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Disappointed by Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur

I had high expectation for Kuala Lumpur. Not that I thought it would be my favorite city in the world or anything but I expected it to have the same effect on me that Bangkok did. I was amazed and in awe by Bangkok. The super modern enormous Asian city filled with skyscrapers reaching into the heavens, an above city level sky train system and simply stunning historic temples and palaces flat out impressed me.

Sure, the nicely air conditioned and fast airport rail link train in Kuala Lumpur did in fact deliver but as soon as we got off at the central station and walked outside I was instantly in a sauna. Hot damn it was muggy, sticky and humid out. And mind you this was at 11pm. No need for saunas in Kuala Lumpur; I already felt like all my toxins and perhaps a few needed nutrients were seeping out of my pores with every second.

As I looked around all I saw was construction zones and highways. Could this really be the central train station?

Kuala Lumpur Under Construction

Our hotel for the night was only a 10 minute walk away, in the Brickfields (Little India) area so with map in hand I was confident it would be a breeze to find our place. Unfortunately mine was not a topographical map and failed to highlight the various over and underpasses that we needed to navigate through. A few wrong turns and questions for directions had us headed down a highway ramp with a side walk the width of my foot. I was using all my energy not to tip over with my overloaded backpack (why does it seem to get heavier every time I put it on?)

When we finally walked through the hotel lobby I was nothing short of a hot mess. Frazzled and dripping sweat I instantly pictured the scene from Sex and the City where a disgusted Charlotte is signing her divorce papers and her attorney, Harry has a huge wad of sweat land right on the official documents. You know the scene right? I thought this might just happen to me as I signed off on our room.

aloft hotel kl

First impressions aside I was ready to hit the city the following morning with a fresh start and an open mind. By then we had switched hotels to the Aloft Hotel (splurging with our handy SPG points) and as the receptionist pointed out the Bird Park was one of the few attractions within walking distance.

bird park

I was not aware that this would require a few more walks along major highways. In retrospect I can’t say risking my life was worth the pretty peacocks with their feather displays. The one excursion to the aviary through the heat and humidity of Kuala Lumpur thoroughly exhausted us for the rest of the day.

For the next day the first stop was the Petronas Towers – the iconic landmark I’ve associated with the city ever since seeing the movie Entrapment. You can go up to the viewing deck, and I had one of my standard internal debates, should we go up, should we just admire the towers from the outside, but in the end I decided seeing them from ground level would suffice.

Petronas Towers

Do they look awesome? For sure. How could they not? Real architectural wonders no doubt about it. And if you need a break from the heat there’s a mall right at the base where you can catch some cool air conditioned air (as we did).

We stopped for a bite of Indian food for lunch – to sample the famous nasi kandar and while Dave ordered drinks I waited in line at the buffet. I seemed to generate a bit of attention as I noticed people turning around in line to stare at me, and then the man behind me jumped in to start a conversation leading with, ‘you’re very hot huh?’ My glistening face and frantic fanning of my city map must have given me away. Luckily he pointed me towards the non spicy dishes to prevent me from melting into a complete puddle in public.

Nasi kandar

Having picked up a brochure for a hop on hop off bus tour I felt this would be a great way to see the rest of the city. Why not right? We never do hop on hop off bus tours, and it just looked so convincing.

Since they only run every 30 or so minutes as luck would have it we seemed to have just missed one bus. Already feeling the agitation and irritability start to grow within me I tried to take deep breaths as we waited.

Does anybody else start to get extremely cranky in high heat and humidity situations or is it just me?

I was looking forward to finally boarding the a/c bus though the old dilapidated looking vehicle that arrived seemed to be spewing out hot air instead.

I could tell Dave had just about reached his limit so I didn’t even bother asking him which stop he wanted to get off at. He was heading back to the hotel, no ifs ands or buts about it.

My fear of missing out wouldn’t let me surrender myself to the heat just yet so I hopped off a few stops later at the Bintang Walk stop. This is the main shopping area in Kuala Lumpur and the streets are stocked full of any kind of store and mall you could imagine. I did a quick loop around and then ducked into a small alley known for it’s street food scene. I was too early for the night market but watched the vendors slowly set up their stalls in preparation for the evening rush.

