Malaysia, A Country of Deep Diversity
My first time in Kuala Lumpur was in 2008, when I did not know much about traveling yet. During that time, I had no idea about booking flights, looking for accommodation, and following itineraries. All I knew was that I was traveling with my Mom, and I did not care where my few dollars would take me. Haha. However, as it was my first travel overseas, I ultimately felt that Malaysia opened up a whole new experience to the wanderer in me 8 years ago. It was when I begun looking at people, wondering what their nationalities were. I started discovering another culture, something far from my usual. My thirst to learn new cuisines came into vision, which eventually took me to where I am now.
Malaysia is a multi-cultural country. Majority of the population are Malays, Chinese, and Indians. I visited several temples during my first traverse, and realized that religion is diversified as well. The last time I was there was October, when Kuala Lumpur was celebrating Deepavali or the Hindu Festival of Lights.
Where To Go in Kuala Lumpur
1. Batu Caves
Would you believe that my first time to enter a cave was not in one of the thousands of caves in my country? My first caving experience was in Malaysia, particularly in Batu Caves. I was wearing doll-shoes and what-not that time! LOL. Just a bit of a tip, though the steps are ultimately made of concrete, make sure to wear your rubber shoes if you plan to go up. The steps are steep, and there are monkeys that occasionally run back and forth in search for something to grab. Pigeons flock on the grounds of the entrance, so this is a perfect place for photography. This is far from any spelunking experience, but the steps tend to be slippery especially on wet season.
The caves are made of limestone, and it is actually a Hindu Shrine dedicated for one of the Hindu Gods, Lord Murugan. I shall leave that part hanging so you’ll get to discover what the place has in store for visitors.
2. Thean Hou Temple
I am a fan of temples. I am not a Buddhist or Taoist, it’s just that I find Chinese Temples fascinating when it comes to their architectural structure. Each piece of design can mean a handful of traditions. Thean Hou Chinese Temple in Kuala Lumpur is one of the biggest temples I’ve been in South East Asia. It has a great view point overlooking Federal Highway. TIP: When entering the temple, remove your footwear and avoid wearing clothing that show much skin (summer attire). It’s best to bring a sarong/pashmina/shawl with you to enable you to cover up when necessary.
3. Genting Highlands
Genting Highlands is a resort situated on the mountains northeast of Kuala Lumpur. It’s about an hour and a half drive or two hours the most by private car or cab. There are buses from the main city that can actually take you to Genting. My experiences here were momentous. It was during my 2008 visit when I got the chance to ride a cable car going up the mountains, off to a mall inside the resort. It was a foggy climb. Good thing I was wearing my jacket that time as Genting Highlands is naturally cold in temperature. My second visit was in 2013, where I got the chance to book at First World Hotel in Genting. It was then the largest hotel with 6, 178 rooms and a lobby as big as an entire mall in the city. Genting Resorts or Resorts World, Genting now boast of their newly renovated theme parks and casinos, where families can enjoy their stay.
4. Merdeka Square
What I can remember about Merdeka Square is the fact that it is one of the sites for fireworks display during New Year’s Eve. Christian New Year, that is, as Malaysia celebrates several New Years. It is actually an open square surrounded by offices and government buildings. Next to it is the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery where you can find miniature versions of the city structures.
5. Central Market
If you are looking for rare items that you will only find in Kuala Lumpur, the best place to be is at the Central Market. Similar to Philippine’s Greenhills, it is where you will find items authentically made in Malaysia. It is an air-conditioned venue where there are stalls, shops, food courts, and street vendors. It is best to visit in the afternoon when the place is less crowded with locals.
6. Malaysian Imperial Palace
This is where the King and the Malaysian Royal family resides. The place is well-secured with Palace Guards in complete uniform, riding their horses by the gates. I’d say that this is the best venue to learn about Malaysia’s monarchy and the country’s imperial family.
There are also other places in Kuala Lumpur that you might find interesting like the Leather Factory, Coffee and Tea Gallery, and Silk Factory where you can buy silk sarongs and shawls, hand-woven by natives.
Petronas Towers in the Highlight
This is probably the main landmark in Kuala Lumpur. You can never say you have been to Kuala Lumpur without taking a photo of yourself with the towers as your backdrop. One of the tallest skyscrapers in the whole world, Petronas boasts of its features comparing to other tall structures around the globe. One of the largest shopping centers in Malaysia is located at the foot of Petronas Towers. It is called Suria KLCC. This is a venue for high-end shops and branded items. It also has a food-court, theater, Malaysian Galleries, and educational stops.
