Known Simply As - KL

Trip Start Aug 04, 2010
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49
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Trip End Feb 04, 2011


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Where I stayed
Chinatown Boutique Hotel

Flag of Malaysia  , Wilayah Persekutuan,
Friday, January 7, 2011

We always feel good when we make a decision to leave a place and we feel ready for the next adventure.  Cameron Highlands was a nice change from the coastal life we had been living in Thailand and Northern Malaysia - it was cool temperature-wise and the landscape was unique.  But after a few days of the chilly evenings we were ready to get back to a warmer climate.....so we made arrangements to head to the bustling city of Kuala Lumpur (KL). 

KL is a vibrant city that was fairly easy to navigate due to the good public transport system and it even has an enormous green belt right in the middle of it all.  We arrived in KL on Monday, January 3rd via one of the plushest buses we have been on throughout our travels in SE Asia.  The bus driver was very gentle as he made his way down the mountain.  We stopped along the way at an amazing rest area that included free bathrooms (we always have to pay to use public bathrooms), a prayer room and MANY different types of food including Dunkin Donuts.  Having stuffed ourselves on scones recently we bypassed the donuts and opted for a local Cameron Highland's neon green apple that tasted like one of the many varieties of guava that we have tried throughout our travels.

The nice bus driver dropped us off in the center of town....feeling a little overwhelmed (there were people everywhere), we took our time to ask around and finally we figured out which train would take us to Chinatown.  Chinatown is an interesting place because it really runs the gamut as far as hotels go - there are some serious dumps and then some places that are pretty nice.  The trick is finding a place that is clean with the right price.  After much searching we opted for our very first "boutique" hotel.  Hotel owners here in SE Asia will tack on the word Boutique to the name of the hotel to allow them to charge a higher price for the rooms.  Since all the hotels are expensive in KL, we were able to upgrade our normal hotel option with something a bit nicer, but we had to pay for it.  In every other country we have visited we paid around $10 or so for a nice room with air conditioning, a bathroom and hot water shower.  In Malaysia we are paying double that and in KL triple.  Oh well sometimes it is worth it - this hotel was right in the heart of Chinatown.  We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Chinatown, eating at a local sidewalk cafe and drinking REALLY expensive beer (we have had to limit our beer intake significantly since arriving in Malaysia, which is probably a good thing :).

January 4th - Up in the morning to drop off our laundry and purchase a ticket for the touristy hop on hop off bus.  The bus takes a circuitous route through the main sights in the city....you pay one price for a 24 hour ticket that allows you to get on and off anywhere along the route.  Once we finally got on the bus (the first bus that came around was packed so we had to wait), we headed to the National Museum.  We chose the museum in part because the guide book said it was cool, but also because it was one of the cheaper options.  It was pretty cool, they have plunked in a ton of money into the exhibits and it was worth it.  The highlight for me was the Orang Asli Museum next to the National Museum.  This museum highlights the traditions and culture of the  indigenous people here in Malaysia....just as we were getting into the cool displays, a group of men came storming through the doors and told Les that the museum was closed and we had to leave.  Bummer....at least we didn't have to pay to enter the Orang Asli museum, FREE admission.  We tried to go back the next day as well, but it was still closed.  By this time the heat was getting to us a little bit, so we jumped back on the bus and took the entire circuit to get the lay of the land.  Also taking the circuit allowed us to listen to the commentary that highlights each site's significance.

The bus took us through the city's "green belt" - the sight of the world's largest walk-in bird park (more on this later).  We went by the palace, the famous Petronas Twin Towers, Independence Square, the largest mosque in Malaysia, the KL tower, a HUGE shopping area, a cool bar row and many more places.  This helped us decide where we were going to go and when.  We took the bus back to Chinatown to purchase tickets for the KL tower (the tickets are cheaper sometimes if you purchase them through a guest house) and then we hopped right back on the bus, talk about convenience!!

We wanted to experience the KL Tower at night and we were so glad we did.  The KL tower is a telecommunication tower that allows visitors to go up to the top to enjoy the observation deck.  Once we were at the top they gave us a headset that we used at 10 different observation spots to learn about the city.  It was really cool to see the city lit up at night.  After an hour or so we made our way down the tower and into the car of a REALLY nice taxi driver who took us to the cool bar street we saw on the bus circuit earlier.  We spent the rest of the evening walking up and down this quaint street, drinking and eating and watching all the cool, hip crowd come out for the evening.

Wednesday, January 5th was a BIG day for us - we planned to spend the day at the bird park and then have dinner with a friend in the evening.  We jumped back on the bus and headed to the world's largest bird park.  It was all we had hoped for and more.  We walked through a huge overhead netted area to see birds that we had never seen before like the Malaysian Eagle Owl, Huge Hornbills, Scarlet Ibis and many more (there was even a nursery where a baby chick had just hatched in an incubator, all the kids loved it).  Some are in cages others just flutter about wherever they like.  There are feeding stations set up around the park so you can get pretty good up close looks at the birds....there was so much to see that we ended up spending the entire day walking through the park just to make sure we saw EVERYTHING.  By the time we glanced at our watch we realized that we needed to get a move on to meet up with our friend in the suburbs of KL.

