Exploring the Malaysian capital on foot
06.07.2011 - 09.07.2011 31 °C
Singapore is modern, efficient, possibly even a little too sterile, but this made it quite an easy place to stay. Kuala Lumpur, or KL, in comparison, takes a little longer to get used to: the transport network of train, monorail and underground is run by different companies and isn’t integrated, making travelling across the city a logistical nightmare; and trying to find a taxi driver willing to use the meter is a difficult. However, walking to your destination doesn’t seem to be encouraged, as demonstrated by the lack of pavements. We had to check twice that yes, the only way to walk to the National Museum from the main station is to cross through an underground car park, down a slip road into oncoming traffic and over a multi-lane highway. Maybe that explains the low number of people we shared the museum with. The pleasant Lake Gardens were similarly ringed by busy main roads, and also very quiet.
Transport issues aside, KL has grown on us. We’ve experienced the grand and not so grand. We took afternoon tea on the terrace at Caricosa Seri Negara – a colonial hotel in Lake Gardens – sipping Earl Grey during a torrential thunderstorm. We also wandered around the lively but slightly salubrious Chow Kit area, and in the sleepy suburb of Kampung Baru saw the contrast of traditional wooden Malay houses against the city backdrop and the Petronas Towers.
While we walked around the city we found the Petronas Towers were not as evident as we’d imagined. However, we paid a visit at night and they are stunning when lit up, certainly one of the most spectacular buildings we’ve ever seen. We were planning on taking a trip up to the skybridge that joins the two towers, but decided against it when we heard that it was necessary to queue from 6am to secure tickets.
KL has many eating options. We got to sample roti canai (similar to a pancake, stuffed with cheese, egg, onion – whatever you fancy), Chinese beef ball noodles, Indian fish curries, banana and tapioca fritters, nasi lemak (rice with small dried fish, spicy tomato sauce and hard-boiled egg, all wrapped into a pyramid with a banana leaf). We also got to buy lots of prepared fruit from street stalls, including some that were new and exciting. Jackfruit was our favourite new discovery.
The sights, sounds and smells of Pudu Wet Market bombarded our senses as we navigated our way through narrow aisles between stalls. We saw live fish, frogs and chickens awaiting an unhappy fate, enormous piles of fruit, dried fish, black eggs and puppies in cages.
Equally dramatic were the Hindu shrines and enormous gold statue of the deity Murugu at the Batu Caves. We took a local bus out to the northern edge of the city to visit these caves, and then climbed the 272 steps up to the huge Temple Cave. Monkeys scamper around the site, stealing from anyone unwise enough to be carrying food.
One thing that both Singapore and KL excel in is malls: vast air conditioned buildings seemingly on the corner of most main roads. We visited Times Square mall in the search for a fish foot spa and came across an indoor theme park complete with roller coaster. We struggled to find our way back out of the 10-storey shopping monstrosity.
Clare did get to experience the fish foot spa (Tom declined citing extreme ticklishness as an excuse). It was a pleasant experience, although the cannibalistic tendencies of the larger fish were a bit off-putting: you don’t really want to see a fish have its eyes eaten while you’re trying to relax.
We were restricted in our activities on our final day in KL. A planned demonstration calling for free and fair elections (Bersih 2.0) had worried the government sufficiently for them to close all the roads into the city, and shut selected stations on the metro and monorail. A small protest actually came past our hostel, but the more dramatic demonstrations were more in the centre of town. We were able to get out during the morning, and it was a pleasure to experience the city without traffic: it was actually possible to cross the road.
Our flight to Sri Lanka left at 6.15am, so to avoid any public transport issues due to the protest, and to save on a night’s accommodation, we decided to head to the airport the night before. As expected, we didn’t get much sleep.