When I reached Kuala Lumpur during rush hour on Monday, I was struck by how hectic the city felt. I’d obviously caught it at the busiest time of day, and lugging my backpack off a bus and into a taxi at Berjaya Times Square, I felt hot, flustered and a little overwhelmed.
Until about a week before I flew to Singapore, I hadn’t even planned to come to Malaysia. I really wanted to go to Myanmar, and figured I could fly there from Singapore. Then I looked at the map and realised I was missing so much in between, and that it might be nice to go overland to Malaysia and maybe onto Thailand before heading to Myanmar.
A somewhat stop-start taxi ride later and I was at my hostel, Back Home. It’s a lovely place for someone who likes the social side of a hostel, but also likes a good breakfast, clean sheets, decent coffee and a proper night’s sleep. I’d definitely recommend it if you find yourself in KL.
My first port of call was to get some food. A quick search for cheap eats in Kuala Lumpur sent me in the direction of Soong Kee beef ball noodle soup place, about 100 yards from the hostel. I was the only non-local there and had to wait for a table – both usually good signs where finding good food is concerned! I had a decent bowl of beef noodle soup and took a stroll around Chinatown and Petaling market afterwards.
Petaling is the classic kind of market you find while travelling, selling just about anything you forgot, from temple appropria – but somewhat naff – elephant emblazoned harem pants, to padlocks, to adaptors. You can also pick up every possible knock off you’d imagine. I resisted the shopping given it was my first night and I didn’t want to peak too soon on my inevitable journey to acquiring a bounty of clothes and trinkets I don’t need.
I strolled back to the hostel and found a corner to plonk myself in, have a beer and check up potential activities in KL, and next destinations. Not long after, this guy and girl walk in from their day exploring, and sit down near me. They introduce themselves as Erick and Nia, and they’re both from America. They have just met that day and been to do some touristy stuff in KL. Erick is a travel blogger who knows KL pretty well, and you can read about his quest to become the first African American to visit every country here. He invited me to join them the next morning to visit the KL Bird Park. Pleased to have a plan for the morning, friendly people to hang out with and a new experience on offer, I gladly accepted.
I absolutely loved the Bird Park, and I’m so glad I went because it wouldn’t have been the kind of place I’d normally go on my own, and it was really beautiful. There were peacocks, flamingos and storks just strolling around, plus lots of parrots, birds of prey, owls etc in their large aviaries. It had the feel of a lush rainforest and was a peaceful haven in the city.
We had lunch at this great Indian place, Betel Leaf, and weren’t fit for much else after that, in the muggy mid-afternoon heat. A few of us from the hostel took shelter from the burgeoning thunder storm, in the stunning Islamic Art Museum of Malaysia. I’m a fairweather museum fan; my attention span isn’t great, but I like a bit of a look around. Anyway, this was beautiful. I had no idea how much intricate design and artwork is involved in creating Islamic texts, ceramics and traditional dress. Not to mention the stunning architecture, mosque designs and rugs. It’s well worth a visit if you are in KL, particularly if the weather isn’t great.
We braved the torrential rain that evening for some street food, and afterwards made our way to the Sky Bar on top of Traders Hotel to get a good nighttime view of the famous Petronas Towers.
We decamped to the less fancy but cheaper Reggae Mansion rooftop bar near our hostel, where I discovered I very much enjoy Canadian Club and ginger ale, thanks to two awesome Aussie chicks I met, Lucy and Jess.
Unlike the rest of Southeast Asia, you don’t see many street level bars or restaurants serving alcohol in Kuala Lumpur. It’s an Islamic country, and although there is tourism there, it hasn’t yet penetrated the city enough to change the norms in the capital to a noticeable degree. That said, a few floors up it’s the playground of the city workers, expats, business travellers and backpackers, and it’s a different story altogether. Although we did partake while we were there, it felt more to me like a place I wanted to be up early than out late, so we called it a night.
Next morning we headed to the Batu Caves, a Hindu temple and key tourist attraction in KL. It’s something most visitors want to tick of their list, and we didn’t want to miss it. We took the train there and followed the crowds. The giant gold statue and 172 steps were quite something, but the caves themselves were a bit disappointing and the crowds and number of souvenir hawkers around kind of took away from it a bit, but that’s inevitable I suppose, given its popularity. I wore shorts and had to hire a scarf to cover my legs as I climbed the steps, so worth noting that before you go. Also, worth mentioning there are LOTS of monkeys there. I am not a fan of monkeys.
For lunch we headed to one of the little alley stalls near our hostel. These are little kitchens that fold out in alleys during the week, with plastic stools and metal tables. Office workers pour out in their droves to eat local food from the makeshift kitchens, and come the weekend it’s all packed up and folded away again. I enjoyed some noodles and iced tea served ‘to go’, Malaysian style – in a plastic bag, with a straw. Not the most appetising in appearance, but delicious. This would be the beginning of an addiction to ridiculously sweet chilled caffeine drinks in Asia… I loved this lunch experience, particulary because all the streetfood vendors were so friendly and patient, explaining what was what to me. It was a whole new experience but we didn’t feel at all out of place!
I took off to one of the big malls in KL in the afternoon, in search of the luxury of Bodyshop exoliator. Not for the first time, I was impressed by the sheer grandure of the Chinese New Year Decorations on display.
In the evening, Lucy, Jess and I went to a musical called Mud! – based on the history of KL, but really focused around the great fire and flood of 1880/1881. It’s a government funded project and was heavily pushed by the hostel staff. While I thought it was fun and quirky (lots of crowd participation), it wasn’t really my cup of tea. It was a good reminder that, while you should go with an open mind while travelling, you should also trust your instinct about what you enjoy and want to spend your money and time on.
I had booked a flight to Penang for the following afternoon, and in the morning I was feel pretty tired after a busy couple of days. I started the morning with some yoga on my trusty Jade Voyager travel yoga mat, and then went with Lucy to visit the KL Eco Forest near our hostel.
It was such a tranquil spot, and has a lovely canopy walk with great views of the KL tower and surrounding area. Peaceful and free to enter, it’s a beautiful escape from the bustling city.
I said my goodbyes and took the bus to the airport feeling relaxed after my morning. After just a couple of days I was already so glad to have come to Malaysia and felt excited about what the next stop had in store for me.