I was ready to continue the walking tour but saw the hop on hop off bus out of the corner of my eye and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to just jump on.

national mosque

For our last day in Kuala Lumpur we set out to see the old city center (after another long wait for the hop on hop off bus that is) and hopped off at the national mosque first. We had just missed the opening hours so were only able to admire the building from the outside before heading to Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) which is where the union jack was lowered for the last time in 1957 and Malaysia gained its independence.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Surrounding the square are a series of historical structures and buildings and I can honestly say this was my favorite part of the city. The buildings here had that colonial charm with their pastel colors and sharp edges. This is what I was looking for in Kuala Lumpur, the historic area. The buildings looked like they are reasonable well maintained and are not in a state of disrepair. Of course in the distance you see plenty of construction sites as well and tall skyscrapers bringing you back into the modern day.

If only this charming historic center was a bit bigger. As you leave the square it’s back to that big city feel – cars whizzing past, construction sites everywhere you go, not the greatest walk.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We made our way through the Central Market which originally opened in 1888 as a wet market but has since been renovated and remodeled and is more aimed at tourists now than locals. Still a nice atmosphere to walk through and see the various artworks and trinkets being sold.

central market

For our last stop we walked over to Chinatown, a bustling area with lots of stalls selling just about anything you could imagine.

With the mid day heat that’s about all we could manage and without having the patience to wait around for the hop on hop off bus we just took a cab back to the hotel.

Overall it’s not like there’s something wrong with Kuala Lumpur, it’s just not a city I’d like to return to. I didn’t feel a connection there. I feel like I saw the jist of it and just wasn’t that impressed. Between all the construction sites, the smog and the intense heat and humidity the city just isn’t that much of a pleasure to explore on foot.

I’m glad to have seen it, but it certainly is not on the top of my list.

Have you been to Kuala Lumpur? What did you think?

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17 Responses to Disappointed by Kuala Lumpur

  1. We too weren’t too impressed with Kuala Lumpur, I did like the shopping and american options. I was robbed in Chinatown area, after that I didn’t like anything about it…

    [email protected] April 6, 2014 at 10:42 AM Reply
    • I remember reading your post about getting robbed – what a nightmare!! So terrible. I can see why you wouldn’t exactly leave with great impressions of the city after that.

      Vicky April 7, 2014 at 8:42 AM Reply
  2. Totally agree. Malaysia really isn’t high up there on our list at all.

    Alyson April 6, 2014 at 11:18 PM Reply
    • Yea can’t say it’s a city I would like to return to. Though I have found the people both in Penang and KL to be incredibly friendly and the food of course is delicious.

      Vicky April 7, 2014 at 8:42 AM Reply
  3. Everything you said is true–the weather, the lack of walkability in the city…and yet for me there is a magical undercurrent to that place and KL is easily one of my absolute favorite places. It feels like home to me. We have rented apartments there for many months at a time, and would do so again. We even have friends there now too. I am a foodie, and it’s a foodie paradise but you really do need to know where to go…the best places are not the places in the malls and you need to poke around on the food blogs or have a local fixer. If I were a different person, I might not like KL as much. It’s not a tourist-friendly city necessarily; it’s just not made for that. The weather reminds me of where I grew up (Miami), and so does the mall culture and lack of walkability. So that might have something to do with it, although the drivers are better in KL. Oh P.S. I also share your affection for BKK–love at first sight and always will be close to my heart too. Cheers 🙂

    Sunshine April 7, 2014 at 12:58 AM Reply
    • I definitely agree with you that it is a foodie paradise – no doubt about that! If we had had more time I would have done more research about the local eating spots. If you grew up in Miami I can see why the adjustment wouldn’t be so bad. I find Miami and Florida in general to be wayyyyyy to humid and hot for me as well. My best friend lives there so I have been there over a dozen times and it never ceases to amaze me how quickly my hair frizzes straight up from the humidity!

      Vicky April 7, 2014 at 8:45 AM Reply
  4. Hey Vicky,
    Thanks for this. Heading to KL next month for an entire week. This will encourage me to plan a bit more and make the most of the trip. Any other advice? I was looking at the Westin, Sheraton, and Aloft hotels – suggestions? Thanks! Happy Travels and if you head to the UAE, let me know!
    Nicole

    Nicole April 7, 2014 at 8:29 AM Reply
    • Hey Nicole
      I loved the Aloft hotel – super nice staff working there, rooftop pool, gym, nice rooms, free wifi, free shots of some sort of juice medley in the lobby. They even have a snack station where you can get some food quickly, along with a bar and restaurant. The hotel I loved, but the area it’s in, right across from the train station isn’t that nice. It’s a ton of highways so you need to walk on under and overpasses if you’re planning on walking around. And there is a lot of construction there too. There do seem to be a bunch of hotels in that area and if you are taking cabs or the metro then that isn’t a problem. The hotel is also right in the Brickfields area, the Little India of KL so there are some great Indian food dining options within a 10-20 minute walk. We had the traditional banana leaf Indian meal at a place called Vishalatchi food catering which was delicious. Malaysian food is incredible so definitely seek out some good local places to eat – Mark from migrationology.com has a few great posts on dining in KL so definitely check those out. And if you’re interested in shopping there seems to be no shortage of mega malls! We actually have a layover in Abu Dhabi for a few hours on our way to Madrid on the 10th but unfortunately not long enough to see the city. Will let you know next time we are there though! Have a great trip : )

