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Kuala Lumpur

by Charles Smith

April 23, 2006

Malaysia has some of the best highways and the nicest buses in SE Asia, usually only 22 to 26 passengers and only three seats across.  But unlike Thailand there are no toilets in them as the methods some of these people use to wash their asses would have water and turds running out under the door and down the aisle. But still the best way to get to KL from anyplace in Malaysia. The train is slow, always late, and not cheap.  And for air travel the long distances and early arrival time to initial airport and remoteness of KLIA means just as well jump into a VIP bus and be done with it as almost no place is more than five hours away by bus.

Main KL long distance Bus station is Pudu Raya. But there are others so make sure that’s the one they will take you to.

KLIA International airport is 55K from downtown, 55minutes by taxi or limo.  But go to the lower level and there is a cheaper express coach to town. Or, also on lower level, catch the KLIA Express train 28minutes, leaves every 15 minutes; or KLIA Transit 36 minutes, leaves every 30 minutes.  Both RM35 adult / 15 child, to Central Station ­ which is the main transit hub for taxis trains and buses to all over the city.

And, now they have opened a new airport. Specifically for all of the economy class airlines, 20 K from KLIA and spartan facilities in coordination with the lower fares of the discount airlines.  So you have to take a shuttle bus from one airport to the other if you are arriving on a standard airline and switching to an economy one to your final destination, or visa versa -  like most international passengers would be doing. Right now no direct rapid transport to the city but they say that is coming…?

No taxis in KL have meters, or anyplace else that I know of in Malaysia either, they use the old P.T. Barnum theory.  There are 100s of city bus routes but no maps so if you can figure them out you must be psychic, or can speak Bahasa Malayu!  There are excellent skytrains and much easier but there are six different companies and you go up the street or up or down stairs from one to another and pay again.  And almost every ticket counter will tell you there are no maps.  But I finally found one at the tourist info counter at Pasar Seni station, which is close to Pudu Raya and many of the hostels.  Also at many tourist info counters there is a very basic, “CITY MAPS of Kuala Lumper” and it does have a small map in it of the rail transit systems.

Principal things most people on a short stay like to see are: Petronis Twin Towers, KL Tower, National History Museum, and the Official Quarter.

Petronas twin towers are 88 floors, all stainless steel and glass.  www.petrosains.com.my.   Take Putra Terminal train, off at KLCC station.  Visitors can go to the sky bridge at 44th level and while waiting 4 your elevator there is a video showing the towers being built.  9AM ­ 5PM Tuesday to Sunday, closed Monday, no charge ­ free!  Get there early to avoid long queue or disappointment.  Lower levels are a shopping complex and in the basement there is a “Cold Storage” store with mostly imported food and groceries and a nice delicatessen with lots of good stuff to eat and tables and chairs and a self-service microwave.

Next you can walk downhill to the highly visible and even taller (as it sits on a hill-top) Menara Kuala Lumpur, or KL Tower that looks like a pineapple on a tall stick.  www.menarakl.com.my.   Open daily 9AM to 10PM. Elevator fee is RM15 or 20, can’t remember. Wait at the bottom of the steep hill it is perched on for a free shuttle van up to the tower, or walk up if you feel athletic.  There is a 360 degree observation level with free binoculars and they give you a little headset with an audio commentary of what you are seeing as you walk around.  There is an elegant revolving restaurant level, with sky high prices, a ‘Mega View Banquet’ level, and three levels of radio and television and telecommunications studios and facilities.  In the ground floor lobby there is a free video of the tower being built.

Next catch the monorail.  Off at Imbi Station and go into the big new ‘Times Square’ building.  If you are hungry go to Hartz Chicken Buffet on the 4th level, all you can eat for RM16.90, a small version of a true American style serve yourself buffet, with many salads, desserts ­ including ice cream, drinks, many kinds of chicken, fruits, vegetables, soups, gravies. After eating all you can and are stuffed fatter than a toad maybe someone can roll you to the elevator and there is a 3D IMAX theater on the 10th level.  Tel:21173046 or 3047.  When we were there, 17 mar 06, 1st movie was 2PM, last 8PM, three features. But all garbage stuff like “Haunted House” etc so we gave it a pass.  On level five there is ‘Cosmos World Theme Park’ that extends almost to the roof of the building, many floors up, with some unusually extreme carnival type rides.

The official Quarter, west of the Klang River, was built by the British in 1896 for their govt offices and was said to be the finest bldg in the Malay States. Interesting Moorish-style architecture with an eclectic mix of Indian Muslim, Gothic, and other European elements.  Well preserved and still used for Malaysian govt offices.  Easy to find because across the street is Merdeka Square where the Union Jack was lowered on 31 August 1957 signifying end of British Rule.  Now adorned with a 100 meter tall flagpole with an enormous Malaysian Flag.  There is a tourism office there but I have never seen it open.

Nearby is the more than 200 acre KL Lake Gardens City Park with lots of the usual stuff like: an aviary, deer park, bird park, butterfly park, orchid garden, hibiscus garden, ASEAN Sculptor Garden, National Monument, National Mosque, many sorts of small museums, etc ­ most with their own small admission fees, but no fee for the park..  If you can avoid getting lost you can walk thru the park to its southern fringe to visit the National History Museum, which is otherwise quite a way down the highway from city center, it is big and is good.  9AM to 6PM, free.

There are lots of guest houses all over town.  Many are very bad. Even some of the ones with new coats of paint.  The Lonely Planet and some people champion a couple right across the street from Pudu Raya Bus Station. But not my kind of neighborhood.  Many businesses there have locked grids over their doors at night even if they are open for business, and a door bell.  I like to stay at the Hotel Excel Inn at 89 Jalan Petaling, the street with the night market and Chinese lanterns and a glass roof across the top. Walk west from Pudu Raya less than five minutes, take left fork at Mc Donald’s, turn left on Jalan Petaling.  A real obstacle course though if you are late and the night market has already started.  Double rooms are RM49 but she’ll give u a break if staying more than a day or two. All rooms have AC, toilet and shower, hot water, TV, phone.  Six floors, with lift, only the 12 front rooms have windows and six four-person rooms in back have windows. Get there early or phone ahead if you need a window. Each floor has a  water dispenser with ice cold and boiling hot water, so you can make tea or coffee or Milo in your room.  Or go out the door, turn right, turn right at next street and go to a small supermarket and get any sort of noodles and things that you just add hot water to if you want a simple meal in your room while watching TV and letting your sore feet have a rest.  Not elegant or exotic but a good place.

Even more so than Johore Bahru, Pudu Raya is a giant bus station, hot, dirty, bad odors, and probably well populated with pick-pockets.  You could easily screw around in there forever and maybe come out with nothing but a bad impressions.  But there will be lots of touts around the outside carrying ticket books and will ask where you are going.  They know all the buses including the independent ones so will get you onto the very next one to go.  Usually straight away.  Will charge you RM1 extra for the ticket, about US27 cents, and it is an easier start in getting away from that bust city.

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