Peeking down sky towers, scuttling about in sky trains and introspecting on a 2,000 meter high cable car ride over the planet’s oldest rainforest are just a few among many first time experiences that will stay with you, and probably even bring you back to a homely feeling, that is so typical to Malaysia
Words & Photography: Rahul Basu; Year of visit: 2012
Picturing a suitable family vacation destination often has its own stereotypes, but as Indians, our minds aren’t ever easily made up. Travel and living expenses abroad still play a decisive role, but when it comes to a visit to South East Asia’s over publicized tourist destinations, there isn’t much room for imagination.
Nevertheless, there is indeed something special about visiting any new country, and when its maker has gone all out to have it tailor-made for its countless first time visitors, all you really need to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.
Not too far from Home
Landing at Kuala Lumpur International airport after a 4 hour journey from Chennai your almost instantaneously familiarized with the true meaning of the term ‘good hospitality.’ Despite being one of Asia’s largest airports, your travel time from the airport terminal right up to the departure gate is fast and hassle free thanks to a well planned sky train service that helps you cover most of the distance in a matter of minutes.
Stepping out of KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport) it won’t take you too long to figure out that taxi’s aren’t the most economical public transportation options in the city. But a few hours spent on the city streets and you’ll be hopping in and out of buses, and standing local train station ticket counters, only to realize that traveling within KL is as effortless as buying a movie ticket at your local movie theater.
City commutes made easy
Just like in any big metropolitan KL train lines are well networked and cover the entire length and breadth of the tantalizing town below. While the KL Monorail and the KTM Kommuter train lines pass through most of the cities better known tourist hot spots, the Rapid LRT service is as fast its name suggests and is favourite among locals coming down all the way from the city’s surburbs on a daily basis.
Hop in Hop Out buses are rampant on the city streets, and with minimal knowledge about their fixed routes, you’ll soon find yourself getting a city tour at the same price that gets a Malay girl to school on time each day. What’s even better is the fact that you can pay for your ticket after boarding thanks to a POS scanner that issues you a single journey ticket and even debits per transaction credit should you own a monthly bus pass.
Seeing is believing
Standing 421m tall in the heart of the city the KL Tower cannot be missed, and is a must see for all first time visitors. Once you’ve enjoyed a panoramic view if the city’s skyline from the top of the tower, you’ll even find an awful lot to do even at the bottom of the tower, like F1 Racing simulators, a mini bird zoo and even a mock Cultural Village, showcasing the country’s rural lifestyle.
When you’re visiting a city that shares its floor with two of the tallest towers in the world, you’re bound to at least pay a visit. The Petronas Towers are just as beautiful as they are made out to be in pictures and post cards. Although, on our visit we were disappointed to find out that the sky bridge connecting the two towers was under maintenance and would be closed to visitors for the next few months.
If you’re an animal lover and don’t mind dedicating an entire day at KL to be one with nature then Lake Gardens is where you want to be. Dotted with a Orchid Garden, a Hibiscus Garden, a Butterfly Park, a Deer Park, a Museum and one of the finest Bird Parks in Asia, a visit to this neighborhood is like a urban mini safari with lovely winding roads nestled with trees and forest canopy on either sides. If you have a soft corner for birds, be sure to catch the Bird Show that takes place within the Bird Park at Lake Gardens. Malaysia’s National Monument is also situated in this vicinity and is worth visiting for a better understanding of the country’s roots and its struggle for freedom for its citizens.
My visit to Malaysia would have been left incomplete without a day long visit to the Genting Highlands, a serene hillstation housing one of the most spectacular indoor/outdoor theme parks ever built. A short 2 hour bus ride from KL, Genting Highlands pulls in massive crowds each year. Being the tourist friendly nation that it is, expect the theme park to be everything you can imagine and more. My personal favourite at the outdoor theme park area was the ‘space shot’ ride, an approx 200ft launch into the air followed by a sudden drop that will make you scream like a little school girl who’s just had a very bad dream.
Whether your with family or friends make sure you give keep aside at least an entire day for a visit to the Genting Highlands. It’s a true showcase of what’s possible with sufficient government financing and just a little out of the box thinking. You can book your bus ticket for the Genting at the Genting Bus Terminal located at KL Station.
Out of one shop and into another
Well I needn’t bother educating you on how integral a part of the city’s DNA the term ‘shopping’ is, but to be very frank with you, boutique stores in KL are more abundant than train stations in Mumbai, and no matter which corner of the planet you hail from, you’ll find the brand of your choice here.
Bukit Bintang is by far the most happening shopping square in the city and be it high end couture or just plain souvenirs for friends, malls like BB Plaza and Sungei Wang Plaza will cover most of your needs.
A few shopping destinations worthy of mention are Central Market located a few kilometers from Lake Gardens, the colossal Bergaya Times Square Shopping Mall near Hang Tuah station and the Surya KLCC Shopping Mall adjoining the Petronas Towers. A visit to China Town or Petaling Street owning to reputation of being a thrifty shopper’s mecca will surely be on your agenda, but go with minimal expectations as quality and overall finish of products is utterly substandard.
A cuisine with no boundaries
If you’re expecting home cooked vegetables with piping hot parathas then you’ve probably landed in the wrong country. If Malaysia prides in being the penultimate cultural melting pot, then you better expect that pot to cook up something special. Only with a mind that is out to judge taste rather than appearances can you revel in Malaysia’s varied culinary culture. With countless Thai, Chinese, Indian and Pakistani restaurants operating in full-swing at every block and in every street corner visible, it’s not the food but figuring out what to order that will post to be a bigger challenge for linguistically retrained foodies.
There are of course some streets that you ought to circle on your city map, if your appetite for world cuisine is without fuss and finicky choice. Changat Bintang, is easily one of the most salivating streets in the city and is located at the heart of downtown KL, just a few kilometers away from Bukit Bintang, a major landmark amongst the city’s ubiquitous shopping centers. A late-back Saturday afternoon meal at one of the many Irish pubs located here was a particularly delightful experience for my folks and me.
For those with a taste for something more authentically oriental, Petaling Street around China Town is where your hunt will end in seamless joy. Though not the most up market part of the city’s culturally diverse neighborhoods, the restaurants around this part of town don’t exemplify presentation and good ambience, but in a sense bring you closer to the more simple local culinary delights that amidst all the tourist pizzaz often goes unnoticed.
Please visit again
And I certainly will. Holidays aren’t always just about laying back and putting on a tan, but like I witnessed in Malaysia a full of life rejuvenation with all your deepest desires in life being given a large than life setting. Flying back home and reminiscing on my visit, the only remorse that will continue to linger on my mind is that fact that I wasn’t leaving a Fairytale behind, but a very well-planned and well-executed city where unlike our culturally diverse nation; people have truly learnt how to peacefully co-exist.