Asia · Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur

On Friday I flew from Ho Chi Minh to Kuala Lumpur. The flight was quicker than I thought even though it was delayed by half an hour. After passport control I went to collect my luggage, which was sitting off the conveyor belt but nevertheless it was there (a worry after every flight now). I’d arranged to meet mum directly outside. Her flight was due in at 1pm at KL International Airport and I was originally due in at 1.35pm at KL’s Low Cost Carrier Terminal, which is about 15 minutes away. I thought with the delay that it would be perfect timing to meet mum, however… 2pm no mama, 2.30pm no mama, 3pm no mama, 3.30pm no mama… I said to myself early on that mum could be delayed or lost luggage or something but that 3pm would probably be the latest she would arrive and that at 4pm I would just get my own taxi to the Intercontinental. After 6 phone calls to mum’s phone that went straight to voicemail, I had just got the address for the hotel and money out of the ATM (I had no Malaysian ringgits on me) when at 3.50pm I heard ‘CHESS!’. Reason for delay? Lost luggage of course… Both suitcases! I think I’ve cursed everyone I travel with (plus a phone that won’t work here… Excellent).

Anyway it was good to see mama despite the palaver and the pre-arranged taxi took us on the hour trip into the city. Everything seemed so spacious and ordered and modern and clean (especially the traffic) compared to Vietnam. As we approached KL the skyline was really impressive with the Petronas Towers and the KL Tower. It was much more built up than I expected it to be. Mum dropped a classic when she said ‘When we are driving around, you’ll have to remind me to keep on the left side of the road’… ‘Um, what?! That’s the side we drive on at home, you should be used to it. If not I’m very concerned!’. We got to the Intercontinental hotel, which was very fancy, and got upgraded whoo. The room was on the 19th floor and had a really good view as well as everything you could ever need in a hotel room.

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We literally dumped my bags at the hotel and then went to the shopping centre at the Petronas towers to get mum some more stuff. We weren’t exactly sure where the towers were situated in relation to the hotel and the receptionist had informed us that the hotel had a free shuttle to the centre every hour so we got the shuttle at 5pm. We must have arrived at the towers at 5.02pm… Me and mum just looked at each other and laughed, what a ridiculous distance for a shuttle! Needless to say we never got the shuttle again. We went and got some clean clothes for mum (the only clothes she had had been on for over 24 hours) and then went and grabbed some dinner from the food court. The centre in the epitome of opulence. They don’t do shopping by halves: Marc Jacobs, Gucci, Prada, Coach, Bvulgari… You name a fancy label and they have a shop at the Petronas towers mall (although it was good old M&S for us). We also went for a walk around the huge, gorgeous park at the back of the towers. We then walked the ten minutes back to the hotel and had an early night.

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Saturday was hardcore sightseeing day. We got up early and made up way on the underground from our hotel in the north east of the city (near the Petronas) to the east of the city. First of all we visited Jamek Mosque, which is a main mosque in the city. It seemed like an oasis of calm in the middle of the hectic life that is associated with all cities. It was also the first of many examples of the day where we witnessed the old and the new so close together: the Jamek Mosque surrounded by high rise buildings on all sides.

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We then wondered towards Merdeka Square, which is situated right next to the mosque. The centre of the square is usually a beautiful lush lawn but because of the Malaysian Grand Prix (23-25 March), they were setting up a tent with various activities etc for the next day in celebration. Merdeka Square (Independence Square or Dataran Merdeka) is situated in the centre of the city. A 100 metre-high flagpole marks the spot where the Malayan Flag was hoisted on August 31 1957 signifying independence from British rule. We saw the Sultan Abdul Samad building, the Royal Selangor Club, the flagpole and the water fountain that surround and make up the square. The Sultan Abdul Samad Building is one of the most well known landmarks in the city. Completed in 1896, it was initially designed to house the colonial State Government of Selangor but actually ended up housing the Federated Malay States (FMS) administration. Since 1972, this British-India inspired building has housed the High Court. The Royal Selangor Club is a social club that was founded in 1884 by the British who ruled Malaya.

