Riding on the double-decker bus was great for getting my bearings in this new town, locating the recommended sights and identifying how far they were from my hotel. These tours are a handy way to cram in the city highlights when you’re short on time. Tickets are valid for 24 hours so you can take your time exploring.
A local guide took us on a half-day food tour of the city, meeting us at Bangsar with our first stop at Little India in Brickfields. It happened to be the first day of a 10 day Hindu festival so we took a walk up fragrant flower alley to see the many stalls displaying beautiful offerings for temples. A kind man tied delicate jasmine bracelets onto the wrists of the women in our group. They were pretty, cool and sweet-smelling – a real treat for such a hot day.
As we walked along the main street of Little India it was being set up for the festival. Cheerful Indian music played through a boombox, outdoor entertaining tents were being erected and a large, colourful and impressive elephant God made of tapioca flower was on display, which would be later set out to sea after the celebrations.
To my delight our guide took us to a pure vegetarian eatery for lunch (pure vegetarian means no onion, garlic or chilli – our guide said it’s thought to be bad for mojo). Here our plates were filled with generous portions of lentil curry, tofu and vegetable dishes and boiled rice. We ate as the Malaysians do – with only our right hands, using our thumbs to scoop the food then gently (and with luck, neatly) push it into our mouths.
We washed down our meals with iced lemon tea, served in plastic bags tied with string for portability. As lemons are imported to Malaysia they can be expensive so this refreshing and popular drink is often made with local limes.
At around 3-4pm each day, Malaysians love what is often called ‘tea time snack bites’. To taste some of these delights we stopped by an outdoor stall, busy with staff rolling dough for curry puffs, frying batches of lentil cakes and serving the many buyers who stopped for a savoury or sweet afternoon snack. It’s essentially crunchy fried heaven – I tried a LOT of the treats and they were very crispy, light and tasty.
Next up was a stop for sweet treats, including crunchy fried banana (my favourite!), ice kachang which has corn kernels, red beans, grass jelly (made with a type of mint) and cendol (pronounced chendol) made with palm sugar, pandan jelly made with rice flour, coconut milk and shaved iced. On a hot day these icy treats melt fast so you have to eat quickly!
To escape the heat of the afternoon we took a ride up KL Tower. The tower stands 421m high but due to the high amount of smoke blanketing the area (from farmers doing an annual burn in Indonesia), it was difficult to see much of the city. I imagine on a clear day it would be quite an impressive viewpoint. Another impressive landmark high above the city is the Petronas Twin Tower which looks quite futuristic.
After a cheap and casual hawker-style dinner downtown, a few of us got brave and bought a durian. I had heard much about the stench of durian (it’s banned from many hotels) however it was not nearly as bad as I had expected. The consistency was mushy like custard and it had a distinctive savoury flavour, like camembert with a strong hit of onion. It wasn’t horrible but probably not something I’d seek out again. Cross that one off the to-do list!
I had the most wonderful (and incredibly cheap) dinner at a stall in Petaling Street, Chinatown. They made fabulous fresh roti chanai (roti with dahl) which was perfect with a cold beer and for dessert they cooked banana and sugar inside a roti and rolled it up. Another brilliant meal was a late night dinner with roti, hoppers and bright and fresh mango lassis. Oh I could eat like that everyday!
On my last day I did the obligatory tourist visit to Bukit Bintang for some shopping. It was busy and crazy but certainly a good spot to grab some last minute bargains.
It felt like a whirlwind visit, leaving me with the feeling that I didn’t get to see or taste enough of the city. I’ll just have to come back and do it again!
Have you visited Kuala Lumpur? I’d love to hear your favourite things about this busy city.
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