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So here’s a tip for anyone ever flying into Kuala Lumpur: the airport is located a solid hour outside of the city center, and the cab ride into town will run you more than your hostel will (around $30). There are trains and buses running into town during regular hours, but if you leave at 5am, as we always seem to do, be prepared to foot the bill for the cab ride.
Pulling into our hostel in the Bukit Bintang district around 1:30am we were in the midst of fresh Saturday night club scene. Set just a block back from the area’s late-night bars and restaurants, bad techno blared and expats and travelers staggered their way around the crowded streets, likely enroute to bad decisions and a hangover. It was a drastic switch fom the serenity of a tropical island we had just left that afternoon. Thankfully we had a nice room waiting for us at the Red Palm hostel where we could crash our weary heads and regroup for the following day.
After a much needed morning of sleep, we threw back our free breakfast of corn flakes and toast and headed out on foot to explore the booming metropolis. Home to 1.5 million people, KL as it is commonly known has all the pros and cons of your usual city experience. Great food and tons of shopping mirrored against incessant bus fumes and endless honking. That sort of thing. Trusty map in hand, after a half hour walk or so we found ourselves at the foot of Masjid Negara, better known as the National Mosque of Malaysia, which to our surprise was open to visitors. Lacking the appropriate dress to enter freely (women must be covered and men may not wear shorts), we donned the purple robes provided and had a brief look around the sprawling open air complex. Situated just outside of the main prayer hall are informational flyers on many topics, answering many of the common questions and misconceptions about Islam. I took about 15 of them home for reading, and lots of the information provided was very insightful and educational. A worthy visit for anyone interested in gaining an understaning of Islam.
Post-mosque we entrenched ourselves deep in the markets of Chinatown for lunch, a beer, and some hardcore merchant watching. Under the low hanging canopies hawkers sling everything from knockoff bags and sunglasses to designer American clothing and DVDs. Between the aromas of roasting chestnuts wafting through the crowds and the incessant shrieks of bargain and barter being thrown through the air, like many other Chinatown markets, the KL market has an energy that is distinct and energizing.
On the trek back from Chinatown we decided to make an impromptu trip over to the base of the KL Tower to see if it was possible to catch the sunset from 400m up in the sky. Turns out, the place is a major attraction, and for the equivalent of $11 you can ride the elevator up to the observation deck for a birds-eye view of the city. While the view from the top is decent, and it offers a unique look at the Petronas Towers, the world’s second tallest building, it’s not worth the $11 and I would recommend saving your money. Too touristy, wildly overrated. Heather was smart, she got scared and ran out of the elevator and got her money back.
Needing to leave the Red Palm as they were full for the next night, we simply walked across the street and checked into Number Eight hostel, which was incredibly clean, convenient, and I would highly recommend. Since our neighborhood was conveniently located by the fancy Western restaurants, we totally splurged twice in a row for dinner and treated ourselves to a night of pizza and a night of burgers and salmon, completely deviating from my usual mantra of eating only local ethnic cuisine (although for lunch that day I did have some fish-eyeball soup from a local market). Needless to say the dinners were incredible and were a literal taste of home for our curry drenched palates.
Wanting to explore a little bit outside of the city, we caught local bus 11 the following morning from Chinatown out north of the city to Batu Caves. Set within towering limestone cliffs, the three main caves are over 100m high and house massive stalactites, bats, roosters, and wild monkeys. A holy site for Malaysia’s Hindu population, there is a 140 ft. tall gold statue at the base of the 272 stairs that lead to the main cave entrance. Again, while touristy, it’s a free attraction and gazing up at thousands of swarming bats in the midst of a Hindu temple isn’t on your everyday itinerary, so I think it’s a pretty worthy attraction to check out if you’re ever in the city.