I arrived at my hotel in Kuala Lumpur around 2:00 AM. By this point, it was 11:00 AM back home, so I was wide awake. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much going on in KL at this time of night. I wished I could have gone and seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens, since it had only come out the day I’d departed, but there were no movie theaters with 2AM showings. Strange.
Instead, I hung out in my room until the day began, napping just a little bit in the early morning before venturing outside.
With it being in the mid-80s and extremely humid, my goal was to see as much as I could outside before it got too uncomfortable.
My first destination was Imbi Market, which could be reached by monorail from nearby my hotel. Let’s pause for a second for The Monorail Song from The Simpsons, which anyone should immediately think of any time they board a monorail.
Now that that’s settled, the Kuala Lumpur monorail actually appeared to be better functioning than the one on The Simpsons. It got me everywhere I needed to go during my day out, though on my 2nd layover, which I will write about in a separate post, a guy told me that the previous day, the monorail had been out of service thanks to a train getting stuck.
I’ve never seen this before, but instead of a paper ticket or plastic card, I got what looked like a poker chip. I pressed the ticket chip at the gate to enter, then deposited it to exit when I was at my destination.
On the train, one of the stops was a place called Titiwangsa. I giggled.
I got off the monorail at Imbi station, then walked about 10 minutes or so to Imbi Market. Along the walk, the buildings changed from modern towers to more suburban, older buildings. While the first part of the walk was brutally hot, the area near Imbi Market is filled with trees.
Imbi Market is a must-do for any food lover. There are market stalls selling an array of foods from Malaysia & the rest of the region. Malaysia is a crossroads of cultures, and that shows in its cuisine.
Everything in the market is cheap, as you’d expect. I took a walk around it at first so I could see just what was on offer, but it became pretty clear that I was going to need to start snacking soon, as all the delicious smells were making me hungry.
My first stop was a small stall selling apam balik, which can be best described as a peanut pancake. A slice was just RM $1.30, which is about 30 cents. It was a savory warm snack, and it was delicious.
After walking around the market a bit more, I found Bunn Choon, one of the most famous food stands in Imbi Market. Bunn Choon is famous for their fresh egg tarts.
There is a long line for the tarts & other baked goods, but it moves fairly quickly and is 100% worth it. By the time I got to the front of the line, trays of fresh baked egg tarts had just come out of the oven.
I ordered three egg tarts: two regular and one green tea, plus a pineapple stick. The total cost was RM 6.70, which is about $1.70. There aren’t many foods that are better than a freshly baked egg tart.
I wanted to order more food, but I knew I would be walking a lot more over the course of the rest of the day, and I don’t like eating a lot when it’s hot outside.
After leaving Imbi Market, I headed north, back toward the towering new buildings of Kuala Lumpur. The landscape changes quickly to an area that feels very modernized. When you’re walking through the city, you get the sense that the growth is rapid, and nothing is going to stand in its way. I fear that unbuilt areas such as Imbi Market are endangered. In fact, some other market areas of Kuala Lumpur have recently been shuttered so new construction can take place. While on one hand it’s interesting to see the progress of a city like Kuala Lumpur, one must wonder about the human and cultural cost. Authentic local spots such as Imbi Market should be the cultural heart of a city, not shopping malls and food courts that resemble those found anywhere else in the world. I only spent two days in Kuala Lumpur, spread out over two long layovers, so I can’t claim to have deep knowledge of the city, that’s just my perception based on my limited time.
My next destination was going to be Kuala Lumpur’s iconic Petronas Towers. Normally I’d try to avoid something so obviously touristy, but given that it was going to be my first and potentially only trip to Kuala Lumpur, I couldn’t skip it. It was a clear, sunny day, which meant the view from the top was going to be outstanding. Plus, the observation deck isn’t open on Mondays, and I was going to be passing back through KL on my return trip on a Monday.
Much like how cold northern cities such as Minneapolis have indoor walkways to protect from the harsh winters, Kuala Lumpur has recently opened & expanded their own indoor walkway system. The main part of the elevated walkway is over a kilometer long and connects the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center with much of the surrounding area, including several of the largest hotels, starting from Bukit Bintang. It’s a great way to get around this portion of the city while getting a bit of a view of it from above the streets. Of course, modernization means air conditioning, and even in December, that’s necessary & appreciated this close to the Equator.
Before heading to the Petronas Twin Towers, I wanted to get a better view of the buildings first. Personally, I think they’re the most attractive of the modern skyscrapers, with shining stainless steel that is vaguely reminiscent of my favorite building in New York City, the art deco Chrysler Building, though in the case of the Petronas Towers, the spires are Islamic-inspired.
