Big City Life: Kuala Lumpur

DAY 1

We had only been in the lush, green Cameron Highlands for two days and yet it’s cool air and peaceful surroundings made it feel like a lot longer. We now felt rejuvenated and ready for, what we expected to be, a bustling, crowded and face-paced capital city similar to Bangkok. Rather, we were greeted by tall, gleaming apartment buildings and sharp, sophisticated sky rises. In contrast to the almost clumsy and un-organized nature of Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur projected a very organized, neat and methodical nature.

Backstreets of Pudu
Backstreets of Pudu

To get to Kuala Lumpur from the Cameron Highlands, we took a five hour bus ride booked by our friend and hostess, Jay at Gerard’s Place, leaving from Tanah Rata late afternoon. This worked out well as we were able spend the entire morning really experiencing all that the Cameron Highlands had to offer on the Cameron Secrets tour whilst still being able to travel in the afternoon.

The bus arrived at KL Sentral, the central subway/train terminal, at around 8pm. Feeling a little like small fish in a big pond, we made our way to the information desk, grabbed a subway map and re-orientated ourselves.

Note: The subway system in KL is very efficient – we relied on it solely to explore KL. Everywhere worth seeing seemed to be in walking distance of a station, even Batu Caves. Our hotel, Hote123, was not centrally located but in walking distance of Pudu Station.

Arriving at our hotel later that evening feeling pretty shattered, the man at the front desk helped us order some much needed Western food, MacDonald’s. We settled in for the night, hardly believing that in one day we had done a tour of the Cameron Highlands and were now tucked away in a small hotel in the outer suburbs of Kuala Lumpur!

DAY 2

After yesterday’s adventures, we spent the morning recuperating. Around lunch time Lauren went in search of food and found the dingiest looking curry house next door, Faya’s Curry House After arriving and seeing her sitting in the corner of this busy, male-infested (it seemed) “back street” type restaurant, I decided to wait to see the effects on her before giving it a whirl. Little did we know it would become our KL “gem” (read the note below). Instead I waited to find food at Batu Caves….bad idea! Surrounded by filth and pigeon pooh I was forced to consume a bowl of noodles with what could have been pigeon meat for all I know, just to drown the hunger pangs.

Batu Caves. So many pigeons, so many monkeys.
Batu Caves – so many pigeons, so many monkeys

Note: Yes, outside appearances can be deceiving, but for or a delicious roti canai and tandoori chicken at only R10, Faya’s Curry House in Pudu area in KL is definitely worth a visit. The lunch hour is a mad rush of local men eager to have their daily curry fix, but don’t let that stop you girls, you won’t regret it. The local man who owns the joint is super friendly and always eager for you to try something new at his expense.

Hey look... a monkey!
Theives… I mean monkeys!
Climbing up the to the cave. So many stairs!
Climbing up the to the cave. So many stairs!

Now to the MONKEYS! Prior to our visit, we were warned that the monkeys that lined the steep stairs to the caves were vicious, ruthless thieves. From food, to handbags, even cameras and cell phones, we were told to hold on to it tightly or avoid taking it in the first place. Unfortunately for those who did not get the memo, but to our amusement, high-pitched screams and wails could be heard at intermittent moments during our climb to the top. Although, some of them were asking for it…I mean, who tries to take a selfie with a thieving monkey? – Not Africans at least, we know better.

Inside the Cave.
Inside the Cave.
Climbing back down...
Climbing back down…

The cave itself was nothing spectacular, besides the monkey entertainment on the way up. It was large and hollowed out, with an opening at the top and had two temple-like areas where you could partake in Hindu rituals. Unfortunately for us, our expectations of visiting sacred, and in a sense, untouched temples often leave us sorely disappointed in the touristy, “souvenir-like” temples we encounter instead. However, it is worth a visit and will only take up about two-three hours of your day.

NOTE: How to get to Batu Caves – The KTM komuter train runs from KL Sentral train station straight to Batu Caves every 30 minutes. The trip takes about 25 minutes and ticket costs MYR4 return. There is no need to book a tour; you can have a lot more fun exploring it on your own.

Finishing up at Batu Caves we headed to KLCC by train to visit the Petronas Towers – a definite must-see if you are ever in KL. The towers are located beside the up market Petronas Mall, if you are looking to blow your backpacking budget in a couple of hours – but still worth a visit if you are in the area. Outside the mall is a quaint park with a lake where you can sit, relax, and take in the spectacular view of the towers as the sun goes down.

Petronas Towers by day.
Petronas Towers by day.
Petronas Towers by night.
Petronas Towers by night.

Eager to end our night with a movie we stuck around and had an average meal at the Petronas Mall food court before watching “How to train a dragon 2” for MYR18 each. Like I said, expensive when you are on a tight budget but occasionally you just need it.

NOTE: A visit to the top of the Petronas Towers will set you back about MYR. However, if you happen to be there early enough, you could get lucky – they give about a thousand free tickets to the first customers of the day.

Petronas Towers reflecting on water. I know, cool right?
Petronas Towers reflecting on the lake. I know, cool right?

DAY 3

Day three was hectic! Our goal was to explore as many of KL’s main attractions as possible – which we managed to do quite successfully. Starting off at KL Sentral just after lunch time, we took a walk around some office buildings, alongside an overpass and down some stairs to the KL National Museum (you may need a map).

