Selamat datang! is a phrase that rings loudly in your ears no matter where you set foot in Malaysia. Welcome!… to a country in South-East Asia that resembles few others in the entire world. From its stunning landscapes and picture-postcard beaches to its rich traditions and ethnic and religious diversity, Malaysia offers something new, different and exciting for tourists and a large expat community.
Vantage points from above
Landing at Kuala Lumpur International Airport is an experience in itself. As the plane banks over the cityscape you can see the Sepang Formula One race circuit spread out beneath you and the dazzling Twin Towers in the distance. The transfer from the airport to downtown along the heavily occupied motorway will take you through mangrove plantations, new residential developments and old native buildings.
Kuala Lumpur itself is a city that divides opinion. The high-rise buildings, modern architecture and bustling atmosphere attract millions of tourists each year. Combined with a rating as a top-four shopping destination in the world (only outranked by London, Tokyo and New York), KL, as it is widely known, makes for an interesting destination for any globe-trotting modern tourist.
But there is a flip side: modern developments and cheap shopping have almost completely erased any historical aspects of the city. With Chinese and Indian temples less than 150 years old touted as the main historical sites, you can tell that there is something amiss.
Shopping for all
The Central Market is one of the most authentic shopping destinations still available in the capital – a mixture of classic tourism items and genuine Malaysian craft fills the bright blue building in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. A quick stroll takes you to China Town – where the main attraction is the long shopping street with stalls on either side.
Bargaining for prices is more a must than a suggestion as shop-keepers and salesmen try to sell their Louis Vuitton and Gucci knock-offs for the same price as the real thing. A good rule of thumb is to never pay more than 25 per cent of the asking price, and sometimes even that is being generous.
“The sky’s the limit” – isn’t that how the saying goes? Malaysians seem not to have taken the hint and build skyscraper after skyscraper, pushing the boundaries of modern architecture literally to new heights. The Petronas Twin Towers, located next to Kuala Lumpur City Park, dominate the skyline and cannot be ignored.
Visitors are whisked up to the observation deck on the 86th floor, with a quick stop-off at the 170-metre-high Skybridge. A full visit takes just over an hour and will set you back 80 ringit (EUR 19). Despite the stunning views the visit could be cut a lot shorter – the view sinks in quite quickly and after the mandatory pictures with the view in the background it’s a waiting game to be let down.
Filling the belly at cloud level
Dinner in the Kuala Lumpur Tower is a similar experience – with the added feature of a substantial buffet and a view of the Twin Towers in the distance. A revolving restaurant some 280 metres up in the air is not for people who suffer from motion sickness or a fear of heights.
Accommodation in central KL varies widely in terms of price and comfort. Malaysia – and most of South-East Asia – is famous for its hotel hospitality. KL can be very much hit-and-miss; the more business-oriented hotels offer only the very basics in terms of service and hospitality, while staff at the more tourist-centric establishments will go out of their way for every visitor.
Four- and five-star establishments start off at about EUR 50 per night (there is no real upper limit). Mid-range hotels start off at around EUR 30, not bad for a major global capital city.
If you are looking for modern architecture, a bustling big-city experience and hunting for bargains, you will love Kuala Lumpur as a place and will adore its prices. Just remember that by heading away from the beaten (or, in this case, paved) track, a visitor can find some real gems far from the tourist-infested shopping centres.
As you head out of Malaysia, expect the locals to shout Selamat jalan! They are wishing you a safe journey home and hoping that you will come back one day.
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