Enchanting Kuala Lumpur

Picture perfect birds in the KL bird park

“Smoke from Indonesian fires engulf Kuala Lumpur” was the flash news a few days before our destined trip to Kuala Lumpur (KL as its fondly called). We checked the weather forecast and ‘thunder storm(s)’ were predicted for all the four days we planned to stay there. On the day of our trip, both our daughters were fighting a lot, fussy, and did not eat well. We stared at the reality: Looked like our first trip to Malaysia was going to be disastrous.

It all started when we were planning for our yearly trip a few months back. When caught in the mad Bangalore traffic jam we noticed an advertisement from AirAsia announcing “Bangalore — Kuala Lumpur oneway ticket for just Rs. 5,500!” We initially planned for a trip within India and found that the one way ticket to places like north-east India was in the range Rs. 8,000 to 10,000, so the idea of a foreign trip with the almost same cost looked very attractive.

But the biggest factor for us to worry about was our two kids. Our elder daughter was four years old and our younger daughter would touch two years in few months. Since we would have to buy air tickets once our younger kid turned two, it was a good idea to travel before that. Yes, managing two hyperactive kids on a foreign trip is not for faint hearted. But if we planned the trip in such a way that the kids were kept occupied and entertained, there was a fair chance that it could work well. Also when compared to the travel time for Europe or even within Asia like Japan, the time to reach Malaysia was less. We did not try any packaged tours — with kids, it is difficult to stick to a fixed schedule, so we thought we would explore on our own. In Malaysia, there were islands like Genting and tourist spots like Legoland, but our trip plan was for only three days, and with kids we wanted to avoid much travel, so we decided to explore only KL.

Our next task was to find a four or five star hotel in the central part of KL so we could access tourist attractions easily. Armed with Google Maps and travel websites, we got an attractive deal: We found an offer for 200 RM (Ringgit Malaysia) per day inclusive of complimentary breakfast in Melia hotel, which was located in the heart of KL (in Golden Triangle) and was just opposite to the monorail station.

Ours was a budget trip — for two adults and two kids, inclusive of travel, stay, food, and shopping, we planned only for Rs. 75,000! We had already found good deals for air travel and say, so the trip looked feasible. So, we took a deep breath and clicked the mouse, and in a few seconds we had the ticket and hotel booking confirmed (no cancellation for both!).

We were prepared for the worst on the day of our departure after reading the news about smoke from Indonesia engulfing KL. We couldn’t imagine what it would be like if there were thunder-storms as well. With ‘no-cancellation’ tickets, there was no looking back now: We packed jerkins and sweaters and prepared to leave. Earlier we had travelled to other countries like New Zealand, Italy, Germany, and Austria, but what we didn’t know on the gloomy day when we boarded our aircraft was that our trip to Malaysia would turn out to be our best trip ever!

When we booked our tickets, the thought of traveling in a low-cost carrier like Air Asia reminded us of our earlier bad experience traveling in Air India. But in the Bangalore International Airport (BIA) we were pleasantly surprised with efficient ground staff. The aircraft was new, interiors were clean and seats were good. The air hostesses were courteous as well. Kids were excited with their first flying experience. The only glitch during the trip was that we were not able to get enough vegetarian food during the flight. Our kids slept well during the trip and we enjoyed our onward journey.

We reached at mid-night in KL. We got a prepaid taxi for 155 RM — too costly, we thought. Our old and friendly taxi driver was talkative: “Yes, lots of clouds last week, but mostly gone now. Expecting rains in a few days, but no ‘thunder-storms’. Oh, you’re on your own here exploring? We folks are friendly. If you want any help… just open your mouths and ask!” What surprised us was he spoke good English, and was updated on political, economical and social aspects of Malaysia. Taking clue from our puzzled faces, he explained it to us that he was a businessman earlier and was cheated by his partners; to repay his debts and support his college-going daughter, he was forced to work long hours every day as a taxi driver that too without taking leaves for months together! What’s more, he gave us quick history and geography lessons on Malaysia. It hit us hard that he loved his country so much and was proud of his country’s growth (the same thing we felt about many other Malaysians during our trip later as well).

