Malaysia - Kuala Lumpur

Trip Start Dec 05, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Trekker Lodge

Flag of Malaysia  , Wilayah Persekutuan,
Sunday, February 18, 2007

The overnight train to Kuala Lumpur, or KL as most people refer to it, was an absolute nightmare. The single saving grace was that it was relatively cheap and meant that we didn't have to pay for accommodation that night. The journey started on the wrong foot from the outset when the train left an hour late. The 'deluxe' sleeper cabin that we had paid for was very small and had a miniscule 'wet-room' style bathroom and a TV that didn't work! (PICS) An hour into the journey we had to stop at the Singapore - Malaysia Border, get out of the train, queue up for immigration and customs and then wait for everyone to clear the train before we could get back on. We weren't told about this at any point and if we hadn't read about it in our lonely planet guide we probably would have got into our night wear and into bed.
The crazy thing about this arrangement is that the Singapore Train Station that we left from is actually owned by Malaysia. This means that we went through Malaysian immigration at the station in Singapore but had to wait until we got to the border to go through Singaporean immigration. Even after all this, the Malaysian immigration don't stamp your passport so this becomes an issue when you come to leave Malaysia, requiring you to keep hold of your train ticket until you leave Malaysia, whenever that may be!
Eventually we got back to our cabin and were able to settle down for the night. At least that was what we hoped. The reality was that people constantly slamming doors, loud creaks and rattles throughout the train and what has to be the shakiest train in existence kept us awake. We had exactly NO sleep during the whole 9-hour overnight journey - terrible! We will never take an overnight again in Asia.
We arrived into KL and caught a cab to our hostel. We were luckily able to check into our room early and went straight to sleep for the next 6 hours. The room in the Trekker Lodge hostel was basic, with another grubby wet-room ensuite, but free Internet and breakfast made up for it, especially with a decent price of £10 per night.
Waking mid-afternoon we wanted to go out and take a look around the immediate area. Unfortunately, as it was Chinese New Years Day almost everything was closed. Regardless we took a wander towards the city centre district, passing the KL Tower and using the imposing Petronas Towers as our beacon to find our way. The massive shopping mall (PIC) at the base of the towers was open so we wandered around and grabbed some dinner before heading to the front of the complex to get our first full view of the former 'worlds tallest building'.
The Petronas Towers are a sight to behold. They don't actually look as big as we expected, especially as they were the tallest buildings until the 'Taipai 101' in Taiwan was constructed a couple of years ago. There is also nothing that large around the tower to give it any perspective, this does however lend itself to some great, clear photos of the towers (PICS). We sat and admired the fantastic architecture of the towers for a while before taking the 15-minute walk back to our hostel.
The following day we tried to catch up on our previous night of sleep deprivation and chilled out in the hostel, partly because we were knackered and also because the New Year meant that there was a two-day public holiday and, once again, nothing much would be open. We took the opportunity to try out the local food place around the corner from our hostel and sat down for a banana leaf set meal. A giant leaf was laid out before us and a selection of different piles of Indian / Asian foods were slapped down on top. We wondered out loud what each pile was, and various staff tried to explain but we found that the best way to find out was for Andrew to act as guinea pig and shove them into his mouth. Almost every pile was delicious, varying from potato dishes to chicken curry, dried banana and some sort of mushy spinach type dish. In fact, we were so impressed that we returned for dinner that evening.
KL has a fairly basic public transport system with few stops and even less that are actually of much use. Taxis are generally the simplest and most user-friendly method of transport, although our hostel host kept insisting that we just walk everywhere! This can be just as useful as the Monorail / LRT system as you normally have to walk out of your way to get to a station and then walk some more to get to your destination at the other end. Nevertheless, we thought we would try the monorail and travelled to the stop nearest to the Tourist Info Centre (predictably, walking would have been quicker!).
The tourist centre helped us with a few queries and we then returned to the Petronas Towers to try and get up to the Skybridge. Arriving at the towers we discovered that there only a limited number of tickets (free of charge) per day to access the bridge and visitors cannot enter the towers at any other time. The tickets are distributed from 8.30am and normally run out at about 10 - 10.30am. At 11am we were out of luck.
We crossed through the shopping mall and emerged at the other end of the towers complex, into the KLCC Park; the main bit of greenery in the city centre. The park includes a large lake with numerous fountains and water features, plenty of lawns and trees and a play area for kids. It also gives great views up at the towers and allowed for some interesting shots of the iconic building (PICS).
In an attempt to try out all the cities modes of transport we jumped onto the (fairly) nearby LRT underground train and travelled to the west of the city to see a couple of tourist attractions that we had earmarked. The first of these was the Masjid Jamek Mosque, set between two tributaries of the river that runs through the city and amidst a collection of palm trees, giving it a very tropical aspect (PIC).
Just across the water we found the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, an impressive structure with two twisted stairway towers and central clock tower that looked like an Arab version of Big Ben (PICS). The building faces Merdeka Square, an important location in the history of Malaysian culture. It was the point where the British flag was lowered and the Malaysian one raised exactly 50 years ago to mark the end of British rule in the country. The Malaysian flag still flies proudly half a century later (PIC).
From Merdeka Square we wanted to travel up to the KL Lake Gardens and hoped to get a taxi to do the legwork instead of us. Trying to find a taxi driver that would use his meter and not charge an extortionate rate proved to be impossible so we ended up walking it anyway! The gardens house a number of attractions, such as the National Monument, a modern sculpture garden, a bird park and deer park. The National Monument is a tribute to those who died in the First, Second and Emergency wars, and displays a bronze statue of soldiers holding a flag, behind which is a fountain and curved structure with several minarets and beyond that a cenotaph dedicated to the wars (PICS). The vibrant colour in the fountain contrasts vividly with the dark statue and gives the monument a true depth. From the top of the hill where the monument is located we could see across the city to the two famous towers, KL and Petronas (PIC). Contrary to the image, Petronas is actually the bigger of the two!
