Discovering Kuala Lumpur

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Find Kuala Lumpur

Afternoon.  The next thing I knew, we were standing in the very pleasant, modern, clean Kuala Lumpur airport.  As I walked through the brand new terminal gazing in amazement, I remembered thinking, “This is Kuala Lumpur?” Oh sure, I had seen Hollywood’s impression of Kuala Lumpur in Entrapment.  And even though the film didn’t miss the mark by much, I wasn’t expecting this.  The damn airport is definitely peeing in the tall grass as its American counterparts watch longingly from the porch.  It was an apropos welcome to a city that could only be described as lively, colorful, friendly, and simultaneously modern and swimming in tradition.

Well, here’s what happened in Kuala Lumpur (better known by its nickname “KL“). We went straight from the airport, which sits in an oil palm plantation about 45 minutes from the city, to the our hotel.  Unlike in Penang, we elected to stay at the westernized Marriott.  This hotel is the epitome of cleanliness, modernity, and comfort – catering primarily to international businessfolk. So far so good. Since we spent most of the afternoon either in, or traveling from, Penang, we were understandably thirsty as hell.  Ergo, Jake and I wasted little time getting cleaned up so that we could hit the bustling streets of KL.

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Night Market

It was about 8 o’clock on Saturday evening, and the night air was thick and warm.  Nevertheless, having gained a bit of fashion-sense at lunch (nobody wears shorts), we now sported long pants despite the climate and headed out. Taking the advice of a friendly concierge, we jumped into a cab and cruised down to the local market district “where everything was happening.”  No kidding, this place was lively. The streets were teeming with locals and tourists alike.  The market was dotted with animated hawkers selling everything from exotic local fruit to knock-off designer watches and pirated movies and CDs.

I considered embarking on a trademark and copyright educational crusade when I suddenly realized that I hadn’t had a beer in at least two hours.  The best laid plans… so back to the street: lively Asian-rock music pumped from portable radios hidden among the masses. The local youth were laughing and darting around our legs with abandon.

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The Durian Dudes What the Hell?

If it were up to me, that spiny bastard would have a big question mark stamped on the side.   I watched local men grab durians, heft them about a bit, shake them, eyeball them, heft them again and then finally jam them into their faces and sniff for a minute straight. 

Despite the clamor and variety of the market, I think it was the colorful display of fruits and vegetables that stood out the most. The locals spend considerable time browsing the stands and engaging in ritualistic evaluations of each piece of fruit before committing to a purchase. One fruit of particular note is known as a durian. Often called the “king of fruits” by the locals, the ubiquitous durian is a heavy green-grey spiny, smelly melon-sized thing.

This process would be repeated until they found the perfect fruit. After watching all of the locals engage in this ritual, I thought “What the hell, toss me one of them monsters!” Sensibly, I marched right over to the stand, and with all the confidence of a local aficionado, gripped the prickly-ass thing and jammed it into my face. See, I thought that it would be a soft and squishy prickly-ass thing – which I assure you it was not! Ok, this is what my mind said now: “Smile. Play it cool – put the nice durian down and step over to an old friend – the mango.” Which I did. These mangos were unbelievable. The freshest, sweetest, juiciest mangos that I’d ever tasted – so I bought a bag full of ‘em for breakfast the next day. And mmmmmm what a great breakfast it was.

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Enough with the fruit. We were starving (and did I mention thirsty?). It was time to clip on a serious feed. As luck would have it, we found a the perfect spot and enjoyed about the best meal we had while in Asia. This so-called restaurant was really no more than a few tables set up in the street outside of a kitchen, but the food was unbelievable.

I think we ordered two of everything on the menu and a squadron of oversized Tiger beers – the local favorite.

Restaurant Scene
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We got the beers in a coveted ice bucket because of our frequent-buyer status. Fellow diners were mostly out-of-towners (we met a few Brits, Aussies, American, etc.) – eating and watching the lively market swirl around. We ate and drank excessively, leaving a trail of half-eaten plates of noodles, meats, seafood, and God knows what else all for the low price of about $10 US apiece.

