With less than a day and a half in Kuala Lumpur (KL), we crammed as much as possible into this strange metropolis where east meets west. A part of me felt like I was back home in San Francisco as we scurried through fancy malls with high-end brands, rode on packed trains and monorails, and gazed at the bright lights in intersections, absorbing the hustle and bustle of a thriving capital. And yet between all the first-world modern features, alcohol is scarce and expensive (relative to its Southeast Asian neighbors) and pork cannot be found because of its religious ties to Islam. I was weirded out in Dubai when I saw women in full black burkas strolling by gigantic bikini ads in million dollar malls, and I had that same sensation here when I again saw several young women in full black burkas shopping at H&M. That, the lack of pork and good alcohol, and the occasional stench of humidity and fish were reminders that I was still in the East!
After the quick express train out of Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) to KL Sentral, Chris, Shannon, Jason, and I quickly dropped our baggage at our hotels and went to a roof-top lounge that Jason knew about to catch the final minutes of sunset. We made it just in time to catch these stunning panoramic views of KL Tower and the Petronas Towers. Thanks Jason!
For dinner, Jason led us to a popular street filled with street vendors selling all sorts of food. It was nice to take a break from trip planning – Jason practically gave us a mini tour that evening.
Of course, a Southeast Asian country is not a Southeast Asian country without durian!
We spent the remainder of the evening roaming the streets full of locals, travelers, living statues (seen below), and bright lights.
The next morning Jason, Shannon, and I (Chris was feeling a bit under the weather) got up bright and early to check out the Batu Caves, one of the most important Hindu temples outside of India. It was a simple 30 minute monorail ride south of KL.
I actually sat in one of these female-only cars. No one actually cared about the sign – there were men sitting in the car, and no one seemed to mind.
The Batu Caves itself were massive and spiritual. The 200+ stairs up to the cave were really not as gruesome as travel sites make it seem to be.
We were up within a few minutes and were treated with the refreshing coolness and darkness of the cave. I felt awe-inspired by the number of processions, chants, prayer, and worship. My ears took in the jingling bells and my eyes absorbed the colorful, glittering saris. Countless monkeys scrounged for food and were only a slight nuisance to all the visitors.
I didn’t spend much time at the Batu Caves, and I returned to KL Sentral to meet up with Chris. We had the popular local dish for lunch, nasi lemak, which consists of rice cooked in coconut milk, peanuts, chili sauce, some cucumbers, fried chicken, and egg. It was delicious and we were glad to have tried this dish during our short time in KL.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in MALLS. Yes, that’s right. SHOPPING MALLS. We actual spent 5 freakin’ hours going through malls to find shoes for Chris. (He wanted to find the perfect pair of shoes to replace his two pairs of Gortex hiking shoes and running shoes.) Thankfully, after 5 hours, he eventually bought a pair. It was a reminder of why I don’t like shopping, especially with someone else, but at least I got two Auntie Anne pretzels out of it (for ~$1 USD!). However, I will admit that I was soaking in the modern city as much as possible because I knew we would be in one of the poorest countries in the world the next day.
During our shopping expedition, we learned that Chris’ family name was popular with the local teenagers. We walked by three stores with his name!
The staff proudly wore their shirts. Ha!
Two days prior, I advance-purchased tickets online for a tour of the Petronas Towers. At 5pm, we began our tour which consisted of the sky bridge between the two towers.
We left the sky bridge after 15 minutes and went up to the 86th floor into one of the towers to take in some stunning views. There are obviously taller buildings now with even more breathtaking views, but it was definitely a pleasure being in the tallest building in Malaysia.
There isn’t too much to do in KL except shop and eat, so I think that 1.25 days was the perfect amount of time. With its giant airport and modern and efficient transportation hubs, KL may be one of the best cities to have a super long layover (7+ hours). Just grab that free 3-month visa upon arrival (for US citizens) and go!