For Chinese New Year my friend Kevin and I left London to visit the Far East. 13 hours, direct from Heathrow, we decided to visit Kuala Lumpur. With my partner Emily being unable to come I felt it was only fair I visited somewhere she went last year and with a large Chinatown district KL ticked all the boxes.
The hustle and bustle of Jalan Alor – foodie paradise
Life always seems to run in parallels. The last thing we did before catching our flight on Saturday was stock up on supplies from Borough Market, with it being early evening on Sunday when we landed (do time zones always amaze you as well?) we checked into our hostel before heading straight to the Jalan Alor night market for street food and beers. Amazing. The sights. The sounds. The smells. My first taste of Asia and I had as much food as I could buy. Dim Sum. Char Siu BBQ. Young coconut. Even the smelly durian fruit. Just don’t go for the fried chicken gizzard. It now sits on a very exclusive and limited list of food I really don’t like. In fact, it only shares a space with jellyfish. Another exotic gristly nightmare. Washing it down with a few tiger beers, we turned in early feeling tired (exhausted) knowing we had a big day ahead.
Just a small statue…
After a decent sleep at KL Skyline Hostel (recommended for any travellers staying in the city) we woke up at a fairly reasonable time to head to the Batu Caves – my top reason for visiting KL. An amazing experience and the ‘must see’ for anyone in the region. After passing the 42.7m statue of Murugan (massive) you climb 272 concrete steps, sharing every step of the way with long-tailed macaques that have grown reasonably used to the constant human contact – can’t blame them, tourists = free food!
Look at that face!
At the end of the climb there are the caves, vast and well… cavernous, they provide welcome refuge from the heat and humidity of the day. Inside are numerous shrines, colourfully dedicated to numerous Hindu and Tamil deities. A fantastic experience and something truly exotic. A far cry from churches back in Plymouth!
Temples inside the caves
On that theme once we were back at the Hostel, rested and ready to go back out, we headed to Thean Hou temple to see it fully kitted out for Chinese New Year. Amazing. 6 tiers all decorated with red lanterns, we were so happy to be part of the experience. What a time to visit this part of the world. Feeling very hungry at that point, we made the brief journey across the river to Brickfields – better known as Little India. After hunting out a kurta big enough for me (I’m a 2XL in Asia!) we settled on a food court filled with people where we were the only Europeans. An amazing foodie experience. Rice. Meat Biryani. Fish curry. Potato stews. Prata. Samosa. What more could you ask for really? All for less than £5 after conversion. For two people. The food in Malaysia, with its mix of Malay, Tamil Indian, Chinese and British cuisines blows my mind.
Thean Hou ready for Chinese New Year
After sunset we made our way to KLCC Park to get in the nightly light show over the water and to get the obligatory “Petronas Towers at night” photos. Pretty standard. Can definitely be missed on a visit to Kuala Lumpur, but is also one of those things that doesn’t take too long, so can be squeezed in. With it approaching Chinese New Year at midnight we headed back to our Hostel, changed into swim shorts and headed to the rooftop bar and infinity pool. Armed with a few beers we watched the fireworks go up over Chinatown and other areas of the city in our own pool. A very cool way to see in the year of the Pig.
The amazing KL skyline from our hostel
For our final full day in Kuala Lumpur I really wanted to see the juxtaposition of the city – a metropolis coming out of a jungle. We started with a visit to the Eco Forest Park, located at the base of KL Tower. While pretty cool, consisting of a rope bridge canopy walk through the city’s last remaining virgin rainforest, I can’t help but feel that an excursion out to the actual rainforest would probably be more worthwhile had we had more time. Still wanting to get that green fix, after briefly checking out the tower we decided to make a beeline for the Perdana Botanical Gardens. In hindsight more time spent there instead of the Eco Forest would have been better. An amazing location, every much as big as any botanical gardens / central park you would hope to find in the UK or US, but tropical to boot. Full of wildlife, from terrapins to hornbills to monitor lizards I was truly in my element. Well worth a look.
Perdana Botanical Gardens – tropical bliss!
Remember that juxtaposition I was on about between jungle and city? Well our next stop were the Petronas Towers. One (or should I say two?) of the most iconic buildings in the world, at 452 metres tall they dominate the already impressive KL skyline. The tour takes you up to the bridge walkway, where you can see across the whole of Kuala Lumpur and the KLCC Park below. After that, you go higher to the observation deck. From here you are so high up that perspective starts to change. I could no longer see the bridge below as it was so far down. The park disappears. All you can see is the building going down forever. An amazing experience and one I will not soon forget!
Looking down from the walkway
We rounded our time in Kuala Lumpur off with a visit to Petaling Street to explore Chinatown, see the markets and just chill out for Chinese New Year. More great food, a few bargains (and some questionable Yeezys – Kevin!), some beers and plenty more fireworks and crackers going off in the street. Our time in KL was done. All we had left was to go back to the hostel, sleep off the beer, check out and get a nice and simple coach to Singapore…
More on that next time!
I’m going to miss the streets of this vibrant city