Kuala Lumpur presents modern, urban Southeast Asia in a manageable package. Malaysia's largest city-universally known as KL-is a grab bag of Malay, Chinese, and Indian cultures with European and Islamic influences. Colonial architecture mixes with modern skyscrapers; grand urban monuments obscure ancient alleyways where weather-beaten clerks tend to Oriental delights. The city isn't a particularly old one. When miners discovered tin between two murky rivers-Kuala Lumpur means "muddy confluence" in Malay-in 1857, Chinese traders promptly set up shop and the city was born. The British moved their colonial administration from nearby Selangor during the 1880s, and KL's urban sprawl began. At independence in 1957, KL became Malaysia's capital and remains the national focal point despite creation of the ultramodern, neighboring administrative capital Putrajaya.
Cruise ships dock in Port Klang, about 40 km (25 mi) southwest of Kuala Lumpur. The port has a convenient direct rail link to KL, but you'll need to take a taxi from the dock to the Pelabuhan Klang station. Trains leave every 15 to 20 minutes with fares around MR5 (US$1.50) for the ride of just over an hour. KL Sentral Stasiun has the best connection to the city's train systems, but Kuala Lumpur station, one stop beyond, is more convenient to some attractions.
Though one of Southeast Asia's smallest capitals, the city has mushroomed confusingly. Colonial-era Merdeka Square, Chinatown, the modern Golden Triangle, and trendy Bukit Bintang lay competing claims for city center, while the Lake Gardens area teems with tourist attractions. The newly renamed KL Rapid (light-rail trains, formerly known as the Putra and Star LRT lines) and KL Monorail are quick, cool ways to get around, but taxis are generally plentiful and cheap.
Central Market. Near Chinatown, this rambling bazaar-also called Pasar Seni (Art Market in Malay)-was once the city's main produce market. Today, shops and stands offer a wide selection of herbs, crafts and souvenirs, with plenty of hawker stalls selling food. Jln. Chen Lock & Jln. Hang Kasturi, South of Merdeka Square.
Chan See Shu Yuen. One of KL's biggest temples, this Buddhist shrine features an impressive roof decorated with terra-cotta figures from Chinese mythology. Two blocks north of the temple, Jalan Petaling's Chinatown street market throbs. 172 Jln. Petaling, Chinatown.
Islamic Arts Museum. This stunning building with five domes houses one of the world's best collections of art from the Muslim world. Amid paintings, carpets, scriptures, jewelry, home furnishings, and a tribute to the Ottoman Empire, there's a gallery of magnificent scale models of renowned Islamic architecture, including the Taj Mahal. In addition to pieces from the Middle East, the museum emphasizes works from Asia, where most of the world's Muslim live today. Jln. Lembah Perdana. Admission charged.
Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman. Crowds still flock to KL's first high street for the block-long Pernas Sogo complex and Saturday night market. Named for Malaysia's first Prime Minister and often abbreviated Jalan TAR, the street's south end is the gateway to Little India's sari shops, bookstores, and restaurants around the mosque, Masjid Little India.
Malaysian Tourist Information Center (MATIC). In a restored colonial mansion that later served as British (then Japanese) military headquarters, this center has essentials on KL and the rest of country, including a useful video show and exhibits. There's also tourist information at KL Sentral station and Petronas Twin Towers. 109 Jln. Ampang.
Masjid Jamek Bandaraya. At the confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers, where KL's first settlers landed, Masjid Jamek is the city's oldest (completed in 1909) and most charming mosque. Onion domes inspired by north Indian Moghul architecture and minarets barely taller than the surrounding coconut palms create a tranquil oasis at the city's center. Jln. Raja Alang at Jln. Raja Abdullah.
Menara Kuala Lumpur. For a dramatic view of KL and beyond-far better than from Petronas Towers-mount the 1,380-foot Kuala Lumpur Tower. The world's fourth-tallest telecommunications tower sits on a hilly remnant of KL's original forest. On a clear day, you can see the Straits of Melaka. Jln. Puncak off Jln. P. Ramlee, Golden Triangle. Admission charged.
Merdeka Square.Merdeka means "independence," and the Malaysian star, moon, and stripes replaced the Union Jack here on August 31, 1957. Once known as the Padang-and also called Dataran Merdeka in Malay-the square hosts cricket matches, a tourist information center, and tropical flower gardens. You can see two colonial landmarks from the square: the black-and-white pseudo-Tudor Royal Selangor Club-called the Spotted Dog and still the haunt of upper crust expatriates; and the 19th-century Sultan Abdul Samad Building, with its Moorish arches and 140-foot clock tower, once the British administrative secretariat. Jln. Raja Laut.
