Kuala Lumpur Jun 19, 2010 11:46:59 GMT
Post by ilbonito on Jun 19, 2010 11:46:59 GMT
Kuala Lumpur is a bit of an underrated city. Its airport is the hub to SouthEast Asia's own Easyjet-style budget carrier, Air Asia, making it an increasingly important transport hub. Yet for many travellers, myself included, it has been easy to treat the city as an airport lounge, a stepping stone to the allure of Bangkok to the North, or Singapore just a few hours South.
Which is unfair because KL is itself a complex and colourful city. It is the centre of all economic and political power in Malaysia, peopled sometimes uneasily by its three races; the Malay Muslims who dominate politics and enjoy special, apartheid-like priveleges, the wealthier ethnic Chinese who make up a full forty percent of the population, and a ten percent minority of Indians, mostly dark-skinned Tamils from the South. All of these groups have left their mark on the city; from the vibrant, flower-garlanded streets of Brickfields (an Indian area) with its screaming Bollywood posters (like the one above) and brilliant saris, to the pastel-colored headscarves favored by Malay women that dot the city crowds, to the blaring of Cantopop hits and the aroma of egg noodles cooking in Chinatown.
It is an increasingly prosperous, forward looking place; a city of mosques and freeways, skyscrapers, extravagant new suburban developments, monorails - but it is still gritty in places, a bit rough around the edges. And all this wrapped up in a mostly English-speaking package.
In fact of the three major South East Asian capitals (I've not been to Jakarta) I would place Bangkok first for travellers, then KL and then Singapore (which is not to dismiss Singapore, I think that can be a fun city too). But Kuala Lumpur still has a bit more character, its not quite as polished as Singapore nor as chaotic as Bangkok.
For most budget travellers the main target in KL is the city's Chinatown, a still grungy and vibrant quarter of old colonial shophouses, sooty 1970s blocks, markets, laneways and hostels. The main street, Jalan Petaling, has been tarted up for tourists to the point of being inauthentic, but just around the corner there are warren-like little alleyways and the kind of no-frills, plastic and concrete outdoor foodcourts seemingly favoured by Chinese everywhere. Although it is (surprise, surprise) mostly Chinese, the area is also home to several riotous Indian temples and even more interesting a small Chitty community; a group of people born of intermarriage between Malays and Indians with a Creole culture mixing elements of the two, much as the better known Peranakan, or Nonya people, have done with Chinese and Malay cultures.
But as is so characteristic (and thrilling) of Southeast Asia, a short walk will take you out of the heart of the old Chinatown to a monorail station by a gaudy temple, and you can be whisked away straight into the heart of modern KL EBukit Bintang, Malaysia's pocket Shibuya (and Roppongi,combined) or a tamer, toned down version of Bangkok's Silom. Here there are traffic jams all night, brightly lit bars (and shady sidestreets), luxury hotels and illuminated signs in Arabic for Persian Gulf tourists, and leafy green streets where the international expat community dwells in expensive condos and dines in cute little cafes.