Catching RapidKL metro train
Catching Mono rail in KL

We were in for a sweet surprise when we got up the next morning for breakfast: there were close to 100 options to choose from Indian, Chinese, Malay, and Continental cuisines! After a great breakfast, we enquired in the tour desk in the hotel. For our budget, the arranged tours appeared costly and they started from 100 RM for half-day tours! Moreover, the tours were not very attractive to kids. So, we got the travel brochures and looked at the locations of the tourist spots we were interested in. That’s when we realized that our bargain paid off: the hotel was not just hip and glitzy and with great food (for the price we paid), most tourist spots were at just hopping distance from our place! While our kids played in the lobby, we short listed Batu caves, lake garden, bird park, aquarium, and yes of course, Petronas towers for visiting in next few days.

Unfamiliar food is not good for kids. So, we got into the Mono rail (Imbi station) in the entrance of our hotel, and in 10 minutes we were in Little India (KL Sentral station) where we had a very Indian buffet lunch in Radhey’s vegetarian restaurant for 10 RM each. We roamed around for a while and found a serene place — Sri Kandaswamy temple — and took a break there. The people in Brickfields (little India) are mostly from Tamilnadu who had migrated to Malaysia in the last two centuries. Most of the people spoke to us in Tamil, and we felt at home (except for the eerie cleanliness which we are not used to!). KL Sentral is a transit hub and is a sight to behold — you can catch trains in any of the six different rail systems, reach national highways, or go to KL International Airport from there! We got into Metro train (known as RapidKL) and in half-an-hour we were at the entrance of Batu caves.

Batu caves is a main attraction for Indian travelers not just because of its Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Murugan, but also its reachability — its just 13 kilometers from KL. There are three main caves in the hills and we have to climb 272 steps to reach the main shrine. We have seen the pictures of the majestic140 feet high Murugan statue, but it was mesmerizing to see the god when the golden color reflects the sunshine or lights.

Inside the Batu caves
Murugan statue
Temple in the foot hills of the Batu caves

Near the temple in the foot of the hills, when we bought lollipops and bananas we didn’t notice preying eyes firmly set on us. Once we started climbing monkeys attacked from different directions: one pulled the cover with bananas and another monkey pulled the Lollipop from our petrified daughter. We consoled our kids and put the rest of our eatables safely inside our handbags and continued climbing. From the hill top, we got a beautiful sight of the city. We entered the cave and found it to be spooky. It was quite a large and dark cave and was a bit scary as well because there were only a few souls around. After the darshan in the small main temple, we relaxed for a while inside the cave. After that, we returned to Little India and saw a small but busy restaurant near the monorail station where we enjoyed yummy dosas. Just a few hours back, in Batu caves we bought lollipops for 1 RM each, but later in a restaurant visited by locals, it is 1 RM for a dosa. We reminded ourselves: we get better value for money in places where locals visit and tourist spots are designed to extract money from unsuspicious visitors.

Scary Piranhas in the aquarium
Colorful Lion fish in the aquarium

The next day we set off to explore Petronaus towers. As guided by our helpful hotel receptionist, we took a skywalk from Pavilion, which takes us to Kuala Lumpur Convention Center (KLCC). In addition to Petronaus towers, KLCC includes malls, hotels, offices, parks, aquarium, and even a mosque! We waded through the maze of alleys in the skywalk and reached the aquarium only to find that it was already teeming with school kids.

Entry into aquarium costs 45 RM each for adults and 38 RM for kids. The aquarium is spread over two levels and houses few thousand (marine as well as land) creatures. Earlier we had visited S.E.A aquarium in Sentosa Singapore which was very large, but this aquarium seemed to have a charm on its own, for example, with its unusual species from Amazon river.

The first level has Piranhas, electric eels and catfishes, wide range of insects, reptiles and many other creatures. We have never seen Piranhas before and didn’t know that they were so big. The large spiders and tarantulas were of course scary, and it was nice compare them with the display of fishes nearby that looked like them (like Spider fish)!

There are different feeding sessions for different species and on different days. We got a chance to watch the feeding session at 12:00pm for variety of fishes.The crowd cheered for the wide range of fishes that come to the Oceanarium to grab bits and pieces for lunch. The main attraction for the crowd is a 2.5 meter(!) long Blotched Fantail Ray fish. But our kids cheered for the fishes that piggy-backed on a large turtle: We’ve seen the tiny Merlin and Dori piggy-backing on Crush the turtle in Finding Nemo, but in this aquarium, the fishes that biggy-backed as well as the turtle were quite large. Equally attractive are Jelly fishes which were of pure white and red: our kids watched with wide eyes the unusual jumpy moves they made.

