Thanks to some crafty plane ticket booking strategies, we ended up with a very extended layover in Kuala Lumpur (or KL, as the cool kids call it). I was pretty overwhelmed by all the American food chains that populated the airport. It had been a long time since I’d seen a Johnny Rocket’s. But eventually we found our way out of the airport to the train that would take us into KL. It was a smooth 30 minute train ride through the country side so I passed the time googling things to do. Slowly, the country side turned in weirdly familiar looking suburbs, and eventually we began to glimpses of city. However, our peek at the city was brief as the train took a dive underground.
KL is a place that I knew absolutely nothing about. So here's what I know now:
One of the first things on the lists I was finding on the internet was a mall called Pavilion KL. KL is apparently famous for its malls. As it would turn out, this was attached to our final train station, so we got to see this straightaway. What can I say? It’s a huge mall. Whoop-dee-doo. I did have some great food there though.
We walked out of the mall and hailed a cab. A cab pulled over that had a big sign on the side that said 'NO HAGGLING - METER RATE'. Whatever, that would make my life easier.
When we arrived at our destination the cab driver turned around and asked for 10 MYR. Confused, I pointed out that his meter only said 4 MYR.
"Uhh.. Um... IT'S NOT HAGGLING!" he responded, bamboozled at being called out like that. There was a pause and then he said "Okay, okay - 5".
The meter still said 4 but at this point I paid him the extra 1 MYR half out of pity, half out of not being committed enough to keeping the extra 0.27 USD to call this poor guy out again. I'm sure there's a back story here that would make this make more sense... but I don't care. We got out of the cab and walked into our hostel.
We stayed at a hostel called the Traveler’s Hub. It was cheap – my share was only 6.50 USD per night. It was not, however, in the greatest of locations. It was on the outskirts of Chinatown. It seems to me that just about every big city in the world has a Chinatown, and it is always a sketchy area. It wasn’t a nice place but it definitely felt like it belonged in a more developed nation, which was a change of pace for us. Malaysia is actually quite well off – at least compared to its neighbors.
Haggling In The Open Markets
We were just a block away from one of KL’s famous open markets, so we took a stroll through. I bought 2 things, and I got screwed both times. The first was a generic back-packer tank top (since all my clothes were dirty at this point). The man offered it to me for 50 MYR and I haggled him down to 40. The man kept saying ‘very good price, very good price!’ I walked away feeling okay about it but then I noticed the same tank top in a shop about 50 meters down. I went in, just out of curiosity, and asked the price. The man said 30 MYR. Annoyed, I thanked him and walked out. He offered it to me for 20 MYR as I walked out the door.
Come ON Peter. You’re better than that.
My next purchase was a pair of iPod headphones (I had lost mine). I paid another 30 MYR for them. The man told me that I was buying the ‘high quality’ headphones for this price. He seemed nice enough so I bought them. But when I tried to listen to them – I don’t think there was ever a time when these headphones weren’t blown out. I’m not a stickler for this kind of things, but they sounded awful.
The moral of the story is this – throw your good-naturedness and compassion out the window when you walk into these markets. Bargain hard, question everything. And remember, you don't need anything they're selling. I felt embarrassed. I knew better than to let that happen to me.
Transportation in Kuala Lumpur
There is a free bus that circles through the cities notable landmarks. It is called the ‘Go KL Bus.’ It took us a long time to find the bus stop for it. Everybody that we asked on the street told us something different. And it was so hot. But eventually we found a stop by following the buses as far as we could see where they were driving when they passed us every 15 minutes or so.
The Kuala Lumpur Tower
This looks a lot like the Seattle Space Needle, but its taller. It costs 38 MYR to enter (a little over 10 USD). The lobby of this building is heavy on Islamic decorum and architecture. And once you get to the top… well, here you go:
It wasn’t the clearest of days. In Southeast Asia the humidity often ranges from 90-100% which causes everything to always look misty – it’s the moisture in the air (apparently) that causes the visibility to always be so poor. But it definitely gives the place a certain mystique. It also makes big white people like me sweat like crazy. The heat was taking a toll on me that day. So afterwards we went back home for a nap.
The Petronas Towers
These are perhaps the defining landmark of Kuala Lumpur. And it wasn’t cheap. We had to book our tickets 24 hours before for a 15 minute time slot. Tickets cost 80 MYR (Malaysian Ringgit) or about 22 USD. They kept us on a pretty short leash during our entire time there. We were chaperoned and herded through the entire tour.
This was annoying, but the building itself was beautiful. At times the windows were too dirty to really look out of but it was definitely a must-see. I could describe it all to you but I took lots of pictures so I don’t need to.
Food Street KL
We left the ‘twin towers’, as they are called, with one thing on our minds: food. We didn’t know where we were so we got into a taxi and said ‘food!’ The taxi driver took us to Jalan Alor street – aka ‘food street.’ It is a long street that is almost impossible to actually drive down due the tables and plastic stools laid out into the middle of the street. It is mostly Chinese food, at least from my observations. We picked a spot and ordered some food. Before we paid and left, I noticed that we were next to a restaurant called ‘Little Vietnam.’ Wow’ I thought to myself. ‘I’ve really chosen a pretty obscure place to call home.’
It’s a good place to spend 24 hours. I wouldn’t come back to Malaysia specifically for KL though. But to it's credit, it’s certainly an interesting take on Islamic culture. In fact, you will see Muslim tourists everywhere. They come from all around the world to relax and enjoy Malaysia’s ‘Islam Lite’ culture, which is understandable. It is, after all, a stressful time for the rest of the Islamic world. But if I come back to Malaysia, it will be for it’s natural beauty. Everybody I have met who has traveled in Malaysia outside of Kuala Lumpur has raved about the white sandy beaches and the dreamy jungles. I wouldn't mind soaking some of that up.
Kuala Lumpur though, it was okay – it’s a good city to swing through on your way to somewhere else. I’m betting that Singapore will be better.
But for now, back to Hanoi.