Tropical Urban Vibrancy

Kuala Lumpur was a good starting point for Teresa, Mary, Desiree, and myself to begin journeying together. This large, tropical urban centre has plenty to offer for a variety of people

, which makes sense considering it does indeed house a multitude of cultural and personality types. The four of us explored the city on foot as well as by train and we did our best to take advantage of everything the city had to offer.

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While Teresa and I were roaming the streets alone prior to our sisters’ respective arrivals, we found the Little India part of town that offered a huge selection of dishes, handicrafts, and textiles. We happened to pass through on a Saturday where a massive market serving up all kinds of freshly made cuisine spanned for blocks. We went there a few days later to find it had returned to normal, so we figured this must be a Saturday-only market. Luckily, the four of us were there together the following Saturday and Teresa and I were able to take the ladies through this vibrant marketplace.

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Desiree and Teresa found a lady painting intricate henna tattoos on hands, arms, and shoulders for a very low cost. Of course, they couldn’t miss the opportunity to have some of these designs etched onto their skin where they would remain for well over a week. Several of my South Asian friends back home in Canada will often get henna tattoos prior to taking part in wedding ceremonies or other large events in their local community, but I’d never actually seen it drawn in person. Very cool.

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One morning, the four of us decided to take the train to the far outskirts of the city in search of the Batu Caves, a large limestone cavern system with temples dotted about and the largest Murugan statue in the world at the massive stairway entrance. Murugan is a Hindu deity and the cave itself is a Hindu shrine where an important religious festival, Thaipusam, takes place.

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The caves themselves are quite beautiful and we did a short walking tour through the darkest parts with a guide and a few other travellers, in addition to a couple of hours of exploring on our own. Monkeys are scattered about the entranceways as well as some of the outdoor areas; you have to be careful of these mischievous primates. They sneak up on people and steal anything from glasses, wallets, watches, and anything else they can get their hands on before darting away into the bushes or up a pole and out of reach of human hands. I watched a group of them pass around a man’s sunglasses from monkey to monkey before he finally was able to fish them out of a cliff-side bush on the other side of a metal railing where they’d decided to finally drop them. I also witnessed a bully of a monkey forcibly performing some unsavoury acts on several others. In some ways, they’re like uncivilized humans and not the cute cuddly anthropomorphic creatures they’re often portrayed to be in certain forms of media.

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Above two photos courtesy of Desiree Shillingford Photography

The next day, the we decided to visit Aquaria KLCC, the city’s aquarium or “oceanarium” as they refer to it. I think this is the first aquarium I’ve visited so I have nothing to compare it to, but it was still an incredible experience. Toronto opened up the Ripley’s Aquarium shortly after Teresa and I returned to Canada and we haven’t got around to visiting it simply because we already had the KL aquarium experience. Not much more to say other than it held a wide variety of marine animals, as well as land-based reptiles, a fish tank where you can physically touch certain species of rays (something I find a little questionable, to be honest) and a large glass tank with several very active sea otters. Overall, it was an enjoyable experience.

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Of course, we couldn’t explore KL without visiting the downtown commercial core and the beautiful, futuristic architecture the city is known for. The Petronas twin towers stand out above the rest in my opinion and are just absolutely spectacular to behold, especially at night when they are all lit up.

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We explored all around here and just took in the sights, eventually ending up at a very upscale, chic mall, Suria KLCC, where I bought nothing and just absorbed the enormity and extravagance of it all. We might have been in a big, beautiful, tropical urban centre, but I was still a backpacker who felt wholly underdressed for the occasion. No matter, though. The way I saw it, I was a casual observer and not an active participant in the high end shopping.

Somewhere in this seven storey megamall, we found a delicious sushi restaurant called Sushi Tei. Apparently there are locations all over the world, but this was the first time I’d heard of it. The food was absolutely delicious and right next to our table was a conveyer belt that sent around dishes, condiments, and anything else the guests might need. On the other side of that was the open concept kitchen where we watched several chefs preparing our food. It was one of the best sushi restaurants I’ve ever eaten at, and a favourite for all four of us.

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Lights abound in Kuala Lumpur. Not far from where we would lay our heads at night was a large open sports field across from a brightly lit government building surrounded by armed guards. A large flag pole stood at one end and workers were setting up a staging area here in preparation for a huge parade that was about to take place called the Hari Merdeka Parade, or the Independence Day Parade.

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Unfortunately for us, the timing didn’t work out very well as we’d be leaving KL to head up north to Penang just before the parade began. We enviously watched the setup and we kept trying to rework the schedule so that there was some possibility of us taking part in it, but to no avail. Instead, we just enjoyed the rest of the evening, our last, in Kuala Lumpur before we’d be jumping on a bus to head up to the coastal island and former colonial docking port known as Penang.

Kuala Lumpur was an excellent introduction for Desiree and Mary; the glowing urban centre combined with the rich cultural foundation really showcases what a modern Southeast Asia has to offer. Our arrival in Singapore wasn’t too far off, but first, things needed to get a little more rugged, rural, and remote before we made it that far.

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