I really wasn’t looking forward to the flight back to Kuala Lumpur – not least because it was a 21:30 take-off and 04:30 landing (it’s only a 4:30 hour flight, but there’s a 2:30 time difference). As it turned out it wasn’t so bad – we had our usual row 14 seats, but the row in front was empty, so the minute they closed the door I leapt into seats A-C and Mr V slid into D-F. There wasn’t room to really stretch out, but it beat sitting upright and I actually slept a little.
We were lucky with our timing, and reached the Skybus to Sentral just before the 05:30 departure. Knowing that the Hotel Sentral was a stickler for it’s 14:00 check-in time we’d booked the night before. Unfortunately they’d ignored our request for a room at the back (away from the annoying ding-dong of the lift), and the alternative we were offered had a connecting door (not good in a hotel where the many Chinese guests completely ignore the non-smoking designation of rooms). We’d have to wait until later that day to check into our preferred room – but meanwhile we could snatch a little sleep.
Our priority for this stay in KL was a visa for Thailand, which I ‘ve written up as a separate post for anyone who needs to know.
Once that was dealt with we were free to be tourists. We’d passed through Kuala Lumpur several times on this trip but always with a list of things to do, so we’d not really seen much of it – not that there are many must-see sights in KL, apart from the Petronas Towers.
First on my list was the Lake Gardens, KL’s botanical gardens. According to the map they were just a short walk from the hotel, on the far side of Sentral station, but in practice it wasn’t so easy. KL is built on a lot of steep little hills, so when we came out of the back of the station and cut between the Hilton and the Meridien, we found ourselves on a pedestrian-unfriendly driveway high above where we actually wanted to be, with no way of getting down. The situation wasn’t helped by roadworks and construction all around the station, and it took a series of wrong turns and redirections from locals before we managed to find our way across the bridge over a dual carriageway, down a set of metal steps, and through a tunnel under another dual carriageway into the gardens.
The gardens were vast, well able to absorb the large numbers of Sunday visitors – groups of chattering Chinese tourists, picnicking KL families and youth groups, jogging western expats and chastely courting couples. Clearly some effort had gone unto creating Points of Interest such as an edible garden, topiary, and architectural features, but they seemed a bit randomly plonked, with no coherent overall design. With the humidity soaring and black clouds threatening a downpour we cut our visit short, missing the attractions further north and east.
Merdeka (Independence) Square lies just to the north of Brickfields and is Kuala Lumpur’s main civic space, the venue for parades and other nationalistic displays sanctioned by the authorities (but if you want to protest against the authorities, you have to go elsewhere). It’s ringed by some of KL’s most historic and traditional architecture, and from pictures looked attractive and impressive. Unfortunately when we visited the whole of the large grassy central space was buried under half-erected marquees, which pretty much destroyed the views of the magnificant Sultan Abdul Samad building and the incongruously mock-Tudor Royal Selangor Club.
En route to Merdeka Square we had alighted at the Masjid Jamek station, but the only glimpse that we got of the eponymous mosque was from the terrace of a bank, whose security guard kindly waved us up to peer over the hoardings that blocked our view. The whole area around the muddy confluence that gave KL its name is being ‘regenerated’. Hopefully the results will be attractive, but meanwhile it’s a giant construction site.
The industrious Arthur Benison Hubback, architect of both the Masjid Jamek and the Tudor bits of the Royal Selengor Club, was also responsible for what is now the National Textile Museum. (He had a hand in the Sultan Abdul Samad building too, and designed the fairytale KL Railway Station – clearly he visited Brighton Pavillion as a child!). We haven’t visited many museums on this trip, but the Textile Museum was free and air-conditioned, and I am more interested in textiles than the pottery and weapons that most museums offer. The displays of the intricate batik and weaving methods didn’t disappoint.
Kuala Lumpur is short on world class tourist sites, but if you happen to be there anyway there’s certainly enough to occupy you without spending much.