‘Kuala Lumpur’ translates into English as "muddy estuary", a name which underlines the humble origins of a booming city that has graduated from a bog to the business heart of South East Asia in 150 years flat.
Speed and convenience are what KL is all about - few cities can be reached and navigated so easily. Once you arrive at the airport, you just hop on the city’s much-lauded Ekspres, which looks as if it comes straight out of a classic sci-fi movie such as Metropolis or Bladerunner. The Ekspres whisks you to Sentral in the time it takes to say ‘Manglish’ (Malaysian English).
The question is, where do you go from there? The obvious draw is the Petronas Towers. Joined like identical twins by the Skybridge, the towers’ claim to fame is that they were the world's tallest buildings, before Taipei 101 outstripped them in 2004.
Kuala Lumpur is one of those youthful cities which are short on must-see attractions - beyond some worthwhile gardens and museums, the city has few obvious draws unless you have a weakness for deluxe air-conditioned mega-malls and mosques. If determined to nose out some culture, try going for a meander around Chinatown, Merdeka Square and the National Museum.
KL has numerous attractive green spaces, with the Perdana Lake Gardens, in particular, being worth a wander. Once home to a British colonial official, the gardens occupy 92 manicured hectares near the Malaysian Parliament building and encompass a butterfly park, a deer park, an orchid garden, a hibiscus garden and Kuala Lumpur Bird Park, southeast Asia's largest walk-through, free-flight bird park. Another natural attraction, Bukit Nanas, in the downtown heart of KL, is one of the world’s only patches of urban virgin forest - expect to see monkeys, tree shrews and squirrels. Many families head for Aquaria, which, with its 5,000 species of fish swimming around, should keep tiny tots diverted for hours.
KL lies at the hub of southeast Asia’s airline network and, with the cheapest five-star hotels in Asia, great shopping and delectable food, the city is a convenient base from which to explore the region, and to which to retreat when travel-weary. Whether recovering from sunburn on Sipadan or from roughing it in Ranong, KL is the place to come for those who like top notch service more than they like paying for it. Whilst some such travellers will be content to hibernate in their hotels, for those who fancy a bit of dining or shopping, the possibilities are as vast as the mega-malls that contain them.
One of the many such malls and the largest one in Malaysia is KL’s Sunway Pyramid, which contains a Mandara spa, the 5-star Sunway Lagoon resort, a theme park, bowling alley, ice rink, archery centre, 12-screen cineplex, amusement centre and 97 food outlets. Plus some shops – 700 of them, to be precise. Unreconstructed males are advised to find a massage chair shop and pretend to be interested in buying one of the contraptions – most will find that the free trial runs are much more enjoyable than pretending to enjoy shopping. If caught short, approach the toilets without trepidation, as they won the Gold medal in the Malaysian 2008 Toilet Awards. www.sunwaypyramid.com.my
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