While teaching English in China I decided to make a trip to Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur is the central hub and capital of Malaysia. It's a vibrant city you don't want to miss, whether you're stopping there for a layover or spending a couple of days sightseeing. Here are a few “must-sees and must-dos” during your next KL visit.
1. Malaysia is home to a diverse array of animal species, many of which are just a metro or Grab ride away at the beautiful KL Bird Park.
2. Don't miss out on Southeast Asia's “fish pedicures”, which you can find on most street corners in Kuala Lumpur. This ‘spa treatment' truly redefines the phrase “there's something fishy going on here.”
3. Make sure your Gatorade doesn't get stolen by an opportunistic monkey at the foot of the Batu Caves. Advice: Keep your bags zipped and your eyes open. Also, wear clothes suitable for climbing, that is, for being climbed on! Facts: If you buy a bag of peanuts to feed them, you might just turn into a jungle gym.
This one may seem a bit strange, especially since many signs in major Chinese cities include English or pinyin. However, many does not mean most, and English translations can range from mildly, though comically, inaccurate to almost unintelligible. Hence, if you are illiterate in Mandarin, or have only developed the semi-functional literacy required to order from a menu or find your way home, like this writer, being able to read the vast proportion of signs in Romanized Malay without a translator temporarily puts the “fun” back in fundamental (even if you don't know what the Malay words mean). Hey, at least you CAN read them.
On the flip side, if you still want some practice with your characters on vacation, you can always head to KL's Chinatown. Meanwhile, other contenders vying for your eyes' and ears' attention might include Arabic, Tamil and Javanese, among others.
China is an incredibly diverse country in terms of languages spoken, ethnic groups, types of cuisine, geography and so much more! For these reasons, many people from all over the world go there to live, work and vacation (yours truly included). Notwithstanding all of this diversity, however, China still boasts a relatively low proportion of foreigners, particularly those from the west. This fact contributes to a “heightened awareness” of, and sometimes even fascination with foreigners here, which leads to many of us being stared at, having our pictures taken, and often being asked where we're from.
Kuala Lumpur, by contrast, is literally little Asia: a microcosm of people from the Indian subcontinent, China, and of course Malaysia, with many others like Filipinos and Indonesians thrown into the mix. What's more, as Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country, you may run into folks from the Middle East and North Africa as well. So while you may still stand out in KL, you won't quite stick out like a sore thumb.
Two of the most important considerations when visiting Kuala Lumpur will be the weather and cultural appropriateness. Both will affect what you pack and wear on your vacation.
1. The Weather: Situated in Southeast Asia, Malaysia has a tropical climate which makes dressing for the heat and humidity essential, especially during the summertime. Make sure to pack lightweight clothing, sunglasses, and plenty of sunscreen and mosquito repellent. It definitely won't hurt to bring an umbrella or closed toed shoes with you either. If your day out gets rained out, or you accidentally step in some dye while batik painting, you won't have anything to worry about.
2. Cultural Appropriateness: This is more so for the ladies. While it's true that as an international city, you can wear pretty much anything in KL, just because you can doesn't mean you should. Given that Malaysia is a Muslim majority country, women here typically dress more conservatively, regardless of where they are from or what religious background they come from. Spaghetti strap tanks, short shorts and tight-fitting skirts, though technically “allowed,” are generally not the best choices and may get you more attention than you'd prefer. Opt for longer and loose-fitting clothing, especially when visiting religious sites, where women are usually required to cover themselves before entering.
Pro tip: If you didn't go to the touristic holy sites prepared, you can “rent” a scarf to cover your legs or upper body at Hindu temples and you might be given a headscarf and makeshift abaya at mosques. At lesser known venues, however, you may not be so lucky. So I'd suggest keeping a long scarf or sarong in your bag during the day.
As I mentioned before, KL is super diverse! You can find amazing dishes from all over Asia in one incredible city! But rather than tell you all about it, I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.
If you've got some time to “KL,” it'll definitely be worthwhile.