An 11 hour flight from Auckland and we landed a world away in the capital city of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. Our time in New Zealand had been a little anti climatic, and we viewed our journey to Asia almost as the real beginning of our trip. The two of us didn’t really know much about the city or what to expect, and I think at first we were rather overwhelmed. But after a few days, we grew more confident and started enjoying and adapting to the challenges you face when traversing an Asian metropolis. It was a rewarding experience, and got us really excited for our journey through Asia.
We stayed in a guesthouse located right in the centre of Chinatown, where lots of budget accommodation is to be found. We arrived before we could check in so we headed out to explore in the punishing 35°C heat. We found ourselves almost instantly amidst a street market, with countless smells, sights, colours and sounds; not many of them pleasant. We wandered along dusty streets, dodging traffic and getting yelled at by street vendors. We had barely gone 5 streets from the hostel when we headed back to its air conditioned safety.
Needless to say, we’ve fared a little better since then. It just took some getting used to. One thing we needed to do to get over our nervousness was trying street food. Obviously you can’t travel Asia without doing it, and being budget travellers we were going to be eating a lot of it. We started on something simple – some chicken fried rice from a stall in Chinatown. Cooked freshly right in front of us and costing just 7 Ringitt (about £1) we may have doubted its hygiene and quality, but after tasting it we didn’t really care. It was absolutely delicious! After that, we weren’t as nervous about sampling food from the markets. We even got better at navigating the traffic and saying firm nos to street vendors. It’s all a matter of confidence. And no food poisoning yet!
KL is a big city with a lot of history and full of contrasts. From the shabby streets and crumbling buildings of Chinatown you can see the gleaming skyscrapers of the modern KL glinting on the horizon. We travelled to KLCC to check out the extremely impressive Petronas Towers, a landmark of the city and the tallest twin towers in the world. With gigantic shopping centres, illuminated fountains and manicured parks, the area is an extravagant spectacle of the wealth in Malaysia.
Resplendent colonial architecture stands proudly by concrete office blocks and teeming highways. We visited Merdeka Square, a green space surrounded by amazing buildings from when the country was a British colony. It was also here that in 1957 Malaysia declared independence from British rule.
On our third day we had a train booked to leave the city, but it wasn’t until the evening, so we had chance to explore a few more places. We saw part of the Botanical Gardens and the outside of the National Mosque. We went by the Textile Museum, which although sounds a bit dry, turned out to be pretty interesting. We also went by the National Museum, which I found super interesting. It was basically a brief history of Malaysia and I learnt about the country’s colonisation by the Portuguese, the Dutch and then finally the British. The country later got its independence and since then has been adjusting to the new challenges that came with it. It really gave me a clearer view of what this country is all about, and it opened my eyes to the diversity and culture of the place. Malaysia wasn’t what we expected from a South East asian county. There’s much more of an Islamic and Indian culture here which surprised us. The latter was particularly evident when we visited the Batu Caves.
14 km north of the city centre there is a famous Hindu shrine located inside a grand karst cave. The only way to enter the cave is up a steep staircase of 272 steps, presided over by a 140 ft golden statue of Murugan, the Hindu god of war. There were literally thousands of people there, many of whom were wearing traditional religious outfits. Small parades of people were chanting and ringing bells, making tons of noise. Turned out we’d manage to visit the day before a huge Hindu festival named Thaipusam, which explained all the excitement. There were markets stalls everywhere, huge piles of rubbish, people yelling and smelling… all in the blazing sun. It was super intense, and an unforgettable experience. It was at this point that we knew we had arrived in Asia!