km drive worthwhile [300 km one way]. The roads are in great condition and the long drive from the City can be made in three hours. The scenery en route is lush green and breathtakingly beautiful.
The smell of durian fruit was hanging thick in the air. There were fruit stalls, one of which caught our eye. We bought a few kg of Rumbutan - a hairy, bigger version of the lychee, two kg of Mangosteen which is quite ugly outside, but a delight once you get inside after ripping its thick red shell. It's tart, very sweet and spongy soft, something you must taste to appreciate. The next stop at the tea plantations was most delightful, probably the best of what we had. Cameron is probably the only place in Malaysia where tea is grown. The Bharat Tea Plantation has a nice gift shop, where you can buy teas of different strains. They are one of the best gifts you can get for tea-lovers back home. The plantation also has an open air cafe which looks down into the tea gardens as far as your eyes can see.
Cameron is also known for its Rose Centre that houses over 400 varieties of roses, apart from other types of plants such as cactus, apple trees, aloe vera etc. They also have some exotic breeds such as the black and green roses. This is one place you must make sure your camera has adequate memory because every flower will beg to be captured by your lens. Cameron also has butterfly and strawberry farms.
Petaling Street and Central Market
This is KL's Chinatown. It is [in]famous for pirated branded clothes and accessories and also pirated CDs and DVDs. Haggling is the way to get bargain deals and people bargain up to 70 per cent discount on the offered price. The area attracts locals and tourists alike in search of bargains, including inexpensive dresses, shoes, fabrics and souvenirs. At night, it is transformed into a bustling market. The area has dozens of restaurants and roadside food stalls, serving local favourites.
At a short distance from Petaling Street is the Central Market which is a cultural centre-cum-shopping area. It is a good place to pick up craft, souvenirs and art, all at reasonable prices. You might even find Malaysian artists displaying their art work.
The easiest way to travel within KL is to use a Public Teksi [public cab]. Most of the sights and sounds we went to were within a radius of 5-10 km and cost us 10-20 RM at most per trip one-way. Travel to places like Genting, approximately an hour's drive from KL, cost us roughly 100-150 RM, while a road trip by private taxi to Cameron Highlands cost us 600 RM [for two of us] when booked from the hotel travel desk. You can get better deals if you take a bus from the Puduraya Terminus.
I was told that buses ply to Indonesia and Singapore as well, and it is a real good deal. A round trip from KL City to Singapore costs only 160 RM on the Aeroline Malaysia Singapore Express Bus.
The rail network in KL is well-connected too. One can buy single trip tickets to the station closest to your destination. The officials at the stations are most helpful.
Food in Malaysia is a melting pot of Malaysian, Chinese and Indian cultures. Sea food and meat eaters will find plenty to choose from. For vegetarians, it is a bit of a problem when it comes to choosing a restaurant that serves at least a couple of plant-based dishes. Some of the restaurants that we recommend for vegetarians are:
- The Chakri Palace in the KLCC Suria Mall: Thai food with a separate vegetarian section on their menu
- Secret Kitchen, throughout KL: Not much variety, but 2-3 items they offer are very tasty
- Brien's Irish Sandwich Bar, several locations: You can custom-make your own sandwich
- Pannetone: KL Sentral Station
- La Opera: Italian Restaurant outside Lot 10 at Bukit Bintang.
We recommend you spend 4-5 days in the City and visit a neighbouring tourist attraction like the beach sides of Langkawi, or ancient Malacca, or reach Singapore by air or bus.
You may also retire to the hill resorts in Cameron instead, and enjoy the cool mountain air like how the Brits did before. Whatever you do, you'll have fond memories of Malaysia, that is Truly Asia.
100 Years of History
- 1857: KL started as a swampy post for Chinese tin miners. Selangor Civil War: War resolved by the British and Frank Swettenham took command.
- 1896: KL made capital of Federated Malay States
- Till 1925: Steady inflow of Tamil labourers to build the city
- 1941: Invaded and bombarded by the Japanese [World War II]
- 1945: Japanese surrender and British in-charge
- 1957: Independent Malaysia.
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