Traveller’s notebook: Kuala Lumpur
Have you ever had the urge to wake up in the morning and discover yourself in a different bed, in a different room, in another city? To go up to the window, look down at a busy street bustling with all kinds of people who speak different languages, in a country that’s not yours? A day that’s not your routine, an urge to explore this difference? That’s wanderlust.
We’re a generation of wanderers and we have long been a species of wanderers. What ties us to our 9-5 routine is not natural. We want to explore, even if we don’t realise it, each one of us, to our very core, are explorers.
And if you want to fire up your drive for exploration and your hunger to experience diversity, there is no better place to start your journey other than a short trip to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Malaysia, being one of the most attractive tourist destinations in Asia, sees a massive number of tourists every year. This mixture of tourists from different parts of the world only adds to the cultural diversity of Malaysia and is itself a bonus point for the tourists in this tropical island of Malay.
Getting a Malaysian visa is easy. Apply through an agency or go for the e-Visa. You’ll get your visa within seven days. A number of flights operate daily from Dhaka to Kuala Lumpur, the cheapest being Malindo. Malindo is recommended if you’re either travelling on a budget or if you’re reluctant to spend a fortune on a flight that lasts a mere 4 hours . The in-flight entertainment and the meal makes up for the small leg room.
Welcome to Kuala Lumpur
Upon arrival, make sure you get yourself a sim card and enable internet services. Sim card booths will be right outside the arrival lounge with big banners and are hard to miss. Complete immigration, collect your luggage and head to the exit. It’s best to get a Grab, Southeast Asia’s equivalent (superior, perhaps) to Uber, with your newly activated sim card. Grabs usually take about 60-70 RM depending on where you’ll be staying in the city. It takes about 45 minutes to reach the city from the airport so grab some snacks from Starbucks or a 7/11 if you’re hungry.
Staying in Kuala Lumpur
It’s best to book a hotel according to your preferences beforehand. If you’re planning to experience the night and be in the centre of all the buzz of Kuala Lumpur, get a hotel in Bukit Bintang. The Goldmark hotel is a nice stay if you’re travelling on a budget. A bit hard to spot, this hotel is not so much from the outside but it offers a good service at a cheaper rate and you cannot complain about the amenities. The plus side is that The Goldmark is right in the centre of Bukit Bintang and Bukit Bintang is alive the entire night.
However, if you prefer quieter nights and a surprise in the daytime, you’re in for a treat at Hotel Chinatown Inn. Hotel Chinatown Inn has a nice ambiance, cheaper than others and the front desk staff are really friendly. Also, they have books for you to read in the lounge, left by the guests. Located inside Chinatown Square, or Jalan Petaling, if you arrive at night, you’ll enter the hotel crossing a rather empty looking street. But when you get out in the morning, you’ll discover yourself in a street that you can’t recognise, buzzing with street shops and people of different ethnicity, loud noises and smell of Chinese street food. That’s the specialty of Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur. It has two different experiences on two different times of the day. So, recommended hotels, The Goldmark or Chinatown Inn. Take your pick.
Getting around in Kuala Lumpur is perhaps the easiest of all the other megacities in Asia, thanks to the free bus service GOKL. Download a GOKL map for free on your phone and hop on the free bus service and it’ll take you wherever you want to go within the city limits. Also, there are the MRTs and Grabs. Uber is available as well. Best not to take a taxi for getting around within the city limits as they tend to be rather expensive. Walk through short distances, it’ll help you absorb more of the city and you get to discover new things. You’ll be surprised to find roadside bands singing “O Bondhu Lal Golapi” with people dancing around while you cross a busy street (this actually happened). Walking is the best way to explore a new city to be honest.
Eating in the city
Kuala Lumpur is a food haven. You’ll find pop up food stalls selling sausage rolls or other local delicacies almost on every other street corners. They have a dedicated food street in Bukit Bintang area, Jalan Alor. The food stalls are lined after one another serving all sorts of dishes, from meat to seafood and all other sorts in between. The foods here are cheap and mouthful and the local delicacies are a treat to the tongue. You haven’t tasted the true essence of Malaysia if you haven’t eaten in Jalan Alor.
There is a very interesting small colonial style café near the Goldmark Hotel in Bukit Bintang. Visit them for a quiet affordable breakfast in the morning.
Besides that, there are plenty of local and international food chains in different places in the city. One particular recommendation is Damascus Inn on Arab Street and their chicken shawarma. Probably the best in the world. Recommendations among the local delicacies are Nasi Lemak and Nasi Goreng. Also, if you’re into it, try the BBQ squid from the street stalls in Jalan Alor.
The specialty pulled tea of Malaysia, named Teh Tarik, is a must have. Available in all of the local food shops, a cup of Teh Tarik costs around 5/6RM and if you have gone to Malaysia and have not had Teh Tarik, you really have not tasted Malaysia. Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim majority country so you don’t have to worry about halal food. Most restaurants are halal.
Landmarks to visit
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first, do visit the majestic Petronas Twin Towers at Kula Lumpur city centre. This famous landmark is easily accessible both by MRT and GOKL free bus. Roam around and explore the happenings at the city centre. Explore the nightlife at Bukit Bintang. Experience the diversity of colours and smells of spices in Little India. Lose yourself in the crowd of Chinatown and eat to your hearts content in the local street food stalls. Kuala Lumpur boasts a proud mixture of different cultures and races and make sure you taste a bit of each as you live out the time of your life on the streets of Kuala Lumpur.
Make a short trip to Putrajaya or Cyberjaya if you can. Putrajaya is where all the major government offices and ministries are located and is the home to the famous Masjid Putra and Cyberjaya is the Silicon Valley of Malaysia. Both Putrajaya and Cyberjaya are much more organised than Kuala Lumpur but they lack the liveliness and diversity of Kuala Lumpur. Visit Batu Caves, if you have time to spare. A 300-foot-high limestone cave which is home to the famous Hindu Temple. Climb about 300 steps of stairs if you dare and you are in for a sight and experience of a lifetime.
You won’t leave a foreign land without some souvenirs, would you? Kuala Lumpur is a shopping heaven. You’ll find malls housing brands like Gucci and Luis Vuiton to small crammed shops in Chinatown that’ll take a test of your bargaining skills. Go to Berjaya Times Square if you want good stuff for a cheaper rate. Go to Chinatown for cheap souvenirs and accessories. Visit Suria KLCC if you’re in the mood for an expensive shopping spree from famous Brands.
Get ready to be back
It’s almost the time to get back home, nomad. Like before, get a Grab or an Uber and specify your terminal. Remember, Kuala Lumpur has two airports side by side – KLIA1 and KLIA2. Make sure you specifically instruct your driver of the location and set out with spare time in hand as you may face heavy traffic.
Kuala Lumpur is a welcoming city, a city filled with people of diverse culture and vibrant street art that will absorb you if you are willing to experience every bit of it. Respect their culture, be modest when visiting masjids or temples, take permissions for photographs where its forbidden and live your fullest. Until next time.