Return to Kuala Lumpur: A Brief Stopover

It’s early Sunday morning. The tropical heat isn’t that intense yet, so I and my friend C are strolling in the streets of Kuala Lumpur. The city is still waking up from whatever kept it awake relatively late Saturday night, and there is some sense of post-apocalyptic vibe as we take in our first moments of the trip. The streets are mostly empty of cars, the overpasses are barely devoid of pedestrians, and it seems we have all of Kuala Lumpur to ourselves – for the next half-hour at least.

I’m stepping on KL for the first time in six years (or second time, if you count last year’s trip to Myanmar where I stopped over here also but never really went out of the KL International Airport), although we’re only here for a few hours. We’re on our way to… somewhere else… and the flight there involves having to go through KL since there are no direct flights between somewhere else and Manila.

The original plan was to go to Ipoh, but decided to just stay in Kuala Lumpur to save budget. Besides, I am eager to explore the Malaysian capital once more. I’m sure the city has changed so much since I’ve last been here.

Kuala Lumpur wakes up to a nice weekend morning.

Our first stop is the area around the Chinatown, where much of the traditional sights of Kuala Lumpur are clustered. This is a bustling tourist hub, and it’s where we get to see KL gradually come to life. Entering Jalan Raja a few meters from the Pasar Seni train station, the familiar view of the Sultan Abdul Samad building comes into view. A sprinkling of people, mostly participants from the just-ended fun run, are hanging around. The street is closed to traffic for what we’ll learn minutes later is a public event, and the people are taking advantage of the lack of cars in the streets to enjoy the surroundings.

That event turns out to be some sort of a parade for the police, who assembles in the southwestern end of the building. A few of them are perched on horses facing a phalanx of white-uniformed members of the force. A military music plays and they start marching.

A historical building dating to 1899 houses the KL City Gallery. The area around Merdeka Square is surrounded by notable buildings, some dating back to the British colonial era.
A police pageantry takes place in front of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building. The structure, which is currently home to the Ministry of Information, Communications and Culture, once housed the offices of the British colonial administration.

Later in the morning, C and I press on, walking east to the Leboh Pasar Besar to the Central Market to have breakfast. As it turns out, most of the food stalls are still closed, so we walk around further to the Petaling Street Market. We look around for a stall where there are lots of people (generally a good sign that the food is good and, well, clean), and hunker down for some bowls of chicken noodle soup and iced coffee.

The Medan Pasar Clock Tower is surrounded by shops with colonial designs.
Street art decorates the alleyways of Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown neighborhood.
A student tries to capture his perspective of the city with his art.
Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown is a bustling tourist hub featuring numerous shops and food stalls.

After our breakfast, we walk around the surrounding streets once more, and the rather drab veneer of KL slowly peels off to reveal its artistic side. This is a city that really appreciates its artists – street art greet you in random alleyways, groups take photo walks, students gather in a corner to paint street scenes.

The Kuala Lumpur City Centre is the city’s most stylish neighborhood, with skyscrapers towering over manicured gardens and wide urban spaces.
The Petronas Towers, once the world’s tallest building, was designed to reflect elements of Islamic art.

By lunchtime, we head to the Kuala Lumpur City Centre, or KLCC, the city’s most stylish neighborhood. Where Chinatown is raw and somewhat gritty with that thronged kind of feel, the KLCC has a more sanitized gray vibe, what with the wide paved sidewalks  and highways surrounded by valleys of skyscrapers.

The most famous of these buildings, of course, is the Petronas Towers, which stood as the tallest building in the world for a few years until 2004. It’s an apt symbol for the city that once was a muddy estuary, but has since become one of the biggest hubs in Southeast Asia, if not Asia.

But, as with six years ago, we don’t climb the building. Instead, we spend most of the rest of our stay in the comfort of the nearby mall,. Strapped for budget, we simply hang around in the food court, the Kinokuniya bookstore, and a coffee shop for a few hours before heading back to KLIA to catch our flight to somewhere else.

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