Jordan and I spent our last night of vacation in Malaysia. It was a last-minute decision, but cheaper to fly from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, spend the night, and continue on to Busan than doing it direct. I never pass up the chance to have a long layover in another country, so to KL we went! (KL, for the uninitiated, is short for Kuala Lumpur. Now that I’ve been, I can confidently use the term–haha).
The capital of Malaysia has close to two million people and is that strange mix of advanced-yet-developing that many large cities in the Global South live in. Home to the iconic Petronas Towers and amazing shopping malls, some of the city roads are covered in trash and dirt, and the national museum is as small as the Arkansas Old State House museum. It’s always disconcerting to drive in a taxi from a bare-minimum train station to the glittering, shining central business district, but Jordan and I try to focus on how good it is that parts of the city are developing.
Anyway, we spent a total of 16 hours in KL, from disboarding one plane to boarding the next (all Air Asia, and while they do nickel-and-dime you to death, the service they do provide is fantastic–especially the pilots). The international airport is a 28 minute train ride from the city, so as soon as we got off the plane, we put our bags in storage (10 USD for two bags overnight) and went to the KLIA Expres, the train that goes to KL Sentral in town. Roundtrip is cheaper than two one-ways, at 100 ringgit round, so we bought those and hurried on the train.
The national museum closes at 6 pm sharp, so we got a budget taxi (red-and-white old cars, but you pay in advance at a ticket counter) and arrived at the museum at 5. With one hour, we thought we could get through the museum pretty well (we did).
Malaysia has a long history of different civilizations across the peninsula and islands, but eventually the land was united under the Melaka empire (though today we know them as the Malays). The Portuguese invaded and took over around 1511, and it took over a hundred years for the Malay people to take back their land. they eventually did so by allying themselves with the Dutch, who really just wanted to expand their control of modern-day Indonesia. After freeing the country from the Portuguese in 1641. After a couple hundred years the Dutch power waned, and in 1914 the British extended their trading power to some of the Malaysian states.
But after WWII, after the Japanese were defeated, the country began stirring for independence from Great Britain. You can learn a little more here.
We were pretty tired from the flight that day and had an early flight the next morning, so we tried to be pretty quick about hitting the sights we wanted to see. The national mosque, Masjid Negara, is beautifully lit up at dusk and dark, so we stopped there for a few minutes, then walked down to Merdaka Square. This was probably my favorite point in our evening, because the sunlight glanced off the bronze dome roofs and lit the tan bricks in warm tones, making everything seem beautiful and perfect.
In one corner of the square is a great statue erected by the tourism board (I assume), which we took advantage of. So did a little Chinese tourist that wouldn’t move from her spot.
The buildings were constructed by the British, surrounding a green (now used for soccer practice), and housed the government. Today, they’re mostly galleries and museums. Merdaka Square has a long history in the nationalist/independence movement, and though it’s used for tourists’ photos routinely, it is still a gathering place for Malaysians when an important issue arises.
We grabbed dinner as the sun set, then got a taxi to the famed Petronas Towers.
Completed in 1996, they are the tallest twin towers in the world. 88 floors tall, the building has some Muslim designs in the architecture, but the interior has distinctly Malaysian decorations. Behind the building (which is always crowded with tourists or teenagers hanging out and smoking) are the gardens and the water show.
Set to music, the water show is a beauty to behold, and we sat on the garden lawn enjoying the ambience. Eventually, however, the cigarette smoke from the nearby teenagers and their boombox had us move to a quieter place, through the mall below the towers, and to the front to snap a few more photos.
With that, we decided we’d spent more than enough money and headed back to our hotel near the airport. After a wonderful trip in the equatorial heat we so dearly needed, it was time to get back to wintry Korea and start work again.