When I booked my flight to Kuala Lumpur, I knew very little about the place. I just got back from Hong Kong and Macau and I was still running a travel bug fever. But why Kuala Lumpur? My husband (boyfriend at the time) asked me. I didn’t really have a reason when I booked it. I just thought I’ve never been there, and I didn’t know anything about the place, so that’s more than enough reason for me to go. The timing was impeccable because they were having a promo sale on Cebu Pacific Air.
Since this is the first time I’m traveling solo, I did load up on information about the city and I prepared myself by doing a good amount of research for this trip. I felt as prepared as I could until a Malaysian lady talked to me while waiting to board. She told me to be careful traveling alone in Malaysia, warning me that kidnapping foreigners is quite an issue in Kuala Lumpur. This would explain my extra cautiousness that you may hear from my tone in this entry.
Kuala Lumpur is the capital of Malaysia— a country in southeast Asia, south of Thailand. Populated with a mix of Malay, Chinese, and Indian locals, Kuala Lumpur is a melting pot with a very diverse culture. Although Islam is the predominant religion in the country, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity is also practiced nationwide. The currency used is Malaysian Ringgit with an exchange rate of $1 = 3.82 MYR. Although much cheaper than it’s neighbor Singapore, it isn’t entirely cheap in Kuala Lumpur as compared to other Southeast Asian countries. But whatever your budget is, I can assure you that there are plenty of things to find yourself entertained in the streets of Kuala Lumpur.
If you’re flying in with a low-cost carrier airline such as Cebu Pacific Air or AirAsia, then chances are you’ll be arriving in LCCT (Low Cost Carrier Terminal). Although I have been accustomed to the record holder of the world’s worst airport– the NAIA in Manila, LCCT isn’t really much of a difference. It kind of smells, to be honest, was my first impression, so it’s not exactly the kind of terminal you want to be stuck for a long time. Both LCCT and KLIA terminals are about an hour away from the city and there are two ways that I know of to get out of there. There are of course taxis, which will cost you at least $20, depending on the time of the day. You could probably hook up with someone and split the fare but if that’s not possible, there are bus shuttles that goes to the city and will drop you off at KL Sentral, which is basically the train’s main central station. The bus shuttle costs about 10 MYR (around $3) and leaves every hour. The last trip leaves at 12:30am, and with my luck, my flight was delayed and I didn’t get there until past 1am so I had to wait almost two hours until there was another scheduled bus leaving.
Going to the airport, there are also bus shuttles leaving KL Sentral every half hour as early as 5am and as late as 11pm. Just don’t make the same mistake I did and take the bus going to KLIA instead of LCCT. I barely made it to my flight to Singapore, oops.
I stayed at Grid 9 Hotel in Jalan Maharajalela. I specifically chose this because it’s literally next to the train stop. It’s also located between the places that I have in my itinerary so I thought this would be a good base. Grid 9 also offers dorm rooms but I opted for the private one for $25 a night. Not entirely a budget move, but I was still a budget travel noob at this time.
The room that I got was perfect, it’s really small but it’s very cozy, and I didn’t really need much. I had my own bathroom and a flat screen tv. Everything was clean and I slept peacefully for the three nights that I was there. The receptionists are also very nice. There’s a nice common area at the lobby complete with a pool table, bean bags, books, and a tv. Right down at the ground floor, there’s a restaurant that serves Malay food.
As I’ve said, Malaysia is such a diverse mix of culture, so there is a variety of food to choose from! Expect the food to be oozing with strong ethnic flavors. I wouldn’t say Malaysia has the best food in SeAsia, but oh, do trust me when I say I would go back there for the food. The food experience itself is one of the most popular things to do in Kuala Lumpur.
So you have Little India if you feel like eating with your hands and spoiling your taste buds with strong spices and flavor. There is a big percentage of Indians living in Malaysia, so Indian food is everywhere! Do not forget the roti which is a flat bread that’s oh so soft it’s almost like crepe. There’s a variety of options to eat it. You can have it sweet with sugar and maybe some kind of jelly, or you can eat it the most common way to eat it, which is dipped in curry sauce. It’s best paired with Teh Tarik, a kind of hot milked tea that’s very popular in Malaysia.
There’s also China Town if you feel like Chinese food. The incredible thing about the Chinese food in Malaysia is its uniqueness– it’s a whole new Chinese cuisine of it’s own. Known as Hokkien, consider it Chinese food SeAsian style! My favorite is Hokkien Mee, a stir fried concoction in soy sauce complete with egg noodles with egg, pork, shrimp, squid, and vegetable. Vein-clogging, but wouldn’t that be the perfect way to die?
Finally, the malay food! How do I even articulate the magic that occurs in my mouth from authentic Malay food? Imagine a pocketful of spice and flavors, a generous amount of coconut milk, a hint of shrimp paste, lemongrass, and chili. It’s a beautiful, well thought of concoction that’s really almost too sensual for me to describe. The Laksa, one of my favorite type of soup, is a curry based Peranakan dish infused with generous coconut milk. Do not miss out on satay with their infamous peanut sauce. I think I had my best satay dishes in Malaysia. Another stir fried noodle I absolutely wouldn’t mind clogging up my veins with is Char Kway Teow— kind of similar to Pad Thai, but it’s greasier, messier, and much much unhealthier.
