I’d really just planned a peek at Kuala Lumpur en route to Cambodia, but we ended up loving this city and packing in more than I’d dreamed. I can’t start this travelogue without a nod to our spectacular AirBnB apartment. Located in central Kuala Lumpur, near 2 light rail stations and a monorail station, this brand new building is ultramodern, staffed with lots of helpful people, sporting a great view from the floor-to-ceiling windows in the 2-bedroom/2-bath apartment, a spectacular rooftop pool and more. All this for $65, all-in. We loved it!
We found the city to be super-cheap and public transportation easy to navigate. We opted for a street food dinner the first night, and were blown away by our 16 ringgit ($3.84) dinner-for-two. David “splurged” on an additional 24 cent pound cake dessert. Choosing our spot by the size of the crowd and the friendliness of the owner, we pointed to the dishes we wanted, then sat outside at communal tables. It was hot and humid (and we did spot a rat at an adjacent patch of dirt and weeds), but the food was good, very plentiful and we felt like we’d dined like locals.
The next morning, we hopped the subway for Central Market, browsing the stalls and pausing for a quick Malaysian lunch in the market, before wandering the market streets of Chinatown and a Chinese Buddhist temple
We realized early on that there’s some sort of glitch in Google Maps when it comes to KL local trains. Google claims that every ride, no matter how short or how few stops will take “55 minutes.” We learned to ignore the travel estimates. For example, the ride from the Central Market stop to KL Sentral station for our 1:15pm appointment to go up the Petronas towers took less than 10 minutes.
The change from grubby, bustling China Town to the ultra-modern downtown area and the swank Petronas Towers was startling. The difference in pricing was also jarring. It cost 80myr ($19.17) to visit the skybridge and top observation floor, not horrible by home standards, but a fortune in light of the cost of our local meal, transport, the markets, etc. KL is a city of huge contrasts. It was fun to visit the beautiful towers and something not to miss in KL. [If you don’t buy tickets online, you can be stuck in a long line. Although the online website claims you can’t buy tickets online less than 24 hours before, we found that not to be the case. Just create an account and proceed, and you can buy a ticket if there’s an open time slot.]
Discounting Google Map’s grossly exaggerated travel time estimate, we set out for the sleeper hit of Kuala Lumpur: Batu Caves, a 25 minute, 2.60 ringgit ($.64), air-conditioned commuter train ride out of the city. [Note: the trains for Batu Caves only leave every 45 minutes during the middle of the day (every 15 minutes later on, and maybe earlier). Check the schedule before you pass the styles or you’re in for a hot wait by the tracks.] The caves are the site of numerous Hindu shrines and are a unique and exotic locale, offering free admittance. The main two caves lie at the top of a steep flight of stairs over which a huge golden statue of the Hindu god Murugan stands. Unfortunately, restoration is going on, so some of the beauty (and silence) was marred by construction work. It was still fascinating, with ongoing services, open to the public.
Loud drums and clanging cymbals in the upper cave signaled the beginning of a ceremony. A curtain was pulled back to reveal monks, tossing flowers and waving oil-fed candelabra. David joined a blessing ceremony, receiving a white mark on his forehead with the blessing (after making a small donation).
Macaques roam the caves and surrounding areas, on the lookout for treats. Tiny babies clung to their mothers as they darted across the floor, snatching food offerings from the shrines and following visitors. They’ll steal, if you don’t keep belongings close. We found them pushy, but not particularly aggressive.
Batu Caves was a highlight of our stay in Kuala Lumpur. It’s an easy trip and fun to see the contrast with the city. The commuter train lets you off very near the entrance to the sight. Go!