Ah, so touristy of us! But you see, here’s my travel philosophy: Do the touristy stuff first, then do what locals do. Don’t you dare leave the country without doing both or else, the experience would be somehow half-baked. You see, I believe that touristy places are ‘touristy’ for a reason. (Read: When I say touristy, I don’t mean tourist traps!) They’re popular because they’re worth a visit. I’m a sucker for museums, national parks, and monuments as they are great places to learn more about the country’s history and people.
So – for my husband and I’s first free weekend here in KL, we went to Merdeka Square, the KL City Gallery, and the Central Market. Along the way, we were able to pass by beautiful vintage architecture as well as Masjid Jamek (This was around 3 weekends ago so I’m kinda late in posting this! So sorry about that – been rather busy). I haven’t been to Malaysia before and though my husband has been here a couple of times, he has never set foot in most of Malaysia’s historically important places. IMHO, going to KL just for shopping and not really appreciating the place is a complete waste of time and funds. The city is so rich with culture and diversity – it’s a must to get out there to learn and experience everything first hand!
Well, the husband does admit that his travels prior to meeting me were complete brouhahas and now, getting to visit new (and even old places) are more fun cos he now has better company. We’re cheesy like that. 😉
Where was I? Ah, our little field trip right smack in the middle of the city. We left the house at around 11 in the morning. The sun rises and sets pretty late here in KL this time of year so it wasn’t that hot yet but I still opted to bring a water bottle and stash it in my bag as we will be gone the whole day and I knew there will be lots of walking involved so I dressed for comfort.
We live within the City Centre otherwise known as KLCC and it’s pretty easy to get to our destination via the LRT (Kelana Jaya Line). For tourists, this is also the best way to get around the capital as traffic here can be pretty heavy. The best station to get off from is Masjid Jamek which is only 3 stations away from KLCC and 2 from KL Sentral (where a lot of the hotels are). The train ride costs RM1.60 (Php21.91, US0.50, EUR0.37) per person, one way. It’s a bit of a walk from the station to Merdeka Square which is our major destination but it’s the farthest thing from boring.
One of the fist things you will see after getting off the station is Masjid Jamek (Jamek Mosque) which is also known as the Friday Mosque. Yes, the train station is named after it so it’s easy enough to remember! 🙂
Built in 1909 at the junction of the rivers Klang and Gombak, this mosque is a sight to see. It used to be KL’s main mosque until Masjid Negara (National Mosque) opened. The was built over the first Malay burial site in the city and is known for its beautiful facade which is a mix of Islamic, Moorish, and Magul architecture. Right after the mosque, you will see a small bazaar with a good number of stalls selling clothes, food, and other knick-knacks. As you go further down the road, you will see the Old Market Square (Lebuh Pasar Besar) which is lined by old, beautiful buildings with Dutch gables. Yap Ah Loy, the founding father of Kuala Lumpur, rented out several of the establishments in Old Market Square to businessmen back in the day.
In the middle of the Old Market Square is the Clock Tower known for its distinct Art Deco design. It was built in 1937 to commemorate the coronation of King George VI of England.
By that time, it was a little over past noon and my husband and I were already talking about getting some lunch. Food is something you will never have a hard time with in KL – good food comes cheap and restaurants and hawker stalls are in almost every street. We stopped by one of the smaller eateries near the Clock Tower and I ended up ordering this:
A couple of tips: One thing you should know about ordering in the Malaysian version of eateries is that you should learn to tell the server when to stop putting food on your plate – otherwise, they will just keep dumping rice and veggies to go with your main dish. They are VERY generous when it comes to servings. If you’re not a fan of spicy food, you should also ask whether the dish you’re getting is spicy or not. When they say ‘a bit’, it means that it’s still quite spicy and when they say ‘yes, it is’, it means it’s on the ‘i-can’t-feel-my-tongue-anymore’ level. They will also add sauce to your rice to add more flavour – sauce that usually comes from other spicy dishes (even if you ordered a non-spicy dish). So if your tolerance for spice is on the lower side, do be careful and tell them that you can’t handle it. Most of the servers are very accommodating anyways. When you encounter a server who’s not that good in English, expect a lot of pointing and a short game of charades. However, most people in KL can speak English so it shouldn’t be a problem. I, however, sometimes have a hard time understanding thick Asian accents. Just ask them to say it again nicely – they always accommodate. I was gonna take a photo of Alvin’s order but he was already happily eating. Heat and walking makes my husband very hungry so I didn’t have the heart to stop him from devouring his lunch. 😉 We then proceeded to the KL City Gallery where they let visitors in for free. Here, you will get a chance to learn more about the history of Kuala Lumpur. Entrance is free, by the way, and they also have maps and other city guides (also for free!) which you can just grab and use to make going around KL easier.
The Moorish-style building that houses the City Gallery was built in 1898 and was formerly the government’s printing press. Inside, there are various displays showing the history of the city. There was also a video showing the day when the Union Flag was lowered in Merdeka Square for the last time. It got me a bit excited and I had my nerdy smile on while watching it.
But the City Gallery’s main attraction is the 50ft-wide KL City Model that accurately shows the city’s skyline. You enter the room where the model is in small groups and you are treated to a short video presentation about KL’s history, its present status, and the future developments for it planned by the government.
We made it! Just across the City Gallery is Merdeka Square or Dataran Merdeka in Malay. Malaysia’s ‘Freedom/Independence Square’ is home to the country’s tallest flagpole which marks the spot where the Union Jack was lowered for the last time and the Malaysian flag was first hoisted at midnight on 31 August 1957.
During the World Cup, the public would gather at Merdeka Square during the wee hours of the morning to watch the games live. Supporters of the different countries playing in the last couple of rounds would come together and cheer for their bets.
One other thing I like about KL is how serious they are when it comes to preserving nature. Aside from several nature and even bird/butterfly parks in various areas of the city, KL also has trees lining up their roads – trees that are hundreds of years old! Some of them were already around back when the British were still in control of the Federation of Malaya. One more thing I love about KL having lots of pretty trees is that they play a huge role on how even though it’s really hot and sunny here in the city, it’s not as humid as you would expect it to be and there’s always a bit of wind to help you cool down.
Our last stop for that day was the Central Market – a haven for Malaysian crafts, jewellery, furniture, and some other knick-knacks. The Central market is a sky blue building that’s easy to spot even from far away because of this:
It’s a great place to buy souvenirs and traditional decor for those who are thinking of going for an Asian theme for their homes. Here are some cute finds inside:
And of course, I wouldn’t miss an opportunity to goof around with my husband. Most people here often think that he’s Chinese/Japanese/Korean rather than Filipino – some locals even talk to him in Chinese. Well, it’s nothing new. It also happens in Manila. One of the Ambassadors I personally knew in Manila even told me at a reception: “Oh, so you’re married to a Japanese diplomat? I thought you said Filipino, the last time we saw each other!” I was teasing Alvin that he would blend easily here in KL and that maybe, when he’s not too tired during the weekends, he can do this for fun with the tourists:
That’s it for now. Took me a couple of days on and off to write this as it’s been busy at the Embassy and at home. I find myself seeing my husband’s colleagues and bosses a lot (Yay!), joining expat organisations in some of their activities (Again, yay!), and even squeezing in some professional writing for a couple of features that I will sending back to Manila (Yay, work!). I don’t feel like a housewife on some days, to be honest. But hey, I’m having so much fun. I promise to post here again pretty soon. More travel and beauty stuff, yes? Lots of nice things to see and try out here in this city after all. 😉 Love, Carol