Muzium Negara. The National Museum is modeled after a traditional Malay village house, enlarged to institutional size. The Cultural Gallery emphasizes Malay and Chinese folk traditions. A model Nonya (Peranakan or Straits-born Chinese) home showcases exquisite antiques. The Natural History exhibit features stuffed indigenous wildlife. There's also a full-size Malay-style wooden house on stilts called Istana Satu (First Palace)-open and airy, perfectly suited to the tropics-with decorative carvings. Jln. Damansara, south of Lake Gardens. Admission charged.
Old Railroad Station. Completed in 1910, the whitewashed spires and arches of the former railroad terminal and adjacent railway headquarters form an architectural version of the 1,001 Arabian Nights. A potential starting point for sightseeing, it's connected by underpass to the Kuala Lumpur stop on the KTM commuter train from Port Klang. Jln. Sultan Hishamuddin.
Petronas Twin Towers. No longer the world's tallest building, the 1,453-foot headquarters of the national oil company resembles two mosque minarets and has surprising grace for its size. Free tickets are distributed daily (except Mondays) from 8:30 AM for 15-minute visits to the 41st-floor skybridge that links the towers. The towers are part of the Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) development project. That complex includes Petrosains, an interactive science museum; KLCC Park with paddle boat rentals and synchronized fountains; Aquaria KLCC where guests traverse a 90-meter glass tube surrounded by marine life on all sides; an art gallery specializing in contemporary exhibitions; and a classical concert hall. Jln. Ampang.
Sri Mahamariamman. The Tamil community from southeast India built its temple here in 1873. The exuberantly colored figures that adorn the five-tier gopuram (gateway) weren't created until 1960 and were refurbished in 1998. 163 Jln. Tun H.S. Lee, Chinatown.
Afterward, swallow your pride along with a snack or drink at antiques-filled Old China Cafe (11 Jln. Balai Polis). It's a tourist trap for sure, but dripping with Oriental intrigue.
Taman Tasik Perdana. Behind Muzium Negara, scenic Lake Gardens' leisure options include strolling, picnicking, and boating. For serious sightseeing, the 200-acre park includes a planetarium, police museum, deer park, walk-in aviary, butterfly park, and an orchid garden. The north end is home to the modernist Parliament House and Tugu Negara (National Monument), a bronze war memorial designed by American Felix de Weldon in the style of his Iwo Jima Memorial, with seven soldiers hoisting the Malaysian flag. Jln. Damansara.
Traditional Malaysian crafts include batik clothing and cloth, kites, keris (ceremonial dagger), rattan, wood carvings, brass and pewter work (especially Royal Selangor, which has outlets around town), plus transplanted Chinese and Indian specialties. Cookbooks are one way to capture and relive the mix. Modern Malaysian favorites include the usual designer knock-offs, mostly imported from neighboring countries (as are many "native" crafts these days). As the most prosperous country in Southeast Asia beyond the mini-states, Malaysia also attracts genuine designer brands, often sold at better prices than you'll find in Singapore or the U.S.
You can get a good introduction to crafts at Kompleks Budaya Kraf (53 Jln. Conlay, Golden Triangle), a two-story handicraft and museum complex; Infokraf Malaysia (next to Sultan Abdul Samad Building) is a museum and salesroom.
You may find more bargains in the simpler shops or street markets, such as Chow Kit. Chinatown's Pasar Malam (Night Market) along Jalan Petaling is now a before- and after-dark affair, but crafts take a backseat to pirated goods, cheap clothing, fruits, basic meals, and, at night, big crowds; north of the street market, across Jalan Cheng Lock, S&M Plaza and Kota Raya indoor complexes present more souvenir choices.
For modern malls, try Bukit Bintang Plaza (Jln. Bukit Bintang at Jln. Sultan Ismail, Golden Triangle) and vicinity. Neighboring Lot 10 has many European labels, and Imbi Plaza on Jalan Imbi is the place for computer needs. At the foot of Petronas Towers, Suria KLCC (Jln. Ampang) has more than 300 shops covering tastes for teeny bopper to tony. East of the Petronas Towers in Ampang Park,Ampang Plaza (Jln. Ampang) and environs include high-end outlets plus some good places for crafts.
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