Awakening with nervous excitement as our latest travel adventure was about to take place, luggage in the car and driven to Manchester Airport in good time for checking in at the Qatar Airways desk for our flight to Kuala Lumpur via Doha.
Boarding cards at the ready there was plenty of time for a cappuccino in Terminal 2’s Spinning Jenny cafe. Boarding for our flight was well organised and we were soon on board the Qatar Airways Airbus A330-200 airliner, in seats 16A and 16B towards the front of the cabin. The configuration of 2-4-2 meant that it was nice and private in the window seats with no passenger next to us.
The flight time was 7 hours, after gin and tonics and a tasty meal of braised beef, I settled back in my seat and turned on the In-flight entertainment system (IFE) to watch a film. I selected ‘A Testament of Youth’ but it wasn’t easy to view the screen even with the window blind closed as the plane had not been refurbished with newer screens. The film was about the First World War One memoirs of Vera Brittain.
A snack meal was served 90 minutes before landing which was a very tasty chicken wrap and a chocolate muffin.
It was 11.50 p.m. local time when we arrived in Doha. As our connecting flight was due to depart at 1.15 am there was little time to do more than stretch our legs. We had landed at a remote parking bay and had to be transferred into the terminal by bus as the airport is not quite finished and more air bridges still need to be built. The terminal didn’t seem quite so busy as when we were in transit here a few months ago.
Our flight to Kuala Lumpur, flight time 7.30 hours, was on board an Airbus A340-600, the interior being of a more modern design than our earlier flight.
Our seats were in a similar position to our earlier flight and we were served with drinks and a snack soon after take off. Before settling down for a sleep I watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel which I enjoyed.
There was a period of turbulence before a cooked lunch was served but it didn’t last too long, and we came in to land at KLIA, on time, at 2.05 pm.
Immigration and Baggage Reclaim were both quick and we were soon following signs to the KLIA Express. Single tickets cost RM35 each and the journey time to KL Sentral is 33 minutes. We obtained some Ringitts from an ATM in the station before buying two ‘KL Rapid Touch ‘N Go cards (similar to the UK Oyster Card) for use on public transport and in convenience stores.
Our hotel was situated close to Imbi monorail station so we took this four stops. There were only two carriages on the monorail and it was very crowded, somehow we managed to squeeze our large cases on board. Thankfully, many of the passengers were alighting at Imbi so it made it slightly easier getting off. We then discovered that the lift was out of order so we had to struggle on the stairs with our luggage.
The Berjaya Times Square Hotel is literally steps away from Imbi Monorail station and it wasn’t long until we were checking in at the reception desk.
We were attended to without delay by a friendly and smiling clerk. A bellboy escorted us to our spacious room on the 41st floor. (There are 44 floors in total). We had booked a 57 sq. m. superior room which was really a suite, with bedroom, lounge, dining area, two bathrooms and kitchenette. From our windows we had views across the city and down to the hotel’s swimming pool on 15th floor, situated above the shopping mall and between the two tower blocks. Haze was hanging low over the city, we were soon to find that this was caused by the burning of forest fires in nearby Sumatra, Indonesia.
After unpacking, and freshening up, we had a look around the pool area and then inside the adjacent Berjaya Times Square Mall. This mall is huge and features an indoor theme park which can be accessed from the 5th floor. There is also a large bowling alley on the same floor. We found that shops on the lower floors were of a much higher standard than those higher up, most of the latter selling market type goods.
In the basement there was a branch of Cold Storage, a good quality supermarket we had used previously in Singapore. It was interesting to note that numerous Waitrose own brand products were stocked, possibly to keep expats happy.
Later in the evening we walked the short distance to KL’s food street, Jalan Alor. This street is a heady mix of traffic, crowds, street hawkers, delicious food aromas and plastic tables spilling out onto the road. The street is lined with outdoor restaurants which open each evening at around 6.00 pm. They mostly seem to serve similar dishes, and restaurant touts ply for your custom as you wander slowly along the road.
We chose a restaurant at random, and ordered dishes of Thai Chicken and Rice and Butter Prawns, which we’d read was a popular Malay dish. Both dishes tasted delicious, the prawns were huge and I’m certain we’ll be having them again soon. We declined alcoholic drinks this evening as we were both tired and had probably had more than our fair share of drinks on our two lengthy flights. What I love about being in Asia is being able to relax outdoors, late at night in the tropical heat, without the need of jumpers or coats.
