My driver picked me up at dusk from the Bonaventure Hotel in Kuala Lumpur's Mid Valley City area before heading off to Menara Kuala Lumpur (KL Tower) for dinner. We then sat in Malaysia's notorious traffic, driving along streets that meandered in a way that would make an Escher painting or Warner Brothers cartoon proud. Although our rush-hour ride moved in micro-steps, I still enjoyed riding around Malaysia's most bustling city where people from three distinct religions: Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism fluidly coexist.
Looking up from Menara's base, which stands a dizzying 1,381-foot tall and is the fourth highest telecommunications tower in the world, I found colorful shops and an impressive sunset without having to get in the elevator. From high above, the tower features an observation deck, an open-air amphitheater and a revolving Italian restaurant offering panoramic views of Malaysia's skyline.
Because of the country's Islamic nature, when I hit the streets after dinner, I was half-expecting a greeting of empty boulevards and the sounds of crickets. Not so. I found a harmony of diverse people "” Malay, Indian, Chinese and Muslim "” meandering in all directions, across crowded sidewalks, heading toward restaurants, clubs and local attractions. With rush-hour traffic having concluded, we sailed through downtown Kuala Lumpur.
Kuala Lumpur glistens after dark from the strings of lights that hang in the trees and on local businesses and well-lit Middle Eastern-styled skyscrapers. I was told, more than once, during my stay that Malaysians celebrate everything. Beyond KL Tower, Petronas Twin Towers, better known as the Petronas Towers, still dominate the night sky with their bright lights and size. Without concern for traffic, I drove in for a closer look and a few photographs. Agents should remind clients that the view from the Petronas Towers, while a big draw, are limited to their bridges, which is not nearly as scenic as the observation deck at Menara.
Cruising around the city, I noticed familiar nightspots that would be at home in Vegas, such as The Beach and Rumjungle. While clients will find their dollars going further, Malaysia's bargains don't include alcohol. Although available in upscale hotels and clubs, alcohol is not part of Malaysia's life. Patrons can expect to pay inflated prices for a cold one.
To cap off the evening, I wound up at a place called Lotus Binjai, located not far from KL Towers, which features an unusual blend of Muslim and Indian cuisine. Consider it a funky outdoor smorgasbord that is open 24/7. Can someone say, spicy! Restaurants like Lotus Binjai are common and regularly found throughout the streets of Kuala Lumpur. For an authentic experience, urge travelers to sample some of the local fare and people watch from these traditional dining venues.
If I was up for it, I could have stayed out even later. Genting Highlands is located 45 minutes outside of Kuala Lumpur and is Malaysia's only casino. The City of Entertainment, as it is known, hosts blackjack, other traditional games of chance and entertainment.
Next year is Malaysia's 50th anniversary of independence. Malaysian tourism is planning many major cultural and culinary events throughout 2007. Interested agents should keep an eye peeled as new offerings are being slated all the time. One of my favorite events is called Citrawarna Malaysia (Colors of Malaysia), an annually held extravaganza showcasing the talents of dancers from each of Malaysia's 13 states held in July.
Menara Kuala Lumpur
Petronas Twin Towers
Written and photographed by Devin Galaudet
Originally published in TravelAge West