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Roundup of Kuala Lumpur

July 6, 2012

We spent a total of two days and three nights in Malaysia’s capital city of Kuala Lumpur.  Overall, both WWW greatly enjoyed our stay here, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that KL wasn’t just another boring Asian metropolis.  This post gathers my final words on WHERE we stayed and ate, WHAT we did and saw, and HOW we made it from point A to point B.   For more in-depth info on particular sights, see my earlier posts on the 5 highlights of Kuala Lumpur and the Batu Caves.  This post quickly became very lengthy, so click “more” after the jump to see all the info about our hotel, the restaurants we visited, and the abundant methods of transportation in the city.

SEE & DO

I lauded my top 5 picks– the KL Tower, Chinatown, Sri Mahammariaman, Lake Gardens Park, and the Petronas Towers– of things to see and do in Kuala Lumpur in an earlier post.  So, I’ll only mention here the cost and superlatives related to all of the sights we visited and include what I left off the top 5 list.

KL Tower

Cost: 45 RM/per person

Superlatives: Most expensive sight; best views; weirdest tourist gimmicks (“petting zoo” and “pony rides”)

Chinatown

Cost: FREE to walk around

Superlatives: Most crowded; best place to watch locals

Sri Mahamariamman

Cost: FREE entry; 0.20RM shoe storage

Superlatives: First visit to Hindu temple for WWW and I; noisiest

Lake Gardens Park

Cost: FREE to walk around, but there are entrance fees for attractions such as Bird Park and Orchid Garden (which was free on the day we went: Monday)

Superlatives: Most expansive; most relaxing (aside from getting lost)

Petronas Towers

Cost: FREE to walk around and inside; FREE sky-bridge tickets, but you have to queue in advance

Superlatives: Most iconic; WWW’s favorite architecture

National Palace

Opulent entrance to the National Palace

Cost: FREE to take pictures, but you can’t go inside

Superlatives: Fastest sight completed

Lowdown: The Hop-On Hop-Off Bus will stop for 10 minutes at this sight so that visitors can walk around the entrance and take pictures of the main gate with the guards on horseback and the palace in the background.  There are also some nice views of KL if you turn and take photos in the opposite direction.  I’m not sure if any other forms of public transport stop near here.  We only saw tour buses and taxis.

Suria KLCC

Cost: FREE to walk around, but expensive to shop.

Superlatives: Most luxury brands; most reminiscent of home (Dallas’s Arboretum, anyone?)

Lowdown: We only did a quick walk through the mall, which was absolutely huge!  There were many global brands represented, and I always find it interesting to explore retail centers in foreign countries.  High-end malls are a lot like international airports in many ways.  They seem to transport you to a liminal space removed from a specific locale or timezone (I refer to this phenomenon as “airport world,” especially when making those 24 + hour treks that are experienced through the haze of a near-comatose state of jet-lag exacerbated by extreme intake of goodies from each airport’s Starbucks.)

National Mosque

Food carts outside National Mosque

Cost: FREE

Superlatives: Ashley’s favorite architecture (this combines the best of modern minimalism and traditional Islamic decoration)

Lowdown: We only wondered around the outside of the mosque and took pictures as it was closed to non-Muslim visitors at the time we arrived (boo, Lonely Planet for incorrect or possibly outdated hour information).  I found the modern Islamic architecture to be extremely unique and absolutely stunning.

Islamic Arts Museum

Entrance to Islamic Arts Museum

Cost: 12 RM/ per person

Superlatives: Most educational; most disappointing (the beautiful domes on the museum roof were under conservation and closed to the public)

Lowdown: As an art historian, I felt obligated to visit this museum since it is hailed as one of the best Islamic art museums in the world.  The collections and curation were all high quality, but there wasn’t much life in and around the museum.  The Museum’s decorative domes, which I was the most excited to see, were stripped of all their gorgeous designs and under restoration at the time of our visit.  So much for my thoroughly premeditated photo-op!  Don’t you ever visit a place solely based on its photogenic quality?

Batu Caves

Golden statue of Lord Murugan and stairs to Caves.

This was technically a trip outside the city (about 8 miles), but is easily reachable by train from KL Sentral.

Cost: FREE; train one-way costs 2RM or less than 1 USD

Superlatives: Most monkeys, bats, and birds

Lowdown: See my earlier post about our entire adventure in and around the Caves.

