YOU DON'T HAVE TO SPEND MUCH TIME IN MALAYSIA'S CAPITAL BEFORE YOU COME ACROSS A BIG SIGN WARMLY PROCLAIMING: "Selamat Datang ke Kuala Lumpur". It means obviously enough: "Welcome to Kuala Lumpur", and the Malaysians like to proclaim it everywhere -- in huge lettering in the arrivals hall at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, on Tourism Malaysia ads on TV, or even spelled out in beds of flowers lining the city's busy roads. You can guess from all this that Malaysians are on the whole are a welcoming bunch, and they are keen to promote themselves as a major destination for tourism and business. I am not the first to notice this particularly Malay approach to hospitality. As Edwin Lam Choong Wai wrote on Chessbase.com:
In the Alsace region of France, they say "Willkomme." In Hawaii, it is "Aloha mai", while in Japan, they will take a little bow before saying "Irashaimasu." In Malaysia, it is "Selamat Datang." The moment you land at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport or come in to the country through the railway stations, ports and roads, you will be greeted with signboards being printed with the words "Selamat Datang ke Malaysia" which is "Welcome to Malaysia" in the Malay language.
Yes siree, "Selamat Datang" is the way they welcome folk in Malaysia and other related nations, such as Indonesia. In Iceland they will probably say something like "Velkomin i Island", but that's their business. In Malaysia it's "Selamat Datang", and you are bound to feel welcome there (provided you are not an Israeli citizen) -- travelling in Malaysia is easy and care-free. I have been to Malaysia now three times, but the first two visits were truly fleeting affairs -- both times I was on a Thailand to Singapore bus, and my only experience of Malaysia was looking at the beautiful passing rainforests and lush hills from the bus window, and eating lukewarm chicken feet at a truckstop diner. The chicken feet didn't agree with me and gave me diarrhea. The rainforests and lush hills did look cool though, and I wished I had more time to stick around and explore.
I made my third and most complete trip to Malaysia in May 2005. In contrast to the fly-by-night passthroughs of the past, this time I went straight to the heart of Kuala Lumpur -- and I stayed there for three days. I have to confess, for a long time I had laboured under the conception that Malaysia was a chronically uninteresting country, compared with the exotic delights that can be found either north or south of the border. In comparison with the bewitching wats of Thailand and the mindstaggering ethnic racescapes of Indonesia, I thought that Malaysia sounded a bit plain. In a way it is true, but having been there for a third time, I have to confess it is interesting in its own way. It is not my first choice for an Asian adventure, but as Asian adventures go, it's not that bad. For firsttimers to south-east Asia, you couldn't ask for a better introduction to the region than a Bangkok-Kuala Lumpur-Singapore jaunt, with a stopoff at the beaches of southern Thailand on the way. If you are a lover of Asian cuisine, Kuala Lumpur is possibly the best place in Asia to find it -- you get the full ethnic range and deliciousness of Singapore, but at a Bangkok price. The Indian food of Kuala Lumpur is especially amazing, and it worth travelling to the city just to try it. The shopping is also great and at a great cheap price. All in all, Malaysia and its capital Kuala Lumpur get my "thumbs up" as a cool place to visit, at least once in your life. But if you are an Israeli citizen, this could be a little impossible. We will come to that later!
k u a l a + l u m p u r + @ + a + g l a n c e
++++ Kuala Lumpur, which means "Muddy Confluence" in Malay, is affectionately called "KL" for short.
++++ In 130 years, Kuala Lumpur has grown from nothing to a modern, bustling city of well over a million people. Superficially, KL (as it's almost universally known) may appear to be just another modern Asian city of gleaming skyscrapers, but it retains much of the character and local colour that has been so effectively wiped out in other Asian-boom cities such as Singapore. It has plenty of colonial buildings in its centre, a vibrant Chinatown with street vendors and night markets, and a bustling Little India.
++++ Merdeka Square encapuslates the core of KL's history. Buildings like the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, the Royal Selangor Club, and the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station are gorgeous examples of British Imperial architecture peppered with a Moorish twist. South of this area is KL's Chinatown. Along Jalan Petaling and surrounding areas are markets, shops, shophouses, food stalls, and the bustling life of the Chinese community. There's also a Little India in KL, around the area occupied by Masjid Jame, where you'll find flower stalls, Indian Muslim and Malay costumes, and traditional items. Across the river you'll find Lake Gardens, a large sanctuary that houses Kuala Lumpur's bird park, butterfly park, and other attractions and gardens. Modern Kuala Lumpur is rooted in the city's "Golden Triangle," bounded by Jalan Ampang, Jalan Tun Razak, and Jalan Imbi. This section is home to most of KL's hotels, office complexes, shopping malls, and sights like the KL Tower and the Petronas Twin Towers, the tallest buildings in the world.
++++ There is a casino in Malaysia! And a Legoland with Asian looking rollercoasters, and a Hello Kitty World!
++++ The unit of currency is the Malaysian ringgit (RM), which is divided into 100 sen. It comes in RM1, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 notes. There are no RM500 or RM1000 notes, both of which were withdrawn in 1998 and ceased to be legal tender in July 1999.
++++ Walking is hot work, so drink lots of water! The Star and Putra light rail systems are up and running and provide an excellent form of transport around the city.
++++ It's hot and humid throughout Malaysia all year round, with overnight lows rarely sinking below 20°C (70°F) and maximums rising above 30°C (86°F) on most days, so whenever you go, take it easy. Rainfall is variable and falls all year round. It is rare for rain to fall all day: it usually confines itself to short-lived torrential downpours in the afternoons. The driest months tend to be June and July.