After a quick and informative visit to the KL National museum (entry 5MYRpp for foreigners) we took another bridge across a highway and up some steep stairs to the KL Planetarium (12MYRpp). Now, if anyone knows me, I am not such a poster child for things like aquariums and planetariums, however Lauren goes absolutely crazy-nutty for them! I thoroughly enjoyed the air-conditioning while Lauren immersed herself in everything else the place had to offer!

KL National Museum! She wanted to drive it...
KL National Museum! She wanted to drive it…
Ok... I slightly enjoyed the planetarium..
Ok…so  I slightly enjoyed the planetarium.

The Planetarium is located on the edge of the KL Perdana Botanical Gardens, so from there we lost ourselves in the maze of garden paths trying to make our way to the KL Bird Park. However, whilst lost we did get to see the lake, Hibiscus and Orchid Gardens, auditorium and Deer Park. We even got to walk through Tan Abdul Razzak’s Memorial House, the second prime minister of Malaysia, which is located in the gardens (somewhere) and open for viewing.

KL Botanical Gardens. Beautiful.
KL Botanical Gardens. Beautiful.
Beautiful, the flowers I mean.. Jokes!
Beautiful! The flowers I mean…jokes!
Malaysia's national flower, the Hibiscus.
Malaysia’s national flower – the Hibiscus.

Dead on our feet, we finally stumbled across the famous KL Bird Park (near the Butterfly Park), the world’s largest free-flight, walk-in Aviary in the world, and then…walked away. At MYR45 per person we half expected to be able to take a bird home with us. So after a quick photo by the sign to say “we had been there” we made our way by foot to the National Mosque of Malaysia (near the Ceramics Museum) on route to the beautiful Old Kuala Lumpur Train Station.

You are probably getting tired just reading this, but we still had some gas left in us, so off we went to Pular Seni to check out KL’s Chinatown and Central Market, a short five minute walk from the Old Train Station. If you like street markets, bargaining and crowds then Chinatown in the place for you; make sure to visit in the evening when their set up is complete. The Central Market, a few blocks away, is a bit less chaotic providing a more relaxed shopping experience if you are that way inclined – it is basically a large air-conditioned building with a variety of quaint local shops and food stalls in and around it.

Chinatown!!!!
Chinatown!!!!
Central Market! Really cool vibe!
Central Market! Really cool vibe!

Feeling broken and a little wrecked we dragged our weary souls to the nearest train station, grabbed some food, and headed on home after what we thought was a ridiculously productive day in the massive city of Kuala Lumpur.

DAY 4

A backpacker’s budget doesn’t often cater for anything more than a bargain at a local market. However, it is still nice to do a little window shopping from time to time. Today we went to check out the shopping district of Bukit Bintang, on our way to KL Tower. To describe it very briefly, it is a small cross section of streets with massive malls and shops separated by the odd coffee shop and restaurant – essentially a shopaholic’s heaven! We did splash out a little though on a tasty lunch at Nandos (Ah yes, a taste of home!), before heading to the tower.

KL tower is a subway stop away from Bukit Bintang. From the subway station it is a short walk up a steep hill to the gate entrance. If you still have the energy, from there you can walk up the path to the entrance of the tower. We would have walked it; however, we couldn’t let the kind Malay man down after he offered us a complimentary, air-conditioned mini bus ride to the top. A visit to the viewing deck costs approximately MYR49pp and MYR99 to the top. Unfortunately, our backpacker’s budget didn’t cater for shopping districts or over-priced tourist attractions (unless they are adrenaline pumping, serious FOMO kind of activities). However, we still enjoyed the chance to look around and buy a few souvenirs for the family.

KL Tower, can't afford it but loads of fun!
KL Tower – from the bottom

On our free…did we mention AIR-COND…minibus ride back down to the entrance, our friendly Malay driver told us about the FREE KL City Bus (pink and purple in colour) that operates in and around the city. A short walk back down the hill to the bus stop and we were on the “pink bus” making our way to Merdeka Square, until we got stuck in traffic and jumped off the catch the more efficient subway instead. If we had more time the bus would have been a really great option.

Note: To get to Merdeka Square, stop at Masjid Jamek Station and walk from there. You could pay a quick visit the Masjid Jamek Mosque before continuing on to the square.

The KL Art Gallery.
The KL Art Gallery
The KL city model.
The KL city model

Merdeka Square is a lovely place to stroll around. The beautiful landmark, Sultan Abdul Samad Building, is right across the street, as well as the KL Art Gallery which hosts the Kuala Lumpur City Model. The gallery performs a quirky little light show where parts of the model light up as the cities past and present story is told as well as its vision for the future. The five minute show is free and totally worth a visit if you have the time!

Central Market (near China Town) are also just a few blocks away.

What better way to end our time in Kuala Lumpur than with donuts and chocolate milk from Central Market (a few blocks from Merdeka Square) before heading for dinner at our favorite curry, Faya’s.

Reflecting on our experience of KL would couldn’t help but contemplate how different our experience had been from previous visits by backpacker friends. Many had said it was similar to Bangkok but for us the two places couldn’t be more different. We found KL’s major attractions to be more easily accessible, its transport system more efficient and the people, a lot friendlier.

Normally, when backpacking we like to avoid cities – However, we would recommend a couple days in this surprisingly lovely city. We got a real taste of the Malay culture and its people and found so much to see and do in our short stay.

Our up-coming post will be on the quieter side of Malaysia – the quaint, little town of Melaka!

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