STAY

Shangri-La

During our time in Kuala Lumpur, we stayed at the Shangri-La Hotel situated in the city’s Golden Triangle.

View of Shangri-La from KL Tower

Pros:

Location: We found this area central enough that you could walk to several sites such as the the KL and Petronas Towers, as well as many restaurants and night-life venues.  Additionally, one of the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus stops and the Bukit Nanas Monorail Station are steps away.

Room: Our room (the Deluxe) was extremely nice on all fronts.  The large walk-in shower was a particular highlight after days spent out in the heat and humidity.

Service: Everyone at the hotel from the waitstaff to the concierge were extremely pleasant and attentive.  The housekeeping staff kept our room well-stocked and immaculate, and we found the small touches in keeping with a four-star establishment.

Cons:

Nickels and dimes: WWW and I would typically classify ourselves as budget travelers.  In fact, during all of my travel in Asia, I’ve fallen into the backpacker category.  We decided to indulge a little bit on this vacation (hence, the Shangri-La), especially since it is generally less expensive to travel in style in Asia than in America or Europe.  However, we refuse to pay more than we think something is worth.  In short, we are the types to stay at a nice hotel but then take the bus everywhere.  This is compounded by our combined years traveling in China and other Asian countries for insanely cheap.  That said, we found the Shangri-La’s tendency to nickel and dime its guests a huge turn-off.  Granted, we got a really good deal on our room relative to comparable hotels in the area and likely most any other Shangri-La in the world, but we didn’t realize that would lead to a premium being placed on everything around us (yes, we are luxury rookies).

First, immediately upon our arrival, they wanted to “upgrade us.”  No, not a free upgrade because they had available rooms, but what American’s would classify as a “hard-sell” technique that made us feel uncomfortable with our “inferior” room.

Second, the hotel arranges to have taxis for its guests queued right outside the entrance at all times.  We thought this was a fabulous service.  What we didn’t realize is that these taxis are at least double what a typical metered taxi in KL would cost.  We only made this mistake once after the driver told us that his meter price of almost 25 RM was “good” for a trip from the hotel to Little India.  Taking a city taxi on the way back, the meter read 8.90 RM from door to door.  Most travelers might not care about paying extra for the convenience, but we found it unnecessary.

Third, the hotel restaurants were egregiously expensive in comparison to most any other dining option in KL.  We knew this would be the case considering that we were staying at a high-end hotel which one would presume matches the price with the quality of the food.  However, after paying 25USD/per person for a breakfast buffet that we found completely sub-par, this maxim just didn’t hold true for the Shangri-La.

Small gripes: Upon booking, I requested a city-view room, which the hotel said they’d be more than happy to accommodate.  When we arrived, the desk clerk confirmed that he had given us a city view of the Petronas Towers.  However, looking out the window of our room, we quickly realized that all of this was blocked by the construction of another building.  So, our view was an adjacent wall of the hotel and a construction site.

When I went to blow dry my hair the first night, we found– only after much searching– that the blow drier was permanently hooked into the top drawer of the desk in the bedroom, which is across the entire room from the bathroom.  The cord barely allowed enough slack to reach from the inside of the drawer to my head while seated in the desk chair.

EAT

The Olive Tree

No. G6-G7, Menara Hap Seng | Jalan P Ramlee, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Tel: 03-2031 7887

This Indian restaurant is on the lower-level of an indoor shopping center and was a quick five-minute walk from our hotel.  Both a buffet and full entree menu were available.  We ordered curries from the latter, which we thought were very well done.  Their mango lassi is also amazing!

Central Market Foodcourt

Central Market on the edge of Chinatown

Jalan Hang Kasturi, Kuala Lumpur 50050, Malaysia

We ate at one of the small restaurants in the food court here.  I can’t remember the name, but it was a kiosk in the center of the foodcourt rather than one of the stalls around the perimeter.  The Char Kway Teow we had was delicious (we were starving!), but somehow our order was forgotten and it came with a 30-minute wait.

