Arriving in Malaysia was a very pleasant shock, walking out of the air conditioned airport into the 33C 90% humidity, especially having come from the -10C dry Beijing winter.
We spent the first day getting acquainted with the layout of the city by walking from Chow Kit down to Merdeka Square.
The square is lined along one side by Sultan Abdul Samad Building, the Royal Selangor Club, and the National History museum but was also home to the Kuala Lumpur Cricket Club during the colonial period, and the surrounding area of town is known simply as the KLCC. There seemed to be a cricket pitch invasion in progress so we joined in and walked into the middle of the National Tug-Of-War Championships, where semi-pro looking teams took on schoolboys and office colleagues.
Events held here seem somewhat eclectic – across the field there were also pugil stick fights (Gladiator Ready! Awooga!), ladies Kabaddi and wheelchair boule.
At the bottom of the field stands the 100m flagpole which marks the place the Malayan flag was hoisted on August 31st 1957, when Malaysia gained independence from British rule.
Further south and we arrived at the Chinatown market area. Our first stop was Central Market (or Pasar Seni) for a much needed drink. This art-deco building is now a bustling arts and crafts market downstairs with high quality items from Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. Aside from the usual souvenirs, there are traditional batik work, shadow puppets and the attractive orange-coloured mango wood bowls and sculptures.
Upstairs in Central Market is more food oriented with a good selection of hawkers, but knowing we were heading to Penang we skipped this for the beautifully decorated Ginger restaurant next door. This little oasis of calm in the market served up the best Thai meal I’ve had whilst a Chinese Dragon trailed through the market below
(Ginger Restaurant, Lot M-12, Central Market, Jalan Hang Kasturi, 50050 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
Near Central Market is Petaling Street (Jalan Petaling) in the heart of Chinatown. This is the antithesis to the high end shopping malls of KL’s Golden Triangle, full of reasonable quality fake goods at near authentic asking prices. Haggling is possible but is met with little success or manners so it’s better to just wander round and enjoy the sights and sounds as night draws in.
At the other end of Petaling Street you’re in the heart of KL’s Chinese community and will eventually reach the Sri Mariamman Hindu temple on Jalan Tun HS Lee. The entrance is covered in thousands of brightly decorated deities and it’s free to enter.
Walking back towards the KLCC the next main sight is the Masjid Negara, one of the largest mosques in Southeast Asia. The roof is an 18-pointed star, symbolising the 5 pillars of Islam and the 13 states.
Taking a wrong turn up a steep hill we passed the KL Bird Park and dropped into the Orchid Garden for a great view over the town before returning to the hotel for a much needed shower and drink.
In the evening we went to the famed food street Jalan Alor, with both sides lined entirely by nocturnal Chinese food vendors. By 8pm it’s cool enough to sit outside and try a selection of dishes, mostly heavily seafood oriented. We opted for Singaporean Black Pepper crab, tofu in oyster sauce and some particularly good asparagus.
We arrived back at the hotel as the daily thunderstorm struck and went up to the top floor to watch lightning strike our destination for the next day, the Petronas Towers which at around 450m high was the tallest building in the world until 2004.