May 2019


The Many Faces Of Kuala Lumpur
May 2019




Petronas Twin towers and Kuala Lumpur Tower are distint skyscapers in Kuala Lumpurs' skyline.

Behind an upper crust of glittering high-rises and world-class shopping malls, Kuala Lumpur has arts, accessible nature, and a beguiling colonial history.

Words: Marco Ferrarese.

Futuristic and ever-changing, yet traditional and steeped in history, Kuala Lumpur, fondly referred to as 'KL' by Malaysians, leaves many first-timers scratching their heads. It's a jumble of technology and history, where skyscrapers and office buildings soar above busy boulevards, and old-world Chinese shop houses sprout like forgotten mushrooms through the cracks of modernity.

A good starting point is KLCC, the city's most central shopping option, at whose centre soar the 45-metre-high Petronas Twin Towers. Built by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, they were Asia's tallest building from 1998 to 2004, and proudly celebrate the nation's aspirations to progress and development.

It's around the Central Market and Petaling Street, the bustling Chinatown, that one starts finding traces of the city's rich past. The old Kuala Lumpur train station, a masterpiece of white turrets and dome-capped pavilions, resembles India's Mughal architecture, and yet seamlessly integrates with the modern flyovers and mass-rapid train lines that jut all around.

KL Sentral, the city's main transport hub, soars on what was once a part of Brickfields, the former sprawling Indian neighbourhood. Today, the area transformed into a short boulevard dotted by pink arches adorned with stone peacocks. Visitors can strike beyond this orderly thoroughfare, and get lost in a masala-scented labyrinth of small restaurants and hole-in-the-wall shops.

Bangsar is a neat grid of residential homes next to a lively entertainment district. It has trendy boutiques, bars and restaurants that spill tables on the kerb, offering anything from Spanish tapas to Indian and Chinese food. It's here that both the well-heeled and casual locals converge on most nights, creating a quiet buzz of clinking glasses and bohemian chatter.

Bukit Bintang, is the city's glitziest entertainment area. It's a popular spot to try one of KL's famous rooftop sky bars: enjoying the views of the futuristic skyline from the top of a skyscraper is a quintessential experience. Twenty floors below, Jalan Alor and Cangkat Bukit Bintang - the first with its Chinese seafood restaurants, and the latter with popular pubs, discos and clubs - have been the epicentre of KL's nightlife for decades. A short taxi ride away in Jalan Tun Razak is the TREC district, another five commercial outlets packed to the gills with eateries, bars and dance clubs.

When too much city hustle starts wearing you down, swing to the peaceful Lake Gardens, a green oasis filled with giant trees in the very heart of KL.

But Kuala Lumpur is not just shiny megamalls and hip entertainment areas: even alternative types will find plenty of opportunities to explore the city's hipster side. A five-minute walk beyond Petaling Street is the Zhongshan Building, a former residential lot turned arts centre.

Pasar Seni, or Central Market, is another main attraction. A magnet for the city's underground art and music scene of the 1980s, today the Central Market offers cultural performances and souvenir shopping. For unique vintage gifts, catch an LRT train to Taman Jaya. Right across the station is the Amcorp Mall, which hosts a very interesting flea market on weekends.

You can easily while away a whole day browsing the selection of old Malaysian vinyl records, toys, pre-loved clothing and collectibles.

And when too much city hustle starts wearing you down, swing to the peaceful Lake Gardens, a green oasis filled with giant trees in the very heart of KL. Next to it, the KL Bird Park is an essential stop for bird and nature lovers.

The Forest Research Institute Malaysia, a nature reserve on the northern edge of the city, it's yet another park offering quick and easy treks in a real rainforest on the northern fringes of the city.

Don't forget to add a final taste of spirituality to Kuala Lumpur's eclectic cocktail of modernity, colonial history and nature. From red-coloured Chinese temples draped in dragons and lanterns, to the Mughal minarets of central Masjid Jamek, and the gopuras of Indian temples filled with colourful deities, the country's three main religions - Islam, Chinese Taoism and Hinduism - are an important part of the cityscape.

Don’t forget to add a final taste of spirituality to Kuala Lumpur’s eclectic cocktail of modernity, colonial history and nature.

The Batu Caves on the northern edge of the city, a limestone massif presided by a 42.7metre-tall golden statue of Lord Murugan, are a special pilgrimage site. Between January and February, during the spectacular Tamil festival of Thaipusam, Hindu devotees complete their long ritual march at the top of these caves. They carry the kavadis, or "physical burdens", that range from pots of milk hauled over the head, to skewers pierced through the devotees' backs, cheeks and tongues. It's all done to thank Lord Murugan for granting their wishes.

As one climbs the Batu Caves' steep staircase, packs of macaques hoot in the foliage overhead, hiding in the mountain's nooks and crannies like yet another of Kuala Lumpur's many faces. And with all these layers and contradictions, there's no choice but keep coming back for more.

 

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    The iconic Kuala Lumpur train station resembles India's Mughal architecture.

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    KL Sentral is known to be the city's main transport hub.

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    The boulevard dotted by pink arches can be found in Brickfields, the former Indian neighbourhood.

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    Panoramic view of Bangsar, which is home to trendy boutiques, bars and restaurants.

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    Jalan Alor is one of the epicentre of KL's nightlife and has a range of international cuisine.

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    Petaling Street offers an exciting shopping experience.

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    The impressive I love KL structure is a big hit among visitors who love to pose near it!

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    The KL Bird Park is a must stop for bird and nature lovers.

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    A 42.7metre-tall golden statue of Lord Murugan is built outside the limestone massif.

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