Last year Les worked with a student pilot from Singapore, named Wilson.  We contacted Wilson when we arrived in KL to see if he would be available to meet up with us in Singapore.  Wilson is a very busy business man who travels quite a bit for work, so we were thrilled when he told us that he would be in Singapore for at least one of the days we will be there - yahoo we will get to see him.  In addition, he wanted us to meet one of his business partners here in KL, Yu Heng.  Les corresponded with Yu Heng via email and we arranged to meet him at his place of business on Wednesday evening for supper. 

We got on the train and arrived at what seemed to be a cool part of town with a number of Universities.  There were kids playing soccer, people working out at a gym and others buying groceries at a HUGE supermarket (TESCO and Carrefour are the big grocery stores here).  We felt like we were in the burbs back home.  With Les' fantastic navigation skills we finally found Yu Heng's store.  He sells headphones to audiophiles - there is honestly something for everyone, I had never seen so many headphones and amplifiers in one place, amazing.  Yu Heng was such a gracious host, as soon as we arrived we felt like we had known him for a lifetime.  We started off the evening at the food court across the street from his store.  He asked if it would be OK for him to order some of his favorite dishes for us to try - of course we said yes and we were thrilled at all the new food he shared with us!!!  Les ordered a 3 layer tea that had a richer taste than anything else we have tried...then the food started to arrive.  Yu Heng ordered a fish dish that was sauteed with a sort of 5-starred vegetable (this vegetable was new for us) - so good and according to our host you could even crunch through the bones instead of spitting them out.  We ate clams cooked in wine sauce with rice and fried won tons that were excellent.  Probably the coolest dish we tried were steamed dumplings that had a pork center that was surrounded by soup, so what you do is bite a small hole into the skin of the dumpling then you drink the soup and then eat the rest of the dumpling - LOVED IT!!

After supper Yu Heng suggested that we walk around town....he took us to his favorite bakery for fresh bread and we bought a Green Tea cake to share with his staff.  We ate a Chinese sausage at a truck that serves up everything and anything you could thing of on a skewer.  Here is how it works, you choose your item then you cook it either in a steaming vat of broth, oil or on a grill.  Not that we had an ounce of space left in our bellies, but we walked by an interesting Hong Kong dessert restaurant so we had to check out the menu.  We ordered a mango and durian pancake dessert and cut all of them into threes so we could share.  I thought that I liked durian because I really enjoyed the durian ice cream I had in Saigon, but I WAS WRONG.  I took one bite of the durian pancake and almost vomited immediately.  I guess according to Yu Heng I had not really had the TRUE durian.  The real stuff is a cross between an onion and garlic flavor that is so strong it was difficult to smell let alone eat.  Les on the other hand wanted to make sure that he tried this rare SE Asian delicacy so he dove in and ate his piece outright....I couldn't believe it.  I was barely able to take a whiff of the durian dessert, but Les wolfed it down in one fell swoop - awesome!!

After the durian rendezvous we bought a couple of beers and went up to Yu Heng's shop to check out the merchandise.  Yu Heng let us try out the different types of head phones and amplifiers they sell.  Right before we were set to leave Yu Heng gave Les a new pair of headphones as a souvenir from his shop - so amazingly generous.  Les was so grateful for the gift and he thus far he has found a way to use the headphones everyday.  Yu Heng closed up shop around 9pm and we jumped in his car to head out to the famous Satay restaurant Wilson told us about in his email.  Satay is a style of cooking here in Malaysia where marinated meat (chicken, beef and Les ordered tripe) is put on skewers and grilled.  The skewers are served with chunks of steamed rice cakes, cucumbers and a peanut sauce for dipping.  Good stuff - we had a terrific time with our new friend - Thank you Yu Heng for sharing your an evening with us - we enjoyed seeing your place of business (we wish you all the best this upcoming year), we enjoyed meeting your friends and having great conversations over some of the most amazing food we have eaten on our trip here in Malaysia.  We appreciate your generosity and kindness and hope to one day reciprocate as hosts to you, your family and friends in the USA. 

Our last day in KL was all about shopping (believe it or not we both have become shoppers, mostly because it is a terrific way to experience the culture of a city).  We started out at the Central Market where we ate at the food court and perused the stores for unique souvenirs.  We fell in love with one store that showcased the unique work of a local artist who uses small pieces of wood to make pictures that represent different messages.  The pieces were a bit out of our price range but we enjoyed them nonetheless.  Next on the agenda was Petronas Towers.  At one time these towers were the tallest buildings in the world, but these claims change rather quickly as development explodes across the world.  The twin towers are connected by a skybridge that you can pay to go across, but since we already paid to go up the KL Tower next door, we opted to check out the shops at the base of the towers instead.  We had some coffee and a fresh banana shake at a swanky restaurant and then we spent the rest of our time watching people from all over the world pose in front of the towers for photo ops.  This has become a favorite pastime of ours these days...partly because it is free, but mostly because people do the craziest things in front of the camera.  Some of the women pose like they are in a professional photo shoot, in fact some of the men do as well - we always get a chuckle out of this, good fun!! 

Checking things off our must see list, we made our way to Little India to check it out...not much to report - it was raining so we walked through Little India straight on to Chinatown for a dinner of homemade noodles cooked up in a claypot.  Great end to our brief stay in KL.
       


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