After living in Southeast Asia for over twelve years, I finally made it to Kuala Lumpur.
We had travelled to most of Malaysia’s islands and seen a fair bit of the mainland, but the lure of our neighbour’s metropolis was never that strong. Until this year.
We made our first journey to KL on the five-hour coach. We thought it would be a nice way to see the Malaysian countryside, but this turned out to be endless panoramas of rubber and banana trees. My children were more enticed by the prospect of playing their Nintendo for hours without parental intervention.
I chose the double-decker Aeroline service, which runs coaches from HarbourFront Centre. It was a good decision. This company and Transtar enter Malaysia through the Tuas crossing rather than the one at Woodlands, which generally ensures a speedier and more pleasant entry.
The comfortable seating is definitely better than what you get with air travel. The reclining seats are spacious and a small lounge on the lower deck offers the facility to work or study. Movies are shown on two TV screens on the upper deck, though the horror flick on the return journey wasn’t ideal family viewing. A meal is served and hot drinks are available. Aeroline is also the only coach with a toilet, which though tiny is a great facility to have when travelling with children. We had a 20-minute rest stop after a couple of hours, which allowed us to stretch our legs and to buy local snacks.
Another benefit of Aeroline is that it uses the centrally located Corus Hotel as a terminus, right near the malls, hotels and attractions along Bintang Walk. And a stop at the Sunway Lagoon resort is planned for later this year. Most of the other coaches stop at Puduraya Bus Station, further out of the city and notorious for unscrupulous taxi drivers.
We stayed at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, which is superbly located right next to the Petronas Twin Towers. The view from our 24th-storey room alone was worth the trip to KL. We could clearly see the sky bridge between the two towers and the lighting at night gave it a magical, almost surreal appearance. Adjacent to the Oriental is the swanky Suria KLCC shopping mall, which, despite its many designer brand shops, offers something for every budget. Here you can top up on essentials at Cold Storage or dine at a wide selection of restaurants and eateries. We enjoyed the very reasonable (and delicious) Manhattan Fish Market, as well as pizza from the small takeaway Modestos in the basement.
For family entertainment, the Petrosains Science Discovery Centre kept the children enthralled. It hosts numerous interactive exhibits, workshops and activities. It is open every day except Monday, and queues are not unusual. Tickets are a reasonable MR4 per child and MR12 per adult ($2 and $5, respectively). From the moment you enter on the Dark Ride to the final exhibit, you can expect an engaging immersion into science, highlights being the helicopter flight simulator, the chance to feel a tornado, the opportunity to “ski” down a Swiss slope, and the geotime diorama, where you can experience the sights and sounds of prehistoric times. Give it at least two hours, though you may want to stay longer.
A short walk away is Aquaria, by the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. This aquarium is another world-class facility, at MR38 for adults and MR26 per child (S$16 and S$11).
The Petronas Twin Towers are a spectacular feat of engineering. The floor plan of each tower is based upon a simple, geometric Islamic design that gives rise to an 88-storey tower 452 metres above street level. Tickets are free to visit the sky-bridge on the 41st floor, and available from 8.30am daily (except Mondays). It’s best to queue early, as tickets are often gone by mid-morning, but we got tickets at midday for a 2.15pm visit.
While waiting our turn to reach the sky-bridge, we enjoyed the interactive centre, which tells the story of how the towers were constructed, with some entertaining games for younger visitors. My children enjoyed the brain-teasers, building their own tower on a computer. We were shown a short video presentation before being taken up at rapid speed. Here, at some 170m above street level, we were given ten minutes to view the KL skyline, with a guide who pointed
out key landmarks.
Having whetted our enthusiasm for tall buildings, we visited the Menara Kuala Lumpur Tower the next day. Completed in 1996, this is the world’s fourth-tallest telecommunications tower, surrounded by the oldest forest reserve in the country despite being in the city centre. Here, you can access even greater heights than the Twin Towers’ sky-bridge, with the observation deck at nearly 276m. A big attraction is the Seri Angkasa revolving restaurant, even higher than the observation level. My children enjoyed the lunch buffet, which featured Malay, Western, and Indian food, not forgetting dessert. It was priced at a reasonable MR55 per adult and MR30 per child, and we enjoyed spotting landmarks and taking in the magnificent view.
Afterwards, we took a quick look around the small shops at the base of the tower before walking back down the hill. A shuttle bus runs up and down the hill, and judging by the tired faces we passed on arrival, it is worth taking up.
Royal Selangor is the world’s largest known maker of pewter, and at the visitor centre at Setapak Jaya, a guide walked us through the processes used to make this metal. My children were delighted to have a hands-on experience of making pewter, including hammering a pewter item, which proved more challenging than they expected. For a small charge you can also enrol in the School of Hard Rocks, an hour-long workshop during which you learn how to make a pewter dish. We finished the tour with a visit to the retail shop, where prices are lower than those in Singapore. The Royal Selangor visitor’s centre is a short taxi ride from the city, and a free shuttle service is available from most leading hotels.
If you have the time, a short half-day tour of the city is worth doing. Typical stops include the Thean Hou Temple, Masjid Negara (the National Mosque), the Istana Kuala Lumpur and the Moorish buildings around Merdeka Square.
The Lake Gardens (Taman Tasik Perdana) is an outdoor venue popular with locals and tourists alike. The gardens feature a butterfly park and the largest bird park in Southeast Asia. You’ll also find the imposing bronze Malaysian National Monument here, and nearby are the ASEAN Gardens where my daughter enjoyed searching for the Singapore sculpture. Afterwards, you can try high tea at the exclusive Carcosa Seri Negara Hotel, a former colonial mansion.
Kuala Lumpur is an ideal city for a long weekend with the family. We found it was worth choosing a hotel with a pool. Combining that with a bit of sightseeing and shopping, we all had a good time.