Feeling exhausted after not going to bed since leaving Manchester yesterday afternoon, it was back to our hotel where we fell asleep as soon as our heads touched the pillows.
We woke early (6.00 am) due to jet lag so we were eating breakfast in the hotel’s Apple restaurant bright and early. The restaurant is on the 14th floor and sitting at a window table we had good city views. There was pretty much everything on offer for breakfast, catering for all tastes. The waiters were attentive and replenished my cappuccino cup several times. A complimentary newspaper had been delivered to our room so I glanced at this as well. On returning to our room, we found that our room had already been cleaned which was nice.
We took the monorail and then metro to Merdeka Square with its beautiful buildings, the first of which Panggung Bandaraya (City Theatre).
This was the former city hall and its Moorish arches and domed shaped pavilions have been well preserved. Across from here lies the Sultan Abdul Samad building. It’s name is derived from the Sultan of the Selangor region during the time of its construction in 1894. It is one of the most distinctive landmarks with its large clock tower, built by the British and is now the home of the Ministry of Information, Communications and Culture.
Merdeka Square used to serve as the Government Administrative centre during the British rule. The British flag was lowered on 31st August 1957 when Malaysia gained independence. The flagpole stands at 100 metres and is said to be one of the world’s tallest. Overlooking the lawned square is the colonial Royal Selangor Club, a social club built by the British in 1884 in mock Tudor style.
To the side lies the white St. Mary’s Cathedral constructed in the 1880’s and the Victoria fountain built to celebrate the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897. A short walk away lies the Central Market which was built by the British as a wet market but is now a market aimed at tourists with souvenir stalls, crafts, trinkets and cafes.
Just down the road from here we arrived at Chinatown and its main thoroughfare, Petaling Street. This famous street is a hustle and bustle of crowds, market stalls and food carts. It’s famous for selling imitation goods and haggling over prices seems to be normal practice. The street has now been covered with a roof from which orange lanterns hang down.
After our morning’s sightseeing, we returned to our hotel for a short rest and some lunch.
At 2.00 pm we set off again, this time to KLCC Park from where we took photos of the famous Petronas Towers. Although there was still haze overhead, the tops of the towers were visible. Around the far side of the complex, lies a small park with fountains and a shallow lake, popular with children.
There were better views of the towers from the bridge here, so we paused to take photos before taking a look in the upscale Suria Mall below the towers. We moved indoors just in time, as there was a large crack of thunder followed by a heavy rain shower. Hopefully this rain might help to clear some of the haze over the country. The Air Pollution Index (API) now stands extremely high.
On returning to the hotel we called in the Cold Storage supermarket for some Tiger beer and crisps, and after an hour’s sleep we freshened up, made a Skype call to home and then headed back out to the food street of Jalan Alor. It had now stopped raining so we were able to eat outdoors, selecting a different restaurant from last night. Tonight we settled on Salt and Pepper Prawns and Chicken Fried Rice, both very good choices.
It was 10.30 pm when we returned to our hotel and after a quick look on our iPads we were soon ready for bed
Breakfast at the Berjaya was again enjoyable, lingering over our complimentary newspaper and several cups of coffee. But we needed to get going, so we took the monorail to KL Sentral followed by a Kommuter train out to Batu Caves which lies 8 miles north of Kuala Lumpur. Batu Caves is one of the most holy Hindu shrines outside India and is set on a limestone cliff, accessed by a long staircase leading to the caves. In front of the limestone cliff stands a huge golden Murugan (Buddha) at a height of 42.7 metres tall. It is one of Kuala Lumpur’s main tourist attractions and there were numerous coaches there when we visited.
Walking up the 272 concrete steps to the caves, monkeys watch, sitting on the handrails and steps, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting tourists and steal their water bottles, scarves etc. so beware and hold on tightly to your belongings.
Its free to enter the caves , the huge cavern known as the Temple Cave because it contains so many Hindu shrines is very impressive but considering its significance as a holy shrine, it really needs tidying up. Litter is strewn in corners and pigeon and monkey droppings abound.
At the base of the caves are various souvenir stalls and food outlets some of which are quite tacky for a holy shrine.
