Daniel Owen recommends Kuala Lumpur
Muddy River Junction – or to you and I, Kuala Lumpur.
The meaning in Malay of Kuala is a junction between two rivers, while Lumpur is simply muddy.
But the capital city of Malaysia is anything but as clear as mud – it stands out as a beacon to the Far East. It is a city that has a glorious mixture of young and old – be it buildings or people. It has something for everyone.
Of course, what stands out before everything else is the Petronas Twin Towers, but there is so much more to Kuala Lumpur than these 452-metre-tall buildings, formerly the tallest in the world.
A walk through this fascinating city – and it is easier to walk as the roads are notoriously jammed – will take you through the alleyways of Chinatown, Little India, theatre land and a maze of fascinating stores and souks.
Often abbreviated as K.L, this metropolis – home to some two million people – has also played host to major sporting events, including the Commonwealth Games in 1988 and the Formula One Grand Prix.
With historic monuments, skyscrapers, lush parks, huge shopping malls and a vibrant night scene, Malaysia’s sultry capital will bewitch and frustrate you.
My favourite place
Chinatown is a paradise for bargain hunters who love to wander in and out of little shops where you can buy anything from Chinese herbs to a “designer” T-shirt, which will shrink after a couple of washes. But it’s not just the shops that attract me to Petaling Street, where Chinatown is situated. You can partake in the local’s two favourite pastimes here: shopping and eating. Malaysia is quite rightly known for its rich mixture of food. From traditional Chinese dishes to Malay and Bangladeshi, if you want to try something different you will find it here. Once you have filled yourself with fish, noodles and meat you can then wander off to one of the numerous bars to sit, relax and contemplate your next shopping venture.
Quite close to Chinatown is the Central Market, built by the British in 1888. A few decades ago there were plans to demolish it, but the Malaysian Heritage Society fought against the closure and the Central Market is now a cultural site to be enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. As well as traditional shops the art lovers among you will enjoy the galleries on the top floor. Take a visit to the Islamic Arts Museum to see some of the world’s best Islamic Decorative Arts, there’s also a very decent Middle Eastern restaurant there. Thean Hou Temple is beautiful to look at both inside and out. The statue of the heavenly mother, Thean Hou, is a joy and can be seen in the main hall. On the ground floor. you will not be surprised to hear, there are … shops and restaurants. And, of course, if you go next spring, you will be able to watch the Malaysian Grand Prix at the Sepang International Circuit.
Traffic is a total nightmare so don’t bother hiring a car to get around. KL can also be incredibly hot and humid, but for those of you used to summers in Oman you should be able to take this in your stride. However, because of the awful traffic jams you will probably find yourself walking a great deal so remember to take plenty of bottles of water with you.
There are hundreds of tiny shops and stalls in KL, so souvenirs can be found in abundance. Again, the Central Market is the perfect place to buy souvenirs for your friends and loved ones, but it can be great fun to go to the small street stalls and haggle for whatever you want too. The Malaysians take great pride in their woodcarvings, a skill passed down from generation to generation. Wood-carved elephants are pretty popular. But you cannot return home without buying some Malaysian-grown tea. Much of it is mixed with spices that are meant to keep you in good health.
Where to stay
Hotels are numerous in KL and you don’t have to break the bank if you want a clean and comfortable one. However, one particular hotel has been recommended by a number of my friends and colleagues. The Mandarin Oriental is, say my friends, well worth a stay. Rooms, although large, are in in need of a little refurbishment, though, but management say they are in the process of modernisation.