We walked through the park, past the bird and deer gardens and spotted a few wild monkeys looting a dustbin at the roadside. We emerged from the park at the National Mosque; a stunning structure that stands out from the surroundings with is bright white colour and clean, simple lines. The striking minaret is accompanied by a star shaped dome, which represents the 13 states of Malaysia and the 5 pillars of Islam (PICS).
As you can see from the colour of the sky in these pictures, a thunderstorm was quickly approaching so we had to quickly depart. We made our way to the Old KL Train Station; a beautiful old building sadly no longer used by the railway. The Moorish architecture with its arches and minarets is one the finest examples of such craft in Malaysia (PIC). As there is nothing really left at the old train station we headed off back to our hostel and out of the rain.
The taxi drivers were at their usual tricks of not using the meter and quoting us a price of between 15 and 20 ringits for the journey. We knew it should be less so progressed with trying to find a driver who would use his meter. Eventually one agreed and we got back to the hostel with 5 ringits on the meter - much more what we expected. This is a common theme in KL and all over Asia and if you can actually find a driver who is prepared to use his meter then you can save a lot. If not then just haggle until the price is about 50% of the starting quote and it shouldn't be too far away from the real price!
We used the local Indian 'restaurant' for dinner again; another £3 meal for two!
It chucked it down first thing the following morning and just managed to clear in time for us to walk to the Petronas Towers in order to queue up at just after 8:30am for a chance to get tickets up to the tower Skybridge. By the time we arrived there were already hundreds of people queued and we wondered if we were too late. Half an hour later we neared the front and could see that tickets were still being dished out. The tickets are given out with a particular time slot, to which you have to adhere to visit the Skybridge. Our slot was 12:15pm so we had three hours to kill until we could go up.
We caught the LRT to Central Market (PICS). The market was only half open, despite it being close to midday and most of the stalls inside sold local goods and memorabilia. We were looking for Sunglasses and trousers and hoped that the market would sell sufficient tat for us to find something. Luckily there were a few stalls outside the market building that sold sunglasses and we found a few 'designer' pairs that cost us about £2 each - authentic!
We walked from the central market to Chinatown just a few streets down. In contrast to most Chinatowns, the KL version was full of Indians. We managed to find another (back-up) pair of sunglasses for Verdi - made by Chanel of course, and then headed back to the Petronas Towers via the Dayabumi Complex - a modern structure which looks just like it has jumped off the architects sketch board and straight into the KL skyline (PIC).
Back at the Petronas towers we had a short wait before cramming into the elevator with about 30 other visitors. The car shot up to the 41st floor and we were ushered out onto the Skybridge. The bridge is only about a third of the way up the total height of the tower but still has a commanding view over the entire city. The bridge is a futuristic construction of steel tubing and concrete (PICS) and its simplistic décor allows the visitor to gain maximum impact from the immense panoramic views on either side. On one side the view is entirely comprised of buildings; offices, hotels and residential, whereas the outlook from the other side is dominated by the geometry of the KLCC gardens (PICS). The view downwards was also interesting as it gave a totally new angle of the towers' construction, and just how high we were! (PIC)
After our 20-minute scheduled visit we were herded back into the elevator and plummeted down to the basement level where we took some time to waltz around the shopping centre and find some trousers for Verdi - in 'Marks and Spencers' of all places!
Having been to one of the world's tallest structures that day we decided to visit another; the KL tower, which is the fourth tallest tower in the world. Although not as high as the Petronas Towers, the KL Tower has a viewing platform that is higher than the Skybridge. On our way to the tower we stopped at a nearby mall for some dinner. Faced with a choice between McDonalds, Pizza Hut, an Irish Sandwich Bar and a local restaurant we chose the latter in an attempt to be cultured and not bow down to the multinational corporate machines that encroach into every town and city in the world. We should have bowed down as usual and ordered Big Mac's! Despite ordering food that should have contained no fish whatsoever, we were greeted by dried anchovies topping both of our meals - the flavour permeating each mouthful. A couple of mouthfuls was all we could take, we left the rest of the meal on the table and legged it over to Pizza Hut!
We caught the free shuttle from the base of the KL Tower complex to the actual tower - about a ten-minute uphill walk if you're feeling energetic, and paid our entrance fee. The tower looked even brighter than normal with its flashing red and blue lights (PIC). The lights seemed to change colour every day, sometimes just red, sometimes yellow or green. We walked through the elegantly decorated foyer (PIC) and shot up the tower in the high-speed lift to the observation level. We were welcomed with an audio-visual player which gave commentary and video based on the view from each window. It was a novel idea but didn't have the feature of pausing the commentary in case you wanted to take longer at a particular window, and many of the places that were discussed couldn't be seen during the night!
From the tower we could see the 'Eye on Malaysia' (PIC) - effectively the same as the London Eye and based in a large park that has firework and laser shows each week. We had planned to visit but the firework show was only on during the weekends and we weren't around at the right time. The view of the Petronas Towers was excellent and for the first time it gave the towers a real sense of scale against the surrounding buildings - we could finally see that perhaps it was pretty damn big! (PIC)
Leaving the KL Tower we decided to take a wander back to the Petronas Towers to get a couple of night shots, the graduated lighting of the towers gives it an even more impressive appearance during the night, especially with the large foyer area and fountains all lit up (PICS).
That was to be our final view and lasting impression of KL as we were heading to Borneo the following day.
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Hakim Hamzah on

An interesting article about your visit to Kuala Lumpur. You may want to consider posting it to to win great prizes!

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