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The square’s buildings are all traditional buildings and so once again the square was an example of the ‘old versus new’ that is central to KL architecture. Next, we explored the KL City Museum and read some really well presented information on the city’s history. I actually can’t believe that the city has evolved so much in just over 50 years (since Independence from Britain), it’s absolutely incredible what they’ve done. So many high rise buildings and shopping malls have been built in such a short time.

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We then went to Central Market, which has been in use since 1888. When I heard the word ‘market’ I thought it would be crammed with stalls and sellers shouting out to advertise their wares… How wrong I was! It was very quiet and consisted of beautifully ordered stalls and open-front shops. It was time for a break so me and mama got a smoothie and I then had a paratha with banana and chocolate sauce (so good). We then had a wonder round and mama treated us to a foot massage, which was so relaxing that I fell asleep. After we had another wonder around the stalls and had a look at the market outside. We also had a wonder around Chinatown but that was a more chaotic market filled with fake goods so it wasn’t really for us. We also walked briefly through the food market but they had cats in cages for sale to eat so that wasn’t for us either. We then made our way slightly to the south to see the old KL Railway, however we didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be to get to so we just took some photos from afar of the beautiful, white British-India inspired building.

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Next was the monorail across to the west of the city to Berjaya Times Square shopping centre because it has a theme park inside the shopping centre. When we got there I was completely overwhelmed: there are ten floors of shopping and it is just too much to look at. I’d have thought with a shopping centre like that, they wouldn’t need any more in the city, I have no idea how many there are but at least 15. It seems strange to me that in a Muslim country where Islam is quite obviously adhered to (conservative dress, conservative practices) that they have the most extravagant and numerous symbols of consumerism I have ever witnessed.

I had another snack and then we wondered around. We went and saw the theme park, which was incredible. We didn’t go inside because I had just eaten and mum can’t go on rides anyway because of her neck (hopeless pair!). I tried to do some browsing but I’m not a shopper and there was just too much going on. Me and mama knew that there was an Outback Steakhouse in the area that we were going to go to for dinner but we were both feeling hungry and we were close by so we decided to go there for a very late lunch/early dinner at 3.30pm. Mama had her favourite fillet steak and I had chicken with melted cheese, Outback fries and all kinds of epic goodness that makes the Outback so damn good!

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Afterwards we both really wanted the famous Chocolate Thunder from Down Under (the best chocolate brownie you will ever eat with amazing ice cream and cream on top), however I physically couldn’t eat anymore so I only managed a couple of mouthfuls of chocolatey goodness while mama took one for the team and ate the rest… I wish we could have taken a doggie bag and a second one for late when I could have managed it. We took the monorail to as close as we could get and then waddled the rest of the way back to the hotel. On the way I made some friends from Pakistan who randomly wanted to take loads of photos with me… Mum just watched and laughed.

In the evening, mama spent a long time trying to sort out everything for her luggage (which still hadn’t been traced) and we then had to go back to M&S for more supplies. We also picked up our standard breakfast of yoghurt and muesli and some fruit. The lady serving us the fruit had a face like thunder all the way through until right at the end I said ‘tarimah kasih’ (thank you)… Well we have never seen someone’s mood change around so quickly, she smiled the biggest smile I have ever seen. As soon as we had checked in at the hotel I asked the receptionist to write down hello and thank you. I’ve realised it’s really easy to make someone’s day!

Although everyone here speaks English, they are always really impressed when I say Selamat pagee/petang (good morning/afternoon) or tarimah kasih. On the way back we stopped off at a cute coffee place and ordered some eggs on toast. We got some very watery looking eggs and some very brown bread delivered to our table… Which was actually probably the best egg on bread I’ve ever had. Saturday was another relatively early night after a very busy day in the city (plus mama had no clothes to go out in at night).