The rail station is only a few minutes walk away so it’s easy to access from KL by public transport.
It was back to the hotel for some lunch, and a little window shopping in the Berjaya Times Square mall which is attached to our hotel.
At 3.00 pm we opted for total relaxation as we had booked 90 minute full body aromatherapy massages in the hotel’s Bunga Raya Spa. It was sheer bliss, my therapist from the Philipines applied lemongrass, almond oil and lavender to my skin, relaxing and stretching my aching muscles, applying just the right amount of pressure.
Hotel guests can book 2 for 1 treatments at ‘off peak’ times. Our superb massages costing only RM150 (£22.60) for two. Feeling invigorated, we took a walk to nearby Bukit Bintang, stopping first at the Lot 10 mall, this was quite small, with an impressive food court on the lower floor and quite surprisingly a Liverpool FC shop on the upper level. Our stroll took us further along the covered Bukit Bintang walk to the upmarket Pavilion Mall, filled with designer stores and restaurants. After pre dinner drinks, we returned to Jalan Alor opting to eat in one of the larger restaurants tonight and selecting dishes of roasted pork and Butter Prawns.
It was harder to wake this morning, but we made it down to breakfast by 8.00 am. The air pollution index (API) has now risen to 191 (100-200 being unhealthy) and it’s now difficult to make out the outlines of the Petronas Towers and other landmarks due to the haze caused by illegal forest fires in Indonesia.
Our plan for today was to visit FRIM (Forest Research Institute of Malaysia) so we took a train from KL Sentral to Kepong Sentral then walked down some steps to the highway where there was a taxi rank, and travelled to FRIM’s entrànce by taxi for RM10 (journey time ten minutes). FRIM charges RM5.30 admission fee,
plus an additional RM5 if you are using an SLR camera. Maps aren’t provided but it’s suggested that visitors take a photo of the one at the kiosk for guidance. What we really came for was to take the Tree Canopy Walk but this was closed to visitors as the API exceeded 150 and was considered unsafe.
Instead, we followed two trails, one through the tree canopy to a large waterfall and then a shorter one along the forest floor. It’s difficult to remain on the actual path as there are several sub-paths leading from it. Ribbons are tied to branches but there generally seemed to be a lack of them when it mattered most.
There aren’t any cafes at FRIM but there is a ‘One Stop Shop’ which sells drinks, snacks and souvenirs and has picnic tables outside. Our plan had been to return to the entrance gates and ask the staff at the kiosk to call a taxi for us, but just as we were finishing our drinks, we spotted a taxi parked nearby and asked to be taken back to the railway station. We agreed a fixed fare of RM15 for the journey. It’s strange but on the door of all KL’s taxis it says ‘metered cab, no haggling allowed’ but whenever we asked a driver to take us somewhere, they always quote a fixed fee. We didn’t bother questioning the lack of meter usage as the fares are all so cheap compared to home anyway.
Back at the hotel we changed into swimwear and relaxed by the large pool for a couple of hours. The sunbeds were very comfortable and we dozed in the tropical heat.
When darkness fell, we returned to KLCC Park to view the Petronas Towers at night and to watch the Light and Music Fountain show. Although this is nice to see, it’s insignificant to the ones in Singapore and Hong Kong. The Towers, though, looked amazing lit up in the night sky.
It was then back to Jalan Alor for dinner, sampling food from yet another of the streets outdoor eateries. Tonight’s Salt and Pepper Prawns and Malay Pork Chops were delicious and we accompanied them with bottles of Tiger beer.
After a leisurely breakfast in the hotel’s Green Apple restaurant we took a train to Putrajaya which is the administrative capital of Malaysia and a planned city. The railway station is too far from the centre to walk so we waited a short time for a bus to the main square. The bus fare was RM1 (no change given). The main Putra square is elegantly laid out with wide streets and attractive floral borders.
In front of us was the modern Putra Mosque with its Islamic inspired architecture and to our right the majestic offices of the Prime Minister of Malaysia. Opposite we could see a waterway opening into a lake. Walking down some steps we came to a European style promenade with several cafes and restaurants where boat trips were just departing. We would probably have taken one of these, but we missed one by only five minutes and didn’t wish to wait a further 90 minutes for the next trip.
