We have a two-day stopover in Kuala Lumpur en route to Cambodia. It’s a chance to eat good food, watch movies, get a massage and check out some tourist sites. Walking the city allows us a fine reintroduction to this magnificent city. It’s a visual delight of colour and chaos, a cacophony of scooters and construction, and the ever present smell of cheap cigarettes and pollution. We find ourselves at a Hindu temple but don’t enter because prayers are in full swing. The outside is brilliantly detailed and the scent of incense wafts through the street. Behind the temple we follow a riverside cycleway. The homeless sh*t in plastic bags without privacy. It smells and I realise rivers are places of contrast all over the world. The rich buy waterfront views while the poor eke out their survival under bridges. It’s humanity at its core – desirous of pleasure but always at risk of doom.
Sunway Putra Mall has a beanie cinema where we watch Doctor Strange. I love the casual seats but they are not made for tall people so it’s less comfortable for Paul. The movie was entertaining and engaging though.
Paul has seen a reflexology shop in Chow Kit and insists we stop. Walking upstairs I can’t help but hope we’re not walking into another front for a brothel. It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve been tricked by a legitimate looking sign. The car seats say it all really – as does the television blaring in the corner. The ugly ladies (they genuinely were physically ugly) try to entice us to have more than a foot massage but we strongly decline. Mine keeps trying to work up past my knees to my groin and I push her firmly away each time. We pay for half hour but don’t get any extra foot massage for the ten minutes they have allotted to the happy ending. I don’t begrudge the women their living not judge them. But I do wish we wouldn’t get tricked by legitimate looking signs.
Later in the day we go to the massage place in the shopping centre under the Petronis Tower. We’ve been here before and it’s amazing. The whole experience is genuine, professional and relaxing. 150RM ($AU48) buys 90 minutes of reflexology, back, hand and head massage.
It’s 9:30am by the time we sit down at Pak Ngah’s soup stall in the Pasar Chow Kit (Chow Kit Market). A friendly, modern and thoroughly organised young woman stands piling bowls of noodles and beef ready for customers. It looks so fresh and the beef soup (sup daging) base is bubbling away in a massive vat. There’s no stock cubes here, just big hunks of meat simmering in water (and probably some spices).
Scooter drag races
At Merdeka Square there are marquees and people everywhere. We’ve arrived at a scooter and motorbike drag racing show. Who knew there was such a thing. Young and middle-aged men tinker with hotted up scooters and sales people show off big Japanese bikes that seem impossibly large for the traffic and style of riding that is generally done here.But the real action is down on the road in front of the iconic Sultan Abdul Samad Building. Here bikes with engines roaring (believe me, the engines of these little bikes roared like full sized Grand Prix racers) tore up the strip on a quarter mile track.
Leaving the excitement of the drag races behind we enter the Music Museum. It’s free but holds a good display of local musical instruments and information. It also serves as a few minutes relief from the heat outside.
The Masjid Negara (National Mosque) is currently closed to non-Muslims because it is 2pm. It is only open from 9am – 12pm, 3pm – 4pm and for a short period in the evening. I actually feel it is good that a place of worship is reserved for it’s respective faithful during prayer times because sometimes it must be difficult for people to pray / worship with hundreds of tourists milling around. I certainly know I’d be distracted if I wanted to go to Mass on Sunday (not that I have in a long time) while tourists dressed inappropriately flashed their cameras around. We will return on our way home to check out the interior and make do with looking at the exterior and its many geometric patterns.
Museum of Islamic Arts
Not far from the National Mosque we visit the Museum of Islamic Arts. Entry is relatively expensive for tourists (14.85RM / $AU5) but the museum is a brilliant opportunity to learn more about the religion that dominates this part of the world. The museum houses a large collection of artifacts. There’s a fourteenth century embroidered map of Mecca from Northern India, many gorgeously gilded prayer books, a frightening amount of ivory and a weapons collection just to name some of the displays. We pass over an hour in the museum taking it all in. A more dedicated museum-goer could pass even more.