Malaysia’s capital city comes with a bit of personal history for me. A few years ago, the conclusion of my first ever backpacking adventure would bring me to Kuala Lumpur after a rapid 3 months. An incredibly bitter-sweet end to my milestone journey.
I arrived by bus from Singapore thinking I had a day in hand before I flew back to the UK. Only by checking the booking the next morning did I realise I was flying that day. I was cheated out of my day in Kuala Lumpur, unable to see anything other than the inside of my hostel. Ever since it has bugged me. Finally I had the opportunity to undo this error.
Upon landing in the city early in the morning, I still had the dreaded hostel check-in time to wait for. Luckily quite a few of Kuala Lumpur’s main attractions are packed close into the centre, a decent walking distance from each other. Therefore a lazy pace was taken observing through the Central Market as I tried to gain my bearings.
The first real attraction I headed towards was Independence Square. An open field headed by the Malaysian flag at one end and surrounded by some of the extraordinary mix of modern and older architecture, a theme found throughout the city. It provided the perfect launching off point.
Following this I headed towards Jamek Mosque, which holds the title of the oldest Islamic prayer site in this highly Muslim city of Kuala Lumpur. Before entering I was asked to wear a purple robe as I wasn’t exactly dressed conservatively in shorts and a vest.
The check-in time was coming closer and my bed was calling. To get there I decided to wander through the streets towards Petaling Street, and I found a flashback. Funnily enough I came across the only site I remember during my short lived stay last time around. It was in-fact the very hostel I had stayed in previously, decorated precisely as I remembered it.
The walk back to the hostel also included a couple of quick detours. The first being Guan Di, a Chinese temple being as I was now in the heart of the Chinese area of the city. The second was the nearby Sri Mahamariamman temple, showing the cosmopolitan multi-cultural theme of the city.
That night I spent roaming the streets of Bukit Bintang, where it seems the city comes to life at night. A never ending line of restaurants on one side, matching gown wearing masseuses on the another and malls-a-plenty scattered around.
A few streets over this is also where I was approached by the ever so familiar street walker. Being a solo male traveller I’m the clear an obvious target for such advances, which seems to happen practically everywhere I happen to visit. Time to call it a night.
I’ve travelled through enough cities by now to get a decent grasp of the quality of public transportation. Kuala Lumpur; a city with a lot of money, and naturally they have the vast transport system to go with it. As incredibly efficient as it is, the problem comes with the utter complexity of it.
The system comprises of several different types of transport, from subways to monorails and a mixture of both. When referencing the maps, they all seem to link efficiently, even with walkways between lines stations. However getting from A to B such a mind-fuck. Each line has a number, but this isn’t shown on any sign. Each line also appears to have its own acronym (MTR, MONO etc.) which makes it even more difficult to track. Some stations are even sponsored, which causes complete confusion as some stations names will be different depending on where you see them.
Transportation mind-melting aside, seeing as I had arrived from China, naturally the first thing to do that day was visit a Chinese temple. This temple in question was Thean Hou Temple, a particularly adorned temple. In-fact it’s one of the oldest as well as largest temple complexes in all of South-East Asia.
At the entrance sat a man with a cage of birds and a large bowl of fish, for the express purpose of releasing them. Beside the man was a small picturesque pond filled to the brim with koi, catfish and all other manner of aquatic life. This is where you would release the bucket with your chosen fish into his new home.
Also known as the Temple of the Goddess of Heaven, the temple itself overlooked the city. It became the perfect place to start a new day, despite the unheralded difficulty of walking through deathly humidity to get to it.
Next on the list was the pinnacle attraction in Kuala Lumpur, the site which you simply cannot miss without having the obligatory picture. That was of course none other than the Petronas Towers. As you might expect the entire area had hordes of people trying to get the perfect shot and people trying to sell their services to assist. The most entertaining aspect of which was watching them try.
Obviously the towers are ridiculously tall, and therefore a challenge to get all of them within a photo. A considerable amount of my time was spent watching all the travellers positioning themselves in purely ridiculous ways trying to get that perfect shot. My personal favourite was a man that everyone would want to take their photo. He lay flat on his back as water dribbled beneath him as each individual in his group took their turn standing in front of the towers. Give that man a beer.
One very unique attraction of the day was the KL Eco Forest Park. Quite literally it’s a rain-forest directly in the heart of the city. I don’t mean a simple park, there are plenty of those on offer. Its quite literally a miniature rain-forest. You quickly loose yourself in the thick foliage as if deep in the wilderness. Other than the odd external city noises of truck horns or the very modern KL Tower which stands proudly in the middle, there’s absolutely nothing to indicate you’re in a middle of a monster metropolis.
Just to compound how genuine the forest is, the breadth of wildlife found within is insane. Signs throughout the park warn those to be wary of getting too comfortable with the surroundings. They indicated creatures including venomous snakes and scorpions which can be found in the park.
The most fascinating though were several species of monkeys which roamed the forest, and occasionally stretched their ranges further.
A huge appeal to me was to walk along the pathways that lead through the forests canopy, it would have provided such an interesting alternative perspective to the forest. Sadly the walkways were under construction during my visit, so another missed opportunity to add to the list.
As for being productive, this was not a day for that. What did I see, nothing. This day was spent in a fashion quite rare to me, by spending it with a fellow traveller. The benefit of hostel life always is the ability to meet like minded people and experience the country with them, so why not indulge? The day was spent perusing a number of streets, vendors, little restaurants and interacting with the local people with my new Thai/Irish friend.
We aimed for the Bird Park on the left side of the river, however the journey was made as difficult as possible. Firstly we fell victim to the complete mind-fuck which was the transport system. We had to re-trace our steps after buying the wrong tickets. Secondly, I finally fell victim to the energy-sapping heat of the day, making a stroll less than pleasant.
We gave up on the idea and tried to find ourselves a little local restaurant. We then strangely stumbled into what appeared to be India. What we would come to refer to as Little India, as the surrounding decor, restaurants and stores was aimed at an Indian market.
For this day, I had one target, what I anticipated would be the biggest highlight of my time in Kuala Lumpur; the Batu Caves.
Although somewhat on the outskirts of the city, the ever so effective transport system had a train which dropped you right at its doorstep. Although I have a vast record of seeing temples, my experience of Hindu temples was limited. This would be yet another temple would be better than all the rest I had seen to date.
The complex of Batu Caves comprises of an enormous limestone hill with a number of caves opening within. The 100-year-old temple features idols and statues erected inside the main caves and around it.
The outer temples had a succession of Hindu faithful waiting before a series of shrines. They would await outside them giving their blessings and accepting donations to those who approached.
The main attraction was found at the end of an enormous rainbow coloured stairway that led to the Cathedral Cave. Beside it stood an enormous golden statue of Murugan. Throughout the temple grounds and the within the caves are endless amount of fearless curious monkeys that call this temple home. They were not at all fazed by people, rather profiting off whatever snacks they could find from them.
At the top of the stairway you enter Cathedral Cave, by far the largest and most fascinating cavern Batu Caves has to offer. Within there are a number of Hindu shrines with their own series of faithful, all housed beneath the 100-metre high roof of the limestone cave.