Friday, 9 November 2018

Exploring KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia.

‘To truly understand what makes Malaysia tick, visit a mosque, a Chinese temple and a Hindu temple’ – this was perhaps the best advice I was given before my trip to Kuala Lumpur.  If I had to sum up this incredible city in one word, it would have to be ‘diversity’.  It’s a colourful, exciting and intriguing fusion of cultural and culinary influences from around the world.

The marvellous melting-pot which exists today is a product of Malaysia’s past.  Ethnic Malays have been predominantly Muslim since Islam was brought to the region by Arab merchants between the 12th and 16th centuries. However, the country’s cultural fabric would change forever when Malaysia came under the rule of the British Empire.  Colonial leaders encouraged mass immigration from mainly China and India to meet a demand for labour.  To this day, just under half of the city’s population are ethnically Malay.  Of the remaining population, 43% are ethnic Chinese and 10% are ethnic Indian.

Since gaining independence from the British, Malaysia has moved from strength to strength.  This growing prosperity is flaunted in Kuala Lumpur’s ultra-modern business district.  An ever-increasing number of glass and steel towers punch toward the clouds.  Whilst futuristic city skylines don’t usually float my boat, the glistening Petronas twin towers are quite a sight to see.  These identical 451-meter giants are masterpieces of modern Islamic architecture; the five tiers represent the five pillars of Islam and the masts are inspired by minarets.  The shiver-inducing ‘Sky Bridge’ links the towers at the 41st floors.  

Iconic Petronas Twin Towers

Visitors are granted access to the Sky Bridge as well as a viewing platform on the 86th floor for a rather steep price of MYR 80 (at the time of writing).  However, for those (like myself) who travel on a budget, the nearby KL Telecom tower has a public observation deck at 276 meters for a fraction of the price.  From this height, the views over the city are spectacular. 

View of the Business District from KL Telecom Tower

A far cry from the busy city are the Batu Caves – an impressive subterranean system of cliffs and caverns which house some of the most stunning Hindu shrines in the world outside of India.  Having never visited a Hindu temple before, I enjoyed exploring Batu so much!  An enormous gold statue of Hindu deity Murugan towers over the back-breaking 272-step climb to the caves.  It’s a hard climb in the stifling tropical humidity, but it’s completely worth it. To reach the caves, take the commuter train from KL Sentral.
Batu Caves
Legendary wild macaques at Batu Caves
One of my favourite neighbourhoods is China Town, which is centred around Jalan Petaling.  These colourful streets buzz with such an upbeat energy.  The oriental shrines, crimson lanterns and sizzling, smoky street food stalls wouldn’t be out of place in Beijing or Hong Kong!

A Chinese temple 
Sri Mahamariamman Hindu Temple

To explore the city’s Islamic heritage, the best places to visit are the huge, modern National Mosque and the more traditional Masjid Jamek.  Both are open to visitors and give a fascinating insight into the religion!

Masjid Jamek mosque

Now any article on Kuala Lumpur which doesn’t mention food is doing the place an injustice!  Just as the city is a melting pot of cultures, the Malaysian kitchen is a melting pot of flavours.  It’s been said that Malaysian food takes the best parts of Indian, Chinese and Southeast Asian cuisines and mixes them together, creating an exciting whirlwind of flavours.  With its abundance of great street food, I was excited to stumble across Jalan Alor night market in the Bukit Bintang neighbourhood.  Dedicated foodies may be interested in joining of the many ‘food tours’ which are abundant in the city.

Street food at Jalan Alor

Whilst Malaysia doesn’t always share the ultra-liberal mindset of neighbouring Thailand, Kuala Lumpur is a cosmopolitan and forward-thinking city with a thriving backpackers’ scene.  I was made to feel so welcome by local people.

Visitors from Western countries will find the city extremely affordable - it’s possible to live very well here on a really low budget.  A main course in a mid-range restaurant will typically cost around MYR 30, but it’s easy to find good food considerably cheaper.  Street food is very good and extremely cheap.  Hostel dorms are abundant, and will typically cost between MYR 25-55 per night, whereas a single room in a budget hotel can be as cheap as MYR 50.  

Transportation within Kuala Lumpur is amongst the best I’ve seen anywhere in the world – getting around the city is a breeze.  Almost anywhere in the city and surrounding area can be reached easily by metro, monorail, commuter trains or buses.  The main tourist sights are linked by a network of free public bus routes – a dream come true for the budget traveller!

My visit to the Malaysian capital was so memorable.  I found the rich diversity of cultures captivating and the spices and aromas of the Malaysian kitchen were irresistible.  Kuala Lumpur is a unique and intriguing city which deserves to feature in any Southeast Asian itinerary.

Have you been to Kuala Lumpur or thinking of visiting? Let me know in the comments!  Thanks for reading!

Elis Griffiths. x

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