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NOVEMBER 13, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 19

The Little Things Count For a Lot in This Big City

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Kuala Lumpur is famous for one, well, two big things—the Petronas Twin Towers, the world's tallest buildings. But the Malaysian capital is best appreciated on a small scale, while sipping chai and eating roti in Masjid India, shopping in the noisy, messy markets and enjoying the tumble-down charm of the city's Moorish colonial buildings.

KL's historic quarter is a good spot to get your bearings. Head to the open green expanse of Merdeka Square, on the edge of the Klang river, where the country's independence from the British was proclaimed in 1957. On one side of the square is the mock-Tudor faCade of the Royal Selangor Club. It was a member of the club, jogging to sober himself up one afternoon in 1938, who spawned the global running institution known as the Hash House Harriers. On the opposite side of the square is the opulent Sultan Abdul Samad building. Recognizable by its fairytale, Arabian Nights-style architecture—with copper domes and a dramatic clock tower—the structure is home to Malaysia's Supreme Court.

If bricks and mortar don't do it for you, head west of the city center to Lake Gardens. The rolling grounds offer respite from the metropolis, with natural attractions like a bird park and a butterfly house and with offerings like concerts of traditional Malay music in the lakeside amphitheater. If you prefer your green space a bit less manicured, make the half-hour trip to the Forest Reserve Institute of Malaysia. Spread over 1,500 hectares, the reserve is home to hundreds of species of plants and animals and a great waterfall walk. Overnight trekking trips are possible, but if you want to make it back to your hotel in time for dinner, just come for the canopy walk, 30 m up in the trees. The Batu Caves, a limestone outcropping about 40 minutes north of the city center, is a great half-day trip. The caves shelter a Hindu temple that draws almost 1 million pilgrims each January during the festival of Thaipusam, in honor of the god of bravery, virtue, youth and power.

The Little Things Count For a Lot in This Big City
Kuala Lumpur is famous for one, well, two big things—the Petronas Twin Towers, the world's tallest buildings.

The Selangor River still offers decent whitewater rafting just an hour's drive from Kuala Lumpur.

Web Crawling
An online 'zine without an in-your-face marketing angle, this is a cultural site worth visiting.

Short Cuts
Getting around Kuala Lumpur has launched a bus service to shuttle visitors around the city's major landmarks.

Hot Spot
Visitors to Kuala Lumpur should be sure to check out Masjid India, the shopping square where many Malay and Indian residents head for traditional clothing, herbal cures and street food.

Travel Watch Archive Browse hundreds of Asian travel tips

If you're in the mood for something a bit more secular, the city's main shopping hub is Bukit Bintang, where you'll find huge shopping malls and sidewalk cafEs. Most of the shops are nestled between the Regent and Ritz-Carlton hotels. A few blocks away on Jalan Ampang, at the base of the Petronas Towers, is the Kuala Lumpur City Center, another shopping area.

But why travel in order to go to a mall? To experience the market life of KL, wake up early on a Sunday and make your way to Chow Kit, the city's largest indoor market. Inside, narrow walkways lead through a maze of stalls laden with meat, fish, vegetables, spices, tofu and fruit. If you're looking for worms, you'll find them here at a reasonable price. At the northern end of the market are food stalls that serve up delicious roti canai (puffed bread stuffed with curry) and nasi campur (a mixed plate of rice and vegetables).

For a more upscale dining experience, try Cilantro on Jalan Ampang. Serving inspired fusion fare that elegantly blends French and Japanese styles—with dishes like slow-cooked abalone tossed with cold somen noodles, shiitake mushrooms, flying-fish roe and oscietra caviar—this restaurant is consistently ranked by KL's foodies as one of the city's best. And compared with similar establishments in Hong Kong or Singapore, it's a bargain.

To catch a glimpse of KL's young and beautiful, reserve a table at Citrus Rouge, on Jalan Sultan Ismail. Beautifully done up in red, gold and fluffy white, the restaurant offers so-so continental food, but the people-watching is five-star. For an interesting perspective on the city's skyline and delicious Nonya dishes like sambal udang (shrimp in chili-ginger sauce), go to Bon Ton on Jalan Kia Peng. The food is tasty, and this converted bungalow offers diners a neck-craning view of the Twin Towers.

After dark, KL can be disarmingly quiet, but there is nightlife if you're willing to leave the city center. For a choice of pubs and bars, take a taxi to the the suburb of Bangsar, 20 minutes west of Chinatown. At Echo Jazz Bar you can enjoy a well-made martini in a comfy lounge. Pursuing such small pleasures, a trip to KL can be big fun.

With reporting by Mages Ramakrishnan

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