The world is already awake outside our window but it’s still quiet. Kuala Lumpur is not an early riser, though nor are we. It’s probably already 8am by now and we’re not even thinking about going outside. There’s a 12pm checkout so why rush. And Paul is a night owl so I just know our best laid plans of an early bedtime will go out the window later today.
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).
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.
Next door to the Music Museum is the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery. I join the other tourists taking photos at the I heart KL sign because it just wouldn’t be polite not to. Inside the gallery there are modern works by local artists and a batic display in a courtyard. But the real piece of interest here is the massive diorama of Kuala Lumpur and the information film that goes along with it. If you are in the city and have had a wander around, this is definitely worthwhile. It certainly gave us both a greater appreciation of the places we’ve been and the places we want to visit. It also shows the vision of Kuala Lumpur to become a major business and tourism city – apparently 300 new high rise buildings will be constructed over the next five years.
Leaving Merdeka Square we cross under a road bridge where we start to notice we are entering the Muslim heartland of the city. Gorgeous geometric works of art adorn the underpass.
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.
The disappointing thing about being in the area of the National Mosque are the inappropriately dressed backpackers we see all around. It’s disconcerting to come across this in such a conservative country. I’m not saying women should be covered or wearing a headscarf if they are visiting this city but to wear skimpy shorts that leave nothing to the imagination is barely acceptable at home in Australia and is quite offensive here in this land. It’s only a few weeks ago at the F1 that some Australian men were arrested for wearing speedos so why would anyone think it’s okay to wear shorts that barely cover the private area. It gives Westerners a bad name when they travel to conservative countries dressed in this way. Yes, sure, be a feminist but when traveling to conservative countries it’s important to remember that most of the population here won’t ever get to see our countries and our diversity. The only thing they know about Australia, America, Europe or the United States is what they see on television and the tourists who visit their cities. The message this clothing sends is that Westerners have low morals – a falsehood that cannot be explained away by words given the clothing some of us choose to wear. I think the key thing to remember is that as travelers we are ambassadors for our home cultures. What is the message we want to send?
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.
There’s only one thing to do after all this sight seeing – eat a late lunch. We decide to check out the stalls and food courts over near the Petaling Street Markets and are not disappointed. We end up with an odd mix of Malaysian nasi goreng (fried rice), Indian tandoori chicken and garlic naan, and Chinese pork rib with white rice. As you can see from my face, I am enjoying the food here in Malaysia along with the cheap cost of purchasing it (this whole meal including drinks was about 25RM / $AU8).
It’s late in the afternoon and we still have to collect Paul’s backpack and make our way to the airport. We have an early flight tomorrow so will spend the night at the Tune Hotel KLIA2 instead of making an early commute. Along our walk we come to the Pasar Malam Kuala Lumpur (Kuala Lumpur Night Market). Being a Saturday afternoon it’s busy here and you can buy almost anything you can imagine. We still have a fortnight of carrying our bags in Cambodia so restrain ourselves but who knows what happens on our way home. Paul isn’t frowning in this photo either – or I don’t think he is.
Our intention is to have an early night at the airport hotel but we don’t arrive until after 8:30pm and then there’s no wifi in our room so we head over to the airport proper to use the free wifi there. We want to download some maps of Phnom Penh, check the address of our hotel and upload some photos to social media. By the time we go to bed I’m cranky and exhausted with less than four hours until we need to get up for the flight. At least the bed is comfortable and the airconditioning cold.