From Kota Kinabalu on Malaysian Borneo we flew to Kuala Lumpur. It had been a few years since we’d visited KL, the steamy capital of Malaysia. But some things never change.
Looking up the weather on our first morning over some local coffee or ‘kopi, kurang manis’ (coffee with milk, and less sugar than most locals have it), the iPhone forecast for the week read like Groundhog Day, with the thundercloud icon describing conditions expected, with a maximum of 31˚C and a minimum of 24˚C each day. We were perspiring just thinking about it.
Once out on the street, however, we could see that many things had changed. Our hotel connected directly to a sleek themed mall called Starhill Gallery, with floors named after activities, like eating, called ‘Feast’ – the one we noted. Out on Bukit Bintang or Bintang Walk, KL’s ritzy shopping avenue, sleek shops showcasing premium brands dotted the streets: Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci, Bvlgari. We were starting to wonder if we’d accidentally ended up in Singapore.
As we wandered the streets, we noticed Lebanese eateries, shawarma (kebab) shops, and sheesha cafés, a result of the increase in tourists from around the Middle East. By the time we arrived at the eat street of Jalan Alor, things became more familiar. The unique aromas of durian (‘the king of fruits’) and char siew (barbecued meats) filled the air. Families, both local and visiting, tucked into plates of seafood flash-fried in woks. Chinese, Malay and Thai restaurants line the street and the place is wonderfully alive after dark.
Here though, there’s little escape from the humidity and the spruikers (trying to lure you into their restaurants), so on some good local advice we headed to Lot 10 Hutong, back on Bukit Bintang. This ‘gourmet food heritage village’ as it’s marketed, features some of the best hawker food from Kualal Lumpur, but without the hassles and with air-conditioning. It’s a compromise worth making on your first day, especially if you’ve come from cooler climates. After a satisfying meal of Kim Lian Kee’s Hokkien Mee (stir-fried noodles), we turned our attention to the neighbourhood where their original eatery can be found, Chinatown, and the market there.
A monorail ride and a five-minute stroll later, we were battling our way through the bustling bazaar of Jalan Petaling (Petaling Street) in Chinatown, a pedestrian market consisting of two rows of stalls backed by ‘real’ shops either side of the road. If you’re hungry and the heat’s not bothering you, there are plenty of eateries dotted along the way, many of which are renowned for particular dishes such as Hokkien Mee.
When it comes to the shopping here, let’s just say that if you can’t find a case for your smartphone here you’re not trying. ‘Designer’ (cough) watches, sunglasses, handbags, and sneakers, are sold at, ahem, surprisingly low prices… let’s just say you get what you pay for. But still vendors are open to the bargaining ritual. As we sat sipping ice-cold beers at a café nearby, we reflected on how so many of the markets around the world increasingly carry the same merchandise. Was Kuala Lumpur losing what had once made it unique?
On another night staying near Jalan Alor, we spotted a small hawker stand doing a roaring trade in noodle soups. We ordered curry noodle soups and sat perspiring on our little plastic stools wondering how it could have cost just $1.50 a bowl. When they arrived, the aroma and flavour of the soup was so alluring that we finished the bowls in a couple of minutes, now perspiring more than ever. The daughter of the woman who runs the stand told us that her mother had run it for 30 years. We’re not surprised it’s still there. We were just very happy that it is.
Next week we bring you a guide to Kuala Lumpur.
This post was written by our Lara Dunston and Terence Carter of http://grantourismotravels.com, with whom InsureandGo has a special partnership. We would like to thank Lara and Terence very much for sharing their passion for travel. If you would like to contribute to our blog by sharing your travel experiences with us, please contact us.
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