Friday, January 6, 2012

Malaysia (2011): Kuala Lumpur


Malaysia is the second country we travel to during this year's holidays. We have time to visit only two places. Now wonder it falls on the capital Kuala Lumpur and Melaka, situated approx. 150 km away. This may sound strange but what impressed as most were the Petronas Towers, so characteristic feature of the landscape of the capital – which seems to intend to gain the name of the skyscrapers' city.

We'll spend five days in Malaysia, four of them in the capital, and on a fifth we'll make a trip to Melaka – the place where most of the tourists go. On Saturday, November 19, at dawn, we have a scheduled flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia.

Kuala Lumpur as seen from the telecommunication tower
We fly to Kuala Lumpur from Bangkok on Tuesday, November 15, at 7.15 on a plane belonging to the low-cost carrier Air Asia. We're very positively surprised. New, clean planes, attentive staff, no delays. We get to the Suvarnabhumi International airport three hours before the flight as recommended by all the guidebooks. It think it's a slight exaggeration but we don't want to take any risks. Despite the crowds check-in is carried out smoothly so we have much time to wander around the departures terminal. The flight takes two hours, but after adding one hour, we land in Kuala Lupur at 10.15, at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT).

It takes us quite a time to go through the gates, we pick up our luggage and find the bus to take us to the city, to Kuala Lumpur Sentral station. The journey takes one and a half hour because the airport for low cost arlines is quite far from the city. It's cheaper to buy a return ticket – open, valid for a month. If someone arrives with regular lines, they will land on the main international airport (KLIA, located 75 km from Kuala Lumpur, what must be taken into account when planning travel.

Almost every day, shortly after noon, the showers pass over the city

Fast facts

*Malaysia – a country with an area slightly larger than Poland, 330.000 sq. km, is inhabited by significantly less people: 28 million, most of whom are Muslim, many Buddhists, Hindus and Christians live here as well
*Capital: Kuala Lumpur has approx. 1.5 mn inhabitants
*Website with info for tourists:
*Malaysian Tourist Information Complex is housed in a colonial villa, 109 Jl Ambang; open daily 9.00-18.00; very helpful staff, able to answer any question that might come into a tourist's mind
*Visa: Polish citizens don't need a visa
*Money: Malaysian currency is ringgit (MYR); Polish National Bank's rate of November 4, 2011: 1 RM = 0,0082 PL
*Time: +7 hours
*Electricity: outlets shaped as those in UK, with three holes; hotels and hostels usually have adapters but it's good to provide yourself with one just in case

Good to know: transportaion

*the main transportation hub is KL Sentral ( from where interregional, regional and local trains depart; the most interesting city traing is called Monorail. Tickect prices vary depending on the number of stations; other trains are: KTM Komuter, Star LRT, Putra LRT; separate tickets system for each line is a big disadvantage
*long-distance buses used to depart until recently from the Puduraya station, now it's changed into a construction site and a whole traffic has been moved to the huge ultra-modern bus terminal Bandar Tasik Selatan
*buses – expresses are the fastest, though despite their name they stop in every possible place
*taxis – meter: first 2 km = 2 MYR, then every 200 meters or 45 seconds = 0,10 MYR; at night 24.00-6.00 – add 50%
*railways – modern, cheap, there are only two main lines though;
-ekspress – usually air-conditioned, I and II class, on night-trains you can usually choose between sleeping chairs and couchettes
-ekspress limited – ordinary vehicles, II and III class, sometimes with coaches of I class and couchettes,
-local – mostly III class coaches, some of them have also II class coaches

