Wednesday 12 January 2011

Adventures in Malaysia

I expected Malaysia to be my first real unknown in South East Asia, and since I’d been hearing about couchsurfing all the way across South America, I decided that I’d try it out. I figured it would be a way to travel without accommodation costs, and more importantly a way to meet and get to know locals. is a website for people who love travelling to support each other. You can find places to crash, people to hang out with, and things to do. I lucked out with somewhere to stay, just as some other friends of mine offered me an empty flat in Mont Kiara, one of the nicer parts of KL.

View of Kuala Lumpur from my couch Sunset from my couch

Kuala Lumpur was not what I expected. For some reason I just sort of assumed it would be more like a ‘true’ Asian city. Like Bangkok for example. However the reality is quite different. Kuala Lumpur is infrastructurally like Singapore but culturally more lively. The roads are superb and the condos mind-boggling. The city is huge and spread out but only has a population of 2m. In fact Malaysia as a whole has a population of only 28m.

I went around the city for a sight-seeing photo-shoot, conveniently squeezing all the sight-seeing and building watching I was going to do into one day.

Taking photos with Debra and Tim

Merdeka Square The Sultan Abdul Samad Building

McDonalds, Burger King and 7/11 all in the same shot! Cool old buildings downtown

Streets opposite the Central Market Street signs in Kuala Lumpur

KL is full of red-roofed beige condos and fantastic mosques, spread out along flyovers and huge roads with mountain ranges in the background. The Genting Highlands resort floats high in the air on dark clear nights - the cluster of lights twinkling like magic at the top of a mountain that disappears in the dark.

View from outside Solaris Genting Highlands

The ultra-famous Petronas Towers too, once the tallest in the world, now disappear in a skyline of high rises, except at night when their lights ensure they stand out like the defining monuments that they are.

KL Skyline and Twin Towers

It is notoriously difficult to get a decent shot of them close up as they are built on top of the KLCC mall and surrounded by other buildings.

Petronas 'Twin' Towers Bridge connecting the twin towers in KL

The mall underneath is super fancy, like all others in Kuala Lumpur, reflecting the general wealth of the city and country, much of which comes from Palm Oil. There are no slums or beggars in KL, and any poverty that exists is hidden amidst the luxury or pushed out into rural towns. For the most part, KL is a city for shopping, ranging from expensive labels to cheap hawker centres.

KLCC mall

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Cinemas in KL make British ones pale in comparison, and at RM11 they only cost £2. Interestingly though salted popcorn isn’t that popular. Sweet caramel popcorn is the flavour of the day. In fact some cinemas like the one in KLCC don’t keep salty popcorn at all.

My favourite thing about Malaysia however is the way Bahasa Malayu deals with English words that are now absorbed into the language. Bus is ‘bas’, complex is ‘kompleks’ and taxi is ‘teksi’. Think how much easier English phonetics would be if all words were spelt like this!

My other favourite thing is the food. A mix of Malay and South Indian cuisines on offer. My first visit to Malaysia many years ago didn’t endear me to the food, but this time I realised what I’d missed. From nasi lemak, nasi goreng and laksa, to roti canai, satay chicken and awesome seafood. I still wake up dreaming of chicken rice!

Roti canai and Te Ice Chicken satay

Full roast lamb on a spit Chicken rice and sweet jasmine green tea!!

Check out the deep fried chicken wings Fried Gurame

Nasi Lemak Bee hun

Laksa Hyderabadi style

… and in between great Asian cuisine, there’s also superb western food too. I ate one of the best cheap gourmet burgers ever at Las Vacas and developed a serious fondness for what I now think is the greatest ice-cream ever – Cotton Candy from Baskin Robbins. Tastes like candy floss and bubblegum!

Greatest burger ever at Las Vacas Cotton candy ice-cream at Baskin Robbins

The greatest win though was being introduced to Big Apple Donuts. Now I’m not really much of a donut fan, but these are “Sushi” donuts. They’re shaped like sushi, with toppings to make them look like sushi. Sweet and light and delicious. The greatest ever. Somebody needs to start a franchise in London!!

Sushi Donuts from Big Apple Donuts

The cheapest places to eat are Mamak restaurants. Muslim Indians are called Mamaks in Malaysia, and they’re typically from South India. Food is great and ridiculously cheap. You’d be unlucky if your meal cost you more than a pound. Proper restaurants on the other other hand are a lot more expensive but still good. The local chains are Pappa Rich and Old Town White Coffee, and other favourites are Nirvana, Alexis and Delicious.

Old Town White Coffee Pappa Rich

Chicken rice stall Seafood restaurant in the countryside

Mamak restaurant

The most famous Brother John burger stall Making a Ramly burger. KL's equivalent of the late night Kebab.

Nightlife in KL is cool, and ranges from pubs, to bars and restaurants. For the most part fun times and socialising involved food, as you can tell from the above pictures, but it was great to make new friends and catch up with old ones like my university classmate Azuan.

Azuan, Nora and Yasser 

Cendol with Jonson Chong Pasta with Khailee and the Youth Says team

Drinks with Seh Lih 

Dinner and drinks with everyone from EPIC Mamak food with Asia

Some kind of sweet roti with Angelina Ramadhan special with Angelina and Deb

Hyderabadi food with Angelina and Asia 

Finally I can’t move on without a mention of the greatest live band ever. Retro 9. Three Indian guys playing classic tunes in a great bar called Cavells, and sounding exactly like or better than the originals. Everything from The Doors to The Eagles. They’ve disbanded now. Gutted.

Retro 9 at Cavells 

Going in and out of KL over the past four months meant that I was present for lots of cultural events. From Ramadhan and the amazing evening markets, to the Hungry Ghost Festival and Lion Dances, which I thought only happened in old Jackie Chan films!

Ramadhan market Stingray

Drinks in plastic bags. You stick a straw in and drink straight from the bag P1090225

Chicken Satay

Just before I left Malaysia, Angelina took me to see Fireflies at the Firefly Park in Kuala Selangor. It is a protected area kept specially for vast populations of fireflies. The park opens at dusk and at 8pm small boats take you down the river in complete darkness with millions of fireflies like Christmas lights twinkling in unison on along the river banks.

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And so the journey to live and learn continues!

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