Category Archives: Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur


It was our second time in Kuala Lumpur, but this time it was only our entry and exit point in Malaysia, as our target destination was Penang. Still, we spent a bit more time there this time around, than in our previous two day stay. We arrived via the KLIA’s terminal 1, and took the KLIA express to KL Sentral – a bit expensive but very convenient, we even checked in our luggage at the Malaysia Airlines counter in KL Sentral on the way back. 

We also stayed at the same place we stayed in before, at the Corus Hotel along Jalan Ampang, just a few strides from KLCC and the Petronas Towers. Though Corus no longer has a clear line of sight to the towers, due to other buildings that rose up on its surroundings, the hotel is still as excellent as it was the last time we were there. Price was good (it’s hard to find a hotel with that price and standard anywhere near KLCC), service was good, and location almost unbeatable (you can almost walk right up to it from the KLCC LRT station, and right infront is the terminal of Aerolines buses, if you’d like to go to Singapore or the other parts of Malysia after, like Johor or Penang).

As in before, we went around mainly in the “Golden Triangle” area, the busy commercial hub of KL which encompasses KLCC and Bukit Bintang, the renowned shopping street. I initially thought about the Batu Caves, but no longer found it appetizing after our trips to the cool hills of Penang and the Temples of Phuket just a few days past. I couldn’t think of anything worthwhile to do on the Genting Highlands either. So with the agreement of the group, I just settled for a slow and easy stay in KL.

Unlike in our previous visit, where we just saw the Petronas Towers, this time we went inside, to the skybridge and the viewing deck. The fee is a bit steep at 85 MYR (around 20 USD), but the view is good, and these are the kinds of things that you would do only once. The number of people able to go up per day is tightly controlled though, so best to go there really early in the morning to get a slot.

One of my unexpected finds, in our random wanderings around central KL is a short street called Changkat Bukit Bintang. It’s a branch off the Bukit Bintang shopping street, on the way to Jalan Alor, the famed street food haven of KL. The street is lined with bars on both sides, the type that, I my mind, caters more to western expats who like to have their booze outdoors in the tropical weather (whereas most Asians I know would seek airconditioning).

And then of course there is Jalan Alor, the street food stretch of central KL. I wasn’t able to go here previously, so this is another “first” for this trip. The sight of Jalan Alor is quite astonishing – a whole street lined with open air restaurants from side to side, and end to end. The choices are mind boggling. And surprisingly, it’s not a pedestrianized zone, despite having dinner tables encroaching almost to the middle of the street. Cars regularly squeeze for space in between tables and hordes of pedestrians.

Coming from Penang though, I found Jalan Alor a bit undewhelming by comparison. The variety is there, but I find the cooking in Penang much more flavorful, and the price difference is quite substantial. That’s not to say Jalan Alor is expensive, in fact far from it, but it just made me realize how much of a bargain I was getting back then in Penang.

* We were in KL in April 2017

Advertisements

The Petronas Towers, Bukit Bintang and other KL scenes – A “Truly Asian” weekend in Kuala Lumpur (part 2).

KLs skyline early in the evening, from the KLCC Park

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 Suria KLCCs central dome

The malls central courtyard.

Valentines has passed some time ago, but things are still pretty red at the Surias Famous Amos cookie store.

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.

Wantan Mee, at Rasa

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 Petronas Twin Towers, right after sunset. The Menara Maxis (Maxis Tower in English), to the right, is absolutely dwarfed by the gigantic twins.

The towers, viewed from the KLCC park as the evening gets deeper. The moon shows as a small speck of light between two 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 viewing deck of the Menara KL

Telescopes can be used, for no extra charge, from the viewing deck.

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).

The Petronas Towers, and surrounding buildings (which look tiny by comparison), seen from the Menara.

Top view of Kuala Lumpur, looking towards the direction of Merdeka Square

Looking the other way, towards the direction of Bukit Bintang

Bukit Bintang.

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.

Light Sunday noon traffic at KLs business district. The trip from the Menara to Bukit Bintang took only a few minutes. Sunday is probably the best day to roam around the city…lucky us.

A fountain, along Bukit Bintang

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 Pavilion

A Formula 1 car inside the Pavilion. Malaysia has been F1 crazy ever since their Sepang racetrack was commissioned.

The central courtyard of this shopping fortress

Tangs department store, at the back of the mall

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.

Sweet and Sour Chicken from Little Wok at the Food Republic

Mixed Fruits and Mango Sago for dessert. I was surprised that they put a ton of ice to these things here. The mango was utterly sour though, no match for “Mangga Cebu” back home.

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.

A taxi cab along Jalan Bukit Bintang. Theres no better reminder that youre in Malaysia, than the proliferation of Proton cars on the streets.

A busy intersection at KLs “shopping road”.

The Monorail.

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.

KLs Monorail

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.

The Sultan Abdul Samad building, with the Menara Kuala Lumpur behind.

Dataran Merdeka, and the worlds tallest flag pole.

The view from the other end, looking away from the flag pole

The fountains of Dataran Merdeka

The Royal Selangor Club

Jalan Raja and the Sultan Abdul Samad building, a rather attractive piece of architecture. This is a regular stop for most tourist buses, like the one on the right.

The Kuala Lumpur Library sits behind that big screen.

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.

The Petronas Towers, one more time. I really cant get over this thing, can I?

* We travelled to KL on March, 2011. All photos taken with Olympus E420 and Zuiko 14-54mm f2.8-3.5

From the LCCT to Corus Hotel – A “Truly Asian” weekend in Kuala Lumpur (part 1)

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”.

One Malaysia

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.

Tiger Airways (along with Air Asia and Jet Star) has frequent flights from SIN to KUL

The Singapore Changi Budget Terminal, where we took the flight to KL. Though it’s “budget” by Singapore standards, it is still very clean, very organized, and reminds you that anything in Singapore is spic-and-span, even if you attach a “budget” tag to it..

The Arrival

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.

The KLIA Transit’s Salak Tinggi station, where the transfer bus dropped us off. This is the closest station from the LCCT, and as you can see in the background, this is quite in the middle of nowhere, just like the airport.

The KLIA Transit train approaching Salak Tinggi.

Inside the train. The service uses intercity trains that are quite spacious inside, with more than adequate luggage space.

I managed to take a photo of a KLIA Ekspres train, at KL Sentral, before we left Malaysia.

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.

KL Sentral

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.

The RapidKL LRT’s Kelana Jaya Line, at KL Sentral.

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.

Jalan Ampang and one of the Petronas twins in the evening, viewed just a few steps from the front of the Corus Hotel

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.