Fortunately, there’s a great spot for viewing the Petronas Towers from just across the KL City Centre Park. The Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur has a sky lobby on the 39th floor, with a bar & restaurant just a floor below that. You can take the express elevator up to the lobby, then head downstairs to the bar. If you want, you can buy a drink and admire the view, otherwise you can just head to the windows of the quieter areas of the floor and snap some photos.
After seeing the building from afar, it was time to get a bit closer. I headed toward the park I had seen from above. The views of the Petronas Towers from here are incredible. It was Christmas week, so they had a big tree outside the entrance to the shopping mall that sits at the base of the towers. It was interesting to see this in a Muslim country, but all faiths of the world can unite to celebrate the season of consumerism.
I tried walking a bit more around the park, but there was some construction going on. There was a small fence that was fencing off perhaps a third of a path. I assumed that it was just randomly left there, only to be greeted by a sharp whistle. I turned around to find a security guard sitting in the shade behind me. I’m not sure why they couldn’t have just properly fenced off the path rather than making that guy sit there all day whistling at bewildered tourists.
Turning back, I went to go buy a ticket for the Petronas Towers Observation Deck. I arrived there around 11:30am, but the next available ticket wasn’t until 1:15pm. In hindsight, I should have gone straight to the ticket office, then explored the area while I was waiting for a tour. I would recommend either buying tickets ahead of time online or going straight to the towers to find out the wait, especially if you’re on a layover in Kuala Lumpur like I was. There are museums such as the Science Museum nearby, but I was stuck in that no man’s land of having some time to wait, but not enough to really see a museum.
It was too hot to wander around outside too much more, so I found myself walking around a shopping mall a few days before Christmas. I would not recommend this to anyone. Eventually I bought myself a chocolate milkshake from a kiosk and relaxed for a while while catching up on e-mails and news on my phone.
Access to the Petronas Twin Towers tour costs RM 84.80, which is around $21 USD. It’s a little steep, but reasonable considering what some other observation decks charge. You get nice views at a few different places from the building, plus a few exhibits about the buildings.
The tour begins just past the ticket area. There is a safety briefing that’s a hologram made from a projection & waves of vapor. It’s pretty cool.
Any apprehension I had about doing a cliche tourist experience was gone as we started to take the elevator up to our first stop. The Petronas Towers really are an iconic set of buildings, so if you’re at all interested in architecture and construction, the tour is well-worth it. The elevators are lit up with the rising skyline of Kuala Lumpur as you ascend and descend.
The first stop of the tour of Petronas Twin Towers is the skybridge that connects the two towers at the 41st and 42nd floors. Visitors get about 10-15 minutes to walk around the bridge & snap photos before being ushered toward a 2nd set of elevators that takes them to the upper levels of the building.
The third elevator ride takes you from the skybridge levels to the 83rd floor. Then, you switch to another smaller elevator (the group splitting in two since there are two elevators), for the final ride up to the 86th floor.
Once you’re at the highest observation deck, you have about 15 minutes to look around before your group is called back to the elevator. It all runs well somehow, as the staff can tell which group is which, since they overlap visit times.
At first 15 minutes doesn’t seem like a ton of time, but I found it to be sufficient. There are some models and photos to look at, but the star of the show is of course the view above Kuala Lumpur.
The immediate view is the 2nd tower, looming at arm’s length just across the way. One of the issues with visiting tall towers and their observation decks is that you can’t see the building because you’re in it. This isn’t a problem at Petronas Twin Towers since you can at least see the other tower across the way. It’s nice to be able to see the detail of the building. There was even a persistent spider that was clinging to the outside of the edifice.
After looking at the other tower, I walked around the rest of the observation deck, taking in the views of the rest of Kuala Lumpur before it was my time to head back to the ground.
Kuala Lumpur is city of contrasts. On one hand you have modern skyscrapers and lots of construction, but in between you have what look like rural villages. What will become of them? There was an old neighborhood with a market just below the towers, across a highway, but I’ve read reports that it will be closed soon or has already been closed. The land is just too valuable to not be built on vertically like the rest of the KL city centre, but that’s a conflict that will displace many from their homes.
As I descended into the train station to make my way back to the Aloft Kuala Lumpur Sentral before getting the train back to the airport for my flight to New Zealand, a Malaysian busker was playing “Achy Breaky Heart”. The battle between cultures endures.
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AKA Jonathan Sacks. Traveler. Writer. Photographer. 40+ countries & major territories so far, slowly working my way through the rest. Related interests: craft beer, street food, sporting events, frugal travel, credit card bonuses, hiking, visiting non-touristy places. Join me for the journey!