There are several activities inside Petronas that both backpackers and families alike would enjoy. However, ticket queue can get a little bit long at times, so it’s best to book ahead if you are planning to try out some activities at the tower.
Bites: What To Try Out and Where To Find Them
1. Jalan Petaling (Chinatown)
MY FAVORITE PLACE IN KUALA LUMPUR! Jalan Petaling or also known as Chinatown offers accommodations at a low-cost. If you are looking for budget rooms for your next backpacking getaway, Jalan Petaling is the best place to stay at. Not only because everything comes in cheap, from souvenirs and shirts right at your doorstep, but also because it is the home for the best street foods in Kuala Lumpur.
The best way to experience Malaysia’s diversified cuisine is to try out the street foods. You can actually make yourself so full with less than a dollar. If you are a cuisines fanatic like me, you will definitely enjoy Jalan Petaling.
This is particularly at one side of Jalan Petaling where street vendors have their booths, tables and chairs set-up for people who would love to dine. They have sauces like Peanut Sauce, Chili Sauce, Soy Sauce, and Cilantro Dips which are perfect for a light snack or even a gastronomic all-nighter trip.
Prices for each stick vary depending on what you will get. It is an assortment of meats, seafoods, balls, vegetables, sausages and some other Malaysian delicacies that they like to put on a stick. It usually ranges from 5 Malaysian Ringgit to 40 RM depending on what you will order ($1 – $12 AUD) per stick.
Authentic Malaysian Pork and Beef Jerkey are also sold in Jalan Petaling. You can have them packed for overseas travels if you are planning to bring home some in your country of origin.
What I have noticed about Malaysia is that days seem to be longer than nights. There was a time when I was checking up on my watch and it say’s 7:00 PM, yet the sun is still up. But, nights are unbelievably colorful in Jalan Petaling for the fact that Chinese Lanterns and signages are lit up at night.
2. The Chocolate Gallery
If you are looking for Hershey’s, Cadbury, M&M’s, Toblerone, and Ferrero, this is not the place for it. Malaysia is a country abundant of cacao plants. This is where they get their supply of chocolates. What I love most in the Chocolate Gallery is the rare chocolate flavors that it offers.
Have you ever seen Curry Milk Chocolate, Ginger Dark Chocolate, and Chili Dark Chocolate? I have tried Kimchi chocolate in Korea, and that was the weirdest ever! Malaysian rare chocolate finds are way too different. To my surprise, these flavors are rich in dark chocolate combined with Malaysian native products like black sesame and Tongkat Ali. It wasn’t bad at all! The flavors were unusual yes, but they were enjoyable (if you are flavor adventurous).
3. India Town and Genting Street Foods
I have heard and tasted Fried Banana, as it is also a delicacy in the Philippines. But, fried durian? That was my first in Malaysia.
I loved the idea of buying fruits on sticks and dipping them in Dark Chocolate or in White Chocolate Fondue. I only get to do this in parties or in fancy buffet restaurant in Manila. They sell it in Genting, almost anywhere.
4. Central Market Food Court
A meal in a common food court will cost you 7.50 RM up to 15 RM ($1.80 – $5.00 AUD) depending on its contents. Malaysian cuisine reflects the three ethnic groups, Malay, Chinese, and Indian. If not curry, a typical Malaysian Dish would consist of chicken/pork, vegetables, and sambal (Malaysian Chili Paste). Malaysian meat dishes are usually prepared following HALAL standards as majority of the country is Islamic.
My favorite meal is Fried Chicken with Vegetable Curry, Cucumbers, and Sambal Paste. The Central Market not only has a food court, but it also houses fancy Western, Asian, and Fusion restaurants.
Try out Secret Recipes at the Central Market for the best Western-Asian Fusion cuisine in the city.
If you are a fan of desserts, check out Snow Time Ice Floss at the Central Market Food Court. It is made of snow ice, chocolate, or a combination of fruits and milk. Definitely a must try!
Kuala Lumpur is a big city which has a lot of activities for backpackers and vacationers. But, if you are looking for other options, you may also check-out other places in Malaysia like Kota Kinabalu, Sabbah, and Lego Land Theme Park in Johor.
For sample itineraries, you may leave a comment and I’ll send you a reply as soon as I can. Happy travels!!!