I loved Kuala Lumpur! Admittedly when I first arrived it was strangely a bit of a reverse culture shock being in a city that was so much more developed than other parts of Southeast Asia I had visited beforehand. The transport network was more advanced (all you need is the train to get almost anywhere in KL), everyone speaks very good English, and there is an abundance of very nice shopping malls, designer shops, restaurants, and bars similar to what you would find back home in the UK (you can even flush paper down the toilet…oh the luxury!)
Walking around in my baggy Aladdin pants and flip flops, I did feel like I stuck out like a sore thumb amongst all the high-flying professionals and well-polished students going about their daily business. KL isn’t a major backpacker location, and tends to be more of a transit stop for those going on to Australia or New Zealand (like me) or other parts of Asia.
But even a few days in this city is enough time to soak up its colourful atmosphere and do plenty of sightseeing. Culture, fashion, art, street food and it’s mix of Malaysian, Indonesian, Chinese and Indian heritage, makes KL an interesting and vibrant city where it is impossible to get bored.
Here’s what I got up to during my three day stay…
Chinatown was my first stop as this would be my home for the next few days. Situated right near the well-known Petaling Street (and the Reggae Bar, where I spent most evenings!) Chinatown is filled with an array of market stalls selling all sorts of knock-off items – a bargain hunter’s dream.
It’s at its most liveliest in the evening, and I just so happened to be there around the time that the Chinese New Year celebrations were starting to kick off, so there were lots of festivities taking place. I managed to catch a glimpse of some great street performances, including a traditional Chinese Lion Dance where two people wear a lion costume and perform a series of amazing stunts and dance routines to the music of beating drums, gongs and cymbals. The most impressive was when one dancer climbed to the top of a pole (with no support!) to perform martial arts moves while catching oranges with its mouth and throwing them back out into the crowds as a sign of good luck for the community.
The Petronas Towers
No trip to KL is complete without a visit to the Petronas Towers, one of the most recognised landmarks of Malaysia. The twin skyscrapers (home to Petronas, an oil and gas company) tower over the rest of the city, making you feel incredibly small.
Unfortunately I got there too late to grab a ticket to go up the towers to watch the sunset. Not really keen on getting up at 6am the next day to join a ridiculously long queue to get a ticket, I decided to settle for an outside view and waited patiently to see the enormous towers light up for the night. This is when they are at their most impressive, as every single detail of the building is lit up, creating stark contrasts that highlight exactly what a magnificent architectural masterpiece it is.
Sample the street food
Right before I left the towers, a big electrical storm broke out, and as terrifying as it was standing next to what is basically a huge lightening rod…it still made for spectacular viewing. Soaked to the bone I scurried off back to the hostel, not before stopping off at one of the city’s many famous night markets to gorge on some of its renowned street food. After getting food poisoning a couple of times in Vietnam, I was a little dubious, but as a rule of thumb I always try and eat at stalls that seem to be popular with the locals. I couldn’t repeat the name of what I ate, even if I tried, but it was very tasty (and I didn’t get sick, which is a bonus!).
The KL Bird Park
Labelled as one of KL’s top attractions, I decided to check out the bird park the next day…and it didn’t fail to impress, even with my irrational fear of anything that flies! The park is located in the scenic Lake Gardens and claims to be the world’s largest free-flight walk-in aviary. It is the home to over 3,000 tropical birds of around 200 different species from Asia and further afield – most of which are allowed to freely fly around as you walk through an enclosure which closely resembles their natural habitat. It was a pretty fun experience, which i’d completely recommend, even if I did almost get attacked by a grumpy pelican, chased by a frisky peacock, and my arm nibbled by a cheeky parrot!
Visit the Batu Caves
Being a city with many religions, there are lots of beautiful temples scattered around that are well worth a visit, however the Batu Caves were my favourite and a must-see for anyone who has limited time in KL. The most popular Hindu shrine outside of India, the site is a series of huge limestone caves and temples, not to mention the 147ft gold deity statue and the 272 steps to get to the top! Not fun in the sweltering heat! But luckily there’s an ice cream shop right at the top – a bit random for a religious temple I thought, but I was more than thankful for a cold refreshment by the time I made it there! Especially after also having a stand-off with a group of naughty monkeys that tried to steal my friend’s camera!
Fortunately I was lucky enough to be at the caves during the start of the Thaipusam Festival, which commemorates the occasion where Parvati (the Goddess of Love) gave Murugan (the God of War) a spear to vanquish an evil demon. As a result, the caves and surrounding markets were buzzing with activity and street performances. To mark the occasion, worshippers pierce their skin with silver skewers before embarking on an eight hour pilgrimage across the city, while carrying big clay pots of milk as an offering to the gods. When they reach the top of the caves, a priest also scatters coloured ash over their bodies before removing their piercings. I’m not entirely sure what this symbolises, but it was fascinating to watch (even if you are a little squeamish like me!).
So that’s just a snippet of what I got up to into Kuala Lumpur, but I could have quite easily spent another few days there as there is just so much to see and do. It was a shame I didn’t get time to explore more of Malaysia and Indonesia on this trip, but I’m sure they’ll make their way on the list of places I want to go to next time around!
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