Jalan Alor (Jalan literally means a road or a street) is known as the biggest food street in Kuala Lumpur. They have practically all the cuisines I mentioned. If you don’t know which stall to eat at, do the simplest trick in the book– go where it’s packed or where there’s a long line. They never disappoint.
There are a number of very interesting museums in Kuala Lumpur. You have the National Museum which showcases everything from history, culture, and archeology of Malaysia. However, what I was really interested in was the Islamic Arts Museum.
I attended Catholic school so what I knew about the Islam world is very limited, despite taking a few Religion and Sociology classes in college. The museum holds an outstanding collection of Islamic arts from all over the world. If you’re not yet familiar with what Islamic arts may look like, think intricate textiles, antique potteries with calligraphies inscribed, and complex carpet designs. The building itself was beautifully decorated. But the place doesn’t only exhibit fine Islam arts. Let’s just say you’d be learning a lot more than art if you spend your time well here.
Malaysia is actually the very first Islam dominated country I’ve been to so I was really looking forward to finally visiting a mosque. I was only in Kuala Lumpur for a very limited time so I had a hard time deciding which one to see. The National Mosque of Malaysia is the most famous one in the city, being the biggest around. They also offer guided tours from volunteers that will teach you all about the history of Islam. Jamek Mosque and Federal Territory Mosque are also major mosques in Kuala Lumpur. Islam architecture is extremely unique, and neither disappoints. I however, had my interest somewhere else. While doing my research for my trip, I stumbled across a blog about a Pink Mosque outside Kuala Lumpur. PINK? Umm. Done. I had to instantly put that in my itinerary.
The Pink Mosque, originally named as Putra Mosque, is located in Putrajaya Malaysia. It’s an easy train ride to go there, and from the trains stop, there are shuttles and taxis that would gladly take you to the mosque. The architecture and the interior of the mosque was mind-blowing. The pink dome stands out in the city and the granites and walls are tinted in shades of dusty rose. It was undeniably majestic and it doesn’t take a fanatic of the color Pink to appreciate it. Do note that women who are currently on their monthly period are not allowed to go inside the mosques, as it’s considered impure in the Islam culture.
TIPS: There are other beautiful architectures around Putrajaya so you can make the most of your trip there with a good walk to appreciate the buildings. However, it started to rain that afternoon so I proceeded back to the city. Also, another beautiful mosque close to Kuala Lumpur is the Blue Mosque in Shah Alahm.
I saved the Batu Caves for my final day in Kuala Lumpur. To get there is incredibly easy, as it just takes one train ride away. Batu Caves is right at the very last train stop and it’s only more or less a five minute walk from the station. After learning all about Islam, Kuala Lumpur also helped me brush up on my Hinduism knowledge.
Batu Caves is made up of limestone on a hill and it is said to be around 400 million years old. To get to the caves, you must climb the stairs with exactly 272 steps. On your way up, you’d possibly come across a bunch of mischievous monkeys, so be careful with your stuff.
There are a series of caves when you reach the top and the biggest is known as the Temple Cave, which houses vibrant Hindu shrines and statues. It’s a place of worship for Hindus, while the other smaller caves at the base of the hill (renovating at the time) serves as a museum and an art gallery. It was quite an experience and Batu Caves is definitely not to be missed. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.
PETRONAS TWIN TOWERS
All the way on the opposite side of Batu Caves lies the business district of Kuala Lumpur. I wasn’t particularly interested in the area, although, they do have beautiful modern architecture out there including the KL Tower. But as cliche as it seems, I wanted to see Malaysia’s modern day landmark- the Petronas Twin Towers. I’ve seen plenty of beautiful modern architecture especially growing up in the western world so this wasn’t really one of my priorities. But I will admit it is quite marvelous how symmetrical it is. After lingering around, taking snap shots, and watching people walk by, I made a mistake of going inside. There’s a mall inside, and well let’s just say, my budget goals was a little bit compromised. It’s not really anything I can’t find anywhere else, it’s just that, makeups, specifically lipsticks, happen to be a weakness of mine, and Mac was the first store I saw sooo…things happened.
Bukit Bintang is the shopping mecca in Kuala Lumpur. Its actually gaining some hype in Asia, attracting tourists from all over the world. But, I’m based in the Philippines so it’s not very easy to impress me when it comes to malls as Manila is quite known for them too. And yes if you must know another weakness of mine, they’re bikinis. And yes there were some unnecessary purchases made.
Kuala Lumpur has so much more to offer that three days definitely isn’t enough. I didn’t even get to experience the night life there, sadly, but maybe one of these days. It wasn’t my priority at that time and I was trying extremely hard to be cautious since this was my first solo experience (refer to paragraph 2). Don’t worry, I got better. And I might as well say that the streets of Kuala Lumpur did not made me feel like I was in any danger.
Nevertheless, Kuala Lumpur didn’t really leave a big impression on me. Don’t misunderstand though, I loved the mix of culture there. But the place itself kind of just reminded me of a cleaner, more cultured version of Manila. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the place. The people are neither rude nor nice. The city was neither great nor bad. The prices were not expensive enough for me to be appalled, nor was it cheap it enough for me to be wowed and excited. But at the end of my trip, none of that mattered, because I experienced something new and different. It doesn’t matter where, what, or how. I learned new things, and nothing measures up to that. Will I ever go back? Absolutely. There’s so much more to learn and see, and I’m all about immersing myself with novelty.