Changing of the guard at The National Palace
A couple hours after touching down in Malaysia, I was off on a city tour in the capable hands of Stevie Y.S. Chan, tour guide/manager for The Original Backpacker’s Travellers Inn in Kuala Lumpur. According to Stevie, the average length of stay in Kuala Lumpur is three to five days. This surprised me, since I was under the impression most tourists preferred to give KL a quick look and then set off to explore the country.
Sightseeing in Kuala Lumpur
I recommend that first-time visitors schedule at least a half-day city tour to get their bearings as well as a quick KL history lesson. Some of the major sites you’ll hit include the Mederka Square (Malaysia’s Independence Square), The National Palace (the changing of the guard occurs at approximately 90-minute intervals), Lake Gardens (a green oasis in the midst of the city), the Central Market (an arts and crafts market rather than a food market– definitely worth a look if you’re hunting for souvenirs to take home), and Chinatown (a good place to stop for lunch). If you take a map and follow along, your half-day tour doubles as a way to get your bearings on KL’s numerous neighborhoods. If you’re with a guide of Stevie’s caliber, you’ll also glean insights into Malaysia’s political and social structure. He can be reached at [email protected].
The Petronas Twin Towers
The number one sight in KL has to be the Petronas Twin Towers, KLCC. The 88-storey Petronas Twin Towers are the world's tallest twin structures. The problem is that the towers are extremely popular and only 1,200 free tickets are given out daily to the tower’s skybridge. The tickets aren’t handed out until 9 a.m., although hopefuls show up as early as 6 a.m. to secure a spot. The skybridge is closed on Mondays. Other attractions at KLCC are the Suria Shopping Complex, Petronas Philharmonic Hall, Petrosains Science Centre, Petronas Art Gallery and the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, where you’ll find The Aquaria Oceanarium.
Diversity on Display
Malaysia is a true multi-cultural destination, with significant populations of Chinese, Indians, Nepalese, Malays, Thais, Filipinos, and Vietnamese. You’ll also find smatterings from countries throughout Asia and the Middle East, as well as European holdovers and expatriates.
I’ve traveled extensively, but have yet to make it to the Middle East, so this aspect of Kuala Lumpur was an eye-opener for me. Seeing Muslim women covered head-to-toe in black took a little getting used to. I’m used to nodding hello to people but felt that would be inappropriate with these women. But throughout the first day, I saw them interacting with their surroundings like any tourist– examining knock-off watches in Chinatown, queuing up for a seat at a popular restaurant, backing off the elevator in a hurry when they realized they were on an elevator going up instead of down.
Mark Rogers at Lake Gardens near Malaysia’s National Monument, sculpted in bronze by Felix de Weldon, who created the Iwo Jima monument in Washington, D.C.
I think if more Americans had the chance to see Muslims going about their daily lives in exactly the same manner as they do, we’d go a long way in separating good-hearted followers of Islam from the lunatic fringe that wishes to do us harm.