Postcard from Highway One #91: Kuala Lumpur

28 January 2010

My third visit to Kuala Lumpur was my first under my own steam. The city was mine to explore at my own pace. Those previous visits gave me my bearings, so I had a plan. Arriving at the hotel in the early afternoon, I headed south along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman.

I stopped first at the Pertama Complex, an aging shopping centre where I learnt how to barter on my only substantive stay here, a full week back in 2000. I came home with a list of VCDs as long as my arm, and a couple of gadgets to boot. By contrast, this was a visit to say hi rather than to shop, so I'm sure the vendors were well pleased to see the back of this fat tourist who never opened his wallet.

Exiting Pertama, I'd passed Sogo before it occurred to me to enter. Retracing my steps, though, was more effort than my flagging committment to retail tourism would expend. Just another Department store, just with a Japanese name.

Sogo slipped under my radar largely because I was captivated by the "real" buildings across the street. KL is a city with so much texture. Modern office towers of striking design sneak upwards from behind the city's aging history, some of it crumbling, some of it colourful, all of it interesting. Though the juxtaposition of the old, grimy and unkempt upon the new and dazzling, as you find in cities like KL, is somewhat startling, it's always interesting.

Continuing south and after passing Merdeka Square, a footpath closed by construction work forced me further east, to the next street which hugged the Klang River. I paused for a drink and watched a man's frustration as he tried in vain to free his car from captivity, enforced by a double parker. I spoke briefly with another gentleman, an expat, who observed that his situation was a not uncommon fact of life for KL drivers.

My southern goal was the old railway station, a grand old building of unique architectural character. But when I drew near, it's location in the midst of a labyrinth of freeway interchanges defeated me, so rather than going in for the close-up, I made do with a couple of interesting silhouettes of its towers against a grey sky.

Just to the north of the old station, on the other side of the Klang, Jalan Petalling beckoned. After two hours walking, I was stuffed and in no mood to browse. I sought out the cafe that I remembered from my last visit, but ten years is a long time and it was no more. So I shuffled back down the length of the street and took the monorail back to the hotel, almost its entire route.

This morning my goals were a bit closer to home. My walk was to take me to KLCC, the shopping centre at the Petronas Towers. Though I've been there several times now, this walk sought context. It was disappointing, though, since most of the old KL has been banished from Jalan Ampang. I did spot the Australian High Commission, however, a substantial building and useful, lest I ever need its services on a future visit.

I took the RapidKl train two stops to Dang Wangi, adding yet another Metro to my collection. Entering the station, I spotted a vendor selling fresh fruit and bought a small package of sliced watermelon and another of fresh pineapple. I found a nice spot in the rainforest to enjoy both enormously. Fresh, cold and sweet. I'll be remembering where to find that fruit vendor! Avenue Q, by the way.

In case you were a little confused by the rainforest reference, from Dang Wangi station, I crossed Jalan Ampang to the Bukit Nanas forest reserve, an oasis of rainforest in the central city. If you're considering visiting, however, I recommend choosing another entry point. Over 200 steps in a fairly steep climb up from the entry and I'd definitely earned those tropical fruits!

In the air from Bali to KL, I was entranced by an image of the moon dancing along the ground, mimicking the aircraft's speed. I think it was a reflection of the light of the moon off the surface of the plane. It was spooky, but a very cool phenomenon.



Goodday mate!  A Malaysian milk carton...
Sogo Department Store
The scene of the crime.  I did a lot of shopping and bartering at the Pertama Complex on my first KL visit in 2000
Urban decay...  a fern stakes out it's territory on this building's facade.
Brightly coloured facades
Pink shopfront
Old versus new
A portal into what?
A cooling cascade in the city centre, where they discourage loitering in the cool!
A moorish/arabic facade
Finally, an honest bank!
Filigree tower
The grand old railway station
Jalan Petalling, tourist mecca, the Night Market
Skyscraper reflection
One of the Petronas twins
Kuala Lumpur's rainforest oasis


© Rob Morgan 2010