Arriving in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was like returning to civilization for us. Don’t take that as we missed civilization, it was just a whole different experience than we were used to. For example, there were signs (in English, but the fact that they had signs is the significant part) that very easily led us to a waiting bus to the center of town. No haggling with taxis trying to take advantage, just plain signs. And then we got on a monorail! And it was easy.
From the monorail, we had a good view of the buildings and streets as we zipped by. It was bustling with people, cars and buses. And not in a chaotic fashion. People (some) were obeying stoplights and even some cars stopping for pedestrians (not all, but some).
And then we discovered ‘mall culture.’ Kuala Lumpur or KL if you are a cool kid, is jam-packed with shopping. Huge buildings, full of everything you’d ever need (or not need) to buy. We took a walking tour of the Chow Kit neighborhood near our hostel the first day and then a train to the Petronas Towers, where we met up with an old friend of Riki’s from middle school.
We went up to a helipad that had a great view of the city, despite the rain and then had a multi-course dinner at a popular place. The sun doesn’t set until after 7 pm because of funny time zone lines and I think that creates a different timetable for people here. Restaurants stay open very late and we found that many stores don’t even open until noon. Completely the opposite of every other country we have visited in Asia.
Because of trading, Malaysia is a mix of many cultures. The British were here, so were the Dutch. There are many Chinese and Indian descendants, as well as some Portuguese. English is widely spoken, though Mandarin and Tamil (from southern India and Sri Lanka) is also taught in government schools. Islam is the predominant religion, but Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism have significant followings as well. Makes for a quite a melting pot.
KL is the capital and most populous city in Malaysia. And it shows. Despite being a public holiday weekend, there were tons of people out and about. We were told many had gone away for the long weekend. Kuala Lumpur is not a very old city and thus doesn’t have the historic architecture like in other parts of the country. It is mostly towering glass buildings with bright lights and metal protrusions. But it also has some smaller scale attractions near Chinatown – which we stumbled upon mostly by accident.
The next day was a shopping day, pretty much like Christmas in May for us. Having worn the same pair of shoes everyday since August, Riki’s soles were to a point where it was dangerous to walk on wet surfaces. After meandering through a few malls we found a good athletic shoe store and Riki bought a new pair. I also found a pair, hoping to alleviate the blisters I’ve been nursing since we first hit Bangkok in September. We even managed to get Riki a new watchband. Like I said, Christmas.
Riki’s friend had invited us to Sunday dinner with her family and we were splendidly treated to an amazing home-cooked meal. There was wine and a couple of British dishes that I will have to eat again (including sticky toffee date cake). We had a great time catching up and hearing about ex-pat views of KL.
A bit overwhelmed by the size and noise of the city, we booked a bus for the 6 hour trip north to Georgetown, Penang, a city known for its UNESCO status and wonderful food. Can’t wait.