Malaysia-Kuala Lumpur-An Exotic Melting Pot

I am writing this having recently returned from a “full immersion” South East Asian trip.

Malaysia was the impetus for this extended sojourn. It was Malaysia I hankered to revisit. Because I was born in Malaysia, in a small inland township called Kamunting, in the region of Perak and started my life in the capital city of Perak; Ipoh.

To satisfy this yearning, as a “special” birthday present, we headed off to find my place of birth, my very first home, and to celebrate my return to a place that had conjured all sorts of exotic memories for me.

Flying into KL provided the opportunity to spend a few days in the capital of this mysterious yet somehow familiar country before travelling on to Kamunting and Ipoh.

Arriving in Kuala Lumpur right on Christmas -my, (incorrect) assumption, was that because Malaysia is an Islamic country , Christmas Day would not be celebrated. And certainly not like Western cities such as London or NYC that go all out to celebrate this Christian festival in the streets and shops restaurants etc.

In fact, Christmas Day, Chinese New Year and Deepavali are National Holidays in Malaysia. A nod to Malaysia’s freedom of religion policy. This, despite 70% of the Malaysian population identifying as Muslim.

So unexpectedly, Christmas was alive and well in KL. We were greeted in this colour-filled city, with streets, malls, restaurants and hotels festooned in Christmas baubles, glittering decorations and almost without exception, enormous, beautifully dressed, twinkling Christmas trees.

The temperature was around 32C degrees but the shimmering trees, snowmen, Father Christmas, reindeer displays, the sparkling lights and shining decorations although somewhat incongruous, didn’t look out of place.

As we wandered the streets, we were spoilt by a variety of choirs, big and small. Choristers, usually dressed in garish costumes, belted out renditions of Jingle Bells or more sombre Carols. There was live band music, and competitions being run by a local radio station.

What did confuse us, was the countless number of fully shrouded women and girls wearing black and coloured hijabs, or light wafty scarves wrapped around their heads, shopping as if for Christmas presents.

Teenaged girls especially, were often wearing the latest studded jeans, carrying sparkly designer handbags, and many shopping bags with heads dressed in shrouding coloured scarves. An interesting dichotomy to observe as visitors from a non sectarian country.

Amongst the celebrating crowds, out and about with their families and friends, was a distinct sense of joy. So, Christmas, for all its commercialism, (and Christian origins), was bringing people together no matter their religion or creed.

Despite the throngs of people, KL is an easy city to navigate. Even more so because of the excellent mono rail service crisscrossing the city every 5 minutes. Get your head around the various maps and the ticket machines and you’ll have a great time tripping to the different parts of this diverse city.

Should you consider visiting Kuala Lumpur, MTR has included the following Best Of” suggestions for your stay:

Shopping

MTR’s two favourite malls.

1.

The massive 19 floor Berjaya Times Square Mall. If you happen to be staying at the Berjaya Times Square Hotel, this mall is super easy to access from the 4th floor reception area. The circular floors are spacious and staircases are plentiful so we didn’t felt crowded in, even at Christmas time.

Like all good Malls it offers an extensive range of shopping, eating, beauty salons, novelty goodies and lots of people watching opportunities.

On the 19th floor, we ate at a stunning sushi restaurant, Sushi Zanmai, serving the most delicious array of made-to-order sushi. And although not cheap it was one of the best meals we enjoyed while in KL.

On another night we visited a mid range Asian cuisine cafe – Kakatoo, where we ate delicious Beef Rendang ,(one of Malaysia’s many celebrated dishes),for US$5 each. Although “franchisee” in its setting the food made up for any lack of character in the ambience.

Another day we enjoyed the mini “street” Asian Food Hall.

Malaysia is world renowned for its food, sourced from a melting pot of cuisine and cultures. So this “food hall” presented a carnival of uncooked and cooked ingredients (read meats, fish, duck etc.) displayed front and centre along with fresh herbs, vegetables, steaming rice and noodles.

Buffet style we chose our bowl of goodies and tucked in with chopsticks. Two generous freshly cooked meals for around NZ$15 each. The hall was loud, chaotic but well worth the effort of joining the queue then translating answers to questions that didn’t feel quite heard.

On our return to the hotel we bought tins of sweets and biscuits for Christmas treats and gifts for family back home.

2.

The Starhill

If you want a shopping mall that is “next level shopping”, then look no further than The Starhill.

This mall is a small, 7 floors, shopping extravaganza. Each floor is beautifully and spaciously presented with stunning shops, galleries and eateries. Every shop window was a vision of lux and beauty. Chrome silver hand made shoes, beautiful, hand-crafted hand bags, stunningly fitted out interiors – no expense spared. Plenty of window shopping was the name of the game!

