Monday, December 10, 2012

Kuala Lumpur

Last visited: November 2012

Beautiful Kuala Lumpur

Petronas Towers at night - photo © Michael Bouy
Petronas Twin Towers at night - photo © Michael Bouy
Kuala Lumpur is a strikingly modern city that would be comfortable for both the novice and seasoned traveller. KLCC (or Kuala Lumpur City Centre) is the district surrounding the Petronas Twin Towers, and features a beautiful parkland, playground, wading pool, shopping centre, convention centre, hotels and residences.

The convention centre features an aquarium and an underground walkway to the Suria KLCC shopping centre. From the convention centre main entry you can go up to an elevated air conditioned walkway which takes you above the roads and across the city to the main shopping and dining district at Bukit Bintang.

At the foot of the Twin Towers is the enormous Suria KLCC shopping centre. A train station on the bottom floor at the north-east end will take you anywhere in the city, including the Central Market or out to the Batu Caves in the suburbs.

The Batu Caves were memorable. As you approach the stairs, there are big stone barrells where you are supposed to throw down a coconut to see what your luck will be for the coming year. If the coconut splits open and shows the inside, then your luck will be bright like the inside of the coconut. If the coconut does not split, then your luck will be dark like the husk of the coconut. There are various pagodas decorated with little pot-bellied bearded men and hundreds of statues of the elephant god Ganesh. Climbing the stairs, we encountered macaque monkeys - one adult was eating crisps from a Pringles can, while a juvenile was smashing a can of Sprite on the step until it burst, then he lapped it up. Apparently they steal these from the hands and bags of passing tourists - a friend of ours had an apple snatched from her bag by a monkey.

Food and drink in Kuala Lumpur

You will find every kind of food in Kuala Lumpur, from traditional Malay dishes, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, French, Italian, etc. Fast food includes KFC, McDonalds, Burger King, Starbucks, TGI Fridays and Kenny Rogers Fried Chicken.

Tap water is pure, clean and safe to drink in Kuala Lumpur City Centre. 

Most restaurants serve alcohol, unless they are Halal (adhering to Islamic tradition). You can buy wine and beer at shops, but it is rather expensive. Avoid buying low-cost spirits, such as vodka, whiskey, gin or brandy, which have been watered down and had ethanol added. If you are going to buy spirits, only buy reputable international labels, which are sold at a premium price.

We stayed at the Traders Hotel in KLCC, which is attached to the conference centre, and found that restaurant prices at our hotel were very competitive with restaurant prices elsewhere in the city. The hotel was fantastic and included an enormous buffet breakfast each morning, as well as internet access, rooftop pool, and a brilliant view of the Petronas Towers.

Transportation in Kuala Lumpur

Taxis

There are two types of taxis: red taxis are your normal price, blue taxis are "executive" taxis which charge double the price. However, a red taxi is not necessarily cheaper. We took a red taxi from the Central Market to the National Museum - it was a long 20 minute drive and cost about 20RM ($7). We returned from the National Museum to the Central Market in a blue taxi and were surprised to find it was actually only a five minute drive and only cost 15RM ($5). Caveat emptor.

Roads and Freeways

Beautiful freeways, clean roads, quality pavement, and proper adherance to traffic rules make it easy to get around. Just watch for motorbikes and motorcycles, which weave in and out and ignore lights and pedestrians.

From the Airport

KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport) is an hour south of KLCC by freeway. After clearing immigration and customs, you will see booths for Airport Taxis. Go there, tell them what hotel you are staying at, and they will sell you a taxi ticket for a flat fee, around 75 RM ($25). Much cheaper than hiring a taxi outside, which can cost you double that.

Alternatively, you can take the KLIA Ekspres (express) train from the airport direct to Kuala Lumpur Sentral (central) station for 35RM ($12), then get a taxi from there to your hotel.

KL Sentral Station - photo © Michael Bouy
KL Sentral Station - photo © Michael Bouy

Rail

Kuala Lumpur has three commuter rail lines, a light rail system, and a monorail (click for details). The cost is minimal - around 3 RM (US$1) per trip, and they will get you nearly anywhere in the surrounding Klang Valley.

The commuter rail lines are modern, clean and fully automated - there are no drivers! They can get very busy and you often have to stand.

Language in Kuala Lumpur

Both Malay and English are taught in all the schools, so if you can speak English you will have no trouble anywhere in the city.

Currency in Malaysia

The currency in Malaysia is the Ringgit. On their price labels it is shown as RM. At the time of writing, US$1 was equal to 3 RM.

What to see in Kuala Lumpur

Batu Caves - photo © Michael Bouy
Batu Caves - photo © Michael Bouy
  • Petronas Twin Towers - at 451.9 m (1,483 ft) they were they tallest buildings in the world from 1998 to 2004. At the ticket office under the lobby you can buy tickets to visit the skybridge at the 41st floor between the towers as well as the 86th floor viewing platform. Note that it is closed to visitors on Mondays.
     
  • Batu Caves - natural limestone caves turned into Hindu shrines with a 43 m (140 ft) tall golden statue in front - worth seeing if you are fit enough to climb the 272 concrete steps. To get there, catch the train to the Batu Caves station, or ask a hotel concierge to book a tour bus.
      
  • Royal Selangor Pewter Factory - where you will get a guided tour of their museum, factory floor, and get to try your hand at hand-decorating a pewter mug. To get there, take a taxi or ask a hotel concierge to book a tour bus.
      
  • Central Market - this is the place to go for souvenirs of every kind, and for some good food. To get there, catch the train to Pasar Seni.
     
  • Museum of Islamic Art - a beautiful building filled with beautiful objects, including ancient gilded Korans, swords, kris knives, fabrics and other fascinating items. To get there, take a train to KL Sentral station and walk toward the National Mosque, which is across the street from the museum.
     
  • National Museum - currently undergoing renovations, but still worth seeing to get a sense of Malaysian history and culture. To get there, take a taxi or ask a hotel concierge to book a tour bus.