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Feeding Time Christopher & Beer

It took a whole bunch of effort to peel ourselves out of the chairs after (1) all that food, (2) all that beer, (3) all that heat and humidity, (4) all that Penang earlier in the day, (5) all that airplane/airport/luggage hauling/ticket counter/waiting around/traveling, and (6) all the lingering effects of jetlag (this was only our second day in Asia).  When we did finally get up we wandered around to aid the digestion process, and then found a jovial cabby to take us to a happening nightspot.  (note: the cabby spoke perfect English, as did all the Malaysians; they are required to study English as their second language from a very young age.)  Our hack knew just the place. We hopped out in front of a wild, jungle-y, leopard-skin-painted club just a few blocks from the hotel. It was only about 10:30 P.M. and the club was almost empty. We were told that the night scene here didn’t pick up until after midnight. There was no way we were going to make it.  So we drank a beer or two with a couple of other losers in the bar and wandered back to the hotel. Sleep sounded great and we needed to rest up for our scheduled early morning romp through KL.

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See the Towers?

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Step Back!

Again, we woke up with sun and consulted the guidebook for the day’s itinerary. Jake the architecture guy was hopping around like a gassy chimp going bananas over the city’s prominent showpiece – the Petronas Towers. The Petronas Towers are the tallest inhabited buildings in the world and they loomed just outside of our hotel window. A visit was unavoidable. The book also lauded the KL Tower as a must-see.  At 421 metres, the KL Tower is the fourth tallest manmade structure in the world –so what the hell – let’s see if we can get sick riding up and down elevators all day!

We elected to hit the KL Tower first. As we approached the plaza in a cab, I threw my neck out of joint trying to see the top of the structure. The Tower is actually a communications tower with a space-needlesque observation deck for the curious. In any event, the damn thing was enormous. We wandered through the usual making-of-the-tower exhibits, paid our $4 US and climbed into the elevator that whisked us to the top. 

When the doors popped open at the top we cautiously walked over to the concave glass walls that encircled the observation deck. Maintaining contact with the railing at all times – we slowly circumnavigated the deck and marveled at the expansive view. The scene was almost surreal as we watched the early morning mist gently rising from the city. It was on this tower that I began to really appreciate my newly acquired 24 mm lens – the vistas were so sweeping. I’d have been sorely disappointed with a narrower field of view.

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After about thirty minutes of gazing and snapping photos we embarked on yet another very sweaty foot tour of Malaysia. As we ambled toward the city center (and the Petronas Towers) we couldn’t get over how clean and modern KL was. It seemed to be a thriving Mecca of unadulterated capitalism and big business. Shiny new high-rises occupied every corner and the wheels of commerce were spinning fast.

The Petronas Towers were less than a 30-minute walk, and when we got there I was completely drenched (95 degrees and 90% humidity). My clothes felt like flypaper rather than cotton. When we finally made it to the Petronas Towers, I threw my neck out again looking up. The 452 meter tall towers were identical silver spires reaching graciously skyward.  Although the towers designed by Cesar Pelli were completed in 1998, they looked like they were torn from the pages of a science fiction novel set fifty years in the future. Amazing. Neither words nor pictures can do the Petronas Towers justice – in fact they were too big to effectively photograph (even with the 24mm lens). Unfortunately for us, they are functional office towers, so they discourage visitors from entering. Nevertheless, we wandered though the lobby for a bit (soaking up the free A/C) before straggling off to continue our foot tour.

As lunchtime approached we sought refuge from the heat in a giant indoor shopping mall replete with all of the most modern western shops and chain stores. Jake found a pretty reasonable restaurant inside the mall that overlooked the lush manicured park in the center of the city – where we had a fine western style lunch.  As with everything else in KL, the adjoining park was a marvel. Footpaths and bridges meandered in and around vibrant gardens and stunning fountains. The park was enormous and even housed a full-sized water themed amusement park complete with slides, pools, water cannons, and other stuff. I think the picture on the bridge in the park typifies this beautiful city.

 

Pelli’s Masterpiece
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Look Up
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Downtown KL

As we picked up the walking tour, we did manage to wander through a few more “vintage” areas of town.  Chinatown was reminiscent of Penang with its aging-to-dilapidated buildings and the cluttered shops lining the streets.  It was here that we searched for a seedy yet notorious bar, but to our disappointment it had recently burned down (hmmmm!).    Oh, and here is a cramped stinky pet shop.  Those wily Chinese. 