Good to know: accommodation

*Guide-books recommend the places are around Monorail stations „Bukit Bintang” and „Raja Chulan” where cheap rooms can be found as well as a dozen Chinese and Indian restaurants where you can eat any time of day or night.
Sleeping places in this area differ much. There are luxurious, espensive hotels as well as cheap, modest guesthouses and hostels. The cheapest double room cost 50 MYR, but for such a price you'll get not-so-clean room, with shared bathroom, above a club from which the music rumbles all night long. We manage to find, somewhat more expensive, 70 MYR, room, or rather tiny room, without a window, but with a private bathroom, breakfast included and free wi-fi, and what's more important: in a side street which means it's quiet.
*The cheapest hotels are run by the Chinese (in Chinatown); their drawback are thin, almost cardboard walls and shared, though clean, bathrooms; they're located usually on the main streets which makes them fairly noisy.
*Always ask for a „discount”; prices in the hotels' price lists are usually much higher than the real ones


Petronas Towers by night
Petronas Towers – it may sound strange but it was one of the most interesting things we've seen in KL. This is probably the most famous office building in the world, consisting of two twin towers, it has 88 four-meter floors above ground and four below, and is 452 meters high. We hoped to see a panoramic view of the city from the so-called skybridge which joins the two towers at a height of a 42th floor but at the time of our stay they were under renovation so we could only admire the towers from the bottom. Even so, the view was amazing.

National Museum (Muzium Negara) – Jl Damansara, near the center; daily 9.00-18.00, 5 MYR

Lake Gardens – near the Parliament, open 9.00-18.00; divided into: Butterfly Park (15 MYR, more than 6000 butterflies, 120 species), Deer Park, Orchid Park (1 MYR, 800 species), Hibiskus Garden, Bird Park – the largest in Southeast Asia (39 MYR, more than 3000 birds)

Train station – built in 1911 by the British, doesn't make on us the impression we expected

Sultan Abdul Samad Building architecture is really impressive
Sultan Abdul Samad Building – on Merdeka Sq., can be viewed only from outside, really beautiful, impressive

Masjid Negara (National Mosque) – a huge complex built in the post-modern style, with a 73-meter minaret; admission only in strictly set hours

Tugu Negara – park-monument dedicated to the fight of the Malay nation for freedom, with beautiful gardens and fountains

Royal Palace – no entry, you can only come to its gate and see it from outside

"Cute fish spa"
Chinatown – Chinese district with the Main Market (Sentral Market), a built in art déco style, you can buy almost everything here; you can get a micro-massage and sort of pedicure made by so-called doctor fish (also available in other Malaysian towns, as well as in Thailand) (5 MYR for 10 minutes).

Telecommunication tower

Menara Kuala Lumpur – telecommunication tower; daily 9.00-22.00 (tickets sold until 21.30), 45 MYR; a lift takes us to the observation deck at the height of 276 meters. I think 45 ringgits is too much for the possibility to take photos of the city from bird's eye view. This may be a reason the prices includes a pony riding or a Formula 1 Simulator to choose.

Shopping and night life

Kuala Lumpur city center offers plenty of places where you can go shopping or eat well. Department stores are huge, much bigger and higher than those in Warsaw or Cracow. In some cases the form seems to be more important than function and it seems every new building wants to overshadow the others. Most shopping centers are located near Buking Bintang and Jalan Sultan Ismail streets as well as so-called Golden Triangle where the Petronas Towers are (there'a a big mall here too).

Although it's November, you get the impression that they're celebrating Christmas – but is it celebrated in Malaysia? Well, it looks as though it was another way to decorate large shopping malls and to create a shopping fever. The amount and variety of goods can make one dizzy. Most striking feature is the technical and technological progress – at one stand you can choose among so many smartphones and tablets models as in Poland you could hardly find in all the authorized shops in town altogether.

Christmas decoration in a shopping center
Bukit Bintaing and Sultain Ismail streets are crowded with dozens of bars and restaurants where you can eat well or spend an evening sipping coffee or a drink. For us, however, the prices are a bit too high. A small beer in a pub costs 12 MYR (about 12 PLN or €3; much more than we pay in Poland). We end up in our hostel with a beer we bought twice as cheap in 7Eleven store...

Read also:
Malaysia (2011): Melaka


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