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Nostalgia in the Air
Kuala Lumpur may be one of Southeast Asiaâ€™s dynamic and modern business centers, but glimpses of its colorful and quaint past still come up every now and then. Old mosques co-exist with towering buildings, while charming shop houses dizzy with the aroma of Chinese food stand alongside stylish new restaurants. Figuratively standing tall with the Petronas Twin Towers and the KL tower is the Carcosa Seri Negara, a historical estate set on a hilltop, with mansions that hark back to British colonial days. Model IRA SAIF Photography BRYAN AREVALO Special thanks to MALAYSIA TOURISM BOARD
A LOVELY TEA PARTY Afternoon tea on a veranda overlooking the lush gardens of the Carcosa Seri Negara is at the top of our list of things to do in KL. Here itâ€™s served in a uniquely Malaysian style, with a tray containing an assortment of English and Malay pastries and savory snacks, to be enjoyed with authentic English tea. This practice was studiously observed by British officials who stayed in this mansion.
MALAYSIAâ€™S VERY OWN If New York has Times Square, Kuala Lumpur has Merdeka Square. This is where the British Union flag was lowered and the Malaysia flag was hoisted above it for the first time in 1957. The IndianMoghul inspired Sultan Abdul Samad Building and the Royal Selangor Club, a British cricket club, overlook the square.
The TRAVELIFE TEAM digs deeper into the soul of Kuala Lumpur
t was one of those random nights when we decided to hit the city and go beyond our planned itinerary. The option for spontaneous evenings were the very reason we picked a hotel at the heart of the Golden Triangle in Bukit Bintang for this trip: the JW Marriott was our home for the weekend in the Malaysian capital, and it’s so central that we never even hailed a cab once. We’d been to KL – as the locals call it – many times before. But on this spur-of-the-moment weekend, we were determined to stop being tourists and to just feel the rhythm of the city as we walked in the humid evening and enjoyed the sights, sounds, and scents of this 21st century merchants’ strip.
Bukit Bintang is today the equivalent of KL’s Times Square or Piccadilly Circus. Malaysian infrastructure giant YTL Corporation developed the district into a shopping cluster which redefined Bintang Walk. Since then, malls and hotels have sprouted like mushrooms all over the district and turned Bukit Bintang into a tourism magnet and one of the most expensive real estate in Malaysia. We waded through shopping-manic crowds and seemingly endless retail labyrinths from Starhill Gallery and Pavilion KL to Fahrenheit 88 and Lot 10. We strolled down Arab Street, literally inhaling the luscious fragrance of Lebanese and Persian fare; then we decided to veer away from the crowd to catch a better view of the Petronas Twin Towers, arguably the most iconic of all KL structures. We knew exactly where to go for the best views of the city. We ended our night the way any clued-in KL traveler would: by dipping our toes into a lap pool, while sipping frozen margaritas and mojitos at the world-famous SkyBar on the 33rd floor of the Traders Hotel, with the remarkable, sparkling Petronas Towers in the background. SkyBar undoubtedly has the most stunning view of the Petronas Twin Towers. And we can tell you that this view is best savored with a round of drinks and a serving of Angus beef by the cabana, while enjoying the rooftop bar’s chillout music. You’ll feel like dancing, if you haven’t dove into the pool by then.
CREATING AN URBAN LEGEND The creation of the Petronas Towers is a story that itself deserves to be told, for it’s a tale of Malaysian pride. 500 truckloads of soil were carted out each night just to dig 30 meters below surface; then 54 hours were spent in a single pouring of 13,200 cubic meters of cement—all for the Twin Towers’ foundation. Standing high at 88 storeys and 451.9 meters, they are the world’s highest twin structure. They were built based on the vision of Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, utilizing the talents of renowned Argentine architect Cesar Pelli, for a design characterized by a combination of innovation and Malaysian culture. Two towers stand next to each other, connected via the Skybridge, in which the final outline depicts an “M” for Malaysia.
