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Two days in Kuala Lumpur

My mum, uncle and aunt are spending a couple of days in Kuala Lumpur on the way back from Europe. This is only her second trip overseas and she asked me what to do in KL during her stay. Below is an edited version of my reply, keeping in mind that they are all getting on in their years.

Despite four previous trips there, the city of Kuala Lumpur itself does not rank among my favourites. It has improved over the past few years. Public transport isn't the most convenient or reliable, although the newer light rail and monorail lines are okay, though poorly integrated. Taxis will usually try to rip you off if catching from city tourist areas. They refuse to use their meters and you have to haggle. Outside of the city centre and for longer distances meters are used by default.

The fastest and most comfortable way to get from the airport is by train. Note that you can check in from the Central Station as well, if done early enough before your flight. Then catch a taxi (using the voucher system) to your hotel.

The architecture is pretty impressive, especially many of the modern buildings. Make sure you take a look at the Petronas Twin Towers at night.

It tends to be very hot and often humid and it's always nice to retreat into your hotel room, the pool or the many shopping centres. My favourite thing to do is to eat, preferably from a hawker stall. But be warned: the food is very spicy!

We've been disappointed by the shopping and tend to buy very little. Note that shops open and close late.

It's worth spending a bit extra on accommodation. Luxury hotels are generally cheaper than in other cities, but KL hotels have a reputation for being a bit on the shoddy side. The most convenient for the airport/transport are the two at the Central Station (Stesen Sentral), where the : the Hilton Central Station and Le Meridien (the cheaper option). They share are really, really nice pool and the Hilton is totally posh, overwhelmingly so.

I think a better place to stay is around the "Golden Triangle" of Bukit Bintang. I can recommend the Parkroyal Kuala Lumpur, which has quite good prices online right now and is very conveniently located nearby to many varied shopping plazas, the monorail and Jalan Alor food street. If you've watched Poh's kitchen then this is the first place that she (and us) go to upon an evening arrival. It's western friendly and a good introduction to Malaysian eating. There is also a genuine dingy Malay hawker centre round the back of the Parkroyal that I go to eat roti canai (pronounced chanai) and Milo ais (ice) for breakfast.

Malaysian laksa tends to be very different to the Australian version. More liquid curry, less coconut milk. It depends on the region.

Many Chinese restaurants may serve familiar Hong Kong style Chinese food. I recommend that these be avoided as you can get good stuff in Australia. Better to try the local dishes.

A fairly safe (to Western palates) food to try is Hainanese chicken rice. Quality varies wildly. We found the Ipoh Chicken Rice shop outside the back of Midvalley Plaza very good. It's a sit down restaurant. Chicken curry is nice too. The Plaza can be reached by KTM train from Stesen Sentral, but when we went the actual train frequencies were about half that displayed on the board. Patience is a virtue in Malaysia.

A fun thing to do is go to a pasar malam, or night market. Our favourite one is at SS2 in Petaling Jaya - Monday nights only - as this is where B grew up. The famous Petaling Street markets are now dreadful: packed, far less food than before, far more rubbish that nobody should buy. The shopkeepers seem to be overseas Indians now. It's like Paddy's Markets in Sydney. If you want to go and are staying at Bukit Bintang then get off the monorail at Maharajahela and walk past the Chinese temples to Petaling St. The monorail is a fun ride which gives you a scenic perspective over the city.

At the night markets at Bangsar there is, or was, an Indian stall selling real tandoor cooked chicken and breads. It was so good!

Keep an eye out for Indian temples. They are decorated with all sorts of figurines of Hindu gods.

KL itself isn't full of must see sights. If you are interested in joining a long day tour I recommend seeing Melaka. Take a trishaw ride around the streets. See the Dutch and Portuguese colonial architecture and the Peranakan houses with their colourful tiles. Best of all, eat at Peranakan Restaurant. The local Nyonya cuisine is spicy but oh so delicious. It's an interesting drive past palm plantations along the way.

A closer, half day trip is to Pulau Ketam, or Crab Island. I don't know if there are tours there, but you could catch the KTM train to Port Klang and the ferry terminal is a short walk away. Finding the terminal is another matter as it doesn't look like anything much. The first time we visited it was a thrilling ride in a sampan, just above the water. In 2009 it was on the regular old (but fast) ferry. You ride past the container ships and mangroves until reaching an island where the town is built on stilts. It's fun to walk around and the place is more for locals than tourists. You have to eat crab from one of the open sided restaurants.

The Indian temples in the Batu caves are also amazing, but the many, many stairs are very tiring.

Food to try include, in no particular order (note that "c" is pronounced "ch" in Malay):

  • Roti canai
  • Kuih (sweets - wide variety. Kuih talam is one of our favourites)
  • Apom balik (pancakes filled with peanuts)
  • Char kway teoh (rice noodles, spicy)
  • Ikan bakar (grilled fish)
  • Nasi lemak (coconut rice with spicy side dishes, peanuts, crispy little fish - often breakfast) Beef rendang - a beef stew/curry
  • Ayam goreng - fried chicken Lime juice - perfect for cooling you down, very different to Australian lime juice.
  • Ice kacang - ice snow with various toppings. I don't like it with corn.
  • Chicken rice
  • Milo ais - Warm Milo drink poured over ice to which sweetened condensed milk is added
  • Teh tarik - specially poured tea - probably quite sweet.
  • Chicken and lamb satay
  • Curry puffs (lamb, chicken, sardines, potato)
  • Kangkong belacan - spicy spinach-like water convolvus
  • Popiah - spicy pancake full of veges.
  • Various noodle dishes (mee = noodles, nasi = rice)
  • Tropical fruits like mangosteen, rambutan, starfruit, dragonfruit
  • More that B can remind me of later.

The Chinese, Malay and Indians each have their own cuisine and tend to stick to it. As a westerner you don't have to.

Both the Hilton and the Parkroyal had Malaysian options for their breakfasts that were well worth trying if breakfast is included. If not, just find a stall selling something interesting and try it. The food is so cheap that you might as well try it.

For descriptions of previous trips read:


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