Malaysia is a multi-cultural country with diverse peoples of Asia, the mainland, which we crossed by train, lies between Singapore at the south and Thailand at the north. Being near the equator the climate is hot and humid all year long with monsoon season from November to February. It is a rich country but with developing country traces, the economy is based on exports of manufactured goods, oil and electronics. It is a predominantly Muslim nation with a government controlled by sultans who rule various regions and elect a king every five years. As in Singapore, the press is very controlled.
Our journey starts at the train station in Singapore, we were a little concerned for the state of the statin, it was probably one of the most decadent parts of the city. The tickets were handwritten and immigration was inside the terminal with a long queue, grumpy employees and a general climate of mistrust means. It took a long time to fill out the forms and wait in line, arriving at the counter agents made some typical questions of immigration then we were searched and finally we were officially in Malaysia.
Past the counter we had no idea how the train would be, we thought it would be somewhat clumsy or rough, for our impressions by the station and immigration, but in the end we were surprised with the quality of the cabins and beds and no doubt it’s a lot better than any other sort of transport. It’s slower, of course, but the comfort is unsurpassed it’s like a bed in motion. A better bed than the one we slept in Singapore. It has a good internal space, everything super clean and with air conditioning, all this at the second class “sleeper” and for the bargain of US$15.00!
As we crossed the south during the night, we had no opportunity to see much until we arrived to Kuala Lumpur early in the morning, around 5:00am. As everything was closed at this time, we did not have much to do and we sat at the station reading the Lonely Planet until 8:00am when the shops began to open and the monorail began operating. The first thing we did before leaving for a tour at the city, was to leave our bags in the locker to the station, buy tickets to Thailand and have breakfast.
Being a very orthodox Muslim country, it was common to see women with their heads covered and long dresses even in 35 degrees heat. In general people are receptive, attentive and very curious, foreign tourists are not as common on the streets doing ordinary things like taking the bus and train, what we thought was good because the harassment of tourists is virtually nonexistent. But, of course, we were recognized as foreigners miles away. The language is similar to Bahasa Indonesia, which we had heard so much that at least we knew the basics to not get lost, and find what we needed, and also was not very difficult to find people speaking English there.
Our day’s itinerary was to pass by the Petronas Twin Towers, Bukit Nanas Reserve, a forest reserve in the middle of the city, and Menara KL Tower and, of course, the most interesting, simply get lost in the city and see what we found.
We took the monorail towards the Petronas, our first stop. After about 15 minutes we arrived at the towers, which are really high. They were the world’s tallest building from 1998 to 2004 and still are the tallest twin towers in the world with 88 floors. The towers are a beautiful work of Islamic architecture with a modern geometric design.
The entrance has a beautiful open space and behind them a magnificent garden designed by Brazilian Roberto Burle Marx. Before entering we strolled along the front and two local teenagers asked Cris to take a photo with them, as if she were a famous actress. Within the bottom storeys Petronas is a huge extreme luxury mall with only designer shops and famous brands, we wandered for a while, looking the fashion stores, and not to say we did not buy anything we had an ice cream.
I also used the post shop to send some documents to the insurer, we had already sent the information on accidents and hospitals in Bali via internet, and now they had requested that everything had to be proven with paper.
To our disappointment we could not climb the tower, it was closed to visitors exactly that day.
As we could not climb it we decided to enjoy the main attraction, the people in the streets. We took a good walk across the city centre and saw that the city is not such a good thing to pedestrians, the monorail, which at first sight seemed super high-tech, now created visual pollution and noise. After a walk we found a sort of street food fair and had lunch right there. Food in Malaysia is influenced by India, Thailand and China, so consider a lot of curry, noodles, natural juices and fruit.
We were impressed with the amount of flags of Malaysia around the city, not only in this market, but you can see flags of all sizes in various places (something not so common in Brazil).
Bukit Nanas & Menara Tower
After lunch we headed to our next stop: the Bukit Nanas Reserve, about 15 minutes walking distant. The reserve is a dense forest in the centre of town and in the middle you can get to Menara Tower. The most curious thing to walk around the reserve was seeing absolutely this spacious green area completely empty, it seemed another dimension, you suddenly come out from the city noise and goes literally in a rain forest. After about an hour hiking we arrived at the Menara Tower, the highest point of the city, even taller than the Petronas, being a communications tower on the top of a hill.
The tower also has Islamic architecture feature and this time we were able to climb to the top, you can see the whole city from up there. The visit is guided, partly with a guide who accompanies us on the first floors and part (at the top) with a headset and audio system that each visitor controls according to one’s speed, stating the main points of the city and giving a lecture over the country.
Once we went back down, by coincidence, we saw a parachute jump from the top of the tower that was surreal.
The tea house
As it was already dusk and we had to catch the train back we went back through the forest and, along the way, we stopped at a teahouse with various types of teas that had never heard abour and asked the owner what he would recommend us, and he, a Pakistani man with great sense of humor, recommended to me a tea that, according to him, was to “increase the libido” and to the girls he offered one to fertility. My tea tasted horrible, very bitter… but he insisted and said I had to drink it all. He did not charge us anything for tea and we had a super nice chat.
After the tea we took the monorail back to the train station, picked up our bags, got in the train, again spotless, and continued our trip to Thailand. Upon leaving, late at night, we could see from the window of our cabins the Petronas lit, with the flag of Malaysia projected on them. Beautiful.
We left Kuala Lumpur with a taste of “we need to come back to Malaysia and visit the rest of the country.”
Tips for those who will spend the day in Kuala Lumpur
- If you want to see the Petronas don’t go on a Monday or you will not be allowed do go up there
- The country is safe, organized and cheaper than Singapore
- It is not difficult to find people that can speak English around
- The monorail is a very easy way to go from side to side and very cheap
- Food is very good and spicy
- People are friendly, curious and receptive, although they have a certain air of distrust
- If you like luxury items be sure to visit the mall in the Petronas
- Menara Tower is very worthwhile, besides the forest, the incredible view from up there, it is also a good lesson about the country.