Sometimes we fail to notice what’s right under our nose, just because it’s familiar and has always been there. Like the boy next door who, apparently overnight, got really tall – and cute! It seems like we’ve been to lots of places to see art – Fukuoka, Shanghai, Bangkok, Jogjakarta, to name a few – but we haven’t really checked out the city next door, KL. We thought it was time to rectify that so I took a couple of days recently to go see what it has to offer by way of art, food and fun.
First, how to get there. I flew this time but, of course, KL is only about a four hours’ drive from Singapore by car (barring jams at the Causeway or the Tuas 2nd link – you can check the traffic cameras here). You could also take a bus or the train. Sadly, you no longer depart by train from the charming old railway station at Tanjong Pagar, but from the Woodlands CIQ. It’s still a nice, relaxing ride though, if you have the time. Train tickets are available online here.
Options if you fly – there are loads of airlines (Air Asia, Tigerair, Jetstar, Silkair, MAS and Singapore Airlines, to name a few) and many daily flights between Singapore and KL, so you are spoilt for choice. All the ones just mentioned fly to Kuala Lumpur’s International Airport, KLIA, but many Malaysians and KL-ites prefer to fly via Firefly to Subang Airport, which is closer by car to the city centre. I didn’t try it, so I can’t say I know firsthand, but I thought I’d mention it so you know that this is also an option.
Flying into KLIA on Silkair, I took the KLIA Expres train, which takes 28 minutes and brings you to KL Sentral station – a comfortable ride and a much cheaper and faster way to get from the airport to the city than taking a taxi. If you buy your tickets online here you pay RM80 for a return ticket and it saves you the hassle of doing so at the ticket booth when you arrive.
Where to stay – on a friend’s recommendation, I picked the Hotel Majestic and I definitely had no complaints! Of course, KL offers lots of choice as far as accommodations are concerned and there’s something to suit every budget. The Majestic has an excellent free shuttle service that picks you up from KL Sentral station and takes you directly to the hotel, which is about 5 – 10 minutes away, depending on traffic, so I have to say it was extremely convenient and I would stay there again if I was going up to KL.
If you are a little more adventurous and want to do the cool, hipster thing, my friend’s other suggestion was to stay at one of the Sekeping properties which are the brainchild of KL-based landscape designer Ng Sek San. There are 5 properties dotted around KL (the pics below are courtesy of Sekeping’s website and are of the house in Pudu) and one property in PJ and they are all houses in ordinary neighbourhoods with shared living, kitchen and dining areas. Having never stayed in any of their properties, I won’t say more here, but we’ll definitely go back and check them out one of these days and report back!
Needless to say, one of the reasons people go up to Malaysia is to eat the amazing food! Again, a disclaimer: this post only aims to describe the few places that I was brought to on this very short trip. There are many, many good things to eat in Malaysia and if you have any recommendations to share, we’d love to hear from you so do leave us a comment below.
Kampung Baru is an unexpected slice of Malay village (or kampung) life in the heart of KL city. Traditional Malay timber houses, coconut palms, banana and frangipani trees dot the area, while the Petronas twin towers and other modern skyscrapers loom above them. I was brought here for lunch at Chunburi Seafood Corner, which apparently has been in business since 1989. They have a mind-boggling array of curries and other Malay dishes that you can pick and choose from to eat with rice.
My thesis supervisor had brought me here, however, specifically for a Kelantanese specialty, nasi kerabu. The rice is coloured blue by a natural dye made from bunga telang or blue pea flower and flavoured with aromatic herbs and spices. It is eaten with traditional side dishes like turmeric fried fish, grilled beef, salted egg, solok lada (green chilli stuffed with fish paste), kerisik (grated coconut) and lots of fresh crunchy veggies. You have to taste this dish for yourself as words can’t possibly do justice to the delicious combination of tastes, textures and flavours that make up this dish!
Dinner was a completely different experience as my cousin and his wife decided to show me that KL has other options to offer besides amazing street food (although, to be honest, I could quite happily eat street food at every meal!) Set in a complex of restored pre-war shophouses called Old Malaya, Manja is a modern fusion restaurant along Jalan Raja Chulan. The menu consists of sharing plates in small, medium and large sizes and they do delicious house cocktails too. The drool-worthy food that we ordered included Bayam (spinach) & Escargot, Ketam Bunga (flower crab) Cake, Gunda Gunda (a kind of seafood rice dish), Bumba Ribeye and, for dessert, Old Malaya Tea Time Rastali Fritters with Teh Tarik Ice Cream and Kopi Peng with Kahlua.
One last meal the next day before taking the KL Expres from Sentral back to the airport and this time it was KL Lum Mee, which is kind of like our Singapore Lor Mee, at a coffee shop that has been making and selling this dish since 1969, May King. It’s round the corner from the Pudu market in KL and, as you can imagine since it’s been around for this long – it’s popular and crowded. We were lucky that day but I’m told you have to be prepared to queue for seats and share a table if necessary.
Lum Mee is a dish of yellow noodles in a thick, gooey, flavourful, dark gravy with generous portions of shredded chicken, prawns, bean sprouts and spring onions. It comes with a dish of their house chilli sauce, which I would advise you to just pour directly onto your bowl of lum mee and consume with relish! That dish of lum mee would be plenty for anyone but, of course, you don’t battle traffic, fight for a parking space, queue for a table and then just eat one dish. You can (and we did) order side dishes like meat ball soup, stuffed taukwa and deep fried dumplings too, and we highly recommend that you do the same.
I know it seems like all I did was eat my way through KL but no, I did go look at art too. We do like to offer our posts in digestible portions though, so KL’s art offerings will have to be in a separate post, to follow shortly. In the meantime, if you’d like a preview, do check out our social media posts for bite-sized snippets on the art that I saw in KL.