Table of Contents
- 0.1 Destination: Kuala Lumpur
- 0.2 Mode of Transport: Nasi Lemak
- 0.3 At the Airport
- 0.4 Cultural Diversity
- 0.5 Teksi
- 0.6 One the way to the hotel
- 1 Jalan Alor for hawker food
- 2 The Dorsett Regency Kuala Lumpur
- 3 Brenda’s Short Travel Guide to Kuala Lumpur:
- 3.1 Getting to Kuala Lumpur:
- 3.2 From the airport to the center of town:
- 3.3 Where we stayed in Kuala Lumpur:
- 3.4 Transportation:
- 3.5 Dishes we ate:
- 3.6 Jalan Alor (Big Hawker Street Food Market) in Bukit Bintang, about 10 minutes walk from Dorsett.
- 3.7 Ippudo: Pavilion Mall level 4. 168 Jalan Bukit Bintang.
- 3.8 Checkers at the Dorsett Regency Kuala Lumpur.
- 3.9 Things to do in Kuala Lumpur:
- 3.10 Masjid Jamek Address: Jalan Tun Perak
- 3.11 Petaling Street: is the Chinatown of KL
Destination: Kuala Lumpur
Mode of Transport: Nasi Lemak
I should have known to expect it, but yet, always find myself being surprised. The airports in Southeast Asia are large, clean and modern. I don’t know why I always imagine these airports to be rudimentary. That they are not. In actuality, not one is worse than any of the New York Airports I have frequented.
At the Airport
Kuala Lumpur International Airport is no exception. The modernity and the massiveness of the airport put to rest my quasi-romantic view of the city, which I somewhat suspended in the days of colonialism. In reality, who the hell wants that? The people of Kuala Lumpur certainly don’t. They put an end to that in 1957 when they gained their independence back from the British.
By the looks, it seems that the city not only has removed itself from its past but has poised itself to become one of the leaders in the region. There is, of course, political dissatisfaction, and most residents wondering how its neighbor Singapore , a former child of Malaysia, has surpassed it as the leading city in Southeast Asia. I will leave political discourse to those who actually know what they are talking about. My family and I were in Kuala Lumpur, not for the politics, but to experience its cultural diversity, and it’s cuisine.
We needed to get to our hotel from the airport. Signs above head pointed to “Teksi”, which led us to a series of ticket booths. Behind the first booth I approached was a soft faced woman wearing a Hijab, who upon my inquiry, informed me that there were two ways to get into town via taxi. One was a metered cab, the other a fixed rate. I asked her if she preferred one over the other, and with eyes that gently looked at me and quickly away, responded, “whichever you wish”. I went for the fixed rate. Looking back, I realized that all the booths were filled with women wearing veils. We were in a dominantly Muslim country, which was a first for us.
Being strangers to customs and to the land is what feeds usClick To Tweet
The month preceding our trip to Kuala Lumpur, we were in Manila, where they were prematurely playing Christmas Music. Listening to “Silver Bells” in the heat was already a foreign feeling, and arriving at Kuala Lumpur where there was no trace of the Holiday, was even more foreign. As travelers, however, it’s these moments of being out of sorts that are most inspiring. Being strangers to customs and to the land is what feeds us.
One the way to the hotel
In the taxi on our way to the hotel, my daughter, wife and I started spewing off all the Malaysian dishes we were looking forward to having. The taxi driver, who was mostly depleted of emotion, let out a smile, having felt our excitement. I was seated up front with the driver, all the while, trying to get used to being on the left-hand side of the road and having the driver to my right, a sign of the last vestiges of a former authority.
It was not a new car. The steering wheel was covered in that perforated leather that was preferred in my father’s day and the windows had small curtains that could be drawn, for reasons I am not aware. The taxi had a hint of cigarette stench which added to the effect of being somewhat thrown back in time.
I imagined myself being an expat in the 50’s with an unfiltered Camel dangling from my mouth and my left arm hanging out the passenger window, admiring the tobacco fields and palm trees that line the road. Leave it to me, an Asian-American, to put irony into motion. As we close in on the city, I wake up from my ridiculous daydream of days gone by, and feel the air-conditioning on my face and see the Petronas Twin Towers from a distance. We were in Kuala Lumpur, a capital city that is in the here and now.
The taxi pulled up to the Dorsett Regency, which was going through a facelift to keep up with the here and now. The initial lack of the lobby ambiance was quickly made up for by the staff. Brenda and Bailey were helped out of the cab and shown inside. Making my way to the trunk, I was told not to touch a thing as they would handle it. One gentleman, in particular, was extremely attentive. His name badge read, Khalid. He put the palm of his right hand over his heart and greeted me a good evening. A good Arabic name I thought to myself. With that in mind, I figured there must be some great shawarma to be found in this town, knowing that there is a fairly large Arab community here.
Khalid escorted us to our newly renovated room. It was spacious, modern and very comfortable. There was no semblance of the dated front desk. We were introduced to our room and as he drew the curtains, there were those twin towers again. A constant reminder that this city is a true metropolis and a far cry from the tin mining town that it started out to be.
