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Kuala Lumpur: The Magical City


The city of Kuala Lumpur has been named the biggest tourist destination for 2013 and it's easy to see why - modern, clean and green, the city offers many attractions for visitors.

The urban metropolis of Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia brought out the kid in me. It will in others too, which is why I, and others, predict it soon will be a tourist destination for Americans.

Right now, according to our guide, only 200,000 out of 24 million visitors a year are from the U.S. Most are Middle Easterners.

No one could have prepared me for KL. I had expected a third-world country, but this couldn’t be more incorrect. This city of 1.6 million people is modern, clean and green. It offers many attractions and the food is great.

The only downside is that wine and liquor are expensive because of the heavy governmental tax on it. But KL is 46% Muslim, according to the 2010 census, which could explain why the excise tax on alcohol is one of the highest in the world. In spite of this, Malaysia has the 10th highest alcohol consumption in the world. Our guide did say that Middle Easterners come to KL to vacation, and, perhaps, part of that relaxation is to drink alcohol, an activity not tolerated within their home countries.

Malaysia is 61% Muslims, 18% Buddhists, 9% Christians, 6% Hindu and the remainder is largely assorted Chinese religions, according to Wikipedia. David, our Chinese guide in KL, pointed out that all the religions lived in peace. He seemed proud of the fact that the Muslim women in KL wore only headscarves and did not cover their face.

“The ones that are covered are visitors,” he said.

Petronas Towers

The first morning after arrival, we visited the Petronas Towers. Like my incorrect expectations about KL, my anticipation of the Petronas Towers was wrong. I thought it would be the usual up and down the tower experience with a view at the top. But, Petronas Towers has more to offer — cutting edge technology providing wonder and amazement.

Photo by Thomas Mueller

Before entering the elevator to go up midway to floor 41 of the 88-story Tower, there is a hologram speaking to the group of 30 or so visitors in the most melodious tones. She tells us to stay in front of her, that the elevator will soon open and what to expect when we exit on the 41st floor. The nifty thing is that we can put our arms right through her.

The magic of surprise does not end when we reach mid-level at 44th floor. There, after a short walk, we enter the connecting bridge and are told this structure between the two towers is flexible at either end rather than rigid. This provides tractability if the attached towers are struck by high wind or a worse calamity that might cause them to sway.

The next elevator to the top takes only seconds. Lighted structures on the landing demonstrate the tallest buildings in the world. The Towers were built in 2004 and though they were the tallest at that time, they aren’t anymore. Now, that honor goes to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

A demonstration of the technology for visitors. Photo by author

Another unexpected amusement was waiting at the top. Not only were there the usual buttons to light up a board with information about the tower, but also there was a novel device: hold up your ticket to an in-house television screen and with the ticket thrust forward, an image of the Petronas Tower or similar is projected on the screen. The impression is 800 tons of steel right in the visitor’s palm! (Above photo.)

Islamic Museum

Visiting this oasis of calm is like bathing in a warm pool in a beautiful garden. Tranquil ripples flow over the body. These are induced by the generous space along with the worthy artifacts displayed in opulent surrounding.

Photo from Viator.com

The first room we entered was filled with models of mosques from major cities around the world done in exquisite detail. My husband and I felt lucky that we had visited three of the appropriately 22 that were displayed.

Other objects in the museum included glass and ceramics, metalwork, coins and seals, wood, textile, armor, jewelry and Qurans. Knowing something about ceramics, I can say they were of top quality. For me, the only downside was that photography was not permitted.

We had a delicious lunch at the museum café, which was located in the basement near the gift shop. Lunch included a choice of appetizers from a buffet, a selected entrée and a dessert, also from a buffet. The cost was a flat fee of something like $15 apiece.

Our KL guide, told us that the museum was owned by a private person, obviously a collector. He indicated that this person was not originally from KL. Apparently, the museum’s owner made his fortune in Malaysia and wanted to give back to the country.

The National Monument

Situated immediately next to the Perdana Botanical Garden, the setting for this war shrine couldn’t be more exquisite.

Photo by Thomas Mueller

The garden itself has multiple attractions, but the memorial’s draw is that is reveals a great deal about Malaysia’s history. The dead killed in three major conflicts are honored.

The First World War (1914-1918)

Malaysia was a colonial outreach for the British, and Malays fought for the Brits during WWI.

The Second World War (1939-1945)

Again, the Malays fought for the Brits; the Japanese occupied Malaysia during WWII.

The Emergency (1948-1960)

This refers to the communist opposition to British colonial rule among other issues until Malaysia became an independent state on Aug. 31, 1957. Even then, after emancipation, communist factors were disruptive to the Malay government.

Shopping: Kompleks Budaya Kraf

Photo by Thomas Mueller

This handicraft complex is part exhibition hall, part shopping center. It carries products that are upscale compared to the touristy Central Market. In addition, the surroundings are much more tasteful and pleasant.

I bought two batik blouses, batik being a specialty of Malaysia. In fact, there is a textile museum in KL that we did not have time to see, but surely would have been worthwhile.

The National Museum

Photo by Thomas Mueller

The museum is big and it consists of parts. Malaysia’s indigenous people’s exhibit was first. There are 180,000 such individuals living in the deepest part of Malaysia. Apparently, they resist integration and reportedly are happy as they are, although, their conditions are primitive and uncomfortable by our standards.

Immediately next to the aboriginal section is a 19th century native house. It is essentially one room divided into parts with stairs leading up both sides on the front. The museum itself gives the history of Malaysia starting with the Stone Age and ending with Malaccan sultanates on the ground floor. The second floor is devoted to colonial history.

The Evening Finale

And last, but perhaps most magically, are the dancing fountains located proximal to the Mandarin Oriental hotel (as is an upscale shopping mall). At night, not only do they heave forward toward the sky but they also are lit with a multitude of colors. The result is magical, a sight that by itself would put KL high on many people’s tourist list.

Photo by Thomas Mueller

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