10.03.2014

A JOURNEY TO KUALA LUMPUR

A JOURNEY TO KUALA LUMPUR, Bahar Sinem Özkesici Ünal | 10.03.2014

We had right around a 12 day break so we figured we could combine Kuala Lumpur and Singapore into one holiday. We spent the first half of our holiday in Singapore and then took a bus to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.

The bus ride from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur takes about 4-5 hours. Tickets don’t cost too much, somewhere between $20 and $25 USD. A bus leaves almost every hour. The bus company we went with picked us up from their city office in Singapore, and even though the outside of the bus looked really modern, we were still surprised when we got inside. Think of a bus with seats and curtains covered in Far Eastern motifs and colorful lights all over for a really fun atmosphere.J All of this meant we set out with great cheer, though the ride quickly turned into torture as the air conditioning was turned so far up that we started wondering how people who were used to an equatorial climate could possibly take that kind of cold! We shivered our way through the whole ride and thankfully none of us ever got sick. If you decide to take the same bus, under no circumstances should you forget to keep a fleece or a jacket with you at all times!

Going through the border in Singapore and customs in Malaysia was an interesting experience. Our bus stopped at the border and we got out the bus and exited and walked across the Malaysian border. We showed our passports, got them stamped and got our luggage through customs. After all was done we got back on our bus which had long since crossed over the border and continued on in Malaysia. Since we’d taken the night bus we didn’t get to see too much of the local surroundings. I remember passing through the woods at one point and over a long bridge over the sea another. It was early in the morning around 5 AM when we got off the bus in Times Square in the center of Kuala Lumpur. It was easy to get to our hotel since we were surrounded by hundreds of taxis anyway. Make sure to remember that you have to bargain for everything at all times.

Luckily our hotel was clean and centrally located. When we left for breakfast, the first thing that caught our attention was seeing the streets full of vendors selling food even at that early hour. People on their way to work had stopped off at these street vendors to chow down their breakfast before continuing on their way. We found it a bit strange that they were eating regular meals for breakfast, and at first just look and smell of the food was a bit off-putting. The food was brown and a weird mix of different things. It seemed like maybe they put too much sauce on everything so you couldn’t even tell what the actual ingredients underneath even were in the first place. Because the food looked so unappetizing, even though a friend of ours had told us that the cuisine was great, we never mustered the courage to try any of it. As in Singapore, there is quite a large Chinese population in Kuala Lumpur. They eat rice and fish wrapped in leaves (it could be seaweed, I am not sure) for breakfast. We struggled most with breakfasts on our trip. You can get things like croissants and coffee only in American-style cafes.

Urban transportation in Kuala Lumpur is kind of confusing and disconnected. Like if you’re trying to hop on a tram to go somewhere you’ll end up having to get out and get on some completely different form of transportation. Public transportation stops are in totally random locations and sometimes you between stops you need to walk for ages to get to the next stop. Even the tram’s own lines don’t necessarily intersect with one another!

Must-see places in Kuala Lumpur include Bukit Bintang district, Pataling Street, Menara Tower, Jamek Mosque, Batu Caves and of course Petronas Towers.

Bukit Bintang: This is the most active part of the city. It is lively with shopping malls, restaurants, cafes. You can spend a lovely time here and get international brands at bargain prices. If you’re lucky you’ll get a chance to catch one of the live street shows happening in front of the Sephora building.

Petaling Street: This ethnic district is more local and looks like a Turkish bazaar. It’s a giant market place that covers a ton of streets. Prices are cheap as all get out. You can find many ethnic souvenirs here, but don’t forget to haggle of course. :)

Jamek Mosque: This old mosque is so beautiful you just have to see it. It’s right by the river covering a large area with lots of eye-catching architecture. It is still being used by the Muslim Malay population.

Menara Tower: As you’d guess from the name, this is a minaret. It is also known as “Kuala Lumpur Tower”. I think it was built as a telecommunication tower originally but where it would be possible to go up to the observation deck on top. We didn’t have time to go up, unfortunately.

Batu Caves: These caves are sacred for Indians and to me it’s the most interesting place in Kuala Lumpur. You can use the city train to get there. You have to climb up a long staircase to the cave up to the top of a hill. Monkeys follow you along the way. Be very careful with food and your camera or anything like that you might have, the monkeys regularly make off with these sorts of things, never to be heard from again. It happened to a tourist right before our eyes. If you fight with them they might even attack you. Keep everything in your bag and don’t mess with the monkeys. :) When you get to the entrance to the cave, look down because the view behind you is amazing.  The cave that’s been turned into a temple is simply breathtaking. It’s decorated with colorful Indian statues and ornaments, with each one more intricate than the next, each a work of art in its own right. On a different note, the cave is also full of bats. It is really a completely unique place. It is so high up that you wonder how they built a temple in it and carried all those giant statues up there. You have to see it, it should be right at the top of any tourist list. 

Petronas Towers: Petronas Towers, built by César Pelli, are really magnificent and impressive. They only allow limited number of visitors to go through the sky bridge connecting these two giant skyscrapers so don’t forget to make your reservation online days ahead of your visit. You can get your tickets by the entrance. There is a shopping mall underneath the sky bridge and you can walk around its surrounding areas if you want as well. Petronas Towers used to be the highest towers in the world until recently but now the tallest building in the world is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai now.

We liked Kuala Lumpur after visiting Singapore because it was an ethnic Far Eastern city. For those who’d like to visit these cities, I recommend you make all plans so that you can visit them on the same trip. Ten days should be enough to see most of what there is to see in these two cities.  

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