.We enjoyed a fabulous Japanese calligraphy art exhibition in a small gallery, for free.

.Adjacent to this gallery was a breathtakingly well stocked book shop. Making a browse through the shelves of this elegant store, more engrossing than usual. A nice addition to its elegance was that each book in stock had a Chinese and English copy for sale.

. I was gifted a beautiful piece of jewelry for my birthday from a gorgeous wee shop on the ground floor named The Petal Archive. The shop was spaciously and beautifully laid out. Each piece is hand made and exquisitely crafted, displayed on cream silk or hanging from elegant golden stands. Prices were mid range affordable. The service was sublime. Even on a busy, hot, sticky, Christmas-shopping day the young man serving us couldn’t do enough. I would have loved to buy a full range of their beautifully made pieces.

. As we ate lunch on the terraced restaurant, V88 Cafe & Bar, we overlooked the maze of coloured neon lights, shining, glamourous electronic bill boards, traffic and Christmas shoppers, two stories below us.

. Oh and before I forget. There is a very well stocked specialty wine store, The Chamber on the 2nd floor, where customers are spoilt for choice. A treat in a city where bars and places serving alcohol and especially a wide range of wines, is not a given. We stocked up. Especially on wine!

Eats

With a reputation for its famous food, KL is well serviced with many beautiful and delicious cafes, restaurants and food halls. Here are two additional top choices from MTR.

1. For cheap mouth-watering eats we chose a Chinese food hall Seremban Kee Mei Siew Pow @ LOT 10 Hutong, housed in the bowels of a building in mid-town KL. This place serves hundreds of people everyday. It was chaotic, crowded, vibrant and pumping, as people ordered their food at many and varied little food shops then crammed their way onto bench seats at tables fitting 10-15 people. First in first served.

We devoured a plate piled with steaming freshly cooked rice and a variety of tasty seafood. Two adult meals plus a cold drink each was around US$10 each. The smiling, endearing “lost in translation” service was free.

2. For my special birthday lunch we ate at a fancy little place called Ferria. Situated at the base of The Westin Hotel mid town; we were spoilt rotten. This establishment goes over and beyond.

Cocktails were curated by a specialist “cocktail waiter.” Precision and care was taken over each of our chosen mixes. The food was a gastronomic treat.

We chose two courses each.

. Opting for seafood entrees;

Plump seared scallops (Yuzu Togarashi) and

Grilled Tiger Prawns with Cajun butter.

. Mains of ;

(as a nod to home),Roasted Flaring Lamb Rack and

Atlantic Cod

And a another nod to home, washed down with a bottle of scrumptious – Misha Riesling.

The ambience was delightful. In the midst of a Southeast Asian city in a very hot and sticky climate we were seated under a canopy of green sub tropical plants, dotted with make believe Parrots and Toucans within the background sound of water trickling like soft rain.

MTR Tip :Bookings are essential.

Attractions

One of my enduring ways to enjoy a new place, especially a city, is to walk. This is how we spent a day in down town KL .

When you’re walking, there are many free attractions such as taking in the views and watching life unfold before your eyes.

In KL one of its main attractions, in my opinion, is its architecture. Along with the colonial era plastered concrete low-rise buildings, the city’s skyline is framed with a multitude of modern and unique towers to peer at.

Some of MTR’s favourites are listed below:

1. The Petronas Twin Towers

Created as a 21st century icon for Kuala Lumpur, the awe-inspiring steel towers stand at 451.9metres high (1,483 feet) and can be seen from all around the city. They are joined by a skybridge available to access at certain times of the day. Tickets can be bought from the ground floor reception area. These spectacular buildings are fully occupied by Petronas, a Malaysian multinational oil and gas company.

2. Iconic residential towers in KL

Le Nouvel facade was designed by award-winning French architect Jean Nouvel and built in 2019. These residential towers offer a biophilic softness and stand out because they are cleverly juxta positioned with the neighbouring muscular steel Petronas Towers. Cast your eyes upward and you are treated to a delicate display of green foliage cascading prettily down the length of each column.

3. Bank of Simpanan Nasional

A beautiful blue/green glass framed in white filagree concrete, this building, houses the Government of Malaysia’s Bank. Its colours project a “watercolour” softness providing a visual relief from the steel and glass structures common place in this modern city.

If you would like to know more about this or any of the other stories in the Mytravelroom website please contact janeco@mytravelroom.co.nz

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