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Kuala Lumpur, the modern capital of Malaysia. Petronas Towers are in the centre.
Mainland Malaysia outside Kuala Lumpur | Sarawak | Sabah
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offers two distinct experiences, the mainland peninsula in the west and the wilder provinces of Sarawak and Sabah on the island
of Borneo to the east.
Tourism in Malaysia is pricey compared to other southeast Asia countries but it's safe, easy to get around, some locals speak English and food is superb, a curious and tasty fusion of Indian, Chinese and Malay dishes and ingredients.
Mainland Malaysia is sophisticated, efficient and thoroughly comfortable,
epitomised by the modern, multicultural capital, Kuala Lumpur, more or less the centre of west Malaysia, the mainland.
Kuala Lumpur is not a very interesting city (tho' way better than Singapore!) but other regions of Malaysia have more to offer. Georgetown in Penang is now a World Heritage Site, hiking in hot, humid Taman Negara rainforest or cool Cameron Highlands is engaging while a couple of east coast islands offer world-class beaches with all facilities. Then, over the water to Borneo and tourism goes wild with serious jungle life, ethnic tribes, one of the great mountain hikes and possibly the world's best scuba diving.
Until recently the Petronas Towers (photo above) were the tallest towers in the world. Now Burj Khalifa (829m/2,722 ft) in Dubai wears that crown. If you're interested in going up the towers buy tickets online a few days before lift off as supply is limited. The tour takes about 1.5 hours. Photographers love the Towers, especially at night for the amazing KL overview.
The Petronas Towers are open 6 days a week and offer a tours to the skybridge on floor 41/ 42 and the observation deck on floor 86 in tower 2. Tickets and more information
There is a train station in the tower /mall complex called KLCC.
If you can't be bothered to go up Petronas or don't want to pay the fee then go to the plaza beneath the towers in the evening, take a picnic and to watch the fountains and light show.
Sultan Abdul Samad building, one of the few remaining old structures left in the city. The Moorish architecture now houses the offices of the Ministry of Information, Communications and Culture of Malaysia.
Photo by Adrian Loader
Things to do in Kuala Lumpur
• Go up the Petronas Towers for an incredible pay-panoramic view, or go below for an equally stunning view, shopping in a vast mall or just watch the fountains and light show in the evenings.
• Take a Malaysia Heritage Walk to see the best buildings, hear the history and be introduce to fantastic foods. About 4 hours, twice a day.
• Visit the Islamic Arts Museum, a well-organized, attractive collection of arts, antiques, crafts, textiles, models of mosques around the world and interesting information on the history of Islam.
• Check the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (Dewan Filharmonik) if you like classical music (occasional jazz). The concert hall is modern and gorgeous and prices affordable. But beware dress code. No shorts and flip flops!
• Kuala Lumpur Bird Park, the world's largest free-flight, walk-in aviary. Set in a sprawling valley, this renowned eco-tourism park is home to more than 3,000 birds, some monkeys and plenty of mosquitoes. You'll need half a day to see the whole park and can get there from KL on a Hop on Hop off tourist bus.
• Petrosains Science Discovery Centre is another small, fine place for kids with lots of interactive exhibits. It's in the Petronas Towers complex.
• Explore Thean Hou Temple, a grand, ornate but modern Chinese temple dedicated to the Queen of Heaven, Thean Hou. This serene temple borrows from Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian traditions, with sculptures and paintings. Good for photographers, the panoramic views of KL alone make the trip up the hill worthwhile, but there's no public transport there.
• Visit the clean, elaborate and peaceful Indian Hindu temple of Sri Mahamariamman in China Town. Full of strange and intricate carvings and paintings it's a great contrast to the Chinese temple opposite.
• take a 13 km train ride to the Batu Caves Hindu Temple complex. See below.
The Batu Caves are just 13kms northeast of Kuala Lumpur (KL). The statue is Lord Murugan, a Hindu deity.
Photo by mckaysavage.
This limestone cave system is the best cultural attraction in the KL region. The temples and shrines therein were begun by an Indian trader in the late 19th century who was inspired by the spear-head shape of the entry cave, a holy symbol for Hindus. Mr Pillai had a temple built there dedicated to Lord Murugan. Since then various additions have been made including 272 steps up the the caves and more statues and ornate shrines, particularly in the biggest cave, the Cathedral Cave.
The immediate vicinity has developed into a pilgrimage site with other caves at the base of the hill now also converted to Dravidian temples, full of astonishingly gaudy shrines, statues and paintings of religious scenes. Fruit bats are omnipresent in the caves and macaque monkeys patrol the area looking for handouts from visitors and harassing naive tourists who think they're fun and cute.
It's easy to get to Batu from KL by train and the Indian food stalls and little restaurants are excellent.
• beware you unfit tourists, especially in the heat and humidity of a regular Malaysian day, the 272 concrete steps are a challenge.
• the caves are quite damp.
• there tends to be a bit of rubbish lying about. In that respect Batu is more Indian than Malaysian!
• the monkeys can be aggressive.
• Caving. Naturally Batu brings out cavers in droves as the cave system extends several kilometres and is decorated with the usual stalactites, stalagmites, cave pearls and so on. However, access is restricted to preserve the environment so check before heading down under. Dark Cave caving, Batu
• Climbing. The wild and craggy rocks around Batu reach heights of 15m and are easy to reach and popular with climbers. There are at least 8 crags and 170 routes in use. Rock climbing Batu
Inside the cavernous interiors of the Batu Caves are delicate, multi-coloured Hindu shrines. And bats, plenty of bats.
Photo by Ninad Katyare
Batu is especially fascinating and grotesque during the Thaipusam Hindu festival when vast and brilliant processions of devotees carrying wildly decorated milk containers leave from Kuala Lumpur's Sri Mahamariamman Temple early in the day and lurch along to Batu over 8 hours. Famously pierced penitents from all over the world join the gang too, tongues skewered and bodies hooked to dangling weights and cages stagger up the steps to the shrines to pray for help. Festival dates
Genting Highlands theme park, a short distance northeast of Kuala Lumpur. Only go with Kids!
Genting Highlands amusement park is at least an hour's drive from KL. It's of questionable value as it's old-fashioned and getting a little tired, but still fun for kids. If you are a couple or adult group then you might consider getting just the Outdoor pass, if you're desperate for something to do. The Indoor pass is pricey and hardly worth it, you can easily wander the mall and food court there. On the other hand if the weather's bad the great Outdoors can get cold and windy.
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