Jalan Alor for hawker food
It was the middle of the evening and there was no time to settle in, we needed to get ourselves fed. On the way out, we bumped into a gentleman in a gray suit. His name was William and serves as one of the executives of the Dorsett. He spent a few moments with us, making sure we knew what to do our first night. It’s this kind of personal approach that led me to stay with this hotel group. We wanted to get to the famous Jalan Alor for hawker food. He whips out a C-fold map and with a few strokes and circles charts out the walk for us.
We swiftly walk along Jalan Bukit Bintang, where some of the top hotels exist and a shopping mall and evening destination named the Pavilion. The energy was amazing. The street was a good mix of lit billboards that promote luxury goods companies and a hint of seared meats. This is the hybrid that is Kuala Lumpur today, we were entranced.
Passed Arab Street, where large spindles of meat were the center of attraction in just about every establishment, we reached our destination. The ground was wet from the rainfall they had been having all day, which gave the whole street a “Wet Market” feel. It didn’t take long for Bailey to smell out her favorite Malaysian Dish, Chow Kway Teow. We pulled up three plastic stools and sat at a small square table.
I was dying for a Tiger Beer, but there was none to be had from this hawker as they are Halal. Respectfully, I had a bottle of water and helped Bailey devour her amazing noodle dish. It was telling, that this small event was a cultural touchstone for my daughter. She has never seen me not get a beer because of a religious practice. She was beginning to understand more of the world. It’s moments such as this that bring forth intellectual fecundity in a child and the reason for her mother and I dragging her around the world.
Sated, we stood up, thanked the young man that served us, and carried on. Brenda pointed out another stall that served up great looking oyster pancakes. Again, we pulled up three plastic stools (which became a constant throughout our trip) and ordered up some Chinese- influenced Malaysian dishes, which included the oyster pancake. This establishment served beer in abundance. Every table was filled with large parties that had tens of bottles of beer in the center.
Carlsberg, the Danish Beer brand was brewed locally here
I was told that Carlsberg, the Danish Beer brand was brewed locally here. A very energetic middle-aged woman, with long black hair, pulled back just right, wearing a green apron that promoted the brand, took my order. When she brought out my very cold beer that she poured into a chilled long-necked pint glass, I thanked her enthusiastically. I even called her “darling”, in which she replied, “don’t repeat it in front of her husband as he’s the jealous type”. We both have a good chuckle. The experience was pure delectation.
The days proceeding, we visit Mosques, Buddhist and Hindu Temples by day and Skyscrapers by night. In the morning, we eat at outdoor Mamak Stalls (Indian Muslims) to have some Roti Canai for breakfast, and in the evening, sat in air-conditioned, high-end, dim sum places found in the malls. It is this dichotomy, this diversity that makes the town so galvanizing. It evokes sentiments for my hometown, New York City .
If there is one dish, that best captures Kuala Lumpur or Malaysia for that matter, it would have to be Nasi Lemak. It’s Malaysia’s abundant cultural landscape wrapped in banana leaf if you will. Brenda and I would often start our day with this.
The rice is steamed with coconut milk and pandan leaves. It is accompanied by fried anchovies (Ikan Bilis), hard boiled eggs, cucumber, and peanuts. The piece de resistance is the sambal, a thick gravy made of pounded chili paste, prawn paste, tamarind juice, shallots, Ikan Bilis, sugar, and salt. The dish touches upon all the influential cultures of Malaysia and also all the senses the mouth is capable of. There is sweet from the coconut in the rice, salt from the fried anchovies, spiciness from the chili paste in the sambal, coolness from the cucumbers, crunchiness from the peanuts, softness from the eggs, sourness from the tamarind and a palate equalizer in the rice. Nasi Lemak is arguably the most diverse tasting dish in the region. Kuala Lumpur, with its religious diversity and influences from the China, India, the Arabs and the Malay themselves, can certainly call themselves the most diverse in the region as well. They are worthy of each other.
The Dorsett Regency Kuala Lumpur
Exiting the elevator, and our bags already having been brought down, we were given as proper a send off as we were greeted. A simple gesture of a smile, a slight nod, and a palm to the heart. I was looking for my friends William and Khalid, but it was their day off. It was like staying with friends at the Dorsett and this along with the Nasi Lemak is reason enough to come back to Kuala Lumpur.
If you are like me and look to the past when traveling, there will certainly be that for you in the form of food in hawker stalls, and mosques and temples centuries old. But when you come to Kuala Lumpur, be ready for the future. More importantly, the future better be ready for it. Are you ready?
Brenda’s Short Travel Guide to Kuala Lumpur:
Getting to Kuala Lumpur:
We flew from Manila to Kuala Lumpur on Air Asia. The one-way tickets were $140 for all 3 of us. The flight was about 3 ½ hours long. This was the first time we flew Air Asia and it was quite smooth. The flight was a bit delayed but not by much. The seats were tight but doable. There were snacks sold but we were all asleep so didn’t buy any. The seats don’t recline so bring a neck pillow but for a cheap, short flight, it was quite good.
I did some research and there are flights from NYC to Kuala Lumpur in many major airlines. The fare I saw for roundtrip from NYC with a stopover in Hong Kong was $900 on Cathay Pacific, which we love. The flight takes about 22 hours.
