When we touched down in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia I didn’t know what to expect. The city meant little more than a few strange syllables and a dot on the map to me, as we had only booked our flights on a whim because we needed ongoing travel out of Thailand. It was like ordering a strange new dish from the menu without knowing what it was or what it would taste like.
We took a week in Kuala Lumpur to savor the flavors of our new destination and we are already licking our lips for another visit. It’s boiling hot and aromatically pungent, sophisticated and modern yet historical and has a fascinating blend of Chinese, Indian and Malaysian influences.
The sensation that you get as you walk around Kuala Lumpur is that the city has been set down right in the middle of a thick and wild steamy jungle which is trying it’s best to creep back around the edges. The air is heavy and hot. The lit-up signs for the curry houses and noodle shops are speckled with tiny lizards who are attracted to the warm light. The city has several parks, patches where the wild green growth bursts through and creates an urban oasis, but it feels like no matter how many sky scrapers and shopping malls Kuala Lumpur builds it will never escape the fact that it was carved out of a very alive jungle.
When it comes to shopping malls, however, they are certainly trying. Kuala Lumpur covers an area of 94 square miles and has a total of 66 shopping malls. There are parts of the city where you can’t tell where one mall ends and the other begins. To put this in perspective, Philadelphia, USA has the same population, a larger area and less than half the amount of shopping complexes.
Walking through one of these overwhelming shopping malls is a bit of a tease when you live out of a backpack. I’m constantly eyeing up all of the gorgeous shoes, clothes and other goodies that look so stylish in their displays. I keep in mind that I have to be able to carry everything that I own and that stops me from going on a self-indulgent shopping spree. However, many people come here strictly for shopping as it is the retail and fashion headquarters of Malaysia.
When it comes to shopping, I sometimes prefer the gritty and congested chaos of a good old fashioned street market and there were more than a few of those in KL as well. I love the dazzling patterns of the fabrics and jewelry, the t-shirts with badly-translated English nonsense on them, the cheap knockoff sunglasses and handbags and the fact that no matter where you look there is merchandise crammed into every corner.
Of course, the only thing cheaper than the tat in the marketplaces is the amazing array of food. In Kuala Lumpur you can dig into delicious dishes from all over Malaysia and beyond for prices that will leave you blinking at the bill in disbelief.
Near our guesthouse in the Bukit Bintang area was a street that came alive at night with an array of cheap and delicious food with predominately Indian, Thai and Chinese flavors. All we needed to do was follow the light of the neon signs, sit down on a rickety plastic table in the street and point to a photograph of something tasty on the menu. There are so many nights when Lee and I polished off a huge meal of lamb curry, spicy beef noodles or barbecued pork and rice and then realized after we paid the bill that it had only cost five or six dollars including drinks and a tip.
Of course, we didn’t spend all of our time here eating. (Although we wouldn’t have minded that). We visited some other Kuala Lumpur attractions including the iconic skyscrapers of the city, such as the Petronas Twin Towers and the Kuala Lumpur Tower. The historical district has some gorgeous architecture as well as a few great art galleries and museums such as the Museum of Islamic Art and the Textile Museum which are both worth a visit. We also took a few trips out of the city, such as to the nearby Batu Caves. You can read our post about it here.
We also took the opportunity to see two football games, as we heard that Arsenal and Man City were both playing against Malaysia during that week. We have both been to many football matches in England, so it was interesting to encounter the Malaysia version of the experience. While English fans tend to sing and chant, the Malaysians simply blew their plastic horns as loud as they could throughout the entire night. It might leave your ears ringing but it is lots of fun. Lee happens to be friends with the physiotherapist for Man City, which got us premium VIP seats and some free food. It’s good to have connections.
Both football matches were at Bukit Jikal Stadium, which is located quite a ways outside of the city so we had to figure out how to use the monorail system. After we made it there once it was no problem, as the system is quite easy to use once you get the hang of it and great for getting around between the major Kuala Lumpur attractions. Since we were heading to a major event we relied on following the large groups of people in football shirts, wondering if this would end up in us accidentally following some poor Arsenal fan all the way home.
I’m so glad we somewhat randomly decided to head in this direction, because sometimes when you blindly order a foreign dish off the menu you end up discovering one of your new favorite foods. Now that we’ve had a little taste of Kuala Lumpur, we have set off to explore other parts of Malaysia but we certainly plan to be back for more.