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Third World Pets

Our meanderings also took us through Little India.  Oooh the smells.  If nothing else, I did manage to snap up a pretty smart pair of socks here.  And furthermoreover, several vendors proudly sold the English language version of a masterpiece called “SHIT.” Ha. (ha.) 

After stopping occasionally for – you guessed it – a refreshment or two we ambled back to the hotel.  The afternoon wore on and it was time to make tracks for Singapore.  On the way to the airport the taxi driver filled us in on the history of KL and explained that the city is aiming to be the epicenter of Asian commerce in the years to come. If I were a betting man, and I am, I say that would be pretty safe money.

As we pulled into the airport, I was sad to leave. A few more days in KL would have been in order. Conveniently, the flight from KL to Singapore is so popular that Malaysian airlines runs a shuttle between the cities –which is really more like a bus shuttle than a flight. We simply paid $30 US and got a number. When our number was called we got on our plane. These flights leave every half hour or so and couldn’t be simpler. Only downside: we couldn’t stray into the bar while waiting for our flight for fear of missing our number – oh, well the rigors of international travel.

All in all KL was great. Surprisingly cosmopolitan and friendly. The city, the people, the food, the infrastructure- everything, gets high marks. Would we go back? Sure.

TIPS FOR TRAVELLING TO ASIA FOR THE FIRST TIME

To begin with, Asia can be described as the largest continent in the world covering 9% of the Earth’s surface. In addition, Asia has the longest coastline compared to other continents. The continent is too diverse and immense to just describe it as a single travel destination. The continent is home to the highest mountain in the world, the Everest Mountain and the longest wall the Great Wall of China. In addition, the continent is bound by the Pacific Ocean, the Indian ocean and the red sea, however Southeast Asia standout as the best travel destination for both local and domestic tourist.

However, as a first-time travel to Asia, you should beware of the following about Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia is one of the most exciting and accessible regions for independent travelers. The region consists of a mix of volcanoes, coral reefs, rice fields and beaches. The following tips will be of great help while navigating through this region. You can also choose to drive your way around the region. The best solution to this is using the Langkawi car rental system immediately you touch down the airport. It has the best rates.

As mentioned earlier, you can make the trip more exciting by driving yourself around using the Langkawi car rental.

Plan your weather.

Southeast Asia is made up of a hot and humid climate, which only changes a little the whole year. This is because the region is basically found along the tropics. However, you may find that many of the countries sitting in the tropics have their own micro-climates.

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Try the street food.

Southeast Asia can be described as home to the world’s tastiest dishes. Furthermore, the dishes turn out to be the cheapest meals. With hawkers paraded across the streets, you are offered a chance to try out the many dishes. Night dishes, in particular, are the best time to taste all kinds of dishes.

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Budget carefully.

Your daily budget on Southeast Asia should depend on where you intend to do and how comfortable you want to be. You can go for a budget of between $20-$30 in most of the countries. You should be assured of a basic accommodation, eating the basic foods and even travel using the local means of transport.

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What you should pack.

Bearing in mind that southeast Asia is a place where people dress conservatively. While dressing, you should cover your knees and shoulders. For ladies, it is also advisable that you do not show excess booty or cleavage. While packing you can bring along the following.

 

  • Travel insurance
  • Camera.
  • Tiger balm, that keeps away mosquitos.
  • Toiletries.
  • Sleeping bag liner.
  • Simple clothing like microfiber towels.
  • Running shoes.
  • Swimming Suits.
  • Lightweight shirts with sleeves.
  • A scarf and a cap.
  • A loaded ATM card to act as a back-up.

STAY HEALTHY.

Majority of travelers around south Asia mostly suffer from stomach upsets. You should be keen to observe hygiene on water and foods. It is very vital that you make prior arrangements on your health insurance. You could get some infections that may upset you while you are back home. The health insurance will be of great help.

 

In conclusion, by following the tips provided above, your trip across Asia will be an adventure to recall.