After a less than impressive start to my time in Malaysia, it was only when I arrived in Kuala Lumpur that I started to feel like a proper traveller again. After an arduous bus ride from Langkwai, I was starting to view Malaysia as a bit of a warmer and slightly more tropical version of the UK. During the long bus journey, we stopped at normal petrol stations which sold Western food. I’d seen Nando’s and the plug sockets had that air of familiarity. Even though I’d never been to Malaysia before, it felt very recognisable.
However, if there’s one location that is quintessentially Malaysian, it’s the capital city Kuala Lumpur. It’s a sprawling metropolis, half-Bangkok, half-Singapore. It’s an amalgamation of modern and traditional and, apart from resigning myself to the extraordinary price of beer, I absolutely loved my time there.
I stayed in one of the more traditional areas of the city, Chow Kit, in a hostel I was convinced was going to be horrendous as it cost me around £3 a night. However, Hostel Cosmopolitan turned out to be completely fine and more than fulfilled my needs whilst I was staying in the capital. The big plus was that it was right next door to a metro station, a 7/11 and Chow Kit is teeming with fantastic food outlets. It was here that I truly discovered my love for nasi kandar (basically curry) and ate it pretty much every day for the rest of my time in Malaysia. It was incredibly addictive, cheap and absolutely delicious.
KL’s main attraction, the iconic Petronas Towers, are every bit as barmy and magnificent as you’d expect. Poised above a huge shopping mall, they’re visible from just about anywhere in the city and look truly fantastic. What’s great is that they sit right by a large park with greenery and fountains, so it’s very easy just to laze a humid afternoon away trying to get your head around this architectural wonder. I didn’t go up them as I felt the real joy was seeing from the outside.
Seeing them during the day is great because you can pinpoint every detail and they almost don’t look real. It’s one of those things that looks so good, that it almost looks computer-generated. Obviously, they really come to life at night and the whole area around the shopping mall has a brilliant vibe at night. There are bars, shops and loads of people armed with selfie sticks so it makes for a fantastic nighttime stroll, soaking up the atmosphere – or the rain if you get caught in the middle of a random monsoon as I did.
Other than this iconic landmark, Kuala Lumpur isn’t huge on tourist attractions, making it a great city to chill and stuff yourself silly in. The other main attraction is the Batu Cave, which you can take a KTM train to in about 15 minutes. The caves themselves are pretty impressive and free to enter, but the most striking image is that of the golden Lord Murugun statue in front of the mass of stairs you have to climb up to get in the caves.
What’s a bit more annoying are the hordes of monkeys circling the steps as you climb up. I’ve made my dislike of these irritating little buggers clear in the past and they weren’t doing themselves any favours here. They’d just swing by, snatching food and drinks from unsuspecting tourists. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, they’d sit on the banisters and consume it in front of the poor person’s eyes. Cocky little sods. I actually saw one monkey open a can of Coke and start guzzling it. It baffled me even more that you can pay money to buy monkey food on the way up – why on earth would you pay cash to be attacked by a group of vicious monkeys?!
Other areas of Kuala Lumpur worth a mooch around include Chinatown, which gave me a longing to be back in Hong Kong. Very close to Chinatown is the Central Market which is great too. It’s another testament to weird Malaysian architecture. In the same area, you can also spot an Indian temple, which reminded me of the similar designs I’d seen in Chennai and Madurai. Kuala Lumpur really is a melting pot of loads of different cultures and ideas.
I guess this applies to Malaysia as a whole though. After Kuala Lumpur, I took the bus to the nearby city of Malacca, which has retained much of its Dutch heritage. It’s quite a sleepy city. It’s chilled and relaxed and there’s yet more good food, but I wouldn’t rush to go there. The colonial buildings are great though and really weird. It reminded me of walking through Macau and seeing random Portuguese buildings. It was exactly the same here. It’s weird to be so far away from home and yet stumble across all these European reminders.
There are a few nice hills and viewpoints around Malacca and the river’s pretty nice too. If you’re going to go, the weekend is definitely time to visit as Jonker Street Night Market is held from Friday to Sunday. It’s a great market and there’s even a stage at the end of the street where acts perform, much to the delight of the crowd. It’s certainly the liveliest I saw the city during my few days there. I think it’s becoming more and more clear to me that I belong in a big city…