Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year's Stopover in Kuala Lumpur

Because we had no intention of waking up early enough in Bali to catch an 8:30am flight, which would have then required a six hour layover, the best possible option for us to get back to Delhi was to take an afternoon flight to Kuala Lumpur (KL), spend a night in the city, and then take the daily Air Asia flight back to Delhi the following afternoon. The fact it was New Year’s Eve and most of our Delhi friends weren’t in Delhi provided just the additional excuse necessary to visit the city.

From landing to take-off, we were there for less than 24 hours. Since the airport is a good hour from the middle of the city, there wasn’t much time to explore. As a result, other than finding a hotel, we spent exactly 37 seconds researching what there was to do in KL prior to arriving. This was the amount of time it took for me to remember that an old issue of the Lonely Planet India magazine had a one-page tear out city guide, walk to find the issue, and rip it from its former home. It’s safe to assume that it’s the least I’ve ever known about a country that I’ve spent the night in (admittedly I knew less about Myanmar but that was a simple 90 minute walk-in visit after giving our passports to some random dude at the Thai border).

I expected KL to be a modern city; however, I was surprised at how western and organized it felt. Even the housing that we drove past on the way into the city looked like suburban townhome developments in any nameless American suburban ghetto. The highways were well maintained and open and wide enough for the crazy ass Malaysian taxi driver to literally hit 160 km per hour (100 mph) on the way to the airport – no offense intended to Korean technology, but I hope that’s the last time I hit a hundred in a Kia taxi.

We had no idea what was going on in the city as far as celebrations go, but got checked into the hotel, got pointed in the right direction and headed to the nearby Pavilion, which is a modern shopping complex and gathering spot. There’s a semi-outdoor air-conditioned pedestrian mall located between the two primary mall buildings (there’s a high roof connecting the buildings but no doors to walk through) where we scored perfect people watching seats and a tapas restaurant. The tapas was below average, which probably isn’t that surprising in Malaysia. In our defense, it was actually the second one we had seen so thought maybe they knew something we didn’t. They didn’t.

After we tired of watching people, we decided to hunt for the most famous landmark in town, the Petronas Tower, which was really the only thing either of us knew about the city. After a fifteen minute walk we finally had an unobstructed view of the twin towers, famous for the walking bridge at the forty-first floor that adjoins the towers. As far as modern urban scenery goes, it’s fairly impressive. Not something worth an entire trip (unless you have circumstances like us), but definitely interesting.
Petronas Towers at night
On the walk back from the towers, we passed through Pavilion again. A large, festive crowd of a couple thousand people (rough estimate, could have been a few hundred, but it seemed full) had assembled for a DJ but we quickly assessed the scene, decided we were a bit out of the age demographic, and headed back to the hotel. The most surprising thing was that all the alcohol consumption was limited to the restaurants that lined the pedestrian mall; there was nothing on the street, and I didn’t see any obvious signs of enforcement. Had the same scene existed in Chicago, it would have turned into a huge, drunken street fest.

On New Year’s morning, after a brief stop at the Pavilion Starbuck’s (where the barista gave the wife the most dumbfounded look I’ve ever seen when she asked if they had her favorite, pumpkin spice lattes), we decided we’d do a daytime circumnavigation of the towers. By 10:00am the scene of the New Year’s celebration had been entirely erased; it could have just as easily been February 27th as it was January 1st. After walking through an exceeding clean and green park, we ended up at the base of the towers, which conveniently have a luxury mall attached. After a brief stop at Banana Republic (yep, both Starbuck’s and Banana Republic in one morning; it was an exciting day for Lindsay), we walked around the towers, confirmed what we had suspected (that the free tickets to walk the bridge had been handed out before our late arrival, snapped a few pictures, and headed back to the hotel.
Step one to an unexpectedly good start to the new year.
Step two to an unexpectedly good start to the new year
(I've never seen someone so happy to see a store)
The only other interesting experience on our walk was that we witnessed what appeared to be the military or police marching in formation. Not knowing a thing about the country and not knowing the etiquette of capturing this type of imagine, I conservatively left the camera around my neck.  After seeing it was a bunch of mall cops in closely coordinated yet still mismatched uniforms, I regretted not recording what I would consider a fairly ludicrous display (but what do I know?). I did think it was nice they take their job a little more seriously than Paul Blart.
About as vanilla of a daytime shot possible of the Petronas Towers
At least this is a slightly different view
That’s basically the extent of our KL adventure. It didn’t wow us; it just seemed like a nice big city. To be honest, I’m surprised one night turned into a post this long. Not exactly the type of place we’d choose to go as a destination, but given the circumstances around our flights, not the worst way to see how the Malaysians celebrate New Year’s, which is basically the same way Americans celebrate New Year’s (minus the drunken street fest).

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