THE ELECTED KING The next morning, we walked to the old Istana Negara, the royal residence of the Malaysian King and Queen until the opening of the new 97-hectare palace on Jalan Duta in 2011. Here we saw multitudes of tourists taking photos at the main palace entrance, famous for its mounted royal guards in royal uniform. Since January, two guards in full traditional Malay attire have been stationed at the entrance to relive the grandeur of the old Malay Sultanate. The old palace is located on a 13-acre compound with a wide lawn lined with trees. The Royal Insignia of His Majesty is marked on every steel bar that fences up the compound, while the main entrance forms a stable arch. A guardhouse for the Royal Malay Regiment is situated on the palace grounds, which incidentally also holds six golf courses, tennis courts, and a lake at the far end. While tourists are prohibited from entering the palace grounds, there are plans to open several rooms and halls to the public. The King’s throne room is located in the East Wing, where royal ceremonies such as the appointment of the prime minister take place. This is where the presentation of foreign diplomats and receptions for foreign dignitaries take place. Meanwhile, in the West Wing is the Bilik Mesyuarat Raja-Raja where The Conference of Rulers was held.
AN ELECTED MONARCHY Malaysia’s monarchy is unique because it’s based on a constitutional monarchy system observed by the rulers of its nine independent states: Kedah, Kelantan, Johor, Perlis, Pahang, Selangor, Terengganu, Perak and Negeri Sembilan. Each state has a monarch and they all traditionally convene every five years in a ceremony called The Conference of Rulers to elect the Yang di-Pertuan Agong – or King of Malaysia among them.
VESTIGE OF THE PAST Set to the east of Merdeka Square and the Royal Selangor Club is the Sultan Abdul Samad Building. Designed by architect AC Norman, this landmark – which is one of the original Moorish style buildings in KL – originally served as the secretariat for the colonial British administration. Constructed entirely of brick, the building features gothic, Western and Eastern influences with a grand porch, elegant arches, and a domineering 41.2-meter high clock tower. At present, it is home to the Ministry of Information, Communications and Culture of Malaysia and sits beside the old KL Railway Station.
FREEDOM WALK We were on cultural high as we revisited KL’s landmarks. The Merdeka Square or the Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) is considered the center of Kuala Lumpur’s history. The square’s centerpiece is a 100-meter high flag pole towering over the city and symbolizing the Federation of Malaya’s independence from British rule in 1957. To the flagpole’s left is the Muzium Serajah Nasional (National History Museum), opened in 1966, which enables visitors to discover Malaysia’s historic heritage through its presentation of artifacts and dioramas. Right in front is the Royal Selangor Club which was the favorite watering hole of the British elite and the center of colonial society. It was past lunchtime when we decided to get some fresh air on a hillside estate at the Lake Gardens. We were transported to colonial times as soon as we entered the compound of the Carcosa Seri Negara, one of KL’s iconic luxury heritage hotels. The compound consists of two colonial mansions. The Carcosa, which was built in late 19th century, became the official residence of Ang W.H., the first British High Commissioner in Malaya (Malaysia). Meanwhile, the Seri Negara opened in 1913. It was known as the Governor’s residence and then it was later named “The King’s House.” The mansions, which officially became hotels in 1989, are located atop two hills, thus giving them a magnificent view of the garden’s peaceful and still life. We enjoyed an afternoon of high tea here, hearing stories of colonial days gone by during the British rule in Malaysia. And then we strolled around the gardens for a few minutes, appreciating this perfect hideaway from KL’s hustle and bustle.
KUALA LUMPUR’S BEST MARKETS CENTRAL MARKET Located a few minutes away from Petaling Street or Chinatown, this is a one-stop shop not just for Malaysian goods, but Indian and Chinese products as well. Don’t forget to haggle for the best price. PASAR MALAM Pasar Malam means “night market” in Malay, and it’s a row of stalls that can go as long as 2.4 kilometers. CHINATOWN Also known as “Chee Cheong Kai,” Malaysia’s Chinatown on Petaling Street is a wonderland for all sorts of Chinese goods and fresh produce. But more than the hawker stalls, there are abundant Chinese restaurants and hotels, with temples as its landmarks for centuries.
