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Kuala Lumpur is a bustling city in the heart of Malaysia and a gateway to the rest of the Far East. It retains much of the local color that has disappeared from many other Asian cities and has a strong cultural heritage, eclectic arts and eye-catching architecture. Travelers can spend time sightseeing, shopping and dining in restaurants with every imaginable type of food to suit all budgets.
Kuala Lumpur (or KL, as it's known to locals) is the center and symbol of Malaysia and its rapid rise as an economic powerhouse. Skyscrapers soar above a city built to impress, from the modern buildings of the Golden Triangle to massive shopping malls to driverless trains that glide across the bustling city.
Yet nestled amid the high-rises, you'll find remnants of the city's past: enchanting temples and mosques, small whitewashed colonial churches and British Tudor-style clubhouses. At night, markets and lantern-lit streets ring with the sound of Malay, Chinese and Indian hawkers selling tantalizing dishes. Though it's running hard toward the future, KL still offers a glimpse of its colorful heritage and a taste of traditional, exotic Asia.
With such diversity in the population, communication could prove problematic. However, many people, especially in Kuala Lumpur, speak English fluently. Although the national language of Malaysia—Bahasa—is commonly spoken among Malaysians, the government has encouraged English as the language of business.
Visitors will notice a two-tier pricing structure at many attractions and sights in Kuala Lumpur and throughout Malaysia. MyKad holders (Malaysians) pay less than international tourists do.
Sights—Views from Menara Kuala Lumpur at Bukit Nanas; the Petronas Twin Towers; the Masjid Jamek; craft demonstrations at the Kuala Lumpur Craft Complex; the Batu Caves; the KL Bird Park at Perdana Botanical Gardens (known to most as Lake Gardens); the Aquaria KLCC; Rumah Penghulu.
Museums—The National Museum; the Islamic Arts Museum.
Memorable Meals—Street-hawker fare along Jalan Alor; Old China Cafe and its Chinese-influenced Nyonya cuisine; the globally-acclaimed Nobu perched high above the city within the Petronas Twin Towers; a banana-leaf meal at Restoran Sri Nirwana Maju in Bangsar or on Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman in central KL; pizza at Proof in Bangsar.
Late Night—Restaurant- and bar-hopping in Bangsar; venturing into club land around Jalan P. Ramlee; nightspots such as Mr. Chew's Chino Latino, where the city's beautiful people gather; the bars and restaurants on Bukit Bintang.
Walks—Strolling through the parklands of KLCC; exploring the Lake Gardens; a canopy walk at the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia; Jalan Perdana, a loop just 10 minutes from the city center that connects to Jalan Lembah and includes the KL Bird Park and the National Planetarium.
Especially for Kids—The Berjaya Times Square Theme Park for its fun rides; Petrosains Discovery Centre in KLCC; the National Zoo and Aquarium, especially for the camel and elephant rides; Farm in the City petting zoo; learning to climb in a safe environment at Camp5 Climbing Gym.
Kuala Lumpur lies within the Klang Valley on the west coast of peninsular Malaysia. To the east is the Titiwangsa mountain range. Two rivers (the Gombak and the Klang) unite near Masjid Jamek and run through the city.
The city's historical heart centers on Merdeka Square, near which you'll find such notable landmarks as the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, Masjid Jamek (the city's oldest mosque) and the Central Market. From there, Chinatown lies to the south. To the west is the residential suburb of Bangsar, a favorite entertainment and dining district.
East of the city center (but within a 20-minute walk) you will find the shopping district of Bintang Walk on Jalan Bukit Bintang. Farther east is the Kuala Lumpur City Centre (commonly referred to as KLCC) with the famous Petronas Twin Towers, and the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, also confusingly referred to as KLCC.
Near the Twin Towers is the area known as The Golden Triangle, the central commercial district of the city and home to most of its world-class hotels, soaring office towers and gigantic shopping complexes.
Founded by Chinese tin miners who set up camp at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers in the 1850s, Kuala Lumpur literally means "muddy estuary." It remained a turbulent mining camp until Yap Ah Loy, a philanthropist and leader of the Chinese community, assumed leadership of the town. By the 1880s, the city's image and economy had improved to a point that the British moved their official base to Kuala Lumpur from Port Klang.
After the turn of the 20th century, plantations of rubber trees brought in both money and workers especially from India. During World War II, the Japanese occupation of what was then Malaya abruptly ended Britain's control over the region. Following the war, the Malays demanded independence from Britain and received it in 1957. Kuala Lumpur is now considered a Federal Territory, ceded from the state of Selangor in 1974. In 2001, Malaysia's federal government moved its administrative center to Putrajaya, a planned city 25 mi/40 km outside of Kuala Lumpur. However, KL is still recognized as Malaysia's capital, as well as its largest city and the center of commerce.
A pile of shoes at a front door indicates to visitors and guests that they, too, should remove their shoes. This would usually be at a house or apartment, but it could also be the occasional shop, office or even local restaurant.
Because of religious considerations, at the beach you may see Malays, especially women, swimming along the shoreline with their clothes on.
Outside a mosque, Malay Muslim women may choose whether they wish to cover their heads. When they do wear a tudung, or head scarf, it's almost always decorated with pretty colors, sometimes in fine silk.
Don't be surprised if the favorite topic of conversation is eating. Malaysians live to eat and will often greet each other with sudah makan (have you eaten)? It is often an invitation to go and eat or to discuss what you ate or what you will eat next. Ask a taxi driver the question and the whole taxi journey will be taken up with discussing food and eating. Malaysians are always surprised and impressed when foreigners can eat spicy Malaysian food.
Robert Alain, also known as the French Spiderman, has scaled the outside of the Petronas Twin Towers three times without any climbing gear. His first two ascents were cut short when he was arrested by police at the 60th floor. On his third attempt he made it all the way to the top and was arrested on his descent.
Every year, the Menara Kuala Lumpur hosts an international base jumping event. Base jumpers visit from around the world to leap off the building and parachute to the ground.
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