Off to the Big City: Kuala Lumpur

Flying from one of the smallest and quietest Southeast Asian capitals (Vientiane, Laos) to one of the biggest and most bustling (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia) was a bit of a culture shock. We weren’t prepared for skyscrapers, high-rise apartment buildings, multilane toll roads, mega shopping malls, subway systems, and so much else that felt like the United States.

But beyond the superficial resemblances, we quickly came to appreciate the mix of three vibrant cultures—Malay, Indian, and Chinese—that make Kuala Lumpur a unique and fascinating city. Joined by our friend Robin from home, we also discovered that Kuala Lumpur is a place full of good street food, varied architecture, interesting museums, and terrible traffic.

The scene just outside the door of our hotel in Chinatown

In the middle of Kuala Lumpur’s urban bustle is a large green space, the Tun Abdul Razak Heritage Park, that is home to several museums, a national mosque, flower gardens, and a planetarium. It is also the site of one of Chris’s favorite things in the city: the KL Bird Park, a 21-acre aviary built into a wooded hillside.

The park is a series of large open areas covered by high nets, where birds can fly, roost in trees, congregate on the ground or in ponds, and generally behave fairly naturally. As you walk through the different areas, you come face to face with many species of birds native to Southeast Asia (as well as a few wild monkeys hanging out on top of the nets).

At times it seems as though Kuala Lumpur’s Indian and Chinese populations are in a competition to have the most ornate and gaudy temple (with contenders sometimes located in the same block). But for sheer scale and ostentation, its hard for any shrine to rival the Hindu temples built in and around the massive limestone caves at Batu, 8 miles north of Kuala Lumpur. There, worshipers and tourists climb 272 steep steps up a hillside to the caves, watched over by a 140-foot golden statue.

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