We spent four nights in Kuala Lumpur, keeping us there into the new year. It worked for our schedule, though a bit of planning and avoiding accidents* could do the same sightseeing in two or three days. It’s a pleasant and functional city, so you could also stay longer.
We arrived with enough time in the afternoon to see the National Mosque (Masjid Negara), the Islamic Art Museum, and part of the Botanical Garden. Only the National Mosque had special outfits for us to wear.
The Islamic Art museum contained many interesting displays, but a couple stick out as interesting. First, there is a painting of an elephant made of other animals.
Second, there were models of major mosques around the world. It included the mosque we visited in Xian, China, along with the Alhambra in Spain (no longer contains a mosque), and the Dar al-Islam mosque in New Mexico, USA.
The museum had quite the collection, including some images of individuals (apparently not bound by the prohibition observed by some Islamic artists and curators against images of individual people). The building itself was also very impressive. And it was air conditioned on a hot day. Totally worth the visit.
The Botanical Garden had a special section on orchids, which happened to include a very large lizard. The gardens are located near the (wildly overpriced) KL Bird Park, but were free to visit when we were there. This became a theme during our time in KL — the city has lots of really expensive (and probably really nice) sights, but there are free (or cheap) alternatives that kept us plenty amused and busy.
Over the next few days, we saw the following sights: (1) a rainforest with canopy-height walkway in the middle of the city, (2) the Batu caves (outside of the city proper but accessible via metro), (3) the Petronas Towers and surrounding park, (4) an outdoor street market with great food, and (5) the mall. I’m really not a mall person back home but it’s a great way to beat the heat. All of these places were easily accessible either by the Metro system (a mix of light rail and commuter rail) or a set of three free bus lines that connect major tourist sites. It was nice to be back in a place with lots of public transit options.
Anyway, here’s the highlights:
- The Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve (KL Forest Eco Park)
KL Tower, Kuala Lumpur’s third-tallest structure (after the two Petronas Towers) sits in the middle of this park. We ignored the tower and went for a walk in the canopy walkways instead. Nice walk, but we trusted maps.me which led us to an entrance that was closed. It took quite a while to find the entrance so that affected our overall experience. Be sure to enter on the south side.
Nearby there is a mural by Ernest Zacharevic (featured in the Penang write-up).
2. The Batu Caves
A Hindu holy site, these caves hold more than shrines — they are full of monkeys. I saw one win a tug-of-war with a tourist just steps above me, taking the tourist’s sandwich as the spoils. Advice: don’t take any food out of your backpack if you can see a monkey. And keep your backpack on.
The main cave is up a big staircase, another branches off (we skipped that one because it had a high entry fee and can only be visited via a guided tour). A third is on the ground level near the metro stop. It’s quite pretty even with constant monkey attention. We visited the caves as a half day without a particularly early start — we easily could have combined it with our prior day’s activity if we hadn’t spent so long searching for the entrance to the forest the day before.
3. The Petronas Towers
Hidden behind other buildings during our initial walks near Chinatown and the National Mosque, the towers emerged as we rode the bus to them. They are particularly beautiful when lit up at night. The nearby park has a running route with rubber-ish soft pavement. And there’s a mall at the bottom — see #5. We did not opt to pay the astronomically high fee to visit the top of the towers and instead enjoyed the view (and nighttime musical fountain display) from below.
4. More Food
We had okay food in Chinatown (Chinese and Indian) but the best was in Bukit Bintang, on Jl Alor (Jl, short for jalan, means street, same as Lebuh in Penang). The street was filled with open-air restaurants and stands and provided a carnival-like atmosphere at night. At the end of the road, Elizabeth had found Wong Ah Wah known for chicken wings, which she said were so good that we had to go back for more. I had an eggplant dish that was the best eggplant dish I’ve had on this trip. The street also had a stand selling sweet potato fires, which were wonderful. The staff at the sweet potato fires gave us free samples each time, seeming to not recognize that we were returning a second and third time (on different days).
Sadly, we took no food pics in KL. Sorry — too busy eating. Here’s the card for the sweet potato fries stand (so you can find it and get yourself some delicious fries):
The outside advertised some quite expensive brands, but inside the malls had the full range of shops. We focused mostly on athletic clothing, scoping out clothing for our upcoming hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. We visited two malls, one in Bukit Bintang and another at the foot of the Petronas Towers. In the basement of the latter, I was excited to find a grocery store serving soft serve pomegranate ice cream. Yum!
Our plan to do some late-night electronics shopping on New Year’s Eve was foiled by the fact that the malls closed around 10:00 p.m. Outside, lots of people had noisemakers not quite as annoying as Vuvuzelas but it was close. There were tons of people and so much noise! So we made our way back to our neighborhood (Chinatown) for midnight. Not much was going on, but because there was an empty lot with construction across the street, we had a good view of fireworks.
Tomorrow — next year — off to Malacca.
*On the accident front, I was hit by a motorbike while walking through an alley. It was not bad; I was able to stay on my feet. But my hand hurt a lot and I was unable to open a twist-off bottle the next morning, so I had my hand checked out. Not broken. See:
[This blog post describes our trip to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, December 28-31, 2016.]