We took this trip right after our most recent to visit to Singapore. It was already our third time on that city-state, so we didn’t need to stay for long, having seen most of the attractions on the two previous trips. We decided to just spend two days there, and then hop to the closest destination that we haven’t visited before…the one that’s “Truly Asia”.
It’s interesting to think that for a couple of years in the 1960’s, Malaysia and Singapore were one country, until Singapore got kicked out of the Malaysian Federation in 1965. Singapore then took off and ran away, leaving the rest of Malaysia (and the rest of South East Asia for that matter) eating its dust. Now Malaysia is back in form, growling as one of South East Asia’s fastest growing tigers.
We only stayed for the weekend, and the first half of Saturday was spent for Transit coming from Singapore, so for the remaining one-and-a-half day, we just confined ourselves to the city proper of the country’s capital, Kuala Lumpur (or KL).
The Transit to KL
KL is actually just a 6-hour bus ride from Singapore, but since we had a little boy with us, who could get bored and cranky confined in a bus for half-a-day, we chose to go by air, through one of the low cost carriers (LCC) that fly the busy Singapore-Malaysia-Thailand triangle. It was probably my shortest flight in recent memory, and I think just 20 minutes after take-off, we started our descent.
We disembarked though the KLIA’s (Kuala Lumpur International Airport) LCCT (Low Cost Carrier Terminal), and in contrast to Singapore Changi’s Budget Terminal, the KL LCCT actually lives up to it’s “Low Cost” monicker. Baggage handling was sloppy, with bags spilling from conveyor belts to the floor. It’s also noisy and quite chaotic, with boarding and arriving passengers cutting each other off in a human traffic jam.
The KLIA is also quite a considerable distance from the city. I previously thought Bangkok‘s Suvarnabhumi would be the most isolated one that I’d set foot on, but the KLIA sets the new record, in my experience. I was told that the airport is two hours away from the city center by car, with traffic. The fastest you could make it is in one hour, in the wee hours of the morning when traffic is non-existent.
Taking the airport taxi also isn’t cheap. I inquired at the budget taxi counter how much the fare to the city is, and I was told it is 74 MYR fixed (around 1,100 PHP), and they even jacked it up to 100 MYR when they learned that we have a a child with a stroller. I could only roll my eyes at the apparent rip off, so I just walked away and strode toward the counter for the KLIA Transit.
The best way by far is to take the fast train from KLIA to KL Sentral, the city’s main train station. There are two services – the non-stop KLIA Ekspres – and the KLIA Transit which stops at three other stations in between. The LCCT however is quite far from KLIA’s main terminal, where the airport train station is. Fortunately, the KLIA Transit provides a bus transfer from the LCCT to the nearest train station, where you can then board the train to the city. The bus and the train ride cost 12 MYR, and is sold as a package. (Tip: Look for the KLIA Transit booth as you exit the customs area. It has a white and purple signage). The total time from boarding the bus to getting off the train at KL Sentral was still a little over an hour, but that’s good enough given the distance from the airport, and my wife and I just paid for a quarter of what the taxi would have cost.
KL’s Commuter Train System
KL does have quite an advanced mass transit system. Not quite up to par with Singapore or Hong Kong, but definitely pretty good for a developing country. The KL Sentral serves as a central railway hub, connecting the airport trains and other intercity trains, with KL’s commuter train system (by “commuter train”, I mean a rail transit system that operates within a city, like Manila’s LRT and MRT lines).
KL has a total of 7 commuter train lines, including the airport trains and the overhead Monorail. That’s an astounding number, compared to its neighboring capital cities. Bangkok only has 5 (including the airport line), Singapore also has 5 (if you count the Sentosa Express), and Manila only has 3 (well, actually 4 if you count the slow PNR line).
Having a central “hub” station is also a feature that the other aforementioned cities do not have. The only drawback in KLs system is that they do not have a fully integrated ticketing system for all train lines, unlike Singapore‘s.
Upon arrival at KL Sentral we then changed to the RapidKL platform, to take the Kelana Jaya LRT line to KLCC, where our hotel is located.
Jalan Ampang and the Corus Hotel.
We stayed at the Corus Hotel at Jalan Ampang (or Ampang Road if you put it in English), which is so close to the Petronas twin towers at KLCC, that it’s virtually a next door neighbor (or rather, a “next block” neighbor). The hotel is also located between two LRT stations – KLCC and Ampang Park, although it is much closer to KLCC. Either way, it means that apart from being right there where the action is, the hotel also gives you easy access to the rest of the city via its extensive train system.
Due to the hotel’s location, one might expect the room rates to go as high up as the Petronas towers, but surprisingly, the Corus Hotel is quite affordable. Our two night stay cost less than 500 MYR (less than 7,500 PHP), which is surprisingly good for a full service hotel in the downtown area. We booked at a discounted rate which meant we don’t get free breakfast, but I didn’t mind. The location of the hotel is already a winner, even if it meant that I’ll just have cookies and instant coffee in the morning.
The hotel’s facilities also ain’t bad at at all. It’s quite old (but not that old, and definitely not decrepit), but it is well maintained. They also gave us a poolside room, which earned the hotel even more plus points from us. I was also surprised by how well appointed our room was. It came with a very spacious toilet and bath, a large tub, a generous amount of complimentary toiletry, cable TV and…a four post bed! Yes, it’s my very first time to sleep in a four poster. All this came at an even lower price than the budget hotel what we stayed on in Singapore.
Our entry to KL was a bit of a slog, from the chaotic baggage claim at the LCCT, to the long trip to KL Sentral, to pulling heavy luggage through escalators and obscure sidewalks. However, the comfortable hotel room more than made up for it, and after a brief stop to rest and catch our breath, we were ready to see the city. That will be part 2 of this story.
* We visited KL last March 2011. All photos taken with Olympus E420 and Zuiko 14-54mm f2.8-3.5.