The second part of my trip to Malaysia’s fantastic capital in 2011 had me visiting the engrossing Islamic Arts Museum.
Having already spent a couple of days in KL, I opted for a change of pace. It was a Wednesday morning when I headed towards KL Sentral to visit the suburb of Federal Hill. I visited the Masjid Negara (National Mosque), a contemporary white and blue tiled structure which was designed to be a modern take on the Grand Mosque in Makkah (Mecca), Saudi Arabia.
Continuing the theme, just up the road is the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, one of Malaysia’s attempts to become a cultural leader and political representative for Muslims in the modern world.
I got free entry to the museum (good) because it was children’s day at the museum (bad). I sat there for thirty minutes waiting for the longest glass of water ever, during which time someone raced into the café and asked me if I was representing the Australian High Commission. As tempted as I was to say yes, I declined, rounding out one of the week’s weirder moments.
I spent the next two hours wandering around the finest collection of art and architecture I’ve ever seen in one place. The exquisite ceramic pieces, scale models of Muslim buildings from around the world (many of which I’ve seen in real life), artefacts and pieces of clothing are all beautifully presented, in a building which itself is designed in a Central Asian style.
Later, I was walking through the lush Lake Gardens adjacent to the museum in the late afternoon heat when I heard the azan (call to prayer) emanating from Masjid Negara. Poignantly I wondered, and not for the first time, if Arabs have had a monopoly on global Muslim culture for too long.
Adored by many Malaysians, reviled by many Westerners, Malaysia’s ex-Prime Minister Dr Mahatir Mohammed can largely be credited with creating what the country is today. Love his conviction or hate his arrogance, his controversial, no-holds-barred attitude gave birth to Wawasan 2020; a plan that whatever it takes, Malaysia will be a developed first world nation by 2020. So far, they seem to be on track, no easy feat when you consider that a few decades ago Malaysia was a poor agrarian backwater with a reputation for seediness and violence. In fact, in Malay, ‘Kuala Lumpur’ means “muddy confluence” – an appropriate name for the swampy marshland that once existed here. All this has given way to one of the world’s great cities – make no mistake, Malaysia’s capital is no London or Paris, but neither is it a flash in the pan like Dubai could yet prove to be – KL is a world city, and it’s here to stay.
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.