If Malaysia were a dish, I’d promote it as such; Malaysia – a tempting blend of the developing and the developed worlds, a pinch of exoticism with a dollop of the familiar, garnished with spices from around Asia, a side of big city, with highlights of rainforest and just a touch of the bizarre, all finished off with a wide smile. This is the final instalment from my 2011 trip to Kuala Lumpur.
A fair proportion of my week has been spent searching for a decent Malaysian curry and roti canai (pronounced “Channai” – it’s flaky bread with curry sauces to dip in. The word canai comes from the Indian city Chennai, although roti canai is basically a Malaysian invention). Curry and roti canai were both, incredibly, surprisingly difficult to find in modern Kuala Lumpur. I came across an OK curry in Chinatown at the restaurant that hygiene forgot, but the roti canai is elusive. Meanwhile, I’ve also discovered that the delicious smells coming out of the small bakery cafes in shopping centres (like Rotiboy or Breadstory) strangely have nothing to do with what they’re actually cooking. The search continues…
The idea behind Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) was to create a CBD for Kuala Lumpur’s overdeveloped suburbs which sprawled for kilometers with no real focal point. At the heart of KLCC are the iconic Petronas Towers, which gave KL a much-needed icon. When the twin towers were completed in 1998 they were the tallest buildings in the world at 452 metres. Their design is symbolic of Malaysia’s desire to be a modern Muslim nation; reaching for the sky, they evoke two silver minarets. Each tower has five tiers, representing the five pillars of Islam, and each has an Arabesque eight-pointed star floor plan. On the very top of the towers are 63 metre masts, topped off with a star, representing the Muslim faith.
The towers are home to Petronas (the national oil company), Al Jazeera’s Asian headquarters and several other companies. Unfortunately, the towers were not designed with tourists in mind, so the highest anyone can visit is the “Skybridge” which connects the two structures, 170 metres up. The best view of the towers is from the park immediately outside, but you might need to walk around a bit to get the right perspective on the lofty structures. Arguably, the best view of the city is from Menara KL, which is built on a nearby hill. It looks a bit like Sydney’s Centrepoint tower, and gives a great view over the whole city, as well as the Petronas Towers.
Saturday was spent still in search of the roti canai, and I eventually came across some just after I’d had lunch (perfect timing) at the Mid Valley Megamall, a huge complex just to the south of the city. Saturday night was spent at Suria KLCC, the shopping complex at the base of the Petronas Towers, doing a bit more shopping and chilling out in the air-conditioning while a massive storm raged outside. While at Suria KLCC I also indulged in a fish foot treatment, which is currently all the rage in southeast Asia.
The Garra Rufa fish is naturally omnivorous (eats plant and meat), but when starved prefers meat. Capitalising on this, many savvy day spas (and tourist attractions) have bred the fish in large tanks in the floor. For about A$10, you can dip your feet in the warm water and allow these pint-size piranhas nibble away at your feet, exfoliating dead skin cells. Terrifying as it sounds, these fish are only the size of your pinkie finger at biggest, and they cause no harm because their teeth are only strong enough to get dead skin cells which are softer. It’s an incredibly ticklish experience at first, and it took me about five minutes to be able to keep my feet in the water. After about five minutes, I got used to it, and was able to sit back and relax and let the fish do the work.
After a while (and if you don’t look at it), the sensation feels a bit like a foot spa with bubbles running across the soles of your feet. Looking down allows you to connect the tickling with the fish action, and it becomes a bit too much!!! Half an hour later, the receptionist comes in and tells you the fun is over, and hello soft supple feet! To be totally honest, I’m not sure how effective it is – maybe it’s just the warm water, not the hungry fish which relieves your skin. In killjoy Canada, these “Doctor Fish Spas” have been banned as they were considered unhygienic. But for me, it’s one more experience to add to my list, and certainly one of the weirder things I’ve ever done!
And with that, I end my journey around the Malaysian capital – hopefully to return again soon. Thank you for reading, and until next time, selamat tinggal!
Culture shock: 5/10
Language difficulty: 6/10
Quality of food: 9/10
Physical demand: 5/10 – Kuala Lumpur is not an ‘active’ destination, but issues such as the transport network, and attractions like the Batu Caves definitely require a bit of energy.
Advice and warnings
Kuala Lumpur is a remarkably safe city. Keep a close eye on your valuables, be aware of pickpockets, especially in crowded places and use common sense, and you should be fine! Remember that although Malaysia is fairly liberal by Asian standards, it’s still a Muslim country and you should take care not to offend.
Australians may enter Malaysia with a visit permit on arrival valid for stays of up to 90 days. Pakistanis must apply for a visa at the Malaysian High Commission in Islamabad – the process takes around a week and costs PKR 1,450 – the process is much easier if you use a travel agent. Indians can apply through the VFS Global service – the visa costs INR 1,000 and takes around a week to process.
Getting there and around
From Melbourne, Sydney and Chennai, Malaysia Airlines flies to Kuala Lumpur directly.
Melbourne (from $724 return)
Sydney (from $739 return)
Chennai (from INR 23,459 return)
From Lahore, Pakistan International flies from Lahore to Kuala Lumpur via Karachi, while the return flight operates directly. Tickets start from PKR 63,988.
We stayed at the luxurious Sheraton Imperial Kuala Lumpur, and then later had a couple of nights at the Le Meridien Kuala Lumpur Sentral, also very lovely! If you’re looking for something a bit easier on the wallet, there are plenty of great budget and economy options available through HostelWorld.com.