Little India Restaurant

The place that gave me food poisoning!  I have absolutely no idea of the name of the place we ate.  We settled on this indoor/outdoor restaurant based on the copious amount of patrons.  Once again, we ordered off the menu instead of going through the buffet.  However, the waiter just scooped what we ordered from hot plates on the buffet line and presented them to us.  Both of our dishes were lukewarm at best and not even very flavorful.  I ordered a basket of garlic naan, which was hot and delicious.  Then, I spent the next 24-hours in pain.  However, you are often taking a chance when it comes to the health standards in Asia.  I’d advise sticking with things that are prepared-to-order and cooked over high-heat (this is why I mostly stick with food stalls or nicer restaurants in China).  Others have had fantastic experiences in KL’s Little India, so go but be cautious.

Lemon Garden

Shangri-La Hotel, 11 Jalan Sultan Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, 50250, Malaysia Tel: (60 3) 2032 2388

This is one of the Shangri-La’s restaurants and where an expansive buffet breakfast is offered daily.  I had heard raves on Trip Advisor when booking the hotel about how phenomenal the Lemon Garden breakfast was.  My comments above sum up my and WWW’s disappointment, particularly in light of the cost.

Lemon To-Go

Shangri-La 11 Jalan Sultan Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, 50250, Malaysia T: (60 3) 2032 2388

During my bout of food poisoning, I was confined to the hotel for an entire evening and could only manage to eat the pasta salad from this to-go style cafe in the Shangri-La.  After a certain hour, all of the remaining perishables (salads, sandwiches, pre-made pastas) are half-off, making this a relatively cheap option.  For me, this dining experience was really about getting sustenance while curled in the fetal position on the bed watching CNN on the hotel TV.  Under those circumstances, Lemon To-Go was a life-saver.

GETTING AROUND

KL Hop-On Hop-Off 

WWW and I used KL’s Hop-On Hop-Off City Tour Bus to get around the city during the majority of our first day.  There are several stops near the Shangri-La which are respectively used to access the KL Tower and Petronas Towers.  This tour bus is a double-decker that provides a peerless perspective of the city from its streets.  I really enjoyed this aspect of the ride, as some of my favorite travel memories are the moments spent absorbing the views out the windows (or lack there of) of taxis in Paris, tuk-tuks in Bangkok, and buses throughout China.  There are few things as exhilarating as whizzing through a metropolis on some form of local transportation (bonus points if it is at night with the city lights glowing and and creating symphonic patterns of blurred lines in the background while your French cabbie belts out “Aux Champs-Elysees”).  The Hop-On Hop-Off has a total of 24 stops at strategic spots in the city, typically adjacent to many of the major attractions.  This allowed us to make a loop around the city, while listening to a prerecorded account with excellent English about the various sights, and hop-on and off as fancy struck.  At first, we despaired over paying 38RM (~$13)/per person for the day-pass, but we figured after seeing most of the places on our list that multiple cabs wouldn’t have been that much cheaper given our several experiences of KL cab drivers refusing to use the meter.    Unfortunately, when we headed from the Shangri-La to Little India that night, we narrowly missed the 8pm cut-off of the bus, which doesn’t just stop running at 8pm, but will stop service in the middle of its route rather than going all the way to stop 24.

Train

I discuss more about our overwhelmingly positive experience on the train from KL Sentral to the Batu Caves here.

Monorail

We only used the monorail once to get from the hotel to KL Sentral, which was a very convenient route.  However, the relatively small number of monorail stops and their general trajectory through the city leave out a large portion of KL’s main sights and areas of interest.  We were happy to use this mode of transport, but it would have been impossible for most of our movements throughout the city.

Shangri-La taxis

As I discussed above, the Shangri-La taxis are the blue vans that start the meter at 6RM rather than 3RM.  Though it was convenient to have taxis queued outside the hotel and not have to worry about haggling or a language barrier (the hotel staff tells them where you are going), seasoned Asia travelers such as ourselves found this a little superfluous.

City taxis

We had several KL taxi drivers refuse to use a meter, even though signs appear on nearly all the cab doors clearly stating that haggling is illegal.  I’ve had nearly identical experiences in Bangkok and throughout China, but some travelers may be thrown.  When possible, we sought out cabs that did agree to use the meter (as expected, this is typically most difficult near tourist sights where many foreigners are looking for taxis).  Our trips were never more than 10RM within the city.

Have you been to Kuala Lumpur?  What are your recommendations for staying, eating, seeing, doing, and getting around?

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