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Impressions of Kuala Lumpur

“How much? Ten Ringgit?” I fork out a note to the silent man clasping a stack of faded blue tickets. Gruffly, he hands me one with the change. Standing outside Kuala Lumpur’s Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT), I feel as though I have just landed in Indonesia. The lush carpet of greenery from the air, marked with endless rows of oil palms; the equatorial heat piercing through the billowing, crumpled clouds; the gentle maelstrom of organised chaos… all this is reminiscent of a half-forgotten childhood vacation.

We clamber onto the airport bus and I am pointed to the fold-down seat by the door. There’s no safety belt, only a long handlebar to my left for any curves and sharp turns on the road. My reward is a wide-angle view of the way into Kuala Lumpur, past rounded hillsides dripping with tropical foliage, clusters of red-roofed cottages, and a series of signs pointing to the purpose-built capital, Putrajaya. I am told it means “Victorious son” in Bahasa Melayu.

Night falls and we find ourselves opposite the Central Market, a low art deco building in pastel blue and white. Our table is a vivid shade of tropical azure, almost glistening below the comforting whirr of ceiling fans and panels of Arabic calligraphy. It is here, in a cozy, unpretentious place completely open to the street, that I have my first taste of pulled tea – Teh tarik. Frothy and infused with the sweetness of condensed milk, it is a perfect counterpoint to our murtabaks, meaty omelettes draped in a paper-thin layer of rolled dough. Outside the call to evening prayer comes blaring in on loudspeakers, gradually giving way to the familiar voice of Amy Winehouse. We are here on a brief stopover, but multicultural Kuala Lumpur – a dizzying concoction of Malay, Chinese and Indian traditions – already has me wanting to stay.

Looking towards Jamek Mosque

Skyscraper in Arabesque

Merdeka Square

Victorian clock tower

Sultan Abdul Samad Building, Merdeka Square

Moorish meets Gothic Revival

Beneath the Petronas Towers

The towers by night

Dinnertime, Pasar Seni

18 Comments Post a comment
  1. Neat post James! And nice images.
    Strangely, KL did not appeal to me very much during a brief visit in 2001! Could have been me, but I perceived a distinct lack of local culture, that is so abundant in the rest of SE Asia! Friends have told me I am mistaken, so perhaps it deserves another chance 🙂

    May 12, 2012
    • Thanks Madhu! I’ve always been curious to see KL as my parents lived there a few years before I was born! I know what you mean about the culture there – a lot of it seems to be imported from other places. Then again it is a relatively young city (having been founded only in the 1850s) so it doesn’t have quite the same appeal as either Malacca or Penang.

      May 12, 2012
  2. nice photos thank you

    May 12, 2012
  3. JoV #

    Thanks for capturing my country in such a beautiful light. No matter how many times I look at other pictures of the Petronas towers at night, it still to me one of the most beautiful in the world. To say the city lack a distinct local culture is entirely misguided, because the base culture is Malay before the immigration of other cultures in the middle of 19th century but because of the distinct culture of other races, we create our own fusions of culture, and it is called the Malaysian culture and one that is very unique, including the cuisines.

    May 13, 2012
    • No problem – I had only a small taste of Malaysia but it was enough to make me want to return another time.

      May 13, 2012
  4. Great photos as always! I love the way you bring out the details!

    May 14, 2012
    • Thank you, Erica! There’s still more to come. 😉

      May 14, 2012
      • yay! can’t wait!

        May 15, 2012
  5. lilis #

    nice, I’ll come there this next year 😉

    December 9, 2012
  6. Henry #

    James, thanks so much for the post. Your photos are really beautifully capturing Kuala Lumpr. Being a KL boy who is very familiar with these places, I am impressed by the perspective and angles you took those pictures. I think familiarity breeds contempt……… I can hardly see KL in such wonderful lenses. Good job!

    December 3, 2013
    • Thank you, Henry! I was only there for a night… but looking back it would have been better to give KL another 2-3 days at least. My parents used to live there (well really in PJ) before I was born, so I definitely felt a personal connection to the place!

      December 3, 2013
  7. jefftalledo #

    Nice shots…especially the towers.

    April 4, 2014
  8. Ari Vanuaranu #

    Give Kuala Lumpur another chance, it is in fact a wonderful place to visit. You might feel that it lacks originality as it seems to import everything from elsewhere in Asia, but that’s what makes the city special!

    August 28, 2014
    • I will, Ari – my experience of KL was limited to a short stopover before going to Laos, and I didn’t have much time to sample the street food or explore more of the city on foot. I also have a good friend from college who lives there, so it would be great to get an insider’s perspective!

      August 28, 2014
  9. Hi, new follower and blogger here 🙂 Love your blog! Very beautiful shots 🙂 I had just posted my first blog on my recent trip to Pahang which is in the East Coast Malaysia. Feel free to check them out and maybe you could gain some tips if you ever come back to malaysia. Cheers!

    November 29, 2014
    • Terima kasih! I haven’t seen very much of Malaysia at all… hopefully I will do that in an upcoming trip. Melaka, Langkawi, Sabah and Sarawak are all on my wish list. 🙂

      November 30, 2014

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