One night in Kuala Lumpur

by Ollie Barstow on 29 October 2012, 16:10PM One night in Kuala Lumpur

…and the world’s your oyster’ goes the hit song from the musical ‘Chess’. Well, almost…

Before musical connoisseurs implore me to check my facts, I am fully aware the correct title is ‘One Night in Bangkok’, but my sentiment remains intact.

Indeed, Kuala Lumpur (KL between friends) shares much in common with its south-east Asian counterpart, both cities offering a blend of premier attractions and engaging cultural references to become two of the world’s most visited destinations.

Furthermore, in the same way that Bangkok is often the first stopping point on the way to Thailand’s beautiful beach resorts, Kuala Lumpur is the gateway to Malaysia’s tempting coastal locations, most notably Penang and Langkawi.

It’s a city I had the pleasure of experiencing between flights on a recent multi-centre holiday, but with just 12 hours on the clock to discover the magic of Malaysia’s enigmatic capital city, there was certainly no time to waste.

Despite being a fair distance from the city centre, Kuala Lumpur International Airport is conveniently serviced by the high-speed KLIA Ekspres train, which took us all the way to Kuala Lumpur Sentral station with a comfortable 40min transfer.

Making immediate headway towards Bukit Bintang in the heart of the ‘Golden Triangle’, Kuala Lumpur’s foremost entertainment and shopping district, we boarded the city’s KL Monorail system. Winding its way above the city streets at a fairly leisurely pace, the lofty vantage point gave us a striking view across the skyline, by now sprinkled with lights against the cloak of darkness.

Descending into Bukit Bintang on a Friday evening, a heady mix of locals and holidaymakers jostle for position on the busy pathways, the former skipping between us slower, more easily distracted visitors. Kuala Lumpur’s equivalent of Times Square, Bukit Bintang is awash with gleaming shopping centres beckoning with their promise of international brands and bargain price tags.

Having successfully hunted down a Malaysian flag to pose beside (it’s a quirky ‘must do’ for every country I visit), we made our way through the plethora of shops and ‘mamak’ stalls that spill out onto the pavement. With my rumbling stomach following my twitching nose, I satisfied my growing appetite with a bowl of fragrant noodles before going back to indulge in some ‘Roti Canai’, a tyre of flatbread served with curry sauce.

Spicy enough to silence my stomach but leave my tongue tingling, we made a beeline towards Changkat Bukit Bintang, one of Kuala Lumpur’s most popular bar areas. Teeming with lively establishments, we opted to dive into a contemporary bar named Frangipani to plot our next move.

As it happens, we only had to look skywards for a solution as the pinnacle of the KL Tower poked above the surrounding buildings. A recognisable landmark of Kuala Lumpur, KL Tower offers spectacular views across the cityscape from its 420m peak. As a Formula 1 enthusiast, however, I couldn’t resist tackling the tower’s F1 Simulator, which gave me a chance to virtually lap the local Sepang International Circuit inside a proper race car… Alas, Jenson Button needn’t quake in his McLaren boots just yet.

Back at street level, we continued our route through the centre of Kuala Lumpur in search of its most renowned attraction, the Petronas Twin Towers.

Though it has been shuffled down the order on the list of the world’s tallest buildings, the towers remain a tremendous feat of engineering and, especially when lit at night, are arguably more attractive than the structural behemoths that have surpassed it.

Furthermore, we happened to stumble across a free concert being hosted at the foot of the building, the Towers providing a striking backdrop as headline act Kelis warbled her way through an extensive back catalogue of tracks.

Having sufficiently embarrassed myself by dancing in public to Kelis’ signature song ‘Milkshake’, we carried on exploring the ‘Golden Triangle’ and I began to consider how far the city has come in recent years from very humble beginnings.

Indeed, while a name that roughly translates as ‘muddy waters’ is not exactly a flattering label for one of the world’s increasingly prominent cities, it does serve to highlight just how far Kuala Lumpur has come from the days when it was merelythe confluence of two rivers.

Much of this vigorous growth has stemmed from Malaysia’s independence in 1957, so it was fitting that we would go directly from the country’s most iconic landmark to its most significant, at Merdeka Square.

Translated as ‘Independence Square’, Merdeka Square was the site where the Union Jack was lowered and the Malaysian flag was hoisted in its place for the first time. The Sultan Abdul Samad Building continues to front the manicured square, its copper dome and Big Ben-aping clock tower an evident relic of the former colonial occupation.

While our late night jaunt across Kuala Lumpur scuppered an opportunity to sample some of the city’s cultural treats, most notably the National Science Centre, the Islamic Arts Museum, which charts Muslim culture over the centuries, and the KL Philharmonic at the foot of the Petronas Towers, a plethora of activities await those who visit at more respectable hours.

Unfortunately for me, my flying visit of Kuala Lumpur was nearing its conclusion, the decision to brave it out by not checking into a hotel beginning to take its toll on my weary jet-lagged body.

Crawling into a taxi, though the realisation that our driver had taken us to the wrong airport prompted an unwelcome panic at 4am, we reached our destination with heavy eyelids but a sense of gratification.

Of course, while Kuala Lumpur offers more than you can possibly hope to experience in just 12 hours – particularly the intriguing Batu Caves and the beautiful Lake Gardens -, my snapshot trip was enough to leave a memorable impression… and not just on my sore feet!

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