“I can’t believe you’re here!” Ben said when he picked me up from the airport.
I couldn’t believe it either! I’m not exactly a spontaneous person (friends know to book meetups with me a week or two in advance). So suddenly flying to Kuala Lumpur last November was out of my usual character. The idea for the trip spawned from some bad news: a high school orgmate of mine suddenly passed away from an illness, catching everyone by surprise. She couldn’t have been more than a year or two older than me. That day, I realized that life was too short to put off anything I wanted to do. KL was on top of my bucket list; I’d only been there once before for the 2005 Asian Game Developers Summit. I saw nothing but the hotel and the mall beside it, and ate nothing but KFC. I kept talking about KL but never actually returned – so I booked. And went.
Staying true to the spontaneous nature of it, I made no plans and didn’t read up about KL in advance. I basically showed up, stayed with two of my Boomzap coworkers (Ben and Iris), and trusted them with whatever they wanted to do.
Which, mainly, was eat.
We ate our way through KL, and everything I had was delicious. Also, most of the time, I didn’t know what it was! Unlike Manila, you couldn’t assume everyone spoke English, and I wasn’t familiar with the food anyway. So Ben and Iris would always order for me, and I would wait excitedly to see what they got.
Here’s some of what I ate:
- Nasi lemak, which was my favorite dish; it reminded me of a Filipino breakfast dish called tapsilog
- Wan tan mee, my second favorite dish, which we had in a stall in Chinatown that was 70 years old. It’s like our roadside pancit canton, but tastier
- A lot of Chinese food, like beef noodle soup, bah kut teh, and dimsum. In a place called Fat Rock, they had no menus – a man just arrived and barked out what they had for that day. I also tried out Hakka cuisine, where we drenched our rice in green tea
- A lot of Malay/Indian food, such as satay and roti. I used to have roti in a Singaporean restaurant in the US, but in KL you could order it with margarine, kaya, egg, etc., and then dip it in three kinds of sauce
- A whole lot of coffee. I LOVED THEIR COFFEE. I had iced kopi with milk every day, and it was so good. I also liked something called “three-layered tea”, which is tea drowned in sugar. All the drinks I had were sweet, which was perfect for me and my insatiable sweet tooth
- One sad note: beer is very expensive in KL, so Manila remains the best place to drink
Most of these places weren’t in malls, and I never would have found them without a guide. So my advice for anyone visiting KL: go with a local. Don’t eat like a tourist! (KFC is NOT an option!)
When we weren’t eating, we were walking or driving around the city. KL felt like Metro Manila but with bigger freeways and less traffic. There were lots of malls, and we went to almost all of them, though I didn’t buy anything; the brands I liked were also available in Manila, with the same price. The one mall that did stand out for me was a new one called Publika, which was decorated with random modern art. It reminded me of the Anti Mall in Costa Mesa, California.
One thing KL did have was IKEA, and it was always packed, but not for the reason you’d think. IKEA is a big deal not for shopping, but for sitting. Entire families flock to IKEA to sit on their chairs and sofas. They just… sit there. It’s like hanging out in a park, but… on furniture. Very strange!
We didn’t do any real touristy bits, which was fine with me. Staying with locals meant living like a local, so I got to experience the following:
- A Chinese wedding tradition called “receiving the bride“. The groom attempts to pick the bride up from her house, but the bridesmaids have set up trials before he can get to her. The groomsmen, to prove their friendship, do the trials in the groom’s stead. It’s kind of like torture, and is hilarious to watch (if you’re not actually in it)
- Batu Caves, which has a Hindu temple on top if you can climb the 272 steps to get to it. If you’re going, wear comfortable shoes, and don’t hold any food or drinks in your hands – the monkeys will grab them. I’m not kidding
- Chinatown. We ate street food (it’s safe there – not like here) and explored Central Market, including dipping our feet in an aquarium full of biting fish. It’s called a fish spa, though I prefer calling it “death by tickle”
- A fancy movie in a Gold Class cinema, complete with lazyboys, blankets, and a personal waiter service
- Karaoke in Red Box, where I sang what became my trip’s official song (it was playing EVERYWHERE in KL)
- Surprising the rest of Boomzap Malaysia (they didn’t know I was coming). Since we’re a virtual office, I actually haven’t met most of them, even if I’ve been working with them for the better part of three years! It was great to see them in real life 🙂
10 days went by fast. When I got home, I was surprised to discover that I hadn’t bitten my nails the whole time – I know, it’s gross, but it also means I was actually stress-free! The only downside to the trip was that I lost my camera 😦 I don’t think it was stolen; I probably just left it somewhere, scatterbrain that I am. But even with that unfortunate incident, I went home happy, and glad that I went and did the trip I’ve always wanted to do.
When I got back, I immediately booked for Hong Kong in February. Because that was second on my travel bucket list. Nuts.
Thanks again to Iris, Ben, and Elaine for being wonderful hosts and taking care of me so well. I owe you!
P.S. The rest of my KL photos are here.