Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Food, Sights and Shopping in Kuala Lumpur

As soon as I had my shiny new ATM card in hand I ran and booked a bus ticket to Kuala Lumpur (KL). If I hurried, I'd have a few days to explore and be there in time to meet up with a friend in town for work. As the trip was going to last 7-8 hours, I sprung an extra few bucks for a luxury coach...and was really pleasantly surprised by what that actually entailed. I had a single seat row spot by the window (seat #13, for luck) with two personal air conditioning vents, a fully reclining seat with plenty of leg room, and a massage feature on the chair. We made a stop at the border to "check out" of Singapore and "check in" in Malaysia, but things went smoothly and the ride was mostly uneventful. Upon arrival I grabbed a taxi to my hotel and absorbed some A/C before heading back outside to explore. 

A side note about cabs here...they're awful. If you just call one off the street, they're extremely likely to be rude, to refuse to use the meter preferring a crazy high set price instead, and to blast their music really loudly. Luckily, I have a smartphone, which really quickly told me that Uber is alive and doing quite well in Malaysia! As back home, the Uber drivers are polite, their cars are clean, and the rates here are crazy cheap. Plus, your entire ride is tracked so you always know what route was taken and the app refunds you money if it calculates that the driver was "lost" or went too far out of the way. The downside is that there are not many of these outside of the main city and you can only get one if there's one somewhere close to where you are. My friend's hotel, or I should say resort, was about a half hour outside the city, so after a lovely dinner I found myself a bit stranded...until one of the employees at the resort clued me in on another handy app the locals use for reliable/cheap cabs: MyTeksi. Similar to Uber you enter in your start/end destinations and it assigns the nearest cab to come get you, but there are a lot more of them as they employ actual drivers and not just people doing it part-time for extra cash, so it's a lot more reliable if you're out of the downtown area...and they don't have surge pricing. Oh, and if you wonder why I'm talking so much about cabs, it's because they're the single best way to get around this city and through all my adventures here, both of the tourist and the "give me my damn package, stupid UPS" variety, the cabs were a huge help for less than the price of coffee back home. 

But back to the good stuff! On my first evening in KL, I got lucky and found a night market just around the corner of my hotel! Turns out that around here the market moves on a regular basis and while some of the vendors stuck around the area afterwards, the vast majority of the booths and wares were missing throughout the rest of my stay. Markets are good if you are looking for cheap clothes or souvenirs and like to haggle, but they're are especially good if you're looking for food. The chicken and beef satay, grilled en masse by the guy above, was delicious and came with fresh cucumbers, mystery cubes of bland white substance, and a bowl of peanut sauce worlds away from the stuff we get in the states. Yum!

Throughout the rest of the market you can find dozens and dozens of giant woks filled with boiling hot oil and containing  a huge variety of simmering delicious things on a stick. In fact the sticks were probably the one constant. I need to buy stock in whatever company makes these sticks as each day millions of them must be used and tossed per square block of this city.

If you buy anything, they'll offer to take it off the stick for you and cut it up, if necessary, and they'll hand it to you in a small plastic bag, pouring any sauces right in there on top of the food. I even saw one place skip cups and pour drinks straight into one of these plastic bags. Stick a straw in there and you're good to go! Get enough little baggies of food, find a free plastic chair or park your butt on a spare part of the curb and have yourself a picnic. I went to all the vendors with lines and everything was delicious!

Amazing lamb shishkebobs!

The next day I set out to explore. Most "must see" places were within walking distance from my hotel, and you could see the KL tower and the Patronas Towers pretty much from anywhere you went.

KL Tower, as seen from the nearby KLCC park

I was excited to hike through the KLCC park, the only bit of greenery in the city, but I must have wondered in from a side entrance or something because I never did find the dancing water fountains, all I saw was lots and lots of greenery, as well as many many steep stairs going up and down and up and down, before I gave up and hightailed out out of there. 

My next destination was Merdeka Square, which in itself isn't much more than a giant lawn, but it's right in the midst of some rather lovely architecture. Sultan Abdul Samad building stretches out all along the one side, and the much more austere, and dare I say English, Royal Selangor Club stretches along the other side (no pictures of that though as it didn't look exciting enough to cross the hot lawn).

Thine eyes do not deceive you, that IS a minion out for a stroll behind the fountain!

Just a bit past the park lies the Central Market, which is kind of like a crowded mall stuffed to the gills with "stuff" of dubious necessity, but crazy cheap prices. I escaped with a few post cards and an ice cold milk tea. But you could have found art, or lush carpets, or even tiny goats made of gold.  You also could have had some fishies munch the dead skin off your hooves again....but even though the prices get cheaper and cheaper, it still weirds me out, so I passed. 

There are many guided tours offered on street corners and in hotels around here, but the Batu caves, a Hindu temple complex built around a small set of impressive caves, are something that I found out could be done for less than $2 round trip on my own if I took the I did.

50 foot statue of Lord Hanuman followed by 272 steep steps teeming with monkeys, 
and leading up to the mouth of the rather less impressive cave.

I don't care what the sign says, climbing that many steps is exercise 
and the monkeys make sure to carry their own refreshments. 

To me he looks British and that mustache is missing only a safari hat 
and one of those vests with a million pockets

After exploring the temples and the caves, I had to head back to the hotel for another shower and to get ready for dinner with my friend, but I had a few minutes to enjoy the view and peruse the newspaper the hotel staff had been kind enough to leave for me.

The next day I spent fighting with UPS, exploring KL's many amazing malls, trying out more delicious food (the sushi here is especially and super fresh), and making sure to visit the Petronas Towers up close both in the daytime and at night.

Yummy udon soup with mushrooms and veggie tempura

This dragon fruit was part of an apology fruit plate I got from my hotel for a bit of a room key mixup that led to me being woken up at 1am by someone trying to break into my room, and then me swearing at a poor girl and the hotel manager on the other side of the door, who I found out the next day were the actual assailants. It's a long story, but the moral is, don't mess with me while I'm sleeping! 

I found the moon and she's dwarfed by the mechanical giants!

It doesn't take me long here to give up on my hair, pull it all up and hide 
the mess with a hat, but I need to make sure to include a few pics 
of myself around here so you know it's me :D

This day, UPS would win, but the very next morning I woke up early, and armed with my taxi apps I stormed the castle (aka UPS distribution office) and I got my credit card from them. I celebrated that momentous occasion by buying a bus ticket outta dodge and backtracked a bit south to visit Melaka. But more about that later.


  1. Those monkeys!! I hope you never get sick of monkeys. And I love that minions just stroll there hehe. And j double love that you met up w Jen!

  2. So much shopping.... That you are not doing... My heart breaks!