To return we caught the bus back to the railway station then a train to KLIA airport. Outside the Arrivals Hall a free shuttle bus runs every 20 minutes to the newly opened Mitsui Outlet Park . It was a public holiday commemorating Malaysia Day and many people had decided to spend some time at the outlet park.
The outlet only opened three months ago and currently there are 180 outlets in the first phase of construction. Most of the leading brands have a presence here and we picked up some good buys whilst looking round.
On passing the food court we were tempted into eating freshly made waffles. Spread on mine, I chose Kaya (a fruit curd made from coconut, eggs and sugar) which tasted delicious. I’d heard of Kaya but hadn’t sampled it before, and didn’t really know what it was.
It was 6.30pm when we returned to our hotel for a rest and at around 9.00 pm we wandered around to Jalan Alor for dinner. As we passed Low Yat Plaza in Bukit Bintang we noticed many police and their vehicles lining the road. In Chinatown earlier today there had been a large protest march by the Red Shirts.
Police were taking no chances in case of any trouble. Fortunately we didn’t see the protest ourselves. The majority of Jalan Alor’s restaurants were closed ahead of the protest but we were able to find seats in one of the establishments that had remained open. Tonight we tempted our tastebuds with Drunken Chicken and Garlic Prawns. The waiter wasn’t taking any chances in case of the protest getting out of hand, and requested payment with our order. This was presumably to cover themselves if trouble broke out and the diners had to hurry away. Thankfully there were no incidents this evening.
It was an earlier start for us this morning as we had booked a coach tour to Malacca. After breakfast we were picked up from our hotel by minibus and taken to KLCC where we transferred to a full size coach.
There were only 10 of us on the trip to Malacca, 4 Australians, 2 Taiwanese, 2 Filipinos and ourselves from the UK so we had plenty of room to spread out. The journey to Malacca took two hours, it’s located 150 km south of Kuala Lumpur. Simon, our tour guide for the day, explained the background history of Malacca, a UNESCO World Heritage site, to us as we travelled towards the city.
Our first stop was at St. Peter’s Church, built in 1710 and is the oldest Christian church still in use in Malaysia with some of its original stained glass windows still intact. We then drove past the largest 17th century Chinese cemetery outside of China, this is located at Bukit China (Chinese Hill).
Our lunch was included in the tour price, we weren’t expecting much, but we were in for a surprise. We were taken to a smart restaurant specialising in Nonya cusine. This originates from the Peranakans descendants of early Chinese migrants who settled in Malacca. Nonya cooking involves blending Chinese ingredients with spices used by the Malay / Indonesian community. The ten of us sat round a large circular table with a wooden revolving centre portion onto which a selection of dishes were placed. Everyone was very friendly and we all enjoyed chatting together over our lunch.
Leaving the restaurant in heavy rain, we returned to the coach and were taken to the famous gateway, the Porto de Santiago.
Sheltering beneath umbrellas we climbed the steps to the Ruins of St Paul’s . From the hilltop we could also see the former Governor’s residence with one of his cars parked outside, this now forms a museum complex. Another downward path led us to the iconic Red Square .
The beautiful salmon pink building was the Dutch Administrative building and is now the Malacca museum. Christ Church, next door, is an 18th century building, built by the Dutch during their occupation of Malacca from the Portuguese.
It’s a red brick building featuring a huge white cross at the top. Across from here lies Stadhuis, Dutch meaning city hall, constructed by the Dutch occupants in 1650 as the office of the Dutch governor. It is believed to be the oldest remaining Dutch building in South East Asia and is now the Museum of History and Ethnography. This much photographed square also has Queen Victoria’s fountain, and a Dutch windmill.
Across the road lies Jonker Street, the main road of Malacca’s Chinatown. Along here are a collection of gift shops and restaurants. Nearby we visited Cheng Hoom Temple , the oldest Chinese temple in the country, translated it means The Abode of the Merciful Clouds.
Continuing a short distance we came to the Kampunghulu Mosque which opened in 1728 and is the oldest mosque in Malacca. The design of the mosque is a cross between Sumatran, Chinese, Hindu and Malay. The minaret, ablution pool and entrànce arch are of an exquisite design whilst the minaret resembles a pagoda.
It was 6.00 pm when we returned to our hotel after a very interesting day trip. Although we don’t usually opt for organised tours, on this occasion it worked well as the main attractions were spread over a wide area and it would have been difficult to see them all in one day without organised transport between sites. We also enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with our fellow travellers who were all really nice people.
