Aaron’s Blog

Kuala Lumpur, Kingdom of…Malls?

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The truth is, if you’re looking for the cultural and natural offerings that Malaysia has in abundance, you’re going to want to look outside of Kuala Lumpur.  That being said, it’s most likely that when you’re on your way in or on your way out, you’re going to be heading through Kuala Lumpur.  Don’t look so glum, as it’s a perfect place to stock up on all of those great souvenirs as well as all sorts of things that would be much more expensive if you’re heading to a developed country (I actually don’t like that label, but that’s a whole different story).  Kuala Lumpur is absolutely packed with shopping malls.  In fact, it seems that there must be some law requiring a shopping mall every 500 meters in order to develop an area. So where do you head?

Suria KLCC

A Dome Above

Beneath the gleaming sprires of the twin Petronas Towers, lies 5 floors of upscale shopping with all of the western stores, boutiques, and brand stores that you may have been missing.  A large food court can be found if you’re looking for some reasonably priced eats around the twin towers area.  Also part of this complex is the theater at which the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra performs.  If you have any interest in classical music at all, it’s an absolutely must go. Read more

The Gastronomic Wonderland of Chinatown in KL

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A Hot Pot for You

For backpackers traveling through Kuala Lumpur, Chinatown is a popular destination, both for finding cheap deals on (fake) designer goods as well as a wide array of budget accomodation.  However, while exercising your vocal cords while negotiating another 13 cents off your Reybands, don’t miss out on all that Chinatown has to offer your stomach.

Chicken in a clay potStreet stalls line the paths of the main shopping area, offering a wide variety of Chinese treats for all palates.  Ok, you generally have to like Chinese food, but otherwise you should be safe.  One of the more exciting items to watch being prepared is the chicken and rice in a clay pot, fired to delicious hotness over an open blaze heated by hot coals.  Perhaps it’s just the pyro in me, but there’s something enjoyable about seeing the warm glow of the fire illuminating the cart and knowing that the dish your meal is served in could cause you permanent damage.

Stick itAnother popular cart offers you a variety of skewers on which you’ll find everything from octopus to braised pork to vegetables familiar and strange.  The items are priced based on the color on the stick, with everything being cheap from a western perspective.  Simply grab up whatever it is that you want and the man in the cart will either cook it up for you so you can go, or you can sit down at one of the nearby tables so you can heat up your own items in a pot of boiling water.  It’s a version of traditional hot pot on the go and it’s delicious.

Now at this point, some of you might be saying, won’t eating at a food stall give me food poisoning, parasites, and gonorrhea?  Well, that may be true in some other southeast Asian countries (cough, cough, Indonesia), but Malaysia has pretty remarkable food safety standards which are valid not only for restaurants, but even cover food stalls.  Additionally, as there is a large Muslim population, stalls need to maintain proper standards to ensure they are serving Halal foods.  This means that you can enjoy what is on display with a little more confidence.  Of course, there is no guarantee, but I was sold when I saw that some of the food stalls looked cleaner than restaurants back home.

Spicy TofuFish in FoilStir Fried Veggies

So relax and enjoy the spread.  Don’t forget to look behind all of the stalls in the night market as there are some fantastic restaurants hiding behind all of the tents.

Pic of the Week: Petronas Towers at Night

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Twin Stunners

The Petronas Towers are the jewel of the Kuala Lumpur skyline.  While there are certainly other beautiful buidlings, nothing is quite as stunning as these two twin beauties.  They are also situated over one of the largest malls in the city, so they draw quite a crowd at all times.  Also hidden in their base is the Malaysian Symphony Orchestra, which is an absolutely world class group of musicians and is worth the relatively modest price of admission.  Just don’t forget your nice shoes because they do check.

The Cameron Highlands

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The Cameron Highlands, which lie a few hours North of Kuala Lumpur, are a popular destination for the people of Kuala Lumpur to escape the heat of the summer in the mountains, and if you’ve been in that part of the world during summer, you know why.  Like other mountain retreats, the area is full of hotels, and gets packed with domestic tourists on weekends and holidays, with people swarming all over the small little towns that fill the area.  It’s also famous for agriculture, especially strawberries and tea, and you will see this everywhere.

A note about visiting: the Highlands is a large area, and there are quite a few small towns that all reside within it, so if you are looking to book a hotel in the area, know that entering Cameron Highlands will give you a wide swath of results.  Additionally, due to it being so spread out, it would be much easier to see with a car.  We were stuck with public transportation, which is available, but is much less flexible and won’t necessarily take you wherever you want to go.

IMG_2821What we quickly realized about the Cameron Highlands, is that there is not a whole lot to do, other than a bit of hiking, which the rain had hastily decided it would not allow us to do.  Instead, we put up our umbrellas and headed to the local market, which was selling more strawberry goods than I had ever imagined in my wildest strawberry dreams.  Strawberry key chains, strawberry braws, strawberry shaped laser pointers, and on and on.  There were also plenty of food stalls, one of the treats of Malaysia as they are impressively clean and delicious.  It was here that we discovered a magical Malaysian dessert that is essentially sugar and corn inside a fried pancake.  It’s impressively fabulous and should not be missed.

We did also head to one of the strawberry farms, with dreams of picking our own little strawberries that we could then take home and look after like they were our own young.  However, we quickly aborted that idea when we saw that most of the strawberries were both green, and the size of an unimpressive marble.  We settled for strawberry waffles and a souvenir bar of strawberry soap.  I figure we’re even in the end.

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Though the Cameron Highlands are often mentioned as a tourist destination, I would not recommend them unless you really feel like being out in the middle of nowhere.  Even if this is the case, I would strongly advise you to bring a car, as it will make the whole experience much more pleasant.  If you do go, make sure not to miss the night market, because this is actually one of the most redeeming parts of the whole area.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Ipoh: A Town Faded by Time

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Ipoh, a town located a few hours North of Kuala Lumpur, serves as the gateway for many on their way to the Cameron Highlands, a popular resort destination.  The town of Ipoh itself was once Malaysia’s second largest city and was a huge boomtown as it was located next to several profitable mines.  Unfortunately, time has passed by, and all of this economic activity has dried up or moved off, leaving Ipoh a shell of what it used to be.  It is still worth takig a few hours to walk around the town if you happen to find yourself there on the way to the Cameron Highlands, as you can still see some marvelous buildings.

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The train station is well known for it’s beauty.  Striking white, it stands out on the end of the downtown area and across from the courthouse, which is qually striking.  Walking down the street that goes directly out of the station, you can see many old buildings from the past of this center of industry.  Great banking buildings, the old clock tower, and the Ipoh club, are still left, along with a beautiful mosque which is definitely worth looking at.

IMG_2808The most spectacular thing we discovered there, was not from Ipoh’s past, but rather from it’s stomach.  Fantastic beef noodles and well as chicken noodes, served up by a lovely old woman in a small, packed market that is clearly a favorite of locals.  The broth was just right, and the beef was melt in your mouth soft with fantastic flavor.  The noodles in the chicken noodle soup were a bit spongy, adding a really interesting texture to the dish in addition to solid flavor that was there.  Plus, you have the added benefit of this being Malaysia, a land with extremely strict food preparation laws, even for small food stalls, so you can be relatively confident that the little food booth you’re at is probably cleaner than the restaurant you go to back home.  Even if not, the taste is worth it. If you happen to find yourself in Ipoh, you’d be missing out on one if it’s best attractions if you don’t find your way here.