Kuala Lumpur is an urban sprawl, a concrete jungle, a base jumper’s delight. Towering buildings are intrinsically designed and styled varying on its usage and origin, there are jenga stacks of apartment building with infinity swimming pools and gym complexes sidelined next to elaborate Chinese temples, expensive shopping malls, empty basketball courts and dingy office buildings. KL is a sandwich of cement pathways, as well as a melting pot of religious and ethnic diversities. The city is not as polished as Singapore, lacks depth coherent in Hong Kong, and lacks that dark side of a city that Bangkok has. It still is a fantastic city, although I see it as a fantastic place to work in, rather than travel in (only due to the fact I spent a lot of money here, it has little character)
Visiting Chinatown was a disappointment in Malaysia, as it is purely created for the entertainment of tourists, filled with knick knacks for tourists to buy. Catch a real glimpse of China Town at Bukit Bintang at night, where food vendors place tables and chairs on the streets illegally, and you can choose from an assortment of stalls and restaurants to dine at, underneath hanging lit lanterns on trees and to the voices of Chinese singers with home made stereos. Sze Ya Temple is a lovely temple to visit in the area. Walk through Central Market where fabulous chicken satay is cooked fresh, and head to Little India. The size varies in comparison to China Town, streets are filled with glittering hijabs, chicken roasting in Tandoor Claypots and loud Bollywood music is played within stores. Getting the same level of attention I received in India, and remembering my experiences made me feel uncomfortable and I left quickly.
Nearby is the colonial side of KL. The textile Museum is a beautifully bricked building which wouldn’t look out of place in Manchester. Next door is the City Arts Gallery and Merdeka Square– rightfully called this after Malaysia gaining independence from the British (we are everywhere!) in 1959. At the time of visiting, a demonstration of Malaysian citizens were protesting against GST (government tax on products). Unaware of what was happening, and running right through my path of direction, I joined the mob. On one side of the Freedom Square was a still and tense line of masked policeman holding their breath and eyeing up every person suspiciously. On the other- a loud passionate mob of Malaysians from a variety of different ages, shouting for, ironically freedom once again- but this time from their own government. A tourist came up to me and advised me to leave immediately because of how the government might react- with tear gas. One to love extreme, adrenaline and adventure; I ignored his advice and began to dart around the square photographing protesters, some holding signs titled- “I am not Malay, I am not Chinese, I am not Indian, I am Malaysian”, as well as seeing young teenagers take selfies whilst clad head to toe in vendetta masks, balaclavas and scarves. As I photographed, people began to ask me where I was from and pleasantries were exchanged. This further highlighted to me this voice situated in KL, needing to be heard and resolved, rather than dismissed and ignored. Waving goodbye to my new found friends, I bit my tongue and wished I could join them, however- I responded in a British way, “it is not my place”and left them to it.
Islam being the most dominant religion, a visit to the Islamic Arts Museum and the Mosque- Masajid Negara is a must, however there are a number of mosques dotted around the city that are equally as nice to explore. The National Art Gallery, although far out from the most central part of KL, is well worth the visit. It is filled with national and international artists of a high calibre. Not only being free, the gallery has 3 floors with two exhibits on each floor. I found some amazing portraits of tribes in Borneo and powerfully constructed visual arts work based on identity in Malaysia, as a medium. As well as this, exhibits from famous artists and photographers are displayed which inspired me significantly. If you have an interest in art, or even Malay culture, I really recommend visiting here.
I also took a visit to the National Museum which explores Malaysia’s history from when man began, Malay Kingdoms, colonialism and Malaysia today. Every Museum I have visited on this trip it seems has a repetitive pattern of colonisation, first the Portuguese, then the Dutch and finally, a longer stay by the British. Although trying to change and modernise for the better, it is disgusting to see my ancestors so incredibly racist and greedy and being an English citizen in these countries- that in the past I have tried to conquer, makes me feel guilty and shameful. The museum visit includes a number of surrounding museums in the area, so I recommend visiting.
A visit to KK without a visit to the Petronas Towers would not be complete. Pose for a picture underneath these iconic skyscrapers and wander around the luxurious mall underneath them- shopping malls in KL are like tea in the UK:they are everywhere. A trip to the top is 85 ringgit and trips start at 5:30pm. This was a little out of my price range and so I had a sundowner of a Long Island Iced Tea (for half the price) at Sky Bar in the Traders Hotel. At the 2nd highest floor, swim or sip with the view of the city around you, directly opposite the Petronas Towers. I would advise doing this as not only is it free- unless you buy a drink, you get a view of the towers themselves, seeing the sun fade behind them, the bright lights of the city sparkling and the acutely timed colourful water fountain shoot up and down beneath them.
KL is filled to the brim with shopping malls and markets. Markets such as: Pudu Market and Chow Kit Market sell pretty much everything and anything from a cow’s head to a pair of jeans. Central Market and Chinatown are more designed for tourists. Lot 10 and Pavilion are just a few of the most popular shopping malls (and where my money mysteriously vanished and I found myself with a new wardrobe!)
Food in Malaysia is known on an international scale to be diverse and tasty. In KL, restaurants, street food and food vendors are hard to say no too and are a plenty. Bukit Bintang has the street filled with Chinese food, Lot 10 and Pavilion both have diverse food courts, Kampung Bharu has cheap local plates of seafood, and go to Little India for its Indian. Making a food documentary at the time of visiting KL meant I had to- I just had to- try out a number of strange or delightful dishes in KL. There is so much choice here, although my taste buds are tingling with excitement to visit Penang- the culinary capital of Malaysia.
Drinking is popular in Bukit Bintang because of the number of bars there and numerous ladies nights. Drinking in KL is expensive so free nights, drink deals and pre drinking is advised. I couch surfed in KL which meant I saved some money on accommodation (which I spent on clothes) and saw night life in the suburbs (equally as fun). I found KL dangerous, not because it’s unsafe, but dangerous for my wallet! I left with haste, although planning your visit at the same time as an event would be great. I was in KL for the Jazz festival which allowed me to see a new genre and style of music I hadn’t seen before.