Observing Malaysia

My first adventure to the Asia proved to be an interesting insight into how western culture has moulded today’s Malaysia.


Malaysia is a Muslim country with a diverse ethnic mix of predominantly Indian, Chinese and native Malays. Equatorial weather translates to a yearly average of 27°C, but with rainfall between 11 and 20 days a month (250cm/98in average a year).

March is considered the hottest month of the year, but at anytime it is extremely sticky and humid, with very little respite. I visited in July (Autumn), where temperatures soared to 38°C daily!


Getting around

You’re never short of a taxi with many companies charging a set fare before you travel. Compared to the UK, the price is quite amazing, with a 30 minute journey into Kuala Lumpur (KL) costing around £13. The fare also includes toll charges, which separate downtown KL from surrounding districts.

This price was direct from the hotel concierge, and cheaper fares can be found outside shopping malls and tourist landmarks. Payment by cash or card is generally accepted.

KLCC Park

Eating out

With such a mix of cultures, eating out offers a tremendous variety of cuisines at prices you would not believe. Food courts and restaurants are a plenty in shopping malls and tourist locations, from far-eastern cuisine, to middle-eastern delicacies and western favourites, the choice is endless. But it is the cost and quality that will make your mouth water!

You’re never short of a taxi with many companies charging a set fare before you travel

£3 will get you a fantastic hot-plate of freshly prepared cuisine, cooked as you watch… with a drink. Eating out becomes even more affordable when you consider a plate of food, such as noodles, can be purchased for as little as 36p! If you prefer your western fast-food, then McDonalds (and others) offer all of your favourites from the UK at around 1/3 of the price.

(Costs based on exchange rate of RM0.18 = £1)

The majestic Petronas Towers

Westernised to the max

It’s my most vivid and striking memory of Malaysia. Vast malls filled to the brim with western brands, with very few home grown names getting a look-in (even those stores have adopted trends in order to compete). You’d be hard-pressed, as a tourist, to separate commercial Malaysia from your experience living in a western society. My overwhelming emotion was sadness for what the country had become, in the name of demand. Where was the real Malaysia?

£3 will get you a fantastic hot-plate of freshly prepared cuisine, cooked as you watch… with a drink

The challenge of finding, and buying, traditional Malaysian souvenirs best illustrates the degree of transition. Landmarks, such as KL Tower, and KL International Airport are the best locations with the prestigious, foremost name in quality pewter, Royal Selangor, selling beautiful Malay-crafted jewellery and keepsakes (favourable prices compared to purchases outside Malaysia).

Water fountains outside Suria KLCC

Suria KLCC mall, sits beneath the awe-inspiring Petronas Towers, featuring a ground floor dedicated to the affluent: Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, Prada and De Beers, to name a few of the examples of decadence.

My overwhelming emotion was sadness for what the country had become, in the name of demand

Malls, however, are extremely important in a country where temperatures reach unbearable levels of humidity. They provide an escape into a comfortable, air-conditioned, environment that a family could quite easily spend a day navigating, exploring and ice skating!

Architecture and construction

Malaysia is developing, with the landscape changing at a rate of knots. High-rise apartment construction, neighbouring the run-down tower blocks that still house the majority of residents. There is a stark difference between the old and new, affluent polar opposites.

Peaking through a derelict building at KL Tower

KL carries on the trend of the surrounding suburbs, skyscrapers littering the landscape and new construction around every corner. Older buildings have been left to decompose and as you walk away from the hustle and bustle of the Petronas Towers, Suria KLCC and KL Park the scenery loses its polish and wash of commercialism.

Even the monarch of Malaysia resides in a, 2011 completed, national palace (Istana Negara) in Segambut, northwestern KL.

Istana Negara, Jalan Tuanku Abdul Halim (Credit: Wikipedia)

Landmarks

The taxi driver, that took me from my hotel (Sunway Clio in Selangor) to the heart of KL, summed up the extent of the tourist landmarks, when he asked if I wanted to be picked up in 4 hours, as that is all the time I would need.

There is a stark difference between the old and new, affluent polar opposites.

Due to my limited visit, and the searing heat, I started at the most famous attraction, Petronas Towers and took a walk to KL Tower, the 7th tallest freestanding tower in the world. As with many other towers around the world, you can observe the city from a 360º deck, for a very reasonable price. KL is a developing city and growth region, with the views from above, understandably, conveying a strong mixture of changing landscape, construction and the greenery of undisturbed pockets of civilisation.

KL Tourism Centre

KL Park is a beautiful, man-made, meeting place for families and friends, featuring an impeccably maintained lake, with central fountains and water sculptures, creating a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. Kids are well catered for with a vast outdoor water play area and park. Trees provide plenty of shelter and shade from the blazing sun and drinking water fountains the essential hydration.

There are a good number of historical, religious and commercial attractions in around the downtown KL region, such as:

  • Batu Caves
  • National Mosque of Malaysia
  • KL Butterfly Park
  • Pusat Sains Negara (Science and learning centre)
  • Royal Malaysian Police Museum
  • The Royal Museum (old Istana Negara) — former residence of the Supreme King of Malaysia

As a sign-off, I would say that KL, and Malaysia in general, are rapidly developing with tremendous ambition and a buzz of activity and belief. As a tourist destination, I wouldn’t say it is going to offer a wealth of exciting discoveries, but there are strong links to Malay and religious history, if that’s where your interests lie. However, you will have to venture away from the KL Park and Petronas Towers area to satisfy your interests.

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