SOUL FOOD We’d set the next day for discovering the best of Malaysian fare – including learning how to cook it. The first stop on our packed itinerary was an authentic home cooking class at a typical suburban home. LaZat, which is located in the outskirts of the city, offered us first-hand lessons from some of KL’s most talented homemakers. Here we learned to prepare rendang (meat dish cooked in chili and spices), nasi lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk), roti jala (Malaysian lacy pancake), among many others. Then for dinner, we ventured to one of KL’s most celebrated restaurants, Top Hat. It felt like going full circle, coming from a typical KL home to a modern, urban restaurant. We had a round of their signature starter, which is literally called a Top Hat. It’s a delicate pastry resembling a hat, filled with vegetables and served with a special sweet and sour sauce. It’s just one of the reasons why we keep returning to KL.
ARTS & CRAFTS OF MALAYSIA KOMPLEKS KRAF KUALA LUMPUR The center is home to one of the largest retail areas for Malaysian handicrafts, souvenirs, folk dresses, and jewelry. Visitors can watch and join demonstrations of traditional craftmaking.
DAYTRIPPING Travelife shortlists the best side trips from KL BATU CAVES Located just 13 kilometers north of KL and one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside India, this religious site’s huge Murugan statue and intricate Dravidian architecture has been luring thousands of visitors since 1891. TAMAN NAGARA NATIONAL PARK This ecotourism destination is the world’s oldest tropical rainforest. First established as the King George V National Park in 1938 at the Titiwangsa Mountains, it was renamed after Malaysia’s independence. Tourists can enjoy several attractions and activities such as mountain climbing, animal viewing, bird-watching, and jungle trekking. CAMERON HIGHLANDS As the largest hill resort in Malaysia, this site brings visitors closer to nature with its lush flower gardens, vast vegetable and fruit plantations. Situated at the northwestern tip of Pahang, the highland paradise discovered in 1885 is a leading producer of flowers and tea in Malaysia.
THE ART OF MALLING SURIA KLCC Tourists looking for a more upscale experience can shop at Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC). Located at the base of the Petronas Twin Towers, Suria KLCC has over 400 shops within its six-storey building. This cozy mall is also home to Petronas Art Gallery and Science Discovery Center.
PUTRAJAYA The world’s first intelligent garden city, this federal administrative center proves that technology can co-exist with nature. Highlyadvanced buildings, modern bridges, man-made lakes and stylized parks are surrounded by botanical gardens, leisure parks, and freshwater bodies flocked by flamingos and swans. Book a dinner cruise to enjoy the city lights at night.
PAVILION KL One of Malaysia’s premier shopping centers, this mall lures both locals and tourists with its seven distinguished shopping precincts and rows of street-front boutiques. You can also find here the famous Pavilion Crystal Fountain, the tallest crystal fountain in Malaysia, here.
MODERN FESTIVALS The Malaysia International Shoe Festival showcases over 50 brands and 200 booths of all kinds of footwear. Shop for the latest trends and collections by well-known local and international brands including the world-famous shoe brand Jimmy Choo. tourism.gov.my The 1Malaysia Mega Sale Carnival (June 29 – September 1) is a countrywide sale anticipated yearly by locals and foreigners alike because of the large discounts offered. The M-Yes Year-End Sale (November 16, 2013 – January 5, 2014), which runs from November to January nationwide, is another haven for shoppers and bargain hunters. tourism.gov.my The KakiSeni Art Festival involves over 500 local and foreign artists’ stage performances, street parades, and art workshops. festival.kakiseni.com The Art Expo Malaysia (September 19-22) showcases the Malaysian arts, being one of the best places to see paintings, sculptures, and art installations by renowned names in the creative industry from all over the country. www.artexpomalaysia.com
WHEN ART MEETS FOOD Originally a Parisian café, the Renoma Cafe Gallery opened its first branch in Asia at the Golden Triangle area of Kuala Lumpur in September 2012. Part gallery, part bistro, it offers both a visual and gastronomic feast. Its beautifully crafted French and Asian inspired cuisine set against chic urban interiors featuring New York street art makes for one of KL’s most uniquely delectable and multisensory experiences. renoma-cafe-gallery.my
STREET FEASTS Experience an exciting fusion of flavors and cultures right on Malaysia’s streets Prepare your appetite for a taste of local life at Jalan Alor, located just a few minutes away from Bukit Bintang. This area becomes foodie heaven at sundown, with its many hawker stalls coming alive on both sides of the street. A single day is not enough to taste all its unique dishes in countless rows of street food stalls and open-air restaurants. Get a taste of these three street food finds that define world-famous Malaysian cuisine: NASI LEMAK is a traditional Malay classic consisting of rice cooked in coconut milk with pandan leaves. It is served with fried anchovies, nuts, fish, cucumber, and egg giving the dish an interesting mix of textures and flavors. LAKSA is a noodle dish doused in coconut and curry gravy with various toppings. For the best laksa, Sisters Laksa Curry at 31 Jalan Alor uses a three generation-old recipe. Aside from fresh ingredients, their secret combination of 10-spices make their curry laksa standout. FRIED NOODLES WITH ROAST PORK should not be missed. Flat egg noodles and fatty pork belly cubes fried in garlicky black sauce are combined in this tasty noodle dish. Choi Kheng Restaurant at 13 Jalan Alor is a favorite of local chefs for their home-cooked version.
