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On the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200-IGW jet flying down to Kuala Lumpur from Bangkok, it was easy to see that this is an Islamic nation. Malaysia Airlines is the flagship carrier of Malaysia and about every five minutes on the navigation video screen, a picture of a plane appeared along with it's relationship to the direction of Mecca enabling Muslims to pray toward Mecca during the flight.
On CNN International, commercials promoting Malaysia say that it's a place with 400 different cultures and religions "all living together in perfect harmony." And that's exactly how we found it!
We were there on September 11th, the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States and I was a little bit curious to see how we, as Americans, would be received. I fully understand and acknowledge that Islam is a religion of peace. Still I wondered if there might be some looks. But there were none whatsoever.
I had heard all about Kuala Lumpur's new international airport. The OAGs (Official Airline Guides) I receive each month had been featuring front page ads for the airport on the Asian/Pacific edition. But we were absolutely blown away by the glitz and convenience of this big, new airport. All things considered, I'd have to rate it best in the world for major international airports. Singapore could argue that Changi is the best and they might have a point. But the KL airport is just fabulous, spotless and glistening. There web site is here if you'd like to check it out.
We stayed at the Shangri-La Hotel in downtown KL and our package came with a car from the airport. As usual when you are met at the airport by a car from "The Shang" the driver immediately presents you with a nice, scented cold towel. It feels mighty nice in this part of the world. KL sits just above the equator and it's always hot and humid.
If you're not lucky enough to have a hotel car thrown in with your package in KL, by far the best way to get from the airport to the downtown area is by the high tech train. While we didn't get a chance to sample it, others raved about it and it looked just great. KL is a surprisingly modern and up to date town in many ways.
The drive from the airport to downtown KL took just under an hour. The road was very impressive. Well constructed and well landscaped with flowers along the way. It kind of reminded us of Disney World, a little bit. Really!
The scenery, even from the airport, was great. Hundreds and hundreds of acres of palm trees. They were being farmed for either their coconut meat or copra, I guess. Even the mini-mountains had palm trees growing all over them. The mountains kind of reminded me of St. Lucia in the Caribbean where palms grow over the mountains there.
The Shang was a happenin' place upon our arrival. The President if Sri Lanka was staying there and his staff took up several of the rooms. It's a good thing we made reservations well in advance because the place was booked solid.
Our hotel was quite near the Menara KL Tower, the fourth tallest free standing tower in the world coming in at 1,389 feet. The world's tallest buildings at the time, the Petronas Twin Towers were not far away either. They top out at 1,482 feet and are lighted at night with very pretty but not obtrusive muted white lights.
We asked the hotel concierge for a good tip on local Malaysian cuisine and he directed us to a place just a half block away. It was called Saloma and featured a buffet with just about every Malaysian food imaginable. Examples of Malaysian cooking include satays (of course!), beef in coconut milk, curried chicken, fried squid, various salads and excellent desserts.
The next morning we set out to explore part of this very interesting city. First stop was the sprawling, two story indoor Central Market. It was originally built in 1936 as an outside market. Thankfully they enclosed it years later and even air conditioned it! There you will find all kinds of things to buy from local art and crafts to mainstream items at an attached department store. This is a great place to stock up on souvenirs. We picked up a beautiful orchid enclosed in a clear resin. We also bought some silk scarves for friends back home. You're supposed to bargain with the vendors here hoping to get the price knocked down by 20% to 30%. However all the vendors we dealt with simply threw in a ten percent "discount" and that's as far as they would go. And we really tested a couple of them! Americans hungry for a Big Mac can just stroll across the street and dine at the golden arches.
Later we headed for the Menara KL Tower. The Muslim touches are everywhere from the entrance design to the windows on the top floor which were fashioned after the Shah Mosque in Isfaham, Iran. The crowd on top was mixed with many different ethnic and religious groups represented. Everybody had a warm smile. This is the feeling you get just about everywhere in KL.
The next day for breakfast we ate at the Shangri-La Hotel. I was not looking forward to the "cookie cutter" breakfast buffet found at just about every hotel in the world. Shangri-La hotels are famous for quality restaurants, I didn't mean to slam them. I just get tired of buffets every, single morning. But boy did we get a surprise here at the Lemon Garden Cafe. There was a standard American buffet and a good one at that. Just down the way at there was an exceptional Japanese buffet. And just a few feet away was an incredible Malaysian buffet! Unbelievable!
The Japanese buffet had the traditional morning soup, sticky rice, and other curious items. But it also had absolutely wonderful steamed dumplings kept hot in their wicker steamers. They contained fresh shrimp and seafood and rated a 15 on a scale of 1 to 10.
The Malaysian buffet had tons of incredible local items including chicken and beef satays, chicken steamed in pandamus leaves, beef in coconut sauce, curried chicken and much, much more. To be honest with you, this was the best Malaysian food we sampled while in the country. I highly recommend the morning buffet at the Shangri-La's Lemon Garden Cafe. And it was only something like $12, U.S. Truly amazing.
There was a Hard Rock Cafe right across the street from the Shang so we had to check it out. The place was absolutely jam packed.
During this swing through Asia, my wife and I both agreed that Kuala Lumpur was a most interesting and pleasant surprise. It is modern yet had its old sections and a definite tropical feel even in the downtown area. There were many palms with small outside bars under them, etc. And then there were the occasional "rustic" touches. Right smack dab in the middle of town there was one small brightly colored home with a chicken coop and birds running around everywhere.
We were a bit surprised by the fact everybody suggested that we not drink the tap water. It was supposedly "okay" but even locals either drink bottled water or boil tap water before consuming it. So we went the bottled route.
We will definitely be returning to Malaysia at some point in the future to explore much more of this very interesting, peaceful and tropical nation.
AMERICANS WILL NEED A PASSPORT FOR ENTRANCE INTO MALAYSIA. DRIVING IS ON THE LEFT SIDE OF THE ROAD. THE CURRENCY IS THE MALAYSIAN RINGGIT ALSO COMMONLY REFERRED TO AS THE MALAYSIAN DOLLAR. AND AGAIN -- DON'T DRINK TAP WATER JUST TO BE SAFE.