It’s confession time. Malaysia wasn’t part of my original itinerary, and while I do want to visit everywhere, it wasn’t high on my list of places to go. So then how come I ended up there? Quite simply to avoid having to get a visa for what would have been a 33-day trip to Thailand. Since Americans are only allowed a 30-day visa free visit, I had to figure out somewhere to go for a week. When I booked my flight, my mind immediately went to Thailand’s neighbors to the South: Malaysia or Singapore. Flipped a coin, and Malaysia won. In retrospect, the visa probably would’ve been the cheaper option, but then I would’ve missed out on a country I actually enjoyed.
Kuala Lumpur is having an identity crisis, and I’m sure Singapore is the same way. It is a modern Middle Eastern city with a pinch of European style architecture, interspersed with mosques, and mixed with people from both Asian and Muslim descent. I could say it’s a fusion of several different cultures, but the diversity of the city doesn’t blend well together.
To be frank, I was surprised to find that nearly everything (signs, menus, billboards, etc.) was in English. Given that Malaysia was once a British colony and has grown to become a popular backpacker destination, I guess I just didn’t put 2 and 2 together. As it stands, KL is a bit too westernized for my taste. In the food department, there are all types of asian cuisine available, but it seemed to lean more towards Japanese. However, there are an overwhelming amount of chains like 7-11, A&W, McDonalds, Starbucks, etc. At first glance, you’d never know you’d left America.
KL is a great place to kick off a trip to Malaysia, but after a day or two, I went stir crazy. 48-72 hours is an adequate amount of time to spend in the city before heading somewhere more tropical or historical like Penang or Melaka.
What To Do With 48 Hours
Take the bus or train out to the Batu Caves. Fair warning though that you will spend more time in transit to/from there than actually walking around as there isn’t a whole lot to see. It’s an underwhelming attraction but still cool to see the jetting rock formations.
Go on a segway tour of Lake Gardens with SegKL. The tour lasts about an hour, and you make 3-4 stops for photos. Try and go early in the day so you can avoid the rain. Segways are quite a fun way to get around. Imagine the fuel cost savings if everyone traveled by segway instead.
Go all paparazzi on the Petronas Towers, perhaps KL’s most visited attraction. The twin towers stand at a soaring 1,483 feet, and there is a skybridge you can visit for a panoramic view overlooking the city. In order to visit the skybridge, you have to lineup as early as 6am to get tickets as there is a daily allowance of visitors.
Walk through the city and admire the Aladdin style mosques and listen to the call to prayer. If you’re looking to dodge the rain, be sure to stop into the KL Art Gallery or taking a cooking class at LaZat.
As if you didn’t already know that S.E. Asia is flooded with all types of markets, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Malaysia is no exception. Chinatown, home to some of the most dicey looking restaurants and said to be a sketchy neighborhood for tourists, is also where Petaling Street market is located. It’s hard to miss due to the grand entrance decor and the looming vacuum of vendors lurking and waiting for you to so much as make eye contact with them. As always, my three words of advice for navigating any kind of busy market, with pickpockets abound, are to watch your wallet.
Eat at Bakti Woodlands (Indian), Oishi Ramen (Japanese, across the street from BackHome KL hostel), or duck into the first alleyway you come across to try the cheap street food stalls. Please note that if you eat at an actual sit-down restaurant or cafe, taxes aren’t included on the menu. One thing I noticed was that it was difficult to find fresh fruit in the city. Even the street stall fruits were a bit questionable, and I ended up coping with chocolate instead.
The country, as a whole, makes for a great vacation destination, but it’s not somewhere I see people settling down into an expat life for months or years at a time.