MALAYSIA FOR KIDS
PHOTOS COURTESY OF LEGOLAND MALAYSIA
Legoland Malaysia, which is the first Legoland in Asia, is located in the southern state of Johor. It has more than 40 jaw-dropping rides, shows, and attractions within its seven themed areas that are sure to be enjoyed by kids and kids-at-heart. Hello Kitty Land Malaysia, the first Sanrio Hello Kitty Town outside of Japan, is also located in Johor. Hello Kitty lovers will be fascinated by the various walk-through attractions, shows, interactive activities and rides inspired by the feline icon. Visit the Hello Kitty House or watch a live Kitty performance onstage at the Friendship Land. Relive Kitty dreams at the Wishful Studio where visitors can enjoy jewelry making, costume dress-up, nail art, doll making, and cookie making.
is not just about “ KLhistorical icons.
It’s about having a spirit of multi-culturalism that keeps the city grounded.
A RICH HERITAGE Later in the afternoon, we visited the Islamic Arts Museum. Opened in 1998, this museum has one of the most comprehensive exhibits of Islamic artifacts and memorabilia, including manuscripts from ancient Q’uran to a reconstructed Ottoman Syrian Room that can be traced back to 19th century AD. As the day came to an end, we found peace at the National Mosque of Malaysia or the Masjid Negara. It is, indeed, the perfect place for tranquility, regardless of your religion or belief. Located on Jalan Lembbah Perdana, the 13-acre Islamic complex houses what is probably the most modern mosque in the world with a capacity of 15,000 people. It is said to be the closest epitome of Jannah, a conception of “paradise” in Islam. The mosque also has a 73-meter tall minaret and a 16-pointed star main roof, making it distinctive among other mosques in Malaysia. We took off our shoes and wore traditional robes before entering this spiritual ground. As we walked around its vast space, admiring the spiritual atmosphere and its modern design, we understood that KL is not just about historical icons. It’s about having a spirit of multi-culturalism that keeps the city grounded. n Special thanks to the Malaysia Tourism Board.
TRAVELIFE’S NAVIGATE YOURSELF
WHERE TO EAT Kuala Lumpur is known as a melting pot of different cultures— mainly Malay, Indian, and Chinese. These varied influences create a diverse dining experience. CILANTRO RESTAURANT & WINE BAR Located within the premises of MiCasa All Suite Hotel, this restaurant and wine bar offers French-inspired cuisine made with carefully-selected Asian ingredients. www.cilantrokl.com BIJAN RESTAURANT This spacious restaurant located just a few minutes from Changkat Bukit Bintang offers a wide selection of famous Malay dishes, ranging from everyday meals to unique dessert picks. The restaurant also promises 100% MSG-free dishes for those who want to eat healthy. www.bijanrestaurant.com
Kuala Lumpur is situated along the west coast of Malaysia. The largest and most populous city of Malaysia, KL took a leap from its inactive past into an emerging skyscraper city and lively bustling metropolis in Southeast Asia. The colorful harmony of Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures in Malaysia is best experienced through KL’s markets and streets.
