Theme of the month - Kuala Lumpur

 

Lufthansa Highlights Travel reports Kuala Lumpur

 

Kuala Lumpur - Asia in a nutshell

A little bit of India, a little bit of China – and a whole lot of Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur is a tempting mix of cultures and cuisines.

 
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Asia in a nutshell

This isn’t the type of music you’d expect – at least not on these streets. Youths in dreadlocks squat on the sidewalk eliciting the age-old sound of the Australian out- back from their didgeridoos. A couple of bongo players accompany them, and a man in a wheelchair with long gray hair plays the harmonica. There’s a trace of hippie romance in the sultry air mixed with the sound of traffic, the smell of curry and cardamom wafting from open restaurant doors and the laughter of young girls strolling past the windows of a shopping mall. The best time to venture out into Kuala Lumpur is Friday night, and the best place to do so is at the intersection of Jalan Bukit Bintang and Jalan Sultan Ismail.

Asia in a nutshell

The faces of the spectators that have gathered to watch the musicians reflect the many faces of the city. Suited Australian business types alongside European tourists dressed in shorts; women draped in black burkas next to teenagers sporting Japanese-style pink hair. Malays, ethnic Chinese, ethnic Indians – these are the three main groups that make up Malaysia and the 1.5 million “KLites” in the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

The American journalist Sam Coleman has traveled all over the world. “Kuala Lumpur is just the right place to live and work,” he says. “I’d say that the variety of cultures, religions and races is KL’s biggest asset. It creates all kinds of exciting possibilities – for art, for architecture, for food – for everything!” The Malaysian Tourist Office touts Kuala Lumpur as an Asian microcosm in a nutshell. It’s the perfect place for first-time visitors to Asia, it says, because Malaysia was a British colony until 1957 and people there speak English.

Asia in a nutshell

The easiest and best way to test this theory is to board the monorail on Jalan Bukit Bintang. It runs in a half-circle above downtown Kuala Lumpur on concrete stilts and stops at many sights or just a short walk away from them. Bukit Nanas is the first place you should get off. From here, you can already admire them from a distance: the Petronas petroleum corporation towers. Twin buildings linked by a bridge 452 meters above the ground, they are no longer the highest in the world but arguably the most beautiful.

“I’m inspired every time I look up at the towers,” says Mazlan Othman, director of the Malaysian space agency, which sent an astronaut to the ISS space station in October 2007.

“The message they send is that nothing is impossible.” You can see the progress this “tiger state” has made from the top of Menara KL, the 421-meter TV tower on a hill not far from the Petronas Towers. Kuala Lumpur is a modern Asian city. Skyscrapers and shopping malls, many of them built by Chinese investors, dominate the skyline as they do in Beijing, increasingly sealing the city’s green open spaces beneath concrete. But Kuala Lumpur has not succumbed to the city planners’ megalomania entirely.

Asia in a nutshell

It still has a modest, earthbound side – even when it most seeks to impress. The Malaysian flag flutters from an impressive flagpole on Merdeka square, the giant grassy field where Malaysia declared its independence in 1957. Around a hundred meters tall, the pole is more than twice the height of the clock tower on the Sultan Abdul Samad building, which was designed by British architects in a Moorish/oriental-inspired style and was built in 1897 to house the colonial administration.

Asia in a nutshell

Let’s not beat around the bush: There is no long mandatory list of things to see in Kuala Lumpur. Asia’s best museums are elsewhere, too, although the Museum of Islamic Art with its more than 7000 artifacts is definitely worth a visit. Still, there’s plenty to keep you entertained in Kuala Lumpur. You’ll discover “Asia in a nutshell” as you wander, for instance, through Chinatown. Traditional merchant buildings still flank the narrow streets near Jalan Petaling, the shops situated on the ground floor and the warehouses or offices up above. Time has taken a heavy toll on many of them, but fresh mortar and a coat of paint have transformed many others into shining pink, blue or yellow gems with small restaurants, boutiques or design offices that have taken up residence inside.

Walk by the place where the sandy brown Klang and the brown, sandy Gombak riv- ers converge, carry on past Jamek Mosque with its three elegant domes and you will eventually find yourself in Little India. Soundtracks from Bollywood blockbusters issue from video rental stores and the windows along Tuanku Abdul Rahman street sparkle with bracelets and necklaces made of 22-carat gold.

