Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, was the last place I was visiting before I headed home…. and I was dreading it. I’ve been to Kuala Lumpur before, and seen most of the sights – and while it had it’s merits, as every city does, it was far too hot, overcrowded, disorganised and dirty for my tastes and I hadn’t planned on ever visiting again – but with Kuala Lumpur International Airport being the only Malaysian airport where you could fly direct to Sydney, I had little choice.

Colonial Buildings
Colonial Buildings

So here were my issues:
1. I was staying at a hotel where there really wasn’t any way to meet other travellers
2. My parents wanted to go shopping, which I opted out of – so I didn’t even have them for company
3. Kuala Lumpur is big and confusing and I did not want to have to negotiate the public transport system
4. I was really lazy and tired by this point. So sue me, I’d been travelling for over 6 months and this was the last stop before home and I didn’t want to be here.

When you’re just exhausted, big cities can be a little overwhelming – so instead I decided to just explore Bukit Bintang, the district in which we were staying. It’s a lot easier to explore just a tiny bit of the city, and as the shopping and entertainment district of Kuala Lumpur, Bukit Bintang was hardly lacking in things to see or do.

Food

My first priority was food. I may not love Malaysia’s capital city but man do I adore Malaysian food – char kway teow, nasi lemak and – one of my all time favourite foods ever – satay. As luck would have it, we were staying right around the corner from Jalan Alor, a famous street lined with hawker markets, and all up and down the road vendors would be barbequing various meats and slathering them in satay sauce. There were other dishes available too, but the smell of satay sauce would just waft tantalisingly by and hook me so that I ignored every other meal option…. It was delicious and I regret nothing.

Jalan Alor during the day, when it was quiet - it was too dark to get good photos at night, when it really came alive
Jalan Alor during the day, when it was quiet – it was too dark to get good photos at night, when it really came alive

KL was also a treasure trove for exotic fruit – I got to feast on coconuts, mangosteen, rhambutans, rose apples and guava coated in this powdered spice mix called Asamboi that was just the perfect blend of sweet and sour. We’d pick up whole fruits from the top of Jalan Alor, and get packets of sliced and powdered fruit from Petaling St, in Chinatown. Petaling St also housed these stalls that looked like some sort of magicians’ apothecary, with shelves from floor to ceiling, all full of various different dried fruits that I’d never even heard of before.

Petaling st, Chinatown
Food at the Central Markets

I don’t think I spent a single moment hungry in Kuala Lumpur – my mother, darling that she is, would buy more fruits and satay pretty much every time she walked past somewhere that sold them, so that she was buying food at a rate far greater than I could comfortably eat it – and I, not wanting to disappoint, did my best to get it all down. It’s no wonder that I started to struggle getting my pants on!

Petaling St
Petaling St

Art

You might not expect it – I certainly didn’t – but Kuala Lumpur has a flourishing art scene.

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The Central Markets were great for this. I absolutely loved walking around, looking at the little galleries – there was a lot of traditional art, but also some very contemporary work.

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There was also some rocking street art around the place.

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My favourite gallery was a place called Aku Cafe and Gallery, which was this lovely little edgy gallery that would have absolutely thrived in Sydney’s Inner West and which I fell in love with.

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I think it’s really cool that you can find places like this everywhere in the world, and that the kind of witty, challenging art that critiques and pokes fun at society just transends geographical and cultural borders – as it should.

Temples and Mosques

I’m not usually one for religious places of worship, but there just happened to be three in close vicinity and all fairly impressive architecturally.

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I visited the Hindu Sri Mahamariamman Temple, where they make you remove your shoes, so that if you go to the bathroom inside (which I did), you have to go barefoot – and they have squat toilets and it’s wet everywhere and really disgusting but then they’ve got taps for you to wash your feet outside, thank goodness. It also had some seriously impressive statues and sculptures.

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Across the road was a smaller Chinese Taoist temple, called Guan Di Temple.

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Near Merdeka Square, we walked around the mosque Masjid Jamek Bandaraya, one of the oldest mosques in KL.

History

We also visited Merdeka Square, and the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery.

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Merdeka Square is famous because it’s where the Union flag was first lowered and the Malaysian flag first hoisted; Merdeka means ‘independence’. It’s surrounded by these grand old buildings, like the Selangor Club and St Mary’s Anglican Cathedral, which I learned the history of at another one of the surrounding buildings – the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery.

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This was probably my favourite thing in the whole of Kuala Lumpur – the KL City Gallery is fun and interesting and quirky and I loved it.

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It explained a lot about the history of Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia, and had this incredibly detailed scale model of the city, which they keep in a room and use for a light and sound show that tells you both the history of KL, some information about its demographics, and the city’s future plans.

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I think you appreciate a city so much more when you know about it’s stories, and the City Gallery told them in a very engaging way. Did you know, for example, that Kuala Lumpur means muddy estuary, and that it used to be a tin mining town in the 1800s?

Shopping

The least exciting thing about Bukit Bintang is the incredibly large number of shops it has. There are literally malls next to malls next to malls, which I found horrifying but I imagine a lot of people would enjoy.

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So why am I writing about the shopping then, when I tried my hardest to avoid it? Because of these fantastic statues that graced one of the malls. Very cheeky.

I can’t say I loved Kuala Lumpur, and I did not at all feel sorry to leave – but I managed to enjoy my time there well enough.

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