Kuala Lumpur, or KL as it’s affectionately known around the world, has always seemed like this cool, mysterious city to me. This is probably because before visiting, I knew almost nothing about the city or its country. Consequently, I was very excited to discover what the city is all about.
One of the best things about KL is its cheap but awesome accommodation. The Reggae Mansion hostel in KL is by far the best hostel I’ve seen. I almost felt like I was in college again because it’s a bit like a sorority (just the building structure, not the drama). The hostel is in a colonial style mansion (hence the “mansion” in the name – but don’t ask me where “reggae” comes from – there is nothing reggae about it) with a restaurant, bar, Internet cafe, laundry facilities (believe me, this is a big deal), skybridges between wings of the mansion, and even an in-house movie theater that shows nightly free movies. The dorm rooms contain a wall of built-in bunk beds – complete with privacy curtains and a luggage cupboard for each. All this for a very cheap nightly rate.
The most recognizable part of KL’s skyline is the Petronas Twin Towers, the immensely tall identical silver towers connected to each other by a mid-height skybridge. The first thing I wanted to do in KL was see this iconic landmark with my own eyes. So I set off my first morning towards the Towers.
Only a few minutes into my walk towards the KLCC (what locals call the Kuala Lumpur City Center), I spotted the Towers peeking out between two buildings. Momentarily mesmerized, I took my first Tower picture of many and kept going. A few minutes later, I stopped by the Menara KL (Malay for KL Tower), but as it is only the sixth highest communications tower in the world and I’m convinced that the revolving restaurant at the top of my beloved Space Needle is just as, if not more, amazing than the one at the top of KL Tower, I decided against going to the top.
Continuing on to the Towers, I was temporarily distracted again by Suria KLCC, the luxury mall that is connected to the base of the Towers. After spritzing myself with perfume at Sephora and looking longingly in the windows of Prada, I made it to the concourse level at the Towers, only to be told that the next available trip to the skybridge wasn’t for another three hours.
I made use of the time by traipsing around KLCC Park, a large area of grass, trees, and fountains bordering the Towers and Suria KLCC. Stopping for lunch then resting on a bench overlooking the calming park fountain right outside the front entrance of Suria KLCC made the hours fly by, and soon it was time for my trip up to the 41st floor to the Towers’ skybridge.
There is something marvelous about being in the skybridge of such an iconic building. The main tenant of the Petronas Twin Towers is Petronas, the state-owned national oil company of Malaysia. At 88 floors high and topped with a pinnacle, they are the tallest twin towers in the world. The architectural design of each tower is based on the Islamic geometric form of two interlocking squares creating an eight-pointed star, which reflects important Islamic principles of “unity within unity, harmony, stability, and rationality.” (Indeed, this shape can be seen all around the city – in fountains, tree planters, tiles on the sidewalk, benches.)
After I had gotten my fill of the Towers, I decided to mosey on down to Bintang Walk, the main shopping area of KL.
The shopping in KL is absolutely phenomenal. Swanky malls and boutiques and shops and outdoor restaurants stretch over the blocks of the Bintang Walk. A person who loves shopping (which I do) could spend hours going in and out of the malls and stores on this street (which I did).
A girls’ night out with two new hostel friends was the perfect end to this fun-filled day.
My lack of knowledge about KL and Malaysian history necessitated a visit to the National Museum, which I was much more open to after my great experience at the Korean War Museum. On my second day in KL, I hit the road for the museum, stopping to check out the historical buildings on the way. Masjid Jamek is KL’s oldest surviving mosque and is located at the meeting of the murky Gombak and Klang rivers (rivers which are responsible for KL’s name, which means “muddy estuary”).
Dataran Merdeka (Malay for Independence Square) is the site where Malaysia’s flag was raised for the first time on August 31, 1957, symbolizing Malaysia’s independence from British rule. The square commemorates Malaysia’s independence with a flagpole monument that is reputed to be the highest in the world. Malaysia’s independence day was just a few days away, and a huge set of bleachers was being set up in the grass adjoining the square for the upcoming independence day celebrations.
