Arriving in Kuala Lumpur from almost any South-east Asian country is bound to induce at least a mild cultural shock. There’s no overwhelming taxi attack at the arrivals gate, no crazy honking traffic chaos, no trash-filled streets, no clouds of suffocating smog and the only obvious association with this part of the world is triggered by the ever-present sticky tropical heat. At first it was a very pleasant change for us and we were thrilled by all the little perks of this modernised metropolis … the always available wifi (even on trains!), the constantly swept sidewalks with trash cans on every corner, hardly any crowds on the streets, and stores filled with absolutely anything one might or not need.
So first we did what was only logical (you know, when in Rome …) and bravely marched into the humungous labyrinth of malls to do some necessary (and some not so necessary) shopping. While that was definitely fun, we were also swiftly stunned by the scale of it all. It quickly becomes obvious that Kuala Lumpur is a city filled with money, where huge skyscrapers are emerging with the speed of light and almost every other square meter of available ground is occupied by hundreds of enormous shopping malls, where there is really the only chance you’ll get caught up in a crowd of people in this city. Because they certainly like their shopping and there’s an evident consumer culture ingrained in the lifestyle with the apparent consumer power on a high level, since the only signs of poverty are noticeable among misfortunate immigrants. The city-living Malay are not really complaining and seem to be enjoying their time spent in the air-conditioned malls, but for us it soon became too much.
To set off this blast of the western-style world, we took a couple of days to discover the shopping-free parts of the city. So, we spent a day in Batu caves just north of Kuala Lumpur, where spectacular karst holes in the hill, the ornamented Hindu temple, and an unexpectedly numerous bunch of monkeys offer a nice break from the asphalt jungle. Another fun experience was visiting the Aquarium, where our inner children awoken and we were squealing embarrassingly at the too cute otters, enthusiastically petted baby sharks, and strolled through the water tunnel at least five times. Then we naturally had to explore the street food scene, so we decided to follow our previously great experience with tour-guiding locals and met friendly Siddoz, who showed us around the many delicious Malay food stalls. And since we really hit it off, we spent the next day enjoying the charming Little India and drinking masala tea with him, while learning a lot about the city, its people and culture.
All in all, it was a blast spending time in a city like Kuala Lumpur and I won’t deny some of its modern amenities were more than welcome. The city itself is definitely filled with all kinds of interesting and fun spots, while also providing a comfortable place for different cultures and residents. But I was also very happy to leave its shiny glam behind and once again feel like I really am miles away from home.