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On Sunday morning, we had a little bit of a lie in and then ate our fruit and yoghurt with muesli in bed before leaving the hotel at 9.45am. We got a taxi to the KL Tower and made our way up to the top. The 360 degree views of the city are incredible, especially of the Petronas Towers. It’s crazy how much building is still taking place, something you can really appreciate from high up. It seems as if they have enough tall buildings, and yet many more are going up, so I have no doubt that the skyline will change dramatically again in the next 5 years… There are no boundaries for KL, which is visibly trying to become a world player in the 21st century.

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There are some pretty gardens/cultural remnants in the gardens next to the KL Tower, which me and mum took a wonder around (there were randomly some iguanas sitting on a table). I then went and did my ‘F1 simulator’, which came as part of the ticket. It was three minutes on one of those driving machines you get at arcades, not the simulator that the name suggested. I came last anyway, so F1 is definitely not my calling… You won’t be seeing me on the TV next weekend. Mum then went to the KL Tower zoo… She was out 5 minutes later because the animals weren’t kept in very good condition. I also witnessed the ‘pony ride’ (which was the third extra option with the ticket), which was the funniest thing I’ve seen. A man and his son got on these ponies and were led by two men around the pony stand twice… And that was it.

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We walked down the steep hill to the bottom of the KL Tower and made our way south east of the city to the Pavillion shopping centre (because I had found out there was a Forever 21 there AND a Pull and Bear). It was the best shopping centre we visited by far: affordable, well laid out and extremely modern but not over the top like the other ones we had visited. We had a lovely lunch and then had a look around the shops. I was very good and only bought a head band from Forever 21 but it was good to look around shops that I could afford if I wanted.

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We then found a walkway above the city that took us all the way up to the gardens outside the Petronas Towers, we couldn’t believe it because it was so convenient and took us to exactly where we wanted to be (and air conditioned, bonus). We picked up some breakfast and then walked the final 10 minutes back to the hotel where we went swimming and chilled by the pool for a couple of hours. As soon as we sat down we were bought water and fruit by the pool attendant… A life I could get used to.

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When we got back to the room, we found out that mama’s luggage had been traced and was in KL. At 6.30pm it was finally delivered to our room. We had already decided to go to the Hard Rock Cafe but we could actually dress up a little bit because mum had all her clothes again. What an epic evening! We decided to have some cocktails first: Bahama Mama for mama (standard) and one Bahama Mama and then beer for me. We sat at the bar for about 45 minutes and then went to our table. We had just sat down and were looking at the menu when suddenly all the lights and music went out. We thought there might be some entertainment about to start, but when the waiters and waitresses started bringing it candles and flashing their torches, we realised there had been a power cut. We were told that they were unable to cook any food until the power came back on and they had no idea when that would be. So two starving ladies made their way to the Petronas Towers and ate in the food court… Talk about all dressed up and nowhere to go. We then went back to our hotel and had some cakes for dessert, which were amazing (carrot cake for me and a fruit tartlet for mama). Although the evening didn’t pan out as we expected it was really fun.

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I’m not sure what I expected from KL but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s extremely modern yet also maintains its religious traditions. Even though I had read that shopping is the newest ‘craze’ in KL, I still can’t believe how many shopping malls there are and how over the top they are. I think just one of them would be impressive by itself. There’s certainly some big money in KL. We found it really easy to get around by walking, monorail, underground and taxi so it was enjoyable to sightsee and be the perfect flaneurs (my third year history tutor would be so proud of me!). In short, I really enjoyed our time in KL.

P.S: Mama pointed out how bad my spelling and grammar can be on the blog. As I just taught English for 6 weeks it doesn’t reflect very well on me(!) so wanted to say that I type the blog on my phone and then upload it. Predictive text is to blame for a lot of the mistakes but also it’s hard to look at the small screen for so long and I don’t always re-read the entries after writing them.

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