In this post, I will show you why Malaysia is truly Asia and why you should spend a few days in Kuala Lumpur. Consider to experience Asia in a nutshell: from chaos to luxury and from traditions to modernity!
Malaysia is not a super popular destination in the South East Asia, where Thailand and Indonesia are usually the first choices and even its slogan “Truly Asia” sounded to me a bit exceeding at first. Damn, I was so wrong! Malaysia is for real the perfect and peaceful fusion of different Asian (and not only) cultures.
This harmony is reflected in the food, languages, religions, hundreds of skin tones and the kindness of Malaysians, always smiling and willing to help you. It was a special travel for us. I was expecting an unknown nature, new dishes to try at home and beautiful colonial facades, but we found so much more: a real human interaction that made us feel welcome and rarely as only tourists.
Now I fully agree: Malaysia, Truly Asia!
If you are planning a travel and you need practical info about sightseeing, transport, budget and general info about Malaysia, don’t miss the post Malaysia Ready to Go: 17-day itinerary, cost and tips.
And for the flight, ready my best 8 travel hacks to get the best deal!
#1 Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur, or KL for friends, gave us a great welcome thanks to the first Uber driver we met; in 50 km from the airport to the city center we had a full picture of Malaysia, including real estate info, economics and folkloristic details! Friendly, helpful, talkative, but never invasive: this is the best description of Malaysians. English is well spoken and funny written (like Sentral instead of Central), even if we had few reminiscences from Thailand:
-“What is your hotel?” – Asked me the driver;
– “Hotel Transit” – I replied with self-confidence.
-“Hotel t-r-a-n-s-i-t… in front of the bus station!” (“mmhh… maybe it is not famous…”- I thought blaming myself for the last minute change!)
-“The bus station?… ahhh, Hotel Transìt”. O_o; ok, but what did I just say??
Chaos in Chinatown and Petaling Street
The previous experience in Bangkok limited our initial cultural shock, but we still felt the tiring chaos nearby Chinatown and Petaling Street: uneven sidewalks with deep holes, heavy traffic streets with 3 or 4 lines, zig-zag between plastic tables and chairs, car exhaust gas mixed to the smell of barbeque. But all this is part of the Asian beauty!
Jalan Alor is another great tip for street food, spend there one evening, don’t think too much about hygiene and just grab different dishes for an authentic foodie experience.
Luxurious Petronas Towers and KLCC Park
The North area around the Petronas Towers and the KLCC park has just the opposite atmosphere: contemporary skyscrapers designed by archistars, luxurious hotels, and shopping malls show the modern face of Kuala Lumpur and its desire to develop as a rich metropolis.
Walking around the Petronas Towers allows discovering new architectural details. Photogenic and futuristic, they are a magnet for tourists (including us!). The best view is from the South, where the giant fountain is the perfect basement for the architecture in the background; on the other side, the tropical KLCC park offers shade, a playful swimming pool for children (super clean) and the soundtrack of an artificial waterfall. We were amazed!
From The Petronas Towers, take the metro to visit Merdeka Square and from there head to Little India, a colourful and busy district.
Floating on the top of Menara KL (Tower KL)
Are you in doubt if buying the tickets to visit the Petronas? Consider Menara KL: you will be able to see the famous landmark (from a bit lateral view), instead of being on the top!
KL Tower is cheaper, less crowded and there is no need to book in advance, just go there 1h before the sunset and you will admire the breathless city view in every condition of light.
Check the weather forecast and if it doesn’t rain, choose the sky deck ticket. It is a bit more expensive but two glass boxes suspended above 300 m. will complete your full KL experience.
When I removed the shoes and started to walk on the thick glass, I made the mistake to look down after the first step: the floating feeling increased the fear and I spent 1 minute grabbed to the handrail. I got confidence when we started to shoot photos, at first standing and shy, later laying down and shameless!
Why you should avoid the sky deck with the rain? Well, we experienced the madness of the security guard after the first rain drops! He started to shake the arms nervously and blowing a whistle, while running to the second glass box and inviting/pushing all the visitors inside. General panic and angry tourists. After a long queue, we reached the down floor, where the night view was still visible but behind the facade.
I still can’t explain the reason of the panic. You need to sign for a full responsibility in case of an accident and the weather in KL is quite quite unpredictable, were they really so surprised and unprepared? Anyway, the genuine panic was pretty funny to observe… less the long wait for the elevators….
#2 Giant statues and little monkeys at Batu Caves
Batu Caves are a must trip from Kuala Lumpur, among the top 3 things to do mentioned in every guide/travel blog. Trains leave from KL Sentral every half an hour, for 30 minutes trip until the terminal station: it is a very popular destination, with signs everywhere and it is hard to get lost!
Once arrived, the giant golden statue of Lord Murugan welcomes you creating the perfect framing of the 272 steps that lead to the caves. Even if relatively recent (100+ years), Batu Caves are one of the main Hindu religious sites outside of India, who attracts 5.000 tourists daily… and you can suspect that when a crowd of people step off the train with you!
Curious and full of energy, we started to climb with only short breaks to take photos to the smart little monkeys and cute Indian children. We passed young and old ladies, breathless and with little hope to reach the top; surprisingly our fear was unfounded and we easily reached the temple cave (cycling daily in Amsterdam helps to get fit!).
I might add lucky us, because I am not so sure if the effort would have been paid out! Small temples are interesting but they made us wonder if they have become just a tourists’ machine: priests were celebrating rituals like a show, surrounded by western and Japanese visitors filming with their smartphones. Also, the view of run-down concrete sheds did not help to create a mystical atmosphere.
I believe that the climb, the view of KL and the presence of the monkeys are a valid reason for the trip themselves, but not rise your expectations. By the way: forget the picturesque image created by Walt Disney, keep tight your belongings and don’t trust the monkeys, they are little cute bastards!
Islamic Art Museum
I suggest to head to the Batu Caves in the morning and on the way back to stop at “Kuala Lumpur” station to visit the National Mosque and the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia.
The museum is a bright building with finely decorated domes, where you can learn about the evolution of the Islamic architecture and arts. You will be amazed by the book collection and by the miniatures of calligraphy masters enriched with gold leaves, a true inspirational and devoted art work.
This post gathers the highlights of my visit in Kuala Lumpur, but I would like to hear from you! Have you been to KL? Do you agree to the motto Malaysia Truly Asia as I do? What did you enjoy the most?