Day 224: KL–A City Of Surprises

Mon. 25th March 2013

Looking through at the Sultan Abdul Samad buildingWe’ve been in Kuala Lumpur for 4 days now. Whilst we’ve had a great time at the golf and the Grand Prix we have seen very little of the city and its sights other than the LRT trains, some buses and the shops and restaurants around our hotel. As we have only a couple of days before we head on to Borneo, we need to use this time to see more of the city.

Well they hid the Laundrette away!First though, there is the perennial problem of sorting out our laundry. After a day in this heat and humidity our T-shirts don’t so much need washing as fumigating, so we get through clothes at a rate of knots. Whilst, we are thoroughly enjoying the space and comfort of our hotel, it has the usual swish-hotel problem of having ridiculous prices for their laundry service. We estimate it would be about RM200 (£40) to get our laundry done here. Fortunately, the concierge is able to point us toward a laundrette in the nearby shopping centre so we head off there. It is just as well we were told it existed as we’d never have found it otherwise, tucked away in the top corner. It proves to be just the job and our 3kg of laundry will cost us RM21 to wash and dry. Result!

Central Market - Art Deco in Kuala LumpurLaundry sorted, we head off to the old town which host both the colonial district and some of the monuments to Malaysian independence. Our first stop is at the Central Market, which we discover to be in an Art Deco building. Art Deco really did spread far and wide. It is a style that I love but it does seem a bit incongruous here.

Kasturi WalkBeside the market building is Kasturi Walk, which seems to be an extension of the market outdoors and is similarly chock-a-block with vendors selling everything. At least we are able to top up our fridge magnet collection. We don’t linger, though, in the market. Aside from the fridge magnets (and the building itself), it has little of attraction for us.

Merdeka Square and the 100m flagpoleInstead, we head across the river and into Merdeka (Independence) Square. This is much more like it – a big open square with an independence memorial and 100m tall flagpole (the world’s tallest?) at one end and what looks to be a cricket pitch in the middle all ringed by impressive looking buildings. Olly takes a fancy to an I❤ KL sign and whilst we are taking the photos, I notice that it is advertising the KL City Gallery which is offering free admission. In the hope that the gallery is air conditioned, I suggest that we head in.

We'd agree with OllyWith these spur of the moment impulses, you never know what you are going to get – we have had a few lemons. This was a real winner. There was a little bit of history and we found that KL is a relatively new city in that it was only founded in the 1850s. We also learned that the name Kuala Lumpur means ‘muddy river’ and the city is named after the estuary of the Klang (great name!) and Gombak rivers.

Illuminated model of Kuala LumpurThere was also an illuminated miniature model of KL showing the past, present and future layout of the city. It was interesting – particularly, some of the skyscrapers they are planning to build – but they could have made so much more of the model. The video presentation only lasted for a couple of minutes and didn’t really say very much.after which we were quickly herded out without having much time to study the model.

The Rivers Klang and Gombak meet to form the 'muddy river' that gave KL its nameThe real surprise though was the ARCH workshop where craftsmen make beautiful models and pictures out of thin wood veneers. So many of the souvenirs we have seen being sold at sights or in markets have just been mass produced tat. It was great to see something genuinely had made with real skill. Along with (some of) the wooden carvings at Chichen Itza, this is only the second time we have wished that we did have luggage space for souvenirs. They also had a big picture/model of the KL skyline mounted on Perspex along one wall. Olly immediately wanted to be King Kong and was a source of much amusement as we (well, I) took the photos.

Olly as King KongHaving spent much longer than expected in the gallery, it was well past lunchtime. We had a bit of a lie in this morning after getting back late from the Grand Prix, so we started the day even more behind schedule than usual. Fortunately, the Central Market had a food court and was not too far to backtrack and so we headed back for some sustenance. Another food court with better food, more choice and lower prices than anything you’ll find back home.

Clocktower and copper domes of the Sultan Abdul Samad BuildingFeeling refreshed, it was back to the square, this time to admire some of the buildings. The red and white stripes of the National Textile Museum are striking but the real highlight is the Sultan Abdul Samad building with its 41m high clock tower, arched colonnades and gleaming copper domes. It was such a shame that it was fronted by palm trees and a very busy road and so was pretty much impossible to get a clear photograph. Janet’s photo as the lead in this post sets it off best shot through the arches and pools of the independence memorial garden.

Pretty colonial housesThe final sight for today was to be the Masjid Jamek (Jamek Mosque) one of the earliest in the city. The model in the KL City Gallery made it look very splendid, however there is reconstruction work going on all around it. Whilst we could catch glimpses of the white minarets through the building work and the screening fences, it was impossible to capture it on camera. We did, however, stumble across another street with some pretty colonial buildings in pastel colours.

Garden and pools at the far end of Merdeka SquareIt has been a day of surprises for us. We knew, or rather, we suspected that there was much to see in Kuala Lumpur, and so it has turned out. The heat and humidity mean that we can’t walk as far or see as much as we’d like to in a day but we have come across some real gems – some of them we had read about beforehand but some we just stumbled upon.

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