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Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur: Colours of warmth
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
This vibrant city has a little something for every liking. Shopping, lakes, gardens, modern architecture, old world charm and great cuisine. I did a bit of all. And some business too.
Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) is good 60 kms from city centre. The express train takes you to the main station in about 35 minutes from where you would take a cab or the city train to reach your final destination. A cab will take about 60 minutes. Door to door you may not save much time but certainly a few dollars. At the time of writing, US $1 got me 3.6 Malaysian ringgits (MYR).
I was hosted by my business associates Reliance Sightseeing, one of Malaysia's large Destination Management Companies. I had a nice van and an enthusiastic driver Jimmy at my disposal. I was put up at Hotel Royal Chulan, a brand new property just near the Petronas Twin Towers. I was one of the first few guests to be in there. When fully complete, I can imagine the property to rank amongst the best in town. I was in KL for 3 days. 1 of which, I kept to experience the city.
Even if you are not as lucky to have a car, you can always depend on KL's excellent transportation. A combination of monorail (runs in the central district what is popularly known as the golden triangle), light railway, buses and taxis can take you any place. Talking of taxis, be prepared to negotiate the fare, albeit many would reluctantly flag the meter down.
You would do good to stay in or around Bukit Bintang area. That way, you are where the action is and within walking distance to the twin towers, convention centre, Menara, shopping areas, pubs and restaurants. There are hundreds of hotels in KL to suit every budget. As a tourist I would say 2 to 3 days should be a good time span to explore whatever good the city has. You may then want to spend a night or two on the Genting hills - home to casinos and theme parks. Because I didn't have the money, nor were my children with me, this option was quite rightly ruled out.
On one of the evenings, I walked the streets to get the pictures of the Menara and the Twin Towers. Both the structures were shining bright and screaming for attention. No matter where you move in KL, these two structures pop up at regular intervals.
On my sight seeing day, I started off at 9:30 in the morning and spent the whole day out. My route for the day: Petronas Twin Towers, Batu Caves, Lake Titiwangsa, Royal Palace, National Monument, KL Bird Park, National Mosque, Old Railway Station, Imperial Square, China Town and the Mid Valley Mall.
Designed by Argentine-American architect César Pelli, the Petronas Twin Towers were completed in 1998 and became the tallest buildings in the world on the date of completion. They were built on the site of Kuala Lumpur's race track. Because of the depth of the bedrock, the buildings were built on the world's deepest foundations - 120 meters.
The 88-floor towers are constructed largely of reinforced concrete, with a steel and glass facade designed to resemble motifs found in Islamic art, a reflection of Malaysia's Muslim religion. Supported by 23 X 23 meter concrete cores and an outer ring of widely-spaced super columns, the towers use a sophisticated structural system that accommodates its slender profile and provides from 1300 to 2000 square metres of column-free office space per floor. Below the twin towers is Suria KLCC, a shopping mall, and Dewan Filharmonik Petronas, the home of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra.
Interesting to note that the towers were built by two separate contracting companies - Asian & Korean. The two towers are connected by a skybridge on the 41st floor. The bridge also doubles up as a safety device to help escape in case of emergencies. Visitors have free access to walk the bridge. However, due to security reasons, visitors are sent up in groups and are allowed about 5 minutes to hang up there. I did this in my earlier trip, therefore avoided it this time round. I had other things to catch up with.
Surrounding the base of the towers is the KLCC Park spanning 17 acres. Walking and jogging paths, wading pools, fountains with light shows, children's play area and the Suria Mall add up to make the premises a tourist and local favourite.
The Kuala Lumpur Tower (officially known as Menara Kuala Lumpur; referred later as KL Tower) is a tall tower located in Kuala Lumpur that was built in 1995. It is used for communication purposes and features an antenna that reaches 421 meters, which at the time of writing makes it the fifth tallest tower in the world. It has a stairwell and an elevator to reach the upper area, which also has a revolving restaurant, providing diners a beautiful view of the city. If not dining, you would need to pay MYR 20 to visit the observatory.
The tower is adorned with designs that reflect the Malaysian Islamic culture. The main lobby of the upper ground floor is decorated with exquisite glass-clad domes that sparkle like giant diamonds. These domes were designed and arranged in the form of the Muqarnas by Iranian craftsmen from Isfahan.
Batu Caves is a limestone hill, which has a series of caves and cave temples, located in Gombak district, 13 kilometres North of Kuala Lumpur. It takes its name from the Sungai Batu or Batu River, which flows past the hill. The cave is one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside India, dedicated to Lord Murugan. The limestone forming Batu Caves is said to be around 400 million years old. Some of the cave entrances were used as shelters by the indigenous Temuan people (a tribe of Orang Asli).
Wooden steps up to the temple cave were built in 1920 and have since been replaced by 272 concrete steps. At the base of the cave stands a 43 meters statue (world's largest) of Lord Murugan, a Hindu deity. Of the various cave temples that comprise the site, the largest and best known is the Temple or Cathedral Cave, so named because it houses several Hindu shrines beneath its 100 meters vaulted ceiling.
Kuala Lumpur is home to many lakes and parks. One of them is the Titiwangsa Lake. Surrounded by lush green lawns, manicured gardens, restaurants, walking pathways make it a favourite weekend joint. On the shores stands the Opera House and in the far one can see the beautiful mountain range. The National Park is another great place to visit (just near the KL Bird Park), but I could not as the Park was under major renovation.
My next stop was the Royal Palace, the Sultan's official residence. However, the Sultan doesn't live there. He and his wife live in a relatively small home very near to the twin towers. The Palace is open for public only on the Hari Raya Day. The lines, I am told, are miles long. Else, one can view the sprawling estate from the gates and the fence. Mounted guards and sentries make for good pictures.
A few minutes drive from the Palace, atop a small hill stands the National Monument that stands in the memory of the Heroes of World War I, II and during the Emergency of the early 60's. Surrounding the Monument is another nice Park.
Next, I was at the famous (and a must do for all) KL Bird Park. Spread across 4 zones, the Bird Park is open air and free flight. Of course, high above, nets do create an enclosure but you get the feel of walking through a forest. The park has over 3000 birds from over 200 species from around the world. The entrance ticket is MYR 39. Not cheap, but worth nonetheless.
After a couple of hours with the birds, I made a brief stop at the National Mosque. A short walk from there took me to the railway station - a Victorian structure standing majestically. It was once a major rail hub but not anymore. The new railway station has moved on.
The KL trip would have remained incomplete without a visit to China Town. Just so you know, majority of the population have a Chinese lineage. Over 90% of the business in Malaysia is controlled by the Chinese Malaysians. It's a group that calls the shot. On and Petaling Street is the Chinese Temple surrounded by streets with vendors selling stuff of sorts. You name the brand and they are all there… at probably one tenth the price of the original. Before treading the market, be careful of pick-pockets and do perfect the art of bargaining shamelessly.
Before calling it a day, I asked Jimmy to take me to the Mid Valley Mall. The drive took me just 15 minutes. It's a huge mall, maybe a mile long housing hundreds of stores, boutiques, food courts and hotels. Thankfully, I found the prices in there pretty cool. Shoppers with deep pockets will be thrilled to shop at Suria and the Pavilion Malls back in the city.
On the last day, my flight was in the evening. I could manage my business meeting as well as a visit to the butterfly park (entrance MYR 18 + MYR 1 for the camera). The butterflies were as colourful as the people. I don't know whether the beauties carry the same warmth.
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