KLCC and the Petronas Towers
After a brief nap at the hotel, we started our exploration of the city that Saturday, at the nearby KLCC (or Kuala Lumpur City Center), which is just a 5-minute walk away from the hotel (or 10 if you feel like Gene Kelly walking while singing in the rain). The KLCC is the complex within KL’s “golden triangle” where various attractions are located, including the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center (which could also be abbreviated as KLCC), the indoor aquarium called Aquaria KLCC, the beautiful KLCC Park and most importantly, the Petronas Towers, and the mall named Suria KLCC at its base. (Had enough K’s and C’s already?)
We went in through the Suria KLCC for some shopping and an early dinner. The mall is quite an upscale one – think Manila’s Powerplant Mall and multiply the floor area at least 4 times, but make it much more crowded.
The mall carries brand names that range from the exclusive Hermes to the ubiquitous Giordano, and many others in between. They also have a large, sprawling Kinokuniya bookstore at the 4th level, which would absolutely delight any bookworm, as well as a science discovery center named Petrosains, for the kids.
The mall has two foodcourts, the Signatures at the 2nd level, and the Rasa at the 4th. Both food courts feature a full array of stalls, each one representing a different piece of Malaysia’s diverse cuisine. There are also stalls selling Western and Japanese food, if you prefer not to indulge in traditional Malayan fare, but why wouldn’t you? The culinary diversity in the Malay peninsula is one of the most interesting in the planet.
After dinner we headed out to the park, just as the sun was about to complete its retreat from the sky, to witness the grandeur of what has become Malaysia’s most recognizable pair of structures, the Petronas Twin Towers.
The towers used to hold the record as the tallest buildings in the world, though they have since been surpassed by more ambitious projects in Taiwan, China and the Persian Gulf. However, the two still hold the record for the tallest “twin” towers in the world.
Tallest whatever or not, one indisputable thing can be said about the towers – they are B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L. These are without a doubt, the most elegant skyscrapers I have seen so far. I’ve seen numerous pictures of the towers before -from postcards, to posters, to websites – however, these towers exude a beauty that could not, I think, be captured on any photograph. The intricate “corrugated” design, and the clean chrome look of its exterior radiate a timeless beauty. Even our one-year-old boy claps his hands, as if in ovation, whenever he sees the buildings, nicely lit up in the evening.
After a stroll at the park and a few more snaps of the towers, we retired back to the hotel and called it a night.
The Menara Kuala Lumpur.
Tired from the previous three days of travel, we took our sweet time getting ready on Sunday morning. The sun was already high when we finally left the hotel for our first destination that day, KL’s other sky-piercing landmark, the Menara Kuala Lumpur (Kuala Lumpur Tower in English). Sitting on a hill just a bit south of the business district, we reached it in less than 10 minutes by taxi, through light Sunday traffic (KL’s train lines don’t go to that area, unfortunately).
The Menara KL’s structure is actually much shorter than the Petronas Towers, but since it sits on a hill, the Menara’s viewing deck is at roughly the same height as that of the Petronas.
They provide headsets at the viewing deck, with recorded “audio tours” describing the structures and landmarks that you see from atop. There are also fixed telescopes that can be used at no extra charge, to enable you to see as far as the Batu Caves in the outskirts of the city. The Menara also features a revolving restaurant above the viewing deck, but we no longer went there.
One thing that struck me, viewing the city from a bird’s-eye level, is how green the scenery was. Despite being a large, sprawling city, KL was able to preserve some space for mother nature to grow, and that I think sets it apart from most of its neighboring capitals (save for Singapore probably).
Our next destination after the Menara was the Bukit Bintang shopping area. This is KL’s main shopping district, which stretches through the length of the Jalan Bukit Bintang, their answer to Singapore‘s Orchard Road. It has shopping centers of different kinds, from the uptight ones that carry high-flying brand names, to budget ones that are probably like Manila’s 168, or Tutuban.
We alighted at The Pavilion, one of KL’s premiere malls at the northern end of Bukit Bintang. If the Suria, which we visited the day before, was “upscale”, then the only words I could think of to describe the Pavilion would be “absolutely snobbish”. It is a fortress of consumerism, a place where the “haves” pile bag after bag of Prada, Gucci and Bulgari, while the “have nots” are left gawking at the windows, fearful that a trap door will open as soon as they step one foot into the store. Greenbelt 5, Manila’s “snobbiest”, would probably bow down in worship at the foot of the Pavilion. After all, how can you beat a place that has a Bentley showroom?
