[I wrote this a few days ago, but couldn’t post it from the jungle, where the Internet was slow as a sloth.]
When I’m planning a visit to a city in a country I know little about, I often google the phrase “36 Hours in [City Name].” “That’s the title of the popular New York Times travel column that offers itineraries for slapdash visits to intriguing locations around the world. It’s been mocked for its unrealistically fast pacing. But I’ve gotten good ideas from it for locales as far-flung as Hanoi and Bogota.
I didn’t have time to do much research in preparation for our one-day visit to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. But while I blogged on our train ride Sunday from Singapore, Steve burrowed into the aging library copy of “Lonely Planet Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei” that we brought along. He supplemented it with some fact-gathering courtesy of Google and learned enough to create an entertaining day. I’ve summarized it here for anyone planning a visit to Kuala Lumpur soon.
5:15 pm Sunday — Arrive at Kuala Lumpur’s central railroad station and buy a $2.17 ticket for the taxi ride to our hotel, the Majestic. The Majestic is a much better class of joint than we normally stay at. People compare it to the Raffles in Singapore, where the least expensive rooms these days fetch around $700 a night. When I learn that I can book a double (Majestic) room for less than $100, I can’t resist. And when we check in, the desk clerk murmurs that for an extra $60 or so per night, we will get access to their sumptuous buffet breakfast along with a large suite in the historic old building (instead of the prosaic new tower) and a butler who will serve us our breakfast in our suite if we wish. We can have our dirty clothes laundered for free. We can drink up all the contents of the minibar, again at no charge. And we can participate in the high tea and cocktail hour with all the booze and munchies we want. This too will be complimentary. I find it irresistible, and it proves to be a decision we do not regret.
6:30 pm — In the hotel’s “library,” we are plied with cocktails, good South African wine and enough tea sandwiches and hot hors d’oeuvres to extinguish 90% of our appetite. We nonetheless tipsily make our way to the “Colonial Cafe,” where we consume one Colonial salad and one bowl of Mulligatawny soup. We return to our winsomely comfy quarters and are sound asleep by 10.
8 am Monday — We eat too much of the buffet breakfast, but cannot help ourselves because the Malay pastries and crepes are so intriguing (if kind of creepy). Also, the contestants for Miss Malaysia Universe 2017 are in the hotel this day for 12 hours of instruction in makeup, hair, and comportment. It’s fascinating to watch them file in and pick at their Malaysian pastries.
9 am — We hit the street, and it’s our lucky day. Instead of yesterday’s gray, rainy, sweltering weather (which made the city look bleak), the skies today are sunny and blue. Under them, Kuala Lumpur looks jaunty and energetic. The Majestic is very close to the Tun Abdul Razak Heritage Park, and we follow a winding path through it, noting its how many alluring attractions it contains: the world’s biggest aviary, an inviting planetarium, a butterfly garden, an orchid garden. We don’t have time to visit any of them. But if we had an extra day, we could readily pass it here. Instead we get lost, trying to find our way out of the park. The temperature is climbing well past 90. Our printed street map is not to scale, and Google maps is lnon-functional. It takes a while, but we finally make our way to Little India.
11 am — A huge chunk of the ethnic enclave appears to be torn up for reconstruction. Many big chunks of the city are, which compounds the inherently confusing jumble of streets. We resolve to come back to Little India in the evening, when it’s not so hot and explore further. For now we head to KL Tower, one of the tallest structures in the world. Kuala Lumpur has many skyscrapers, but somehow the city feels very different from Singapore. The infrastructure is more dilapidated. Walkways are crumbling. Signage is poor, and it’s much harder to find our way around. That said, Steve’s research online has made us aware that Malaysia is about as prosperous as Greece, Poland, and Portugal, and many times richer than Thailand, the Philippines, or Indonesia.
Noon — Kuala Lumpur’s tallest buildings, the Petronas Towers, are closed on Mondays, and this happens to be a Monday. But the KL Tower is almost as tall and equipped with the glass-bottomed viewing platforms that have become a minor fad in recent years. For about $22 per person, we spend a highly satisfying hour ogling the 360-degree views and experiencing the glass-bottom viewing experience.
1 pm –We walk to Jalan Alor, an open-air dining street in the city center where the guidebook promises one can get every imaginable Malay or Chinese dish. Indeed there are many frog dishes on the menu of the place we plop down in, along with about 200 other choices. We eat rice, barbecued pork, savory soup dumplings, and beer for less than $18 for two.
2:30 pm — We’re not far from the city’s monorail line, and we quickly figure out how to use it to get to the Chinatown. But we’re appalled that the automatic gates that should keep people from falling 30 feet to the street below are broken. It gives a whole new urgency to the injunction “Mind the gap!”
2:45 pm — We stroll up the main pedestrian street in the Chinatown, and I buy a chillable eye mask for a little under $2. But we don’t linger. The day is still sweltering, and even though the Chinatown is close to our hotel, it can be devilishly hard to navigate from one point to another in this town.
The main pedestrian street in KL’s Chinatown
3:30 pm — Back at the Majestic, we gratefully ease into one of the two disappearing-edge pools. It feels like paradise. We linger, then shower, then I finish writing my last blog post about Singapore.
6 pm — We return for more of the South African wine and filling cold and hot snacks. The staff dazzles us with their attention and solicitousness. They promise to book a taxi to take us to the travel agency where we need to go first thing the next morning.
7:15 pm — We decide we’re so full we don’t even need soup or salad. We also can’t muster the energy to make our way to Little India in the heat. Instead we chill in the air-conditioned comfort of our suite.
10 p.m. — Asleep again.
5:22 am Tuesday — I hear the first Muslim call to prayer of the morning, issuing from the large mosque next to our hotel. It’s more melodic here than what I remember in the Middle East and North Africa. Somehow it reminds me of a Gregorian chant. It almost soothes me back to sleep, but we have to pack, eat more of the monster buffet breakfast, and head to the travel agency, where a van will transport us on the next phase of our Malaysian adventure: a journey to Malaysia’s vast national park in the middle of a 130-million-year-old tropical rainforest.