Friday, March 6, 2009

A budget traveler's guide to surviving KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA

With the low-cost airline Air Asia making a lot of impact in the Southeast Asian travel scene, cities that are generally considered exotic are now within reach at an affordable price. Of course, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital city and main hub of Air Asia, has got a lion’s share of visitors from all over the world and is proving to be an exciting destination for people in search of Asian cultures in one compact site.

Whether as a stopover on your way to continental Southeast Asia or a visit done because of low fare rates, Kuala Lumpur (or KL among people in the know) may just be that very elusive hideaway that you are looking for. So wanna visit KL, Malaysia? Take out those passports and say a big “Halo! Apa khabar?”

1. Ride. Whether you’re in a low-cost flight or in a normal transnational airline, you would have to go to the KL International Airport that is about an hour and a half from the city center. Transport is incredibly easy since you could take a cab (about RM 80) or a bus (RM 9) that takes you to KL Central Station, depending on your budget. Whatever you choose to ride, it would be a wise move to have a lot of leeway in both time and money especially if you’re backpacking. Buses start their operations from the KL Central Station at 3:15 AM while the Metro starts at 6 AM.

2. Fall in line. KL’s main attraction for most tourists is the Petronas Twin Towers, which could be visited for free. About a thousand tickets are distributed daily for visits that start at 9 AM with a 15-minute interval for each visit. Do be there early (around 7:15 AM) if you don’t want to spend half a day in the queue. You may also want to visit Menara KL near the Petronas, but you have to pay for this one. The view is more spectacular here but if you only want to be in some tall building in KL and stare at the city, Petronas is more than enough.

3. Savor. What’s KL without its yummy delights? If you’re big on spices and flavors, KL may just be the right place to splurge. There are many self-serve canteens in the city where you could have your binge (and I mean, scoop to your heart’s content) and then the waiter gives you the bill; alternatively, you could just sit and have someone take your order if you totally cannot relate with the procedure. Do try the curries (ask for the least spicy if you can’t stand the heat), and seafood. And please do yourself a favor and drink Malaysian coffee (plain or with milk, hot or cold), the best coffee there is.

4. Shop. Malaysia seems to be placing a lot of emphasis on shopping. Now most people prefer to go to Jalan Petaling in Chinatown to shop for souvenirs, imitation bags, sneakers, belts and electronics, or even to the Saturday night market in Little India. I personally recommend, however, going to the Central Market instead. The items may be a bit pricier but you get to shop in an airconditioned place, something which would prove to be valuable on KL’s intensely hot days.

5. Revere. Malaysia breaks the stereotype most people have on Moslem nations for its being very tolerant toward a lot of faiths. Go to the Masjid Negara (National Mosque) to see how Moslems do it, then to any Buddhist temple especially on a Saturday to see people offering incenses and food. In the outskirts of KL you could visit the Batu Caves, a stronghold of the Hindu religion in the city. There’s a bus that goes there for RM 2 (which could take a lifetime). What I did was to take the Kelana Jaya Line of the Metro to Terminal Putra (about RM 2) and then a cab to the Batu Caves (RM 10). After climbing its 270 steps and ogling at the monkey-filled shrines, I took the bus toward the city center.

Marlon’s Kuala Lumpur Route (1-2 days): Start with Petronas. Then walk toward Menara KL either for a pic or a climb. Then off to the Batu Caves. The period from 1PM to 5PM is hot so either do your shopping in Central Market or the KL Shopping Mall, or eat and relax in Jalan Petaling. Try visiting the National Mosque and taking a pic in the nearby Old Train Station. And then go back around 8PM to the Petronas area to see the Twin Towers all magnificently lit up.

Marlon’s Budget Tip: It’s tempting to think that KL doesn’t have to be a budget destination because it’s budget in itself. But please don’t get too excited with the shiny and sparkly things you see in the bazaars or the insanely low prices for watches and the like. Look for quality and for something which you *really* need.

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