Kuala Lumpur (KL) gave us a very fancy welcome. Literally, the airport terminal we arrived in was shiny and new, and had a lofty, nice mall brimming with shops, eateries and people from all corners of the globe. Looking back, this was the perfect prelude for all that KL had to offer us during our quick 48-hour layover.
Given that we only had a matter of hours in this cosmopolitan metropolis, we arrived with a list of things to do and see. Fortunately our hotel was centrally located and in a neighborhood full of restaurants, bars, street food, fancy shops, and public transportation. We were also very lucky and could walk to all of the places we wanted to visit, which happened to be FREE! Yup, KL is full of FREE things to do, and has creative and well-manicured parks making this city exceptionally easy to visit on a budget. Here's a list of what we did:
- Petronas Towers at sunset: Ascending the towers is expensive and crowded. Visiting the park at their base is not. We came here thirty minutes prior to sunset and got a stunning view of the towers as daylight faded and office lights illuminated. The surrounding park has a wading pool, grass, running trails, decorative and drinking fountains, and multiple vantage points for gazing at the twin towers and their dazzling, hourly light-and-water-fountain music shows.
- National Mosque: Tourists (non-Muslims) are welcomed to visit the mosque outside regular prayer times. The mosque is huge and employs a modern, geometric architectural style and is beautifully decorated with ornate mosaics, beckoning fountains, and symmetrical Arabic script evoking a sense of paradise. Visitors must be dressed appropriately and robes are available for men and women, and headscarves are available for women. Visiting is a must.
- Orchid and Hibiscus Garden: Adjacent to the Bird Park, these free gems are full of, you guessed it, orchids and hibiscuses! The gardens are colorful, smell so fresh and sweet, and are on a hill affording views of the city below. While here, we found shaded benches beneath fans for the perfect pit stop from the heat and tropical sun.
- Temples: Wander through Chinatown and the city centre and you will inevitably find Taoist, Hindu, and Islamic temples. In fact, we know of few other places where you can find so many religion's temples located so close together and many even allow visitors inside for a look to marvel at the brightly colored interiors and detailed decorations. (In full disclosure, the mosque in downtown KL, as distinct from the National Mosque, is currently closed for construction. So we couldn't see it, but it is quite close to other temples and will be reopened soon enough).
- Petaling Street Market: This was one of the most dense markets we visited in Asia. Stalls are crammed together throughout the city block hawking mostly clothes, shoes, cellphone accessories and designer knock-offs. Walking through here was kind of a rush.
- Central Market: Here vendors sell touristy goods (think jewelry, pillow covers, t-shirts etc), as well as designer knock-offs and every-day accessories. This market has an indoor and outdoor section and several food stands selling Malaysian sweets! Yum!
- Textile Museum (several museums): The textile museum was, honestly, kind of boring. It was very well done with informative displays and easy to understand translations, but also kind of repetitive. The building housing the museum was beautiful and had elements of traditional middle-eastern style architecture with onion-bulb turrets, doorways and windows; and ornate, geometric mosaics and decorative frosted glass. The textiles displayed inside were beautiful as well, but it really was not the most interesting museum.
- Street food: Ok, this you have to pay for. But it is so cheap, it might as well be free. Think $1.50 for a large bowl of curry noodles. Food in Malaysia reflects the vibrant diversity of this city and is a delicious blend of South Asian (India), East Asian, British and Middle Eastern influences. Eating here was like having died and gone somewhere magical - and washing it down with fresh rose-lime juice!
We both agreed that we felt like we were short-changing Malaysia. Our 48-hour tour of KL left us hungry for so much more that this beautifully diverse and lush country has to offer! We wished we could have stayed and explored its beaches, islands, jungle, mountains, etc. We also agreed that we were grateful for our time in KL and that we will have to come back.
And that's a wrap, Southeast Asia. What can I say? We were both very sad to leave, yet so excited for New Zealand. Asia was full of magic and wonder, kindness and beauty, and certainly not without its trials. Visiting here was challenging, didactic and enriching in a way that is difficult to articulate. We both feel so fortunate to have shared this experience and we will be back!