Hungry after walking so much inside the aquarium and with a bit of a walk inside Ramlee mall, we found ‘Spices of India’. After having delicious (but costly) food we started again to enquire where Petronaus tower was. The college student we asked was was evidently confused and said that we were in fact inside Petronaus! Thats when we realized that Ramlee mall was in the base of the Petronaus tower. Now, to go up the tower, we were supposed to buy an advanced ticket: Tickets are issued daily from 8.30am but people line up a hour or so earlier itself since there are only limited tickets! We could purchase tickets for using after two days, and this reminded us of our earlier wait of two days for darshan in Tirupathi back in India. But then we realized that there was another tall tower — KL Tower — and decided to check our luck there. KL Tower was just a kilometer or two distance from twin towers, and we got two free shuttles to reach there: one shuttle was the free city shuttle that connects major tourist attractions and there was another free shuttle from the foot of the hill to the KL Tower (the tower is built on top of a small hill). KL Tower is not worth a visit — from the food stall to small shops, it was designed to wring money from tourists, so after spending some time there, we headed back to the hotel by walk to take a quick nap in our hotel room!

White Jelly fish in KLCC aquarium

In the evening, we went out to explore Berjaya Times Square which was located just opposite to our hotel. It’s a massive building that hosts a shopping mall, hotel, and an indoor theme park (with 14 or so rides). After window shopping, we realized that there were no Indian restaurants, but found Papa Johns. There was limited options for veg, but the available Garden Special pizza, white pasta, and french fries, it was a yummy dinner for us and kids.

Next day, we decided to explore the city with Hop-On-Hop-Off (HOHO) buses. HOHO buses connect all major tourist spots in KL, and we can get a bus in any of the 21 designated stops once in every 20 minutes. A ticket that is valid for 24-hour costs 45 RM. We got into a nice AC bus and reached KL bird park. On the way, the bus stopped for 15 mins in Malaysia Royal Palace and we took snaps there.

Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus in KL
A bird show in progress in KL bird park

The KL bird park was unlike any other bird parks we had seen before. Colorful Parrots, rare birds and scary hunters (like Vultures and Hawks), and the poor ones that can’t fly (Emus and Ostriches) were kept in closed areas. All other birds were in huge nets where could fly freely. Later by Googling a bit, we found that it was the world’s largest open walk aviary! There were birds large and small everywhere — and the mix of their sounds was music to ears. This park, like few other areas within KL, is located within the city and we could see large buildings from the park!

In the trails, we saw a board announcing bird show in the amphitheater. A bit of wait for the show was worth it — we got front rows and got close look at the birds in the show. This was how the show started — innumerable little ducks pushed each other and scrambled for the bits of food sprinkled in their path — and rest of the show proved as exciting as that nice beginning! Two large and colorful parrots — Ringo and Ko Ko from Amazon — entertained us with their tricks. There was a competition between them to take three rings from one corner of the long table to the opposite corner. When the swift Ko Ko was taking the rings one by one to the opposite corner, the smart Ringo took all the three rings at once and won the race! With activities like this, though the show was only 30 minutes, it was one of the best we had seen in a long time!

Petronaus Towers

For lunch we thought we were lucky to find HornBill restaurant in the park itself. Checking the menu we realized it was too costly, and the real trouble was that there was only one one vegetarian item available and the kids did not like it. With long walks and hunger still in our stomach, we waited for the HOHO bus to come, and found that there was a large Orchid garden which was open for all. Earlier it used to cost 100 RM to visit the garden, but since there were not many visitors, it was made free for all! After roaming around for a while in the garden, we came back and caught the HOHO bus.

Malaysian Royal Palace

We had plans to go to the nearby planetarium and lake gardens, but with kids becoming fuzzy, we decided to skip them. It was Saturday evening and our bus was caught in a mad traffic jam: The jam was as worse as you get in Bangalore, but with complete automation of traffic signals and no traffic policemen in sight, it was a worser mess! We could see people trying to overtake and jump signals, and there was not much care for pedestrians crossing the streets. All are not well in KL! But with our trip back to our hotel in HOHO bus, we had a quick tour to most of the tourist attractions in the KL.

