|Kuala Lumpur (KL) in its totality ' peripheral
townships and all ' is a fairly large city, and can seem unwieldy to the
unaccustomed eye. Proudly, it is home to an amazing array of cultural and
historical vestiges handed down by a colourful past; home to a multitude
of tongues, languages, religions, customs and quirks; and home to its
three largest communities of Malays, Chinese and Indians, plus a multitude
of lesser known tribes.
Malaysia gives you an enticing concoction of the best cuts from the world's most populous countries ' a sort of value-for-money deal to the Internet-age traveler who wants to see, smell, hear, taste and feel it all. And KL is its distillate, a kaleidoscope of architecture and lifestyles, tropical flora and fauna, cymbals, gongs and percussions, and international cuisines. Free your mind and welcome to its magic!
Colonial Core: The Soul of the City
So this is the place where KL had begun. A few square miles of unspectacular landscape which, 130 years ago, had belonged to just one man. Expect to see lots of brick and mortar today ' beautiful monuments crafted from the hands of people who made a difference.
Align yourself to a heavyweight landmark in modern history and you won't get lost. Get to the Supreme Court, or the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, a Moorish-looking, elongated building dressed in salmon colours and which, apart from being the most photographed site, has been courting a lot of international press lately. Its functioning clock tower has witnessed many historical milestones and is a faithful host of important national events, like the annual National Day Parade.
Across the street is the Dataran Merdeka, or Independence Square, which has evolved from the original cricket green and is now further complemented by a pretty done-up set of water fountain, colonnades and flower beds and an underground food and entertainment offering. You also can't miss the Selangor Club and the St Mary's Cathedral, both unmistakable ornaments of the colonialists? once exclusive lifestyles.
Progressive Islamisation since the 15th Century has bequeathed us some of the greatest mosques this side of Istanbul. Masjid Jamek, the oldest mosque in the country standing just behind the SAS Building, is a fine start.
Chinatown: Bazaars of the Past
The Central Market was a wet market in the older days; it now houses painters, sculptors, fortune-tellers and traders hawking a wide range of curios, collectibles and passable art. Another paradise for connoisseurs of kitsch is to be found in Petaling Street, a 500m tarmac street of century-old shophouses, which, together with the neighbouring blocks of similar offerings, are collectively known as Chinatown. When KL was ruled by one salt-of-the-earth Hakka immigrant, gambling dens, brothels, opium parlours and secret societies flourished. Glimpses of the past can still be had ' if you look hard enough ' in the frantic deal making, the Chinese-ness in the air and the seeming lawlessness of pirate VCD peddlers.
Lake Gardens Area: Serenity amidst Solemnity
The greener side of KL began as a vegetable and tapioca field. The Lake Garden and its vicinity is one of the better-executed public works. It's flagged today by the Parliament House and the commemorative National Monument, the Tun Abdul Razak Memorial, the National Monument and numerous parks ' the Orchid Garden, the Bird Park, the Hibiscus Garden, the Butterfly Park and the Deer Park. Explore further and you would be rewarded amply with the Islamic Art Museum, the National Mosque and aptly, the KL Railway Station at the end of the line. Not just any railway station, this one definitely qualifies as an 'Around the World In 80 Days? filming prop, with a Malaysian twist for treat ' KL's grid of motorcar flyovers has managed to bisect this turn-of-the-century artifact at a convenient overhead entry. See it for yourself.
Golden Triangle & KLCC: Portal of Consumerism
For the city's latest entry for the consumerist race, tell the cabbie to head for one of the shopping establishments. Which one? To err on the side of caution, choose the tallest among them ' still for now the tallest in the region ' the Petronas Twin Towers. However, to appreciate what this gigantic petroleum-funded structure meant for this country's conscience, take a stroll in the KLCC Park and see golden dusky rays bounce off the 452m pleasure dome plastered in silver and glass, and take a moment to reflect.
Certainly there were other shopkeepers and department stores before KLCC. And the most expensive and well stocked of these are scattered around the intersection of Jalan Sultan Ismail and Jalan Bukit Bintang, which lends its name to the latest and most happening café and party strip ' the Bintang Walk.
Ampang: Home of the Millionaires
What happened to the tin barons who got rich from the mineral that made KL? The Kapitan Cina's considerable fortune and power lasted less than three generations, but others were smarter and lived within their means. The Ampang enclave hides a precious loot of private residences where the moneymen once lived and still live. Some of these architectural marvels serve as glimmering veneers of cool and clever enterprises and conceal some of the city's best-kept secrets.
As for the old footpath to the Ampang tin mines, the evolved Jalan Ampang is now lavishly adorned with eateries and merry-making joints of tantalising varieties, seamlessly blending with and into the adjacent necessary instruments of commerce ' the high-rise office blocks, hotels, foreign embassies, and political offices. For an unbeatable view of all these and more, head to the third tallest telecommunications tower in the world, the KL Tower, on Bukit Nanas.
Other Interesting Districts
Kuala Lumpur is just as fascinating for lovers of Indian subjects ' check out Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, a mile-long street running north from SAS Building, and the adjacent Jalan Masjid India.
Bangsar, a district comparable to Holland Village in Singapore and Lan Kwai Fong in Hong Kong, is a yuppie and expatriate haunt with matching menu prices and snob appeal. Chow, grog, fads, raves and revelries converge within three blocks of double-storey shophouses. Party on!