The High Court building, the Cathedral of Saint Mary, Masjid Negara (the National Mosque), the Sultan Abdul Samad building (a huge brick cooper-domed building that served as the administrative building of the government during the British era), and the domed and arched old KL Railway Station are just a few of the interesting historical buildings I passed on the way to the National Museum.
I learned at the National Museum that Malaysia has a fascinating history. The 15th Century Malay kingdom of Melaka (or Malacca) is perhaps one of the most important empires of the early Malay kingdoms because it established Islam in Malay (the official religion of Malaysia today). This contributed to Melaka becoming an internationally known trade center because it made it more appealing to Muslim merchants and traders from India, Persia, and Arabia, powerful countries in trade at the time.
As a major port city with a treasure trove of spices (which were needed to flavor and preserve food), Malacca captured the interest of the major European powers. Portugal conquered Malacca in 1511, then in 1641 the Dutch overthrew the Portuguese, and finally in 1824 the Dutch ceded control of Malacca and Penang (and Singapore) to Britain pursuant to the Anglo-Dutch Treaty. The Pangkor Treaty signed in 1874 by Britain and the Raja of Perak (one of the economically powerful Malay states) gave Britain administrative control over the Malay states.
When Britain resumed control after the Japanese occupation during WWII, ambitious nationalists began drumming up support for Malayan independence with negotiations, marches, and demonstrations. The quest for Malaya’s independence was marked by violence for twelve years when the Malayan Communist Party resorted to terrorism in an attempt to establish a Communist Republic system of government in the country, which contributed to Britain finally granting independence to the Federation of Malaya on August 30, 1957. Malaysia was officially formed on September 16, 1963, unifying the states of Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak (which are on Borneo, an island to the east of the Malaysia mainland), and Singapore, with Singapore separating to become an independent state in 1965.
When I exited the museum, an intense rain shower had begun – a frequent year-round occurrence in KL, I hear, but not too debilitating because they come and go very quickly. I donned my rain jacket and braved the rain into the Kuala Lumpur Lake Gardens.
The KL Lake Gardens is a seriously spectacular park. There are ponds, fountains, waterfalls, and tons of different types of flowers, trees, and plants everywhere. There is a hibiscus garden filled with beds of gorgeous flowers and an orchid garden with common and rare species of orchids. There is a boathouse, an outdoor amphitheater, a museum, and a deer park. After the rain stopped, I roamed around the park for hours, enjoying the refreshing and calm atmosphere in the midst of this chaotic city until it was time to head home for the night.
Since I’d seen most of the major attractions the previous two days, my third day in KL was open for whatever random thing I wanted to do. I decided to visit the bird park, the world’s largest free-flight walk-in aviary. I am by no means a bird-lover (in fact, for a large chunk of my life – due I think to watching The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock when I was very young – I have had a minor fear of birds flying at my face). So going to a free-flight aviary where birds fly freely would normally not be at the top of my list of things to do on a free day in a city. And yet, after seeing sign after sign for the park proudly proclaiming it as the biggest in the world, my curiosity prevailed and I dished out the 45 ringgit (a bit of a steep price, but to be expected for such a obvious tourist attraction) to gain entrance into the huge space covered with netting.
At first, the little white long-necked birds diving around narrowly missing my face and brushing me with their winds was a bit unnerving. But after a while, I really began to enjoy myself. There are so many exotically colorful crazy looking birds there: parrots, toucans, flamingos, storks, peacocks, hornbills, ostriches, emus, doves, cockatoos, and even love birds.
I wanted to top the day off at the KL Craft Complex, but unfortunately it was closed due to Ramadan, so I continued on home.
I’m again saying goodbye to city life tomorrow and taking a quick Air Asia flight to the island of Langkawi.