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A week in Kuala Lumpur (KL) Malaysia, and what to see

This article is Chapter 9 in the Three Continents Overland series.
Written by Joshua Fuglsang on .

A tram passing through a confluence of roads and footpaths

Introduction

The previous article followed my journey from Tioman Island to Kuala Lumpur by ferry and bus. Read about it here.

In March 2018 I spent a week staying in Kuala Lumpur, the sprawling metropolis and capital of Malaysia. During my time in Kuala Lumpur (lovingly referred to by it's acronym, KL) I stayed in Bukit Bintang, a popular destination for travellers and Malay alike, know for its famous eating street; Jalan Alor; but also for its convenience to several of KL's hot tourist destinations. While staying in KL I visited several of such tourist destinations including: the Petronas Twin Towers, the Pink Mosque of Putrajaya, the Bird Park, Jamek Mosque, Merdeka Square, and China Town. Some of these I will write about in this article.

The Food

Jalan Alor food street in Bukit Bintang

Jalan Alor food street in Bukit Bintang

First off I have to say that the premiere reason to visit Kuala Lumpur is, though Penang may scoff, the food. Why? Because it is easily accessible. In the tourist centres such a Melaka, George Town, Langkawi, etc., it is hard to find genuine Malaysian cuisine. The restaurants that are catering to tourists don't need to be so compelled to cook the best quality authentic food, for they have new customers every day. The local restaurants of Kuala Lumpur, however, need to please their regulars. So, even if you are staying in a place such as Bukit Bintang or Chinatown, you only need to walk a few streets away to find a proper Malay style eating house or hawker centre. So, this is what I loved the most about Kuala Lumpur. Cheap food with heaps of variety and, for the most part, absolutely delicious. I had one restaurant which I came back to for a few days in a row because they had a fantastic menu showcasing many of the Malysian signature dishes, which I worked my way through.

Dishes of note that I tried were: Roti Canai, Nasi Lemak, Nasi Goreng, Mee Goreng, Laksa, Char Kuey Teow, Hainanese Chicken Rice, plus a plethora of Chinese and Indian dishes. Malay food is absolutely delicious, however it is somewhat unhealthy ... to say the least. Vegetables were sorely missed from my palette during my travels through Malaysia, but that's a story for another time.

Jamek Mosque

Alter in the Jamek Mosque

Alter in the Jamek Mosque

I have been fascinated by Mosque's since commencing this trip through Malaysia. Malaysia, which is a majority Muslim country with 60% of its population practicing Islam. Islam is in plain site in Malaysia. And it's influence on Malaysian politics seems to be somewhat of a sore topic. Regardless, Mosques (or Masjid in Malay) are beautiful buildings. They have a certain elegance to their aesthetic with their sharp angles, sweeping curves, and delightful symmetrical. Step inside and you will see people basking in the peace of the structures. Typically they have intricate carpets, or tile floors, plain walls, and tall ceilings, which are often domed.

The Jamek Mosque is no exception. Though it lacks the tall ceilings, it is still a lovely building. It was designed by a British architect in 1908, based on Indian style Mosques. It was built in the confluence of two rivers which, when viewed from the opposing banks, offers a lovely juxtaposition between the Islamic heritage building and the modern concrete jungle beyond.

Interestingly, I found out during my visit to the mosque that there are no written descriptions of Allah. When Allah came to Muhammad, Allah provided no such description. Rather, Muhammad described Allah simply as a beam of pure light. Thus, when you visit a Mosque, you will note that there are no idols on the wall, such as in other religions. This again, adds to the simple, clean, and delightful aesthetic of the buildings.

Merdeka Square

A gaggle of photographers in Merdeka Square

A gaggle of photographers in Merdeka Square

After visiting Jamek Mosque I wondered across the bridge to Merdeka Square. It is a beautiful building, but somewhat lacklustre as a tourist destination. While I was here a swarm of amateur photographers appeared with a team of freelance models. Fascinated, I chatted to them about what they were doing. It seemed that they were an organised photography group who go on photoshoots through the city with their models. I joined them to take a photo of a lady wearing a beautiful Hijab in front of a vintage Volvo.

