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Sunday 22 January 2012

10 things I love about Kuala Lumpar

During my recent new year expedition to Bali I also spent a long weekend in Kuala Lumpar, one of Asia’s most bustling and modern cities. But while some visitors head to the iconic Petronas Towers I discovered some other remarkable things about the city that will always be dear to my heart.

 1. Monorail
My inner travel geek surfaced as soon as I disembarked from the coach from the airport into town. To get to my accommodation I had to board a monorail and despite the fact it was 11.30pm and I had just spent 15 hours travelling, I could not believe my eyes when I witnessed the sheer beautiful of this incredible feet of engineering. A far superior version of the DLR (which is a driverless railway in London, of which I am a huge fan), these two-carriage trains zip around the city, high above the streets. A kind of Bladerunner meets Gotham City form of transportation with added sunshine (each carriage door has floral glade air fresheners attached), the journeys were smooth, frequent and most pleasurable. 
2. Women only carriages
In fact, I sampled five modes of transport while in KL – local trains, coach, monorail, boat, taxis and the suburban train. One thing I was completely shocked about was the incredibly high standard of the taxis – I’ve never been anywhere in the world where taxi drivers are so friendly and take pride in turning on their meters and as such, the fares are extremely cheap (at most we spent 80p getting between places). But what surprised me the most was the suburban trains. The main platform at Sentral station looks European, the only difference being there are women only benches, positioned directly infront of where the women only carriages are. Yes this may seem like an alien concept to Westerners but I can confirm, women only carriages are clean, well kept, friendly and make you feel special. 
 3. Batu Caves

Wannabe batgirls like me clearly have to visit batcaves from around the world for research and these ones at the edge of the city were no exception. Ignore the various tourist coach trips and organised visits to the site which will set you back £8-12. You can take a train from Sentral station – 30 minutes, dropping you directly outside for just 10p each way. I think this makes it one of the cheapest tourist attractions to visit in the world and it’s free to climb the 272 stairs to the top too. Add to this the fact one of the best places to eat in town is across the road (an ultra cheap Indian restaurant serving up street snacks, thalis and fresh coconuts for a couple of pounds), it makes a dream daytrip. (You need to pay a few more pounds to go deep inside the caves but I skipped that part…I have to save something for next time!)

4. Curry
Everyone I know who has ever been to KL talks about the food and how yummy it is. From all of the different cuisines I tried, the best by far was the Indian curries. They have the best flavours outside of India – fresh, simple and wholesome. This thali style feast served on a banana leaf was a particular highlight. 
 5. Bubble Tea

Bubble tea is a beverage trend currently sweeping the UK and is a cold flavoured tea or milk drink with small chewy balls at the bottom made from tapioca starch. If you loved screwball ice-creams as a child (ice cream that came with bubble gum) you’ll develop an immediate appreciation. Extremely refreshing and fun to drink, the balls can be slurped up with your straw. Most of the time, it’s a surprise as you don’t quite know when one will pop up. I’ve not tried any of the London cafes yet, but I’m told Bubbleology is the place to go!

6. T-shirts
 Despite the plethora of shopping malls containing miles of clothing shops, I couldn’t buy any as the sizes were so small. I’m quite petite in terms of the UK but clearly a giant in Asia; everything was teeny! Apart from the t-shirts…there were so many incredible designs. I wanted to photograph them all but after I shot this one, the shop assistant told me off and said I couldn’t take any more photos! 
7. Rainy day devices
Speaking of quirky design, someone really ought to import these handy devices into the UK – umbrella hats as worn by children sitting at the back of bicycles to keep their heads dry and modelled here by my travelling partner Janine. 
8. Sunday night market
Sunday markets in the UK are about waking up at 6am to get to a car boot sale. In KL Sunday markets are slightly more sociable, opening from 4pm until the early hours. So while we are at home chillaxing on a Sunday night ahead of the dreaded Monday morning, things are buzzing in Bansar Village. It’s the place to stock up on your essentials and fresh fruit and veg. The one stall that particularly caught my eye was serving sweet steamed dumplings topped with coconut; a dish I haven’t tried for over a decade. They were a speciality my mum used to make, on rare occasions as they were so labour intensive. She ground the flour, had the filling shipped over from Bangladesh and spent hours steaming them inside cloth. My dad and his best friend were the number one fans. Seeing and eating them made me feel incredibly comforted. 
9. A,b,c dessert
As a connoisseur of puddings, nothing could have prepared me for the Malaysian signature dish of A, B, C – Air Batur Campur translated as mixed ice. It’s so advanced even Heston Blumenthal couldn’t come up with something this peculiar. It consists of a tower of shaved ice with different toppings, the most common being red beans, grass jelly and sweet corn. Never, ever have I tasted anything like it…nothing comes close to the sensations you experience when sampling this most bizarre of concoctions. It sounds straight forward, but look at this picture and imagine mixing it all together into a complete mess – that’s how you eat it. The taste sensations are unexpected – smooth, creamy, milky, refreshing – all these things excite your tongue and then you realise the reality, you are eating sweetcorn….in a dessert. Though I consider myself an adventurous eater and though I loved the dessert I still cannot get over the fact the dish contains sweetcorn – something normally eaten with tuna in sandwiches, grilled on bbqs, served with chicken at fast food stores and here it was for dessert. The texture just felt so wrong. I would have this again but I’m not sure I could do it with the yellow stuff included! 
 10. Britpop

Call me naïve but I always thought Britpop was a mid 90s music scene that only stretched as far as British shores. There was the occasional band that made it to America (sadly this ended the career for some bands like the Longpigs) but I had no idea is was a scene that was still big in Asia. There’s me getting on down at Nuisance club, the 3rd Friday of every month in Camden, Londinium, while KL has a Britpop clubnight every Friday night thanks to this fine DJ on right (my friend’s boyfriend, she’s Lee, pictured next to him and they live in KL.) Added to this the fact many Britpop bands have been to KL (Lee’s boyfriend was the official guide for Super Furry Animals and Mogwai when they visited the city), it’s clearly a city I could easily make my home.

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