In my mind, Kuala Lumpur has always conjured up images of a distant and exotic land. Perhaps it’s because of the name’s similarity with koala bears. Or maybe it’s my childhood memories of watching athletes perform at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in the city, a faraway land I couldn’t place on the map.
Consequently, it’s possible I expected too much from the Malaysian capital. It’s also true that after Singapore surpassed my wildest expectations, KL, as the locals call it, was on a hiding to nothing.
That’s not to say I didn’t like the city. It’s just that with a few exceptions, it is easy to see why it remains a stopover destination.
The city’s most famous landmark, The Petronas Towers, are hugely impressive and stunningly beautiful when illuminating the night sky.
Tourists are advised to go up the neighbouring KL Tower at dusk to see the Petronas Towers at their best and I timed it perfectly. Sure, I might have got caught in a torrential downpour as I made my way there, but when I was at the viewing deck, the clouds slowly cleared to provide an atmospheric view of the city.
The Towers are built in KL’s ‘Golden Triangle’. I spent an afternoon exploring the area and the neighbourhood doesn’t live up to its name. It consists almost exclusively of international hotels and Western fast food outlets. Only McDonald’s golden arches can be found there, and they don’t shine. The city’s historic sites are far more interesting and serve as a reminder of Kuala Lumpur’s colonial past. The former padang (a grass square for sport) is now called Freedom Square and is home to the world’s largest flagpole.
Unfortunately, KL remains difficult to explore as a pedestrian. Many roads don’t have pavements and while the train and mono-rail network is fairly extensive, there is limited integration between the lines, so it’s necessary to buy at least one ticket per journey – sometimes more if you’re travelling on different lines.
The city is still developing and you could argue I’m being unfair by comparing KL to Western cities with greater infrastructure. However, Kuala Lumpur has been developing for some time. It’s been fourteen years since the Petronas Towers were built and the city hosted the Commonwealth Games. If the city is to become more than just a regional hub for other destinations, it’s still got a small step to go.