I knew nothing about Kuala Lumpur other than that they were Air Asia’s hub and I could get in and out of SEA via Melbourne quickly and cheaply. To be honest, I never even considered spending time there until my parasite episode in Cambodia, which drained my tolerance and energy for roughing it and forced to me retreat to a bigger city.
If I had to described Kuala Lumpur in one word, it would be developed. There is no trace of “developing nation” or “third world country” in this very posh, very modern city. Sure there are still vendors haggling you to buy their good in markets, there are still beggars and slight stench of food/garbage/pollution every once in a while, but not to the extent you would see in other major South East Asian cities, such as Bangkok.
I spent much of my first two days getting lost. Since this was a last minute stopover I had nothing more than a map to guide me around the city, what I was looking for I really had no idea. My hotel was in Chinatown on a very busy street called Petaling, which was filled with vendors selling knock-off designer goods and bootleg movie.
I wandered through the streets stopping in at temples and museums along the way. Surely the most impressive was the Islamic Museum, a huge temple-like building encasing centuries of Islamic religious artifacts.
The presence of religion in Kuala Lumpur is strong but divided, with around 50% of KL’s population practicing Hinduism and 50% devote Muslims. The division is obvious through the decorative and, at times, elaborate headdresses warn by Muslim women. Aside from covering their hair they also have to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts. With an average temperature of 80+ in KL, I cannot even imagine having to wear that much clothing!
I talked for a while with a Muslim man at lunch one day, who was very proud and eager to talk about his religion. When I expressed me concern for the women’s body temperature, he laughed and went on about their devotion to their family and religion. He also told me women are allowed to show their hair within their own house, but only around their husband. The purpose is to prevent any sexual attention from men, especially those other than their husband.
My other explorations included the lookout sky tower and KL’s “twin towers” – two very shiny and impressive structures unlike any building I had seen before. I also did a fair amount of shopping since there was an abundance of mega-malls that were filled with American stores and, most importantly, air conditioning! Did I mention it was hot? The temperature didn’t go below 95 the entire time I was there – apparently this is “abnormal” but temperatures are usually in the 80s and 90s year round.
Once I learned the subway system and got my bearings I had a much easier time maneuvering the city. I finally had my appetite back and was able to enjoy the cuisine, which closely mirrored Indian cuisine with slight European influences. Overall Kuala Lumpur was a pleasant surprise, though I am thrilled to be departing South East Asia today, for a variety of reasons, and kick off my last leg: New Zealand.