I really had no idea of what to expect from Kuala Lumpur. I’d not seen anything on TV about it, I’d not read anything about it, and didn’t know anyone who had visited before. I pictured it as being rural and mysterious purely because the name sounded exotic.
As our stay in Thailand drew to a close, I started to look more into what our day-to-day in KL would look like, and was surprised to find that the top rated attraction on TripAdvisor was a visit to the world’s tallest twin towers (as of 11/09/2001…).
That was followed by street food markets and religious caves (which were more in line with my expectations), but then next on the list was a trip up a high speed elevator to a viewing platform on the tallest Telecommunication Tower in South East Asia. In KL, it states that this tower is a ‘testimony of Malaysia’s capability in the building of high technology facilities’, but then it’s built in Bukit Nanas which is some of the oldest tropical rainforest in the country! This contrast of the ultra-modern with the traditional can be found all over Malaysia, but unlike it’s neighbour to the south, Singapore, is not always handled so harmoniously. It gives the impression of a country that has advanced so rapidly in some areas, whilst still struggling to solve basic problems in others. (We walked through some very poor districts, and saw billboards advertising The Selfie Museum).
Malaysia has a diverse history of influences from around the world due to its location being the natural centre of many trade global routes. It’s a country of former kingdoms, occupations, wars and enlightenment. Notably, it’s the birthplace of Islam across South East Asia.
In more recent history, the commercial centres of the country were fought over, then traded back and forth between the British East India Company, and the Dutch Equivalent, the VOC. Eventually the Dutch trashed the main port of Malacca to spite the British, and so the British abandoned it in favour of Singapore down the coast. And so Singapore became one of the financial capitals of the world and Malacca became a quiet tourist town, and a shadow of its former self. We did visit Malacca, and despite its downfall it remains a beautiful place. It’s littered with the ruins of colonial battlements, and both Dutch and English graves alike. They have a number of museums celebrating the naval history of the area, and a preserved mansion which gives an insight into how those who benefited from that history lived.
Despite the country’s rich history, we spent the majority of our time in Kuala Lumpur working at the reception of a hostel rather than exploring. Much of the above I learnt in one afternoon off spent at the National Museum. It was a brief window into Malaysian culture during a three week stay spent living in the Indian quarter of the capital surrounded by travellers from across the world in a hostel run by a guy from Belarus. Whilst eating Indian food and drinking with Australians, part of me felt that I was missing out on a true Malaysian experience. But looking back on it, I suppose it was fitting that my time in Malaysia was spent with such a diverse crowd – as that is the way it has always been in the country.
The work itself was fun. My shift was 8 pm until 2 am – so I spent most of my work hours serving/drinking cheap beer and acting as DJ, rather than handling any check-ins/check-outs.
Our trips out of the hostel consisted of sneaking into a couple of hotels’ rooftop swimming pools (following careful instructions from people who had gone previously about which elevator to use and how to avoid security). We also visited the Heli Pad Bar – a rooftop helicopter landing pad by day, and bar by night, it offered great views of the sunset at only the cost of an overpriced cocktail.
Just outside of Kuala Lumpur there is a Holy Hindu Cave network known as Batu Caves. The huge golden statue outside is an incredible sight, and the walk up the 272 multi-coloured steps past the monkeys was unforgettable. However, it’s clear that the attraction has seen better days. It’s now filthy, with piles of rubbish both outside and in the holy caves themselves. There are also makeshift stalls inside the caves with people aggressively selling cheap Chinese plastic crap – and attempting to trick people into taking photos for money etc. Any sense of wonder the site had is now gone, and all that’s left is poorly managed pollution.
I left Malaysia with mixed feelings. It’s a country that has spread itself thin across multiple ambitions without fully succeeding in many of them. It’s interesting in its diversity, but confusing as to its identity. Much of what I enjoyed there wasn’t exactly the Malaysian experience I expected – and so I’m not sure if I missed out on a lot (due to ‘work’) or if there is just a lot missing. I’ve heard since that the food is incredible, but it wasn’t in my experience, so I guess I’ll need to revisit and give it another chance.
Next time, I’ll drink less.
RHYS & GABS’ MALAYSIA HIGHLIGHTS
|Food||The Indian vegetarian curry we ate almost every day – as supplied by Step Inn Too||Laksa Curry at a grandma’s stall in the China Town market which had no menu but 4 incredible dishes, and was full everyday|
|Drink||Chang (again) – The cheap thai beer of choice||Australian Chardonnay on rooftop pool bar|
The many travellers met working at Step Inn Too
|The many travellers met working at Step Inn Too|
|Place||Rooftop pool bar (number 2)||Coffee shops of Malacca|
|Experience||Exploring KL Forest Eco Park – jungle in the middle of the city!||Walking around the National Mosque in KL was a grand experience|
|Culture shock||The existence of the Selfie Museum||How prominent the Chinese influence is in the whole of Malaysia|
|Any other||Why do they play their music so loud in Asia?!||I wish we had explored more of Malaysia’s countryside – more of a reason to come back!|