Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Kuala Lumpur - My views

I guess you know the story. You plan a vacation to some distant foreign land. You take a flight, get into a taxi or if you can afford it, the hotel or airline send you a limousine and you are whisked to your hotel. You eat at a few fancy restaurants, visit the obligatory tourist spots, visit a few shops and move on to your next destination.

However, there is one major transformation in us. When we travel, we become overnight experts on the destination we have just visited. We have our favourite tips, insiders secrets and recommendations which we are more than willing to spout to all in earshot. All this is based on a superficial visit which is sometimes as short as two days and sometimes as `long’ as a week. I join that band of travellers. This is my, un-informed, biased and prejudiced view based on a stay in a hotel in Kuala Lumpur. I have no knowledge of real life in KL, it’s hardships, it’s joys and it’s problems.

South East Asia has 4 big cities. Jakarta does not count, in my view. Hong Kong by far is my favourite and the most vibrant and exciting. Next up would be Singapore. Bangkok is great fun too. Last of the cities is Kuala Lumpur. All these cities are within easy reach of India with at least one national airline flying from India to each city.

Kuala Lumpur is a 5 hour, gave or take a few minutes, flight from Mumbai. Kuala Lumpur airport is a long way away from the city centre some 50 kms away, but that distance is easily covered by way of a super smooth highway that leads straight into the city centre. It does take about an hour but that is par for the course in almost any city. Landing into Kuala Lumpur is one of the prettier sights. Mile upon mile of dense green Palm tree plantations.

Kuala Lumpur has an area called the Golden Triangle. As far as visitors go, this is the place to be, this is the sanctum sanctorum of sorts of Kuala Lumpur. This is where most big hotels are, where the shopping malls are and where the, sorry to use a cliché, iconic Petronas Towers are. This is the place to stay. The Golden Triangle includes the area known as KLCC and Bukit Bintang. What does one do in Kuala Lumpur? Answer, frankly, shopping, shopping and more shopping. There does not appear to be much else to do, well you could go to Chinatown and buy a fake Rolex watch or Louis Vuitton bag. The thing to do is spend your time walking and window shopping in the malls. The two biggest and best malls are the Pavilion in Bukit Bintang with the smaller Starhill Gallery next door and the Suria Mall at KLCC. The KLCC is the Convention Centre area around the Petronas Towers. As far as Malls go, these are quite good. Do not ask me if the prices are high or low.

The Petronas Towers in the afternoon. The squat buildings in the foreground are the Suria KLCC Mall

The Petronas Towers in at twilight. 

The Petronas Towers at night. 

The fountains in the KLCC complex

The clever government in Kuala Lumpur has made life even more fun and convenient for shoppers. A brand new elevated walkway now connects the Suria KLCC Mall with the Pavilion Mall. You can walk from one mall to the other without fear, in delightfully cool airconditioned comfort. The distance of about 600 meters is covered swiftly. This is what a walkway shoud be. No hawkers, no beggars, no Paan stains, no Pan Parag wrappers, just cleanliness. It was a pleasure walking this, even Senior Mrs Stonethrower was pleased with this.

The elevated air conditioned walkway

Inside the walk way

Thought this was funny. `Lintas' means walk in Malay.

One feature of the Malls in South East Asia is that most of the big ones have some really decent restaurants inside. OK, let me make one thing clear. I do not want to eat French food in South East Asia. Neither do I want to eat modern, fusion Pan Asian food. So I am quite happy going to the classic restaurants serving Asian food. An example being Din Tai Fung which is located inside the Pavilion Mall.

I often find myself comparing Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur. Both have top hotels, though Bangkok is cheaper than Kuala Lumpur as far as hotels are concerned. Both have fine local food, spicy to keep our Indian tongues jumping and the food has strong Indian overtones. Both places are good for the shopper. Kuala Lumpur is, by comparison much smaller than Bangkok. Kuala Lumpur has a definite sanctum sanctorum while Bangkok has points of interest virtually all over. Bangkok has far more tourist sites with temples and Buddhas of all kinds all over. Kuala Lumpur is much more modern with swanky buildings and far more westernised in infrastructure. The horrible traffic gridlock that plagues Bangkok is not a factor in Kuala Lumpur (or, at least we didn’t encounter it).

In balance, I do like Kuala Lumpur even though it is small. It is, in my prejudiced view, less interesting than the other three cities, but, it’s way more bang for your buck than anything in India.