Malaysia’s Bustling Capital: Kuala LumpurKuala Lumpur is Malaysia’s bustling capital. Like much of South East Asia, it was hit hard by the 1997 Asian financial crisis forcing the cessation of much of the urban development throughout the city. Today, the city still appears to be rebuilding from the crisis. Many of the deserted buildings remain unchanged and instil a ghost-like quality to the area. The city centre is a stark contrast, with development on nearly every corner it exudes wealth.
Our visit to Kuala Lumpur was plagued by the haze. Every September and October Malaysia is affected by the Indonesian forest fires. The illegal fires are lit to clear forests rapidly and cheaply to grow plantations for palm oil and paper pulp. The locals we have spoken to in both Malacca and Kuala Lumpur have said this is the worst haze to date. The degree of severity is measured by the air quality index (AQI), in Sydney and Melbourne it usually sits between 20-50. Anything under 50 is deemed acceptable, over 100 is unhealthy to sensitive populations and over 151 is unhealthy to all individuals. The AQI has been between 130 and 170 during our stay in Kuala Lumpur. Local schools are closing down some days and visibility is extremely poor. We are both getting headaches, developing a cough and have irritated eyes. Throughout Indonesia the AQI has been over 1,000 at its worst. Specific data on the health effects is difficult to find, however, one website reported approximately 110,000 people die each year from health problems which can be directly linked to the haze. These people are largely those from vulnerable populations such as children under 5, the elderly and the immunocompromised. I find it fascinating that all this is occurring so close to home and I was completely unaware of it prior to our arrival in Singapore.
ACCOMMODATIONThis took a bit of organisation and even then it didn’t quite work out for us. We wanted to stay in the Golden Triangle, the heart of the city. The most popular hostels had already been booked (as we were there over the weekend) so we had to stretch our budget a wee bit for a hotel. That was ok until we arrived at the hotel to find there was an extra 16% that hadn’t been included in the quoted price. Overall, it was a great location and a nice change to have our own bathroom. The WiFi connection was horrendous which was frustrating.
FOODThe standard of food has continued to be excellent. Where we stayed was a block away from Jalan Alor, the main food market area in Kuala Lumpur. While the food was great, we were put off by the number of workers trying to hustle us into their shop.
We had a vegetarian lunch at one of the restaurants at the Batu Caves. It was great, we had a banana leaf special which comes with several different curries and several varieties of vegetables. I continue to be amazed by the incredible flavours served upon these banana leaves.
On our last night we stumbled upon an Indian/Malay fusion restaurant not far from where we were staying. Here we had a huge meal, stir-fried vegetables, fried noodles and an awesome chicken dish. It was way too much food for us but still cost only RM20 (approx. AUD $6.70).
ACTIVITIES & ATTRACTIONSWe were a bit limited with what we were able to achieve in Kuala Lumpur due to the haze. We still spent some time wandering through the city centre and into Chinatown and Little India, what we were able to see was pretty amazing.
The Petronas Towers and the surrounding garden areas are amazing. The twin towers are just over 450m tall and are the tallest twin structures in the world. The buildings are designed based on an eight-sided arabesque pattern, a form of Islamic art. It is an incredible feat and well worth the visit. There is a shallow lake at one side of the buildings with fountains throughout it. In the evening, from around 7.30pm there is a light and fountain show, which is very impressive. We watched for about 45minutes and thoroughly enjoyed it.
The Batu Caves are a well know tourist destination in Kuala Lumpur. These are a series of caves set in a limestone mountain that hold religious significance to Hindus. The gold shrine at the base of the cave is a statue of Lord Murugan. Every year the Thaipusam festival is held here in either January or February (Thai for the month and pusam for the star which is at it’s highest during the festival). Thaipusam devotees carry milk as an offering to Lord Murugan either in small containers in their hands, or in large structures suspended on their shoulders called kavadi. These kavadi can be huge, 2metre high structures and contain skewers that sharpen to a point and pierce the skin. The hooks are then removed by a priest, once the devotees have climbed the 272 stairs to the Temple Cave. The cave at the top was huge with multiple Hindu prayer statues.
While the cave is a major tourist attraction, I felt I was almost imposing on those who had come to worship. It is important to remember to dress respectfully, mainly for women, it is important to wear pants that cover the knees. Well worth travelling to, be mindful of the monkeys who will rip open plastic bags searching for food. They can also smell if you have food in your bag.