The mall has a food court at the basement called the Food Republic, and even this food court could put some modest restaurants to shame. They have a wide ranging selection, and you can get anything from Chinese noodle soups, to curries, and hybrids of the two like the Laksa. If you prefer not to go for “self-service”, then there are also restaurants in the basement, like the Japanese chain Pepper Lunch.
We took our time having lunch and coffee, before we strode out to see the rest of Bukit Bintang. We didn’t go inside the rest of the malls in the stretch though, and we weren’t there for shopping anyway.
Viewed from outside, KL’s monorail looks absolutely space-age, that I just couldn’t resist riding on it, even if just to be able to say “yes, I’ve been on that thing”. As we started climbing towards the Bukit Bintang station however, our spage-age expectations started falling back down to earth. The station is small and cramped. It’s like the stations on Manila’s old LRT line, only tighter. Then the train came, and boy was it a squeeze inside. Everyone was literally shoulder to shoulder, like Manila’s EDSA MRT on a weekday, except that this is on a Sunday. I could only imagine what it’s like in the Monorail on Mondays.
The trains, futuristic as they are, are obviously too small for their purpose, and I couldn’t help but see the whole Monorail system as one major case of “form over function”. In contrast to the rest of KL’s efficient and extensive rail system, the Monorail looks like a small, though good looking, aberration.
We got off the Monorail at the end station near KL Sentral, at a part of old KL known as Brickfields. In contrast to the clean Business District where we confined ourselves earlier, this area starts so show the more “raw” face of the city. The Brickfields is not a slum by any means, although gone is the sense of security offered by the Golden Triangle. Here I saw a few homeless people in the narrow alleyways below the Monorail terminal, and I would probably think twice about walking in this place alone in the evening, with a camera dangling from my neck.
* The Golden Triangle refers to KL’s modern business and commercial district, covering the area around KLCC, the central business district and Bukit Bintang.
The Independence Square.
From the Monorail, we took a taxi to the one of the significant places in KL’s history. The Dataran Merdeka, which translates into “Independence Square”, is where Malaysia declared itself free from the British Empire. It also features the worlds tallest flagpole, at 95-meters in height. The immediate vicinity around it also contains such landmarks as the Royal Selangor Club – a social club established by the ever so civilized British, the Sultan Abdul Samad building – a beautiful British-built but Indian-inspired building which now houses the government’s tourism office, the St. Mary’s Cathedral – an Anglican church built more than a century ago, again by the British, the National History Museum, and the Kuala Lumpur Library. This part of the city is considered its old colonial district.
I’ve read in several places that Kuala Lumpur, despite its size, surprisingly does not have a lot to offer in terms of attractions and historical places. I guess this is due largely to the fact that unlike the other South East Asian capitals, such as Bangkok and Manila, KL is relatively young in age.
The name Kuala Lumpur roughly translates to “muddy estuary”, and that is what it was until the 1850’s, when it was set up as a small tin-mining town. It didn’t gain any historical significance until 1880, when it became the capital of the state of Selangor. Contrast this to Manila, which was already a settlement when Martin de Goiti and Juan de Salcedo met Rajah Sulayman at the banks of the Pasig, or Bangkok, which was built after Taksin the Great drove the Burmese out of Siam, and you realize that KL is still rather “juvenile”.
However, Malaysia is not just KL of course. Just right outside the city limits are two popular attractions – the Batu Caves, and the Genting Highlands (both of which we didn’t have time to visit, unfortunately), and should you wish to see a less commercial picture of Malaysia, you could probably fly to Penang or Kuching.
But, just like an adolescent, KL makes-up for its young history with “bling” and a lot of shopping. Its twin towers shine brighter than a diamond on a necklace, and indeed, there probably isn’t any icon more recognizable than these in the whole of South East Asia. It’s got such an abundance of retail space too, that if shopping is what keeps you going, be it for signature brands or cheap bargains, then you might just find paradise in the streets of Kuala Lumpur.
* We travelled to KL on March, 2011. All photos taken with Olympus E420 and Zuiko 14-54mm f2.8-3.5