The Pink Mosque of Putrajaya

The Pink Mosque, Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur

The Pink Mosque

Another Mosque, but this one is special in that it lives right alongside the Office of the Prime Minister in Putrajaya. I'm not exactly clear on the influence of Islam on the politics of Malaysia. They say that they are a democracy and not bound by the laws of Islam, however the fact that the Prime Minister's office has a Mosque built next to it implies otherwise. Regardless, again it is a beautiful building. This one in particular is far more spectacular than the last. It is a solid pink building, as it's name implies, with a single enormous dome far overhead.

The Ceilings on The Pink Mosque

The Ceilings on The Pink Mosque

While visiting here I had a long chat with a volunteer about Islam. He explained to me that all Mosques are pointing towards Mecca, and that when praying you must pray in the same direction. So, every Muslim country provides information on the correct direction of prayer. It is fascinating to think that all Mosques in the world are facing towards a central point. The volunteer too got me to put a pin in his map of nationalities, saying that I am the first Tasmanian to visit. Woo.

To get to Putrajaya I needed to catch a local bus for 1.5 hours in each direction from Bukit Bintang. However, I was happy to do this for the Mosque is breathtaking and is squarely off the tourist trail of Kuala Lumpur, unlike this next item ...

Petronas Twin towers

Petronas Twin Towers by Night

Petronas Twin Towers by Night

Ah, the Twin Towers of KL. Every guide, article, and video on Kuala Lumpur mentions these towers. From 1998 to 2004 they were the tallest buildings in the world. Though since been overshadowed, pun intended, they are still a magnificent pair and are the pride of KL without a doubt.

The design of the buildings incorporate Islamic motifs such as repetitive geometries and arabesques. Each tower is based on two interlocking squares which creates an eight-pointed star shape, said to represent the Islamic Principles: "Unity within unity, harmony, stability, and rationality".

To build the towers on schedule two construction companies were used; the western tower was built by a Japanese construction consortium, and the eastern tower was built by a South Korean construction consortium. The South Korean built tower came to be the tallest tower in the world at the time, however it was soon found that the building was leaning by 2.5 centimetres off vertical. They rectified this issue by leaning the subsequent floors to the opposite direction by 2 centimetres. In total, the towers cost $1.6 billion to build.

The Bird Park

A Proud Peacock, Kuala Lumpur Bird Park

A Proud Peacock, Kuala Lumpur Bird Park

My final outing in KL was to the Bird Park. I am deeply in love with the world of our feathered friends. Birds, I believe, are beautiful creatures who have attributes that we can never hope to achieve. They have a level of freedom which is unattainable to humans, they are beautiful, and they are elegant.

So, I decided to pop by the bird park to learn more about some of the different species that they have on show. After all, the park is said to house the world's largest free-flight walk-in aviary.

A caged bird in the KL Bird Park

A caged bird in the KL Bird Park

The park looked after toucans; many varieties of hornbill; a vast array of parrots; some large land birds such as emu's and cassowaries; cranes; and finally the ever popular peacock. Though some of the birds looked happy and well looked after, some didn't. In particular the peacocks seemed to be poorly treated. This is due I believe to the fact that people can touch the birds directly. Accordingly, some of the birds had more than a few of their tail feathers plucked.

Conclusion

A model poses for a photo in Merdeka Square, Kuala Lumpur

Lady garbed in a beautiful hijab

Models pose for photos in Merdeka Square

Thanks for reading! I am surprised to say that I enjoyed my time in Kuala Lumpur. Most travellers don't like it, and skip through at first light. Even the locals don't like it, saying that the best thing to do is to go shopping at one of the many, many malls. However, I liked it. Good food, interesting Islamic heritage, and pleasant people. Of course it's not a perfect city, but no city is. But if you give it a chance, you will find something in it to enjoy.

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