From the airport to the center of town:
We took an official taxi, whom we hired from inside the airport, there are huge signs everywhere indicating where to find the taxi booths inside the airport, right after you luggage pickup, so you can’t miss it. We opted for the non-metered taxi with a set price of 100 Malaysian Ringgit, which was about $22. There’s also a choice of taking the metered taxi.
Where we stayed in Kuala Lumpur:
We chose to stay at the Dorsett Kuala Lumpur because we’ve stayed at their Mongkok hotel in Hong Kong and enjoyed staying with this hotel group. We also chose to stay there because of their very convenient location in the heart of the Golden Triangle. We were able to walk to all the destinations we wanted to visit. It was also very conveniently located very close to all the air-conditioned linking bridges, which made our walks very comfortable even during the terrible haze we experienced in the first week of October 2015.
We walked everywhere, to the Petronas Towers, to the Pavilion Malls (with all the eateries), To the KLCC, To Jalan Alor (giant street food market). The only time we took a taxi was to go to Chinatown and to go to the airport. We loved using all the linking bridges to keep cool during our walks.
Dishes we ate:
Jalan Alor (Big Hawker Street Food Market) in Bukit Bintang, about 10 minutes walk from Dorsett.
We really liked Jalan Alor because there was a great variety of food we could choose from. Our first night was raining so hard that once we arrived in Jalan Alor, we popped into the first place we saw. It was a halal place and had many noodle dishes. Bailey saw the sign saying, Chow Kway Teow, our favorite Malaysian noodle dish and we went in. We had that dish and kang kung belacan ( Asian spinach with spicy shrimp paste). We also had some coconut ice cream and some hand-made oreo and mint ice cream. We visited a few stalls there, including one where we had a salty egg crab, which was so good. You really can’t go wrong at any of the stalls. Look for one that is busy and pull up a chair.
Ippudo: Pavilion Mall level 4. 168 Jalan Bukit Bintang.
Had to visit Ippudo in Kuala Lumpur because it’s Bailey’s favorite ramen place back home in NYC. She was so happy with the Akamaru dish there. It tasted just like at home.
Din Tai Fung: Also at the Pavillion Mall level 6 168 Jalan Bukit Bintang.
We really wanted to go to the one in Hong Kong but ran out of time so we HAD to eat at this one. The original is actually in Taiwan. The best thing to eat here? Xia Long Bao, Small soup dumplings. I had a 10 piece crab with pork and Andrew had Bailey had 10 piece pork each. We also ordered pea sprouts, pork chop, and plain noodles. Everything was excellent.
Checkers at the Dorsett Regency Kuala Lumpur.
We had the breakfast buffet at Checkers and it was definitely the way to go. I would try all the local foods before the Western offerings.
Kuala Lumpur is also full of Vegan options if that is your preference, check out this KL Vegan Food Guide to help you decide.
Related post: What to do in 2 days in Kuala Lumpur.
Things to do in Kuala Lumpur:
Petronas Towers – Address: Kuala Lumpur City Centre, 50088 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan
The iconic building in Kuala Lumpur so we had to visit. We had the hotel buy us the tickets in the morning so we didn’t have to line up. Our appointment for the visit was at 5 pm. The entrance was 84.80 Ringit ($20). The tower organizes a tour which takes about one hour. They take you to 2 levels and gives you time to learn about Kuala Lumpur and explore. There is also a great park to walk around right in front of the towers and the towers themselves house a big variety of shops and eateries.
Menara Tower – Address: 50250 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan
We decided to visit the 7th tallest telecommunications tower in the world. We’re so glad we did because on Oct. 2, the International Base Jump event was happening and we saw brave souls jumping off these buildings! I wouldn’t be able to do it but it was fun watching them. The entrance fee was RM 31 ($7). We took the taxi to the tower but took the free shuttle back to the bottom of the hill and walked to the hotel. We are very good walkers being from NYC, so we loved it.
Masjid Jamek Address: Jalan Tun Perak
It’s the oldest mosque in KL. Unfortunately, we didn’t go inside because it was closed. Their hours are 8:30 am – 12:30 pm and 2:30 pm – 4:30 pm. We did observe and take photos outside. We’ll have to go back and visit inside. Make sure to dress appropriately but they will give you cover ups in case you’re not dressed properly.
Central Market Address: Jalan Hang Kasturi, 50050 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan
This market has been in operation since 1888. This is where you can find Malaysian handicrafts and art. It is housed in a very nice blue building and is very close to Chinatown. In the surrounding areas, you will also find loads of street food.
Petaling Street: is the Chinatown of KL
Lots of food hawkers in Chinatown and again, pick a busy stall to eat. We didn’t get a chance to eat here but we did walk by and many of the stalls were busy. Honestly, we were way too hot to eat!
Sri Maha Mariamman Temple Address: Jalan Tun H S Lee, 50000 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan
This is the oldest Hindu Temple in KL. We had to take off our shoes and we were allowed in and observe and take pictures.
*note that that the temples, mosques, Little India, Chinatown, Central Market and Merdeka Square are all within a few minutes walk of each other.