Food- stalls tempt hungry passersby to stop for a curry, laksa soup or nasi lemak (a rice dish) and a thousand and one other delicacies that all have one thing in common: they can be had for only a couple of dollars.

“To say that KLites are crazy about food is putting it mildly,” says Sam Coleman. The swanky Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott are both located on Bintang Walk, just a few steps away from the Starhill Gallery. This is a shopping mall wth a difference thanks to the twelve international restaurants in its basement, which go by the collective name of Feast Village. If you like, you can put together a meal by or- dering from different menus and have, say, kimchi and steak rounded off by tiramisu.

Changkat Bukit Bintang is an unassuming side street with a similar selection of res- taurants to choose from. Here, visitors can embark on a culinary tour that takes in France and Cuba, Ceylon and Brazil, Russia and Bavaria. The Frangipani is a trendy restaurant where you can order warm, tea-smoked salmon with confit, potatoes, créme fraîche and salmon roe. This type of food attracts young KLites from Kuala Lumpur’s growing middle class, who are drawn by the “taste explosion” promised on the menu. But even they cannot resist what they first learned to love: hot, hearty food cooked right on the street.

Asia in a nutshell

Around the corner on Jalan Alor, food stalls and restaurants stay open far into the night. That’s where you can get Chinese dishes like chicken fried rice, wanton noodles or dim sum – like in the dai pai dong, the food stalls of Hong Kong. After grabbing a bite to eat, it’s time to explore the city’s nightlife, which often lasts until the early morning hours.

Asia in a nutshell

The Luna Bar, perched on the roof of a 34-story hotel apartment house, is so chic it could be mistaken for a bar in New York, Paris or Berlin. The stars twinkle high above the swimming pool and the snug seating area, and all around you are the sparkling lights of night-time Kuala Lumpur. Wait a sec, have I had one too many drinks? How come there’s only one Petronas tower? Don’t worry, it just looks like that from here. Both towers are there – like two magnificent exclamation marks placed after the name Kuala Lumpur.

 
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Tips:

Petronas Towers:
Architectural exclamation marks: After their completion in 1998, the 452-meter-high Petronas Towers were ranked by many as the highest buildings in the world. The title was highly controversial (critics didn’t think the 70-meter-tall masts on the roofs should count), but that didn’t bother the proud KLites.

Skyline:
Kuala Lumpur sees itself as the capital of a modern industrial state – and the city’s skyline is a true reflection of its capabilities: In the banking quarter, especially, skyscrapers are shooting up one after the other.

Menara KL TV tower:
You can’t get any higher in Kuala Lumpur: Even the imposing Petronas Towers are below you as you look out from the observation platform of the 421-meter-tall Menara KL TV tower because it stands on a hilltop.

Info:
Menara KL: No. 2 Jalan Punchak, Tel.: +603 202 054 44. Open: daily 9:30am-9:30pm. Admission: around €10 for Menara Park and the observation platform (reduced €6.80) www.menarakl.com.my

Shopping malls:
Kuala Lumpur’s affluence is apparent in its numerous shopping malls, too. The Starhill Gallery is among the more exclusive and thanks to an array of international eateries also a popular meeting place for KL’s burgeoning middle class.

Batu Caves:
Malay Muslims are the majority population group in Malaysia, but Kuala Lumpur is traditionally also home to large Chinese and Indian communities. This cultural diversity informs the face of Malaysia. Not far from the center of Kuala Lumpur, a 43-meter-high statue of the god Murungang guards the Batu Caves, a place of pilgrimage for Hindus from all over Asia.

Food stalls:
Fancy Chinese, a bowl of curry or a steaming plate of something typically Malaysian? Kuala Lumpur abounds with food stalls that will satisfy your appetite for just a couple of dollars. The cultural diversity is reflected in the culinary variety on offer in districts with telling names like Little India and Chinatown, and in Kampung Baru.

 

Photos: Corbis (3), LOOK-foto, Gerber/laif, Mauritius Images (2)

 
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Further travel information

route map

Star Alliance