All this walking can make a guy hungry, and there is nowhere better to eat than in the Central Markets. Hotels in KL tend to be very large and have a relatively low turnover, which means that the food served is not always freshly prepared. To experience the finest cuisine, you are better advised following the locals. Numerous vendors sell food from barrows or stalls on the side of the streets, or in the markets and shopping centres. The large throughput ensures that food is always freshly prepared, and quite often cooked in front of you, and cleanliness standards are impeccable. Indian, Chinese, Thai and Japanese dishes are all well represented. Typically you can expect to get a main course consisting of two meat portions and one rice portion for the equivalent of two or three Euro. Malaysian cuisine is generally characterised by the use of coconut-rice, ginger, lemon grass, coriander and lime. The most famous Malaysian dish is satay – skewers of barbecued beef or chicken served in a spicy peanut-based sauce, usually accompanied by rice, onion, and cucumber. Vendors at most stalls will have enough English to describe their dishes, but I found it more enjoyable to look, smell and point!
And now a few practical points. Kuala Lumpur is served by six rail lines, some above ground and some below. These include an express rail link from the airport to the city centre, which costs 70 Ringgits (return) and journeys take approximately 40 minutes. The rail lines are generally not fully integrated, although this matters little as journeys around the city centre are typically only one or two Ringgits. Three or four star hotel rooms are available for 60 euro per night if you go through travel agents in advance. Prices can be twice as much for festival periods and the Grand Prix weekend. If you are prepared to take your chances (and it's generally not much of a gamble) you will often be able to negotiate a better deal. If you're interested in shopping, Kuala Lumpur will be heaven for you. All of the major brands are available and there are bargains to be had. Haggling is generally acceptable, although some of the larger shops in the major shopping centres will not vary far from the listed price. As is the case throughout most major Asian cities, electronic goods such as digital cameras or camcorders provide the best value, and models available tend to be slightly ahead of those at home. The weather in Kuala Lumpur is hot (mid 30s when I was there – late March) and the city is prone to torrential rain showers. This mixture greatly assists the city's parks and forests, giving them a deep lush fertile appearance.
Finally, I cannot talk about Kuala Lumpur without mentioning the locals. It has been my experience that many Asian cities can be hard work at times – you are regularly accosted by people trying to sell you anything from watches to women. While we accept that people have to make a living somehow, and we must make allowances for cultural differences, I am surely not the only person who wishes that “no thank you” would be accepted as just that. On a previous visit to Bangkok for example, I was initially struck by the friendliness of the locals, but I was later put off, as this friendliness was usually just an intro to a sales pitch of some sor
t. Kuala Lumpur is not like that. The people here are warm, friendly, and helpful. Observing that you are a foreigner, locals will often strike up a conversation with you and ask where you are from. This is usually followed by inquisitive questions about your country (I ‘explained’ the ‘Irish question’ on four different occasions over two days…) and your travels. There is no attempt to sell you anything – when you feel it's time to continue your stroll, you are not followed down the street and encouraged to buy the latest in fake Rolexes. I cannot remember visiting a country where I experienced the same level of warmth, welcome, and friendliness, accompanied by a complete absence of threat or over-zealous retailing.
I only had two days in Kuala Lumpur and I am aware that I have really only scraped the surface of this fascinating city. I have however experienced enough of KL to know that I definitely want more. Kuala Lumpur has not seen the last of me.