TRAVELER’S CHECKLIST Visa Requirements No visa requirements for citizens of ASEAN countries for stays of up to 30 days. www.kln.gov.my
RESTORAN KIM LIAN KEE Found on Petaling Street in Chinatown, this restaurant prides itself as the birthplace of hokkien mee (fried noodles cooked in Fujian style) in Kuala Lumpur. The noodles are cooked over charcoal fire, and then thick prawn shell soup, flounder powder, and other flavourings are added, contributing to its aroma. There are two stalls here, and one has been in business for over 100. Pick the one with the most crowds. 49 Jalan Petaling. RESTORAN SAMBAL HIJAU Settled in Kampung Sungai Penchala, this restaurant offers a wide selection of made-to-order grilled seafood, as well as different curry dishes. Sambal Hijau, a Kampung dish made with green chilies, is where the place got its name, and its one of the signature dishes offered here. The meals are placed in silver square trays, and customers queue in taking food. 2990 Kg. Sungai Penchala, Jalan Damansara
Current Exchange Rate 1 US$ = 3.04950 Malaysian Ringgit Time Difference Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is in the same time zone as the Philippines. Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur No. 1 Jalan Changkat Kia Peng, 50450 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Tel (603) 2148-9989, 2148-4233 | www.philembassykl.org.my
HOW TO GET THERE Malaysia Airlines, Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and Air Asia fly daily from Manila to Kuala Lumpur.
WHEN TO GO Due to its geographical location closely located to the equator, the weather in Kuala Lumpur is relatively the same throughout the year. However, KL experiences more rain during the months of February to May and September to November.
SKYHIGH IN KL
A PLACE OF WORSHIP Masjid Jamek is one of the oldest mosques in Kuala Lumpur. Designed by English architect Arthur Benison Hubback in 1909, this mosque, which used to be the cityâ€™s main mosque, is a Moorish-style mosqu with three onion domes and a pair of minarets, nestled among a canopy of trees. It was inspired by the Moghul mosques in Northern India.
The Menara Kuala Lumpur (or the KL Tower), the tallest telecommunication tower in Southeast Asia, is a 421-meter tower that offers a sky-high view of the city, cultural performances, and a unique dining experience at Atmosphere 360, a revolving restaurant at the top of the tower. www.kltower.com.my
TRAVELIFE’S NAVIGATE YOURSELF
Executive room of Traders Hotel
WHERE TO STAY Kuala Lumpur has many luxury hotels that reflect Malaysian hospitality, with touches of elegance and culture. Most of these hotels are located in KL’s prime spots, giving a good view of the city’s main attractions and establishments.
Sky Bar at Traders Hotel
LUXURY INTERCONTINENTAL KUALA LUMPUR Conveniently located just a few minutes’ walk from the famous Petronas Twin Towers, this hotel is also near many establishments: from entertainment, dining and shopping. The concierge can also provide navigation tips to its guests. www.intercontinental-kl.com.my SHANGRI-LA KUALA LUMPUR Under an hour away from Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), this five-star hotel located at the heart of the city provides access to award-winning fine dining restaurants, as well as shopping centers in KL’s Golden Triangle. www.shangri-la.com/kualalumpur/shangrila MANDARIN ORIENTAL KUALA LUMPUR Attracting businessmen and leisure travelers alike, this hotel is surrounded by the city’s main businesses and recreational areas like Little India and Merdeka Square. Award-winning spas are also some of this hotel’s main attractions, with a remarkable view of City Centre Park’s lush and blooming gardens. www.mandarinoriental.com/kualalumpur THE MAJESTIC HOTEL KUALA LUMPUR Considered a national heritage site in Malaysia, this colonial hotel was built in 1932 and was the center for glamorous social events of its time. It has recently been renovated and upgraded to include a new wing complementing its original Art Deco style interiors. www.majestickl.com
VALUE HOTEL ISTANA KLCC Located within a walking distance from Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, this hotel offers quick access to the city’s main business and commercial centres, such as the Golden Triangle, as well as leisure spots such as Bintang Walk, Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur Tower, and Chinatown. www.hotelistana.com.my TRADERS HOTEL Nestled within the confines of the world-class Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, this hotel offers some of the best views of the city: Petronas Twin Towers, the city skyline or nearby parks. www.shangri-la.com / kualalumpur/traders/
EXPERIENCE THE BEST TIME OF YOUR LIFE