by Jonny Boyle
August 17, 2006
Kuala Lumpur is an intriguing place and although it is very easy just to see the superficial side of the city such as the modern transport system, Petronas Towers and the huge shopping malls, after wandering around some of the older areas such as Kampang Baru and Chow Kit you will see a different, more charming, side to the city.
There are numerous tourist attractions worth seeing in and around the city and any good guide book will give you the low down on them. Some of the good places are Batu Caves, KL Menara tower, Petronas Towers and KLCC gardens, the Colonial area around Merdeka Square, the Lake Gardens and the National Monument, Little India, Central Market and Chinatown.
Try to find out dates of the major festivals and seek the celebrations out – I was there for Wesak Day (a very important Buddhist celebration) and enjoyed spending time at the Buddhist Temple in Brickfields, only a short walk from KL Sentral station. Dates and locations of other festivals can be found out from the helpful Tourist Centres at KL Sentral station and on Jalan Ampang. At these centres you can get a decent map of the city (CityMaps of Kuala Lumpur). At first I struggled to find a good map that had all the street names in detail and the monorail/LRT stations marked on it and resorted to carrying three different maps!
There is a huge mix of cultures in KL which is very apparent from the places of worship, with mosques and Chinese and Hindu temples in abundance. The Thean Hou Temple is one of the most interesting with fantastic views across the city from the open courtyard on the upper floors. It is a Chinese Buddhist temple and is best reached by taxi as it is far from any of the monorail or LRT stations. Friday is an interesting time to be around the mosques in KL and although non-worshippers will not be allowed to enter them during the prayer times it is interesting just watching the comings and goings outside Masjid Jamek and also the Indian mosque on Jalan Masjid India.
As from March 2006 KL airport has two main terminals: KLIA where all the national and long haul carriers fly to and the Low Cost Carrier (LCC) Terminal which is quite a trek from KLIA, especially if you don’t have much time between connecting flights! There is a bus service from KLIA to LCC and vice versa, which only costs RM1.50, but this takes around half an hour and if you add waiting time (the bus service runs every 30 minutes but stops for breaks at certain points during the day) then it can be quite a journey. The buses go from platform 8 of the bus station at lower ground floor at KLIA (but you need to take the footbridge over the road first). If you are in a hurry just take a taxi.
If you are flying from LCC and want to get to the airport from KL then it is better (and cheaper) to take the bus from KL Sentral rather than taking the KLIA Express and changing. Details of this can be found here: http://www.skybus.com.my/. It costs RM9 (the KLIA Express costs RM35)
Taxis in KL are cheap and plentiful, but like in many major cities you need to watch that the driver won’t take advantage of your lack of knowledge of the city. Taxis in KL are legally supposed to use their meters, so make sure that they do and that they reset it when you get in. As KL is so hot and humid taking a ride in an air conditioned taxi is a less tiring way to get around – but make sure that the taxi you use is not sitting at a taxi rank as it will be like an oven inside so try and flag one down instead. Also, outside many hotels there will be a taxi jockey who will offer to arrange a taxi for you but he is likely to want to agree the price with you first and then the taxi won’t use the meter (and yes this will be a significantly higher charge then had you been using the meter). One other trick that I came across when using a taxi for a whole morning is that the driver will try to add waiting time on top of the meter charge – be aware that the meter adds this automatically so you should not have to pay anything over and above the meter charge. For most journeys the excellent LRT/Monorail system is the best way to get around, even if the various lines do not integrate with one another very well.
I spent quite a few days in KL and so decided to have a few excursions whilst I was there:
Sepang F1 Circuit, home of the Malaysian Grand Prix. Details of racing can be found here: http://www.malaysiangp.com.my/ To get to the circuit you can take a Komuter train to Nilai station which costs only RM4.70. However a taxi from there to the circuit will set you back 40RM. There is a bus from Nilai to Sepang (the Sepang Omnibus or Airport Liner) which cost only RM2.50, but I don’t know if these only visit the circuit on large event days. Getting from the circuit back to the station can be a challenge – so make sure that you get the cell phone number of you taxi driver; there is no taxi rank at the circuit.
Sunway Lagoon is an interesting diversion from KL – a full on theme park with a ‘dry’ and ‘wet’ section with rides, water slides, wave pools etc. See how the Malaysians let their hair down! I went when they had the Asia X Extreme Games on. To get there take the Komuter train to Subang Jaya for RM3.20. Then hop on the free shuttle bus from the station to the Sunway complex (which also features an enormous shopping mall with an ice rink, pyramid and sphinx!)
Pulau Ketam or ‘ Crab Island ’ is an interesting day trip out of KL, but one I would only recommend if you are in KL for an extended stay as, despite what some guide books say, this really is a full day’s trip. The island consists of a mangrove upon which Chinese fishermen have built a stilted town. Getting there is very straightforward: catch the Komuter train to Port Klang and then it is a short walk to the ferry terminal (which also serves boats going to Indonesia ). Walk down the ramp to the jetty and find the right boat and buy your ticket onboard (RM6 each way). The ferries are regular and there is a timetable here: http://www.pulauketam.com/. I arrived at the island in the middle of the day, which was great for trying out the local seafood for lunch (Restoran Li Hua Seafood was very good), but it seemed very sleepy and maybe gets a bit more lively later in the day. It would be interesting to stay a night (the Sea Lion hotel is located right by the ferry terminal). That said, it is a small island with fishing as its primary source of income so tourists are a bit of an after thought. This is evidenced by the large amount of rubbish that you see in the mangroves at low tide.
A couple of minor safety considerations to be aware of in KL– there is an old con trick where a couple of people will try to befriend you, usually at a Monorail or bus station, and will tell you that they have an aunt/cousin/sister who will be going to your home country to work and could they meet you later to find out some information about your country. When you later meet them, they get you involved in an (illegal) card game and you lose lots of money. These people rely on the fact that you may want to find out a bit about Malaysian culture and your defences are down because the Malaysians are generally so friendly and welcoming. I had two such approaches in the space of a few days.
The other thing to watch out for is snatch robbery, something I thought was probably blown out of all proportions, as KL is a very safe city to wander around. But I did see a snatch robbery take place and the robber dragged the female victim along the ground behind his motorbike in the hope that she would let go of her bag. So these robberies do happen – it is recommended that you do not carry a bag over your shoulder but across your body, don’t walk close to the road but near to the buildings and if possible walk facing oncoming traffic rather than having your back to it. I am sure that the risk of robbery is far less than many other major cities in the world, but it pays to take sensible precautions
Some of the shopping malls are incredible – just take a walk round Starhill Gallery and wonder who exactly buys all that high priced merchandise! Also worth a look are the Suria shopping centre beneath the Petronas Towers and Berjaya Times Square located right by Pudu prison (scene of many drugs related executions). Times Square has a theme park, Imax Cinema and apparently houses the world’s biggest Borders bookshop.
My thoughts on KL would not be complete without mentioning the food. As in much of Malaysia and South East Asia , food is taken very seriously, and with a huge range of influences virtually any form of cuisine can be found. For me the best places to eat were the hawker stalls/restaurants along Jalan Alor for Chinese food and the restaurants along Jalan Raja Muda Musa for Malay food, including the best Nasi Lemak I tasted in all of Malaysia ! There are lots of Indian food outlets too, and as well as being located in Little India there are a number on Lorong Ampang not far from Masjid Jamek. You will also find Indian restaurants dotted all over the city, although to be honest I found the Indian food in KL disappointing after the excellent meals I had eaten in Penang .
The weather in KL is pretty much the same all year round – hot and humid with occasional rain showers – so the best time to go is any time!
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