      Vicky April 7, 2014 at 8:41 AM Reply
    • Nicole,

      If your budget range is Westin/Sheraton then you should book at Hilton KL Sentral or Le Meridien. I am assuming you will be coming from KLIA and not LCCT airport and that you will be taking the ERL train to KL Sentral. I believe there is a Hilton/Le Meridien counter at KL Sentral and they can guide you how to walk to the hotel. KL Sentral is expending hence the construction and messiness. Apologise on this.

      March – April is our hottest/draught season and if you are here during this time, please be prepare, I think it is the same season/month for most Asia countries. I highly recommend you to visit Penang and Melaka as it is richer in culture/architecture/food. If you want uniqueness, then visit Terengganu on the east coast, their food/custom are totally different and they have crystal clear water/beach/islands.

      Cover KL last. That’s how I normally travel, big city will be the last city to venture before heading back.

      Anonymous April 8, 2014 at 12:16 PM Reply
      • Thanks for adding in your advice : ))

        Vicky April 8, 2014 at 11:25 PM Reply
  5. We weren’t impressed by the city either, HOWEVER going outside of the city, we found Chiling Falls and LOVED it. http://naomihattaway.com/2013/12/chiling-falls-malaysia/

    Naomi April 8, 2014 at 12:51 PM Reply
    • Wish we had known about the Chiling Falls when we were in KL – looks lovely and super refreshing – perfect for the Malaysian heat!

      Vicky April 8, 2014 at 11:27 PM Reply
  6. I really didn’t like KL either. We were with a tour and our experienced Thai guide got mugged outside our dirty hotel within 10 minutes of getting there. Struggled to find good food (I tweeted an ex pat for suggestions)and also experienced the crossing a Spaghetti Junction (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spaghetti_Junction) of highways,to get to The National Museum (which is well worth a visit)from the rail station. Then back across the busy roads to get to Little India for lunch, which was very good (we like spicy food)and deciding to get a taxi back as we couldn’t face the walk back to the station as we were due to join the tour group for a bus tour of the city. Yet the railway system is fantastic, clean and cheap. Was very happy to leave a dirty city for The Cameron Highlands. The contrast between the high rise building of the rich and the shoddy pavements of the poor also made me very angry.

    Coral April 18, 2014 at 7:25 AM Reply
    • Wow I cannot believe your tour guide got mugged right upon getting there. Talk about a rough start. Had never heard of the term Spaghetti Junction but yes this is exactly what we crossed to to make it to the Bird Park. And yes we too had some great meals in Little India. We didn’t have a chance to travel through Malaysia this time around, spending most of our time renting an apt in Penang, but will definitely have to come back again to explore more of the country and the natural scenery.

      Vicky April 24, 2014 at 10:07 AM Reply
  7. KL is a challenging city for all the reasons you mention: heat/humidity, poor walkability as a result of development that’s gotten out of hand and too much traffic… Perhaps your expectations were too high.

    KL had its moments though when I visited back in February. We caught the tail end of the Chinese New Year celebrations, spent a couple of enjoyable and educational hours at the extremely AC’d and well-executed Islamic Arts Museum, and took rides with the skytrain to random stops. But the best part was staying with a friend in Ampang, a suburb of KL. What an insight into local culture! We played badminton, took a walk through a jungle near his house, ate an amazing meal at a Chinese restaurant… I’ll definitely go back, but then, having a Malaysian friend helps.

    • I do think my expectations for the city were too high for sure and that made it even more of a dissapointment. I am sure being there for the Chinese New Year celebrations was wonderful. Staying with a local must have been a great experience. We generally find that we have the best memories of places and countries when we have done a bit of couchsurfing and really connected with the locals. Will have to go back and couchsurf next time : )

      Vicky April 24, 2014 at 10:10 AM Reply
    • I do think my expectations for the city were too high for sure and that made it even more of a disappointment. I am sure being there for the Chinese New Year celebrations was wonderful. Staying with a local must have been a great experience. We generally find that we have the best memories of places and countries when we have done a bit of couchsurfing and really connected with the locals. Will have to go back and couchsurf next time : )

      Vicky April 24, 2014 at 10:11 AM Reply

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