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The last time I was here was February 1984, has it changed much in the last 24 years?
Yes – beyond recognition; there are very few reference points and even where they exist the landscape has undergone massive changes: traffic flyovers, aerial railways and monorails and of course loads of skyscrapers.
Sometimes through; buildings have disappeared…
Masjid Jamek Mosque
So, what’s it like now? Some descriptions:
- mall crazy
- traffic hell with crazy drivers, but no road rage
- spaghetti junction with shops
- polite, helpful, friendly people almost everywhere
- food obsessed, you are never more than 100 m from an eating opportunity
It’s all of these things and more, but transport flavours this place and creates the mood. The public transport is sparce – especially in the outlying areas – which is why everyone drives; everywhere, all the time, day and night…
If I had to make a comparison I would have to say Los Angeles – it feels the same way – probably because of the road layouts and pockets of neighbourhoods that lie between major traffic arteries, but also because of the huge ethnic mix.
Suburbs stretch for miles and are linked by massive roads with huge intersections – hence the ‘Spaghetti Junction with shops’ comment. A wrong or missed turn can mean that you are miles away before you get the chance to correct – as I know to my cost after a 20 mile detour… Some of the junctions are so big that you loose your bearings and can’t see where you just came from. The trick is to be in the right lane and stick with it… easier said then done when you need to cross 5 lines in heavy traffic.
However; if you are brave enough to face the traffic you can explore… here goes:
Downtown is actually many parts depending on what you want; the part with the western style shops and big malls centres around Bukit Bintang, this area is popularly known as the Golden Triangle, most of the big hotel chains are here and the zone stretches to the Petronas Towers.
You can enter the towers – but only as far as the link bridge on about floor 42. The rest of the building is in private use.
Tickets for the bridge are free and available every morning from 8.30am – there is usually a queue, as the number of tickets is limited (about 1600 per day), and its closed on Mondays.
Notable malls in the Bukit Bintang area include The Pavillions, Lot 10 and Starhill Plaza – the latter being stuffed with top designer brands and comfortable areas to put your feet up after splashing the cash, it makes Bond St look like Smethwick market…
All of the above have plenty of cafes, inside and out. The Pavillions has a food huge court in the basement, which is worth a visit for a Westerner, simply to see the variety of foods available and to get an idea what they constitute: Vietnamese, Thai, Malay, Clay Pot, Steam Boat, Nonya, etc – you can check them all side by side.
If you want a higher view point for the city; try the Menara KL (KL Tower), you can’t miss it as it appears to be bigger than the Petronas Towers. It is higher, but as a consequance of being on a hill. The tower is principaly a communications tower, but has an observation deck and a revolving restaurant at the top (about 280 m up from ground level). The restaurant is a buffet (oriental and western), there are 2 sittings and you have 2 hours to have a go at the buffet before being escorted off the premises… The early evening session is probably the best; as it starts of light and is dark by the time you leave.
The historic centre is based around Masjid Jamek and includes Central Market; a renovated 1930’s food market, now full of arty stuff (think Covent Garden) and Petaling St – a true eastern flea market, haggle for everything.
Just north of here (few hundred yards north of Masjid Jamek LRT station) is Little India – and is just as you would guess; similar to Petaling St, but Indian…
Nearby is Merdeka (independence) Square, which is pleasant, open green space, lined with mock Tudor buildings and an English church – legacy of older days. The square is a special place for Malaysians as this is where the flag of the new country was first raised and is the centre of the annual Independence Day celebrations.