In KL, you’ll often find buildings with unusual architecture like this

After taking rest, with guidance from our hotel reception on the best place to shop, we headed to nearby Sungei Wang mall for shopping. The prices were better than most other paces we had seen in the last few days.

Last day was only for packing and for relaxing. After a heavy breakfast in our hotel, kids had a great time in the bath tub having bubble bath. We reached Low Cost Container Terminal (LCCT) with a taxi booked by the hotel and headed back home.

When we started, our hopes were low with kids being fuzzy and with the news on smoke engulfing KL and “thunder storms”. But reality turned out to be quite different — smokes were gone on the day we landed, there were only occasional drizzles, not much tourist crowds in the days we visited, and kids had a great time! For the total cost of Rs 75,000 for two adults and two kids, the trip was worth every rupee we had spent!

Though we spent 3 to 4 days in malaysia we saw only KL; with so many places to see, even one week is not enough to see all the places in KL. But we had great family time together. We never knew that they enjoyed walking on their own. We realized that kids watch birds, animals, and fishes more closely and keenly than us: in the aquarium, our elder kid recognized sea horse, jelly fish, clown fish, etc just because she watched “Finding Nemo” earlier (in fact, when she saw a clown fish she shouted “Nemo, Nemo”!) Our kid’s petrified face, and later her scream, when she lost her lollipop to monkeys remains fresh in our memory now. When we reached back home and asked what she thought about Malaysia, she said: It’s a country filled with monkeys!

Tips for handling kids when on tourist trip abroad

* Take containers for milk, water, food etc. from india itself

* Always keep some food while traveling

* Pack clothes like jerkins or sweaters; depending on the need take sun caps, sun creams, etc

* Don’t forget diaper rash creams, medicines for stomach pain, dysentery and fever,

* Buy easy foods like bananas, chewy candies for takeoff and landing, biscuits for giving them when they get fuzzy

  • Don’t plan for very long trips and take regular breaks. For example, return to room in the afternoon for a quick nap for kids
  • Get comfortable slippers or shoes — they need to walk or else we need to carry them all the way

* Choose places where kids would enjoy like parks and aquaria

Observations on KL

KL is a late city — even 10.00pm in KL looks as busy as 6.00pm in Bangalore. People are friendly. Usually they easily recognize that we are from india, and they try talking in Tamil. If you know Tamil or English, then it is very easy to get around. Indian food available in many places. If you are on your own exploring KL, don’t hesitate to ask people for help — they are usually are very helpful. The country is predominantly Muslim and orthodox. But in KL is a cosmopolitan city and you can see a unique mix of modernity and conservatism. For example in a group of college girls, some will be wearing Purdah, many others will be in Mini skirts and tube tops! The country is a mix of Malay, Chinese and Indians, and they celebrate Diwali, Ramadan, Christmas, and Lantern (Chinese) festivals. The city is very clean, but perhaps not as clean as other cities like Singapore. An unusual thing we found was that we could see smokers in many places, perhaps more than any other country we have seen so far. The city has lots of greenery — you can find thick bushes and tall green trees in the sides of most streets (but not in the central district). The city is really well-connected with Monorail and many Metro trains. There are local buses too. Even with very good public transport locals use cars extensively. For this reason, in Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, there is mad traffic jams throughout the central district. If you are traveling to KL, try visiting places in weekdays and avoid weekends. KL is a shoppers paradise — you get clothes and toys in roadside shops (lots of them open in weekends) or you can get international branded clothes in malls like Ramlee and Berjaya Times Square.

Money matters:

One RM (Ringgit Malaysia) is approximately 0.30 US Dollars, 0.25 Euros, and 20 Indian Rupees.

Most shops accept Mastercard and VISA credit cards (but not American Express). In large malls, you can pay with US Dollars as well. In little India some shops even accept Indian rupees, but in general, it is difficult to convert Indian rupees to RM in Malaysia, so better to get RMs before entering the country or in the KL airport.

Picture perfect birds in the KL bird park
Picture perfect birds in the KL bird park
Sungei Wang for Shopping
Berjaya Times Square for bargain shopping
In Orchid garden just opposite to the KL bird park