Southeast Asia (7/13) – Exploring Kuala Lumpur

Southeast Asia (7/13) – Exploring Kuala Lumpur

I was excited about our AirAsia flight from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur (KL). It was the very first time we flew a budget airline, and the tickets were cheap like a Chinatown bus. We even splurged the few extra dollars for row 1 seats, just because.

First row is basically first class, right?

First impression of KL left much to be desired. The airport seemed old and underdeveloped (though to be fair, any airport compared to Singapore would be a downgrade).  I summoned an Uber ride per encouragement by the ride-share company’s endless billboards in the terminal.  Then, I found myself trapped in two consecutive scams. The first driver marked his status as on the way before messaging me to say that his car broke down (and was in the shop already), urging me to cancel the ride and incur a cancellation charge. The asshole also marked himself in Uber as hearing impaired so the app didn’t have an option for me to call and yell at him. Then a second Uber driver, at the exact same location as the first one, messaged to demand upfront cash payment because he “didn’t have money to buy petrol”. Urg.  Sorry, but New Yorkers are immune to scams.  These losers barely slowed us down – we moved to buy a regular taxi coupon from the window, negotiate the fare, and get on our way while playing with them via Uber messaging for entertainment.

The taxi driver took us to Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur, situated in the upper half of a 40-story skyscraper facing the Petronas Towers.  I loved its mix of steel and glass with contemporary styling. We were also lucky to get a room on the 34th floor, one of the highest, and had a fantastic view.

View from the hotel lobby

View from our room

For dinner, we took a cab to Kampung Baru, a traditional Malay village with quite some history. Even though it was barely a mile away from all the skyscrapers and international brands of luxury, it felt like a rural village with traditional houses, dimly-lit streets, and friendly people who understood virtually no English. We walked down Jalan Raja Muda Musa and began our eating tour.

Our first stop was a nasi lemak restaurant on the side of the road. Folks lined up to get rice plates topped with their selection of curries, egg, sambal, and cucumbers. The “smart traveler” in me saw big pots of exposed warm food sitting there for who-knows-how-long, questionably sanitary utensils, and raw vegetables handled by infrequently washed hands. The food explorer in me saw hungry local commoners who, after a long day at work, took their kids and parents here for dinner. We used our finger-pointing skills to get a few curries with unknown ingredients, and the whole plate cost about $2 USD. It was delicious.  For ambiance, we had singing of prayers from a nearby mosque.

We continued down the street for fruit juices, fish paste roasted in banana leaf, satay, and more nasi lemak. The evening was an excellent way to start our KL trip.

The gate to Kampung Baru’s food street seemed to be for attracting tourists, but we didn’t see any other than ourselves

“Restoran” is the official spelling of “restaurant” in the Malay language, the same way “Peking” used to be the official spelling of “Beijing” in the English language.  I love how worlds collide and we all butcher one another’s culture a little

Rice, brown thing, brown thing, egg, another brown thing… :p

All these people had done this before

Street food stalls in Kampung Baru

In the morning, we took a cab to Batu Caves north of KL, a series of natural caves turned into a Hindu temple. I had been to these caves 25 years years ago with family, but that was before people built the world’s largest Murugan statue here and coated it with an insane amount of gold paint.

All we wanted here was to see how quickly we could run up the 272 steps, but all the out of shape tourists really slowed us down. The monkeys that ruled this mountain were not shy at all around people (ahem), and they were entertaining to watch.

Murugan, son of Shiva, and the God of War popular among Tamil Hindus
Pictures don’t do justice for the awe you get when seeing the size and shine of this statue

Yay for stairs!

Monkeys rule

Humans must dress and behave conservatively at this temple.  Monkeys on the other hand…

Inside the caves were more stairs; this place was really comfortable given the shade and the natural breeze

Shiva’s family.  From left to right should be Ganesha, Shiva, Parvati, ?, and Murugan
Can someone tell me who the fourth person is?

A large statue of Hanuman

The day was really heating up when we left the caves, so we headed back to the hotel and spent the afternoon in the sterile, air-conditioned Bukit Bintang area surrounding our hotel.  A walk through the spectacular Pavilion mall was followed by lunch at Lot 10 Hutong, a congregation of Malaysia’s top hawkers.  Then we had an hour-long foot massage and hit up the hotel’s gym & pool.

The Pavilion Mall’s massive Chinese New Year setup

A British retailer fully decked out with Chinese New Year decorations, and its Muslim employee dressed in red

Water feature at Pavilion’s main entrance

Grand Hyatt from its outdoor pool

The evening meals included a Japanese parfait in a cute little cafe in Pavillion mall (yes, dessert first), a bowl of laksa (curry noodles) at an adjacent restaurant, then a plate of Hokkien Mee (Chinese-Malaysian wok fried noodles) and a plate of Mee Goreng (Indian-Malaysian fried noodles) at a nearby night market called Jalan Alor.

Jalan Alor was full of people

This night market was unique in that several gigantic road-side restaurants (Meng Kee was about 50 meters wide) each operated dozens of hawker stands to cook their food

Before heading out of KL the next morning, we took a stroll to the Suria mall in the KLCC complex, a.k.a. the Petronas Towers. It was yet another Asian shopping mall with Rodeo Drive level of high-end stores. We ate two breakfasts here: you tiao from McDonald’s and a nasi lemak from Nyonya Colors.

Petronas Towers, world’s tallest from 1998 to 2004

CNY setup in the interior courtyard of Suria KLCC

CNY setup in the interior courtyard of Suria KLCC

Golden Arch

During our short stay in this Muslim-majority city, I had come to a particular appreciation for people watching. Women with hijab or burka, who’d make some people nervous in the Western Hemisphere, can be seen going about their daily business everywhere: professionals on their morning commute, store clerks selling Western clothes, waiters serving Japanese desserts, grandma buying kids a snack at a street vendor, etc. What I did not previously know was how fashionable they could be. On some women the head covering could even be the primary decorative piece, some with shiny satin fabric or flashy rhinestones.  This is why I love to travel – so we can see where “different” is “normal” and find that people around the world aren’t really that distant from one another.

Fellow patrons at Nyonya Colors on the lower level of the Petronas Towers



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