I’d been to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia several times for work. On my 3rd visit, it was again for work, but this time I got to mix in some exploration time.
I was really there to take care of the Philippine race team that joined the Formula Drift motorsport event. This is a motorsport where cars race in a sideway drift. The event itself was impressive, with many racers from different countries joining in. I salute the event organizers for this one, given it was done right smack in the historical landmark site of Merdeka Square – the equivalent of historical Luneta Grandstand in the Philippines – where it was smoothly and professionally run under the watchful eye of ESPN and the brains behind FD, Marcus Lim.
I just have to insert into this post of course that Filipino pride was in the air for our group that time. Our driver David Feliciano did pretty good considering the kind of talent and race car power he was up against. And the event was fantabulous just like it was in the previous legs held in Singapore and Thailand.
After it was all over and most of the race team members flew back home ahead of me, I had a day to take in the sights together with a few friends (like master photographers Brent Co and Angelo Agojo) who had later flights. We had some help from the most entertaining tour drivers ever (call the very helpful Mr. Ravi at 0192294354 if you will visit there!).
There were many things in Malaysia that struck me during this trip.
First is that everyone can speak English pretty well, even the drivers. It was like being in Singapore, only the surroundings and cityscape weren’t as developed yet but definitely I saw a very progressive and bustling business district. Compared to Thailand, one won’t have a hard time communicating with locals in Malaysia.
What also struck me is how many billboards of the King I saw around the city. It’s like every other billboard promoted the greatness of their King. And from what I am told, he is a generous King. They say that once a year millions of people line up at the King’s palace to receive a certain token amount of money from the king as a gift– imagine how much is given away with a million people in line there! I wonder why the King is not smiling much in his images, though. He always looks so serious!
This story was shared with us while we were peeking at the King’s Palace grounds from the gate, and a grand sight it was! And at the gate was the emblem of Malaysia – a badge showing crossed laurel leaves (I think) with 2 golden tigers, the official animal symbol of Malaysia (in the same way that the elephant symbolizes Thailand). And while reading some history boards outside the palace gates we discovered that Formula Drift racer Tenku Djan and his family are somehow related to the King!
In the course of circling the city we had come back to Merdeka Square to look at a flag pole that I hadn’t really noticed during the event. I was told that the said flagpole was actually the tallest in all of Asia.
Speaking of tall things, it was almost mandatory to pass by the Petronas Towers, and even if I had been there before, its beauty is still a marvel to behold, especially at night. It’s not surprising to see many photographers lying on their backs on the pavement across it, trying to make the towers fit into their camera frames for a good photo (in the previous night, our companion Artie was one of those… good thing no one tripped over him!).
Also in this impromptu tour, we went up the tower called Menara and I was struck again by how organized the official tower itinerary was once you step into the viewing deck at the top, with radio sets that informed you of country details at every step you take around the tower windows. I knew exactly what I was looking at the time I wanted to know. Our tour driver also told us that once a year, people parachute from the top of this tower as part of an annual celebration of sorts. Sounds like fun!
And of course, we stopped at the middle of one of the bridges in the city and discovered that the river we were crossing (the Kuala Lumpur river) was where life in Malaysia originated. The water was all brown and muddy though, but not smelly and with no trash floating in it.
Walking the streets of Malaysia is not very different from walking around Manila. Malaysians look like Filipinos albeit slightly darker. Different nationalities abound, especially Indians.
If you’re going to Kuala Lumpur, there are many hotels to choose from. I have tried the Prince Hotel in past trips and it wasn’t bad For this trip, we stayed at the Royal Chulan Hotel in Bukit Bintang (at roughly USD120), which has a slightly dated (though still regal) interior with a great view of the swimming pool and is just a stone’s throw away from several malls.
The nearest mall to Royal Chulan is the Pavilion Mall (also in Bukit Bintang) where we ate almost everyday.
But if you want to stay at a less expensive yet homey hotel try Bintang Fairlane Residences, which, although located in a rather rundown corner, has decent amenities, a complete kitchenette, living room, dining area and bedroom all within USD88. It’s a very short distance from the Pavilion mall but probably a bit challenging for taxi drivers to find (our own tourist guide driver had a hard time finding it).
Of course the last impression of Malaysia one takes back home is the airport experience. I had quite a blunder with my return flight (I missed it completely and had to hastily book a flight on an economy airline) so in transferring from the main airport to the economy airport I was able to see and compare. I would not advise going for the budget airline flights which dock at the economy airport. If you’re on one of the decent airlines (Philippine Airlines or Thai Airways), don’t miss your flight! The main airport is quite impressive and decent, so try to stay there.
I wasn’t able to go to other tourist spots I wanted to see… meaning there will be another post for Malaysia! Watch this space J