If you are planning a holiday in Malaysia and considering some organised trips, it’s best to book them once you have arrived here rather than at home before departure. We paid RM126 each (£19.30) for the full day excursion including lunch.
Three of the Australians had prebooked before arrival and paid almost three times as much, and I checked on UK websites and it’s priced at £58.50 per person, so a huge markup. Don’t worry about the tours being full, as there were 40 empty seats on our coach and tours run daily.
Later in the evening we wandered round to Jalan Alor, eating in typical Asian fashion at a street cafe amongst the hustle and bustle of traffic, crowds, musicians and hawkers. It certainly can’t be beaten for atmosphere.
First on our ‘to do’ list this morning was a visit to the Perdana Botanical Gardens, also known as Tun Abdul Razak Heritage Park. It’s a large area of parkland with several museums and the National Mosque within its grounds. The first building we came across was the Royal Police Museum, we hadn’t planned on visiting here, but it’s located in such a beautiful colonial building with a traditional verandah that we were drawn indoors to take a look.
We were so pleased to have made that decision as the galleries turned out to be really interesting, and the exhibits displayed in a very attractive way.
Sections covered weapons, costumes, vehicles etc. and outdoors was a collection of larger vehicles and a plane. Admission is free and definitely worth a short detour.
Quite some distance from here, but still within the gardens we arrived at the National Orchid Gardens, Admission free except at weekends when a small entry fee of RM1 is charged. Much smaller than the Orchid Gardens in neighbouring Singapore, but a reasonably large collection of species, displayed in well cared for flowerbeds. There was a colonial cafe here where we had hoped to have our mid morning coffee, but sadly it’s only open at weekends in September so we had to manage without a drink.
We left the Gardens at a different exit and walked to Kuala Lumpur Railway Station.
This old colonial station is in complete contrast to its modern counterpart KL Sentral. Its architecture is sublime and I fell in love with the building straightaway.
Moving on, we made our way to KL’s second tower, the Menara, this is a communications tower but is also a popular tourist attraction with lift access to the summit. But, as our hotel room was on the 41st floor we felt we didn’t need to ride to the top of this tower, especially as this low lying haze is still hanging low over the city. The main reason for our visit was to walk through the mini rainforest Bukit Nanas at the base and traverse the canopy walkway, but it wasn’t to be as we found the walkway to be cordoned off with a sign attached informing visitors that it was closed for maintenance.
Instead we just walked along the paths on the forest floor. After all this uphill walking in the tropical heat we needed to return to our hotel room to rest and freshen up before heading out again on the monorail to KLCC Park at the Petronas Towers. Overlooking the entrance we spotted a Harrods cafe which looked very genteel with its staff in straw boaters and black pinafores. The menu seemed good value compared to the equivalent in the UK so we were tempted indoors for afternoon tea. We were each served small scones with clotted cream and two flavours of jam and pots of tea served in fine china cups and saucers (RM35 each) delicious! Photographs on the walls were of Harrods, London in days gone by.
It was then back to the hotel for an evening swim. Despite it being dark it was lovely and warm relaxing on the sunbeds surrounding the pool which was illuminated by subtle lighting. We hadn’t noticed before but from the pool terrace there were lovely nighttime views of both the Petronas and Menara Towers.
After all the delicious evening meals we’ve enjoyed this week, our last one of the holiday really had to be back at Jalan Alor. Malay Butter Prawns and Sweet and Sour Pork our final choices accompanied with glasses of Tiger beer.
Our final day in KL, why does the time pass so quickly when on holiday! A window table once again at breakfast and the final opportunity to savour one of the Berjaya’s delicious omelettes cooked to order.
We then packed our suitcases and checked out of our hotel. The Berjaya Times Square hotel was an excellent choice, obliging staff always with a smile, doing their utmost to please and a huge suite (57 sq m). Our only criticism was the television. It is unbelievable that the Berjaya has not upgraded its televisions. The CRT model resembled a museum piece! The pool area was delightful, kept clean and tidy, plenty of sunbeds and parasols and a large swimming pool with fountains. Adjoining the pool are two spas, one of which we booked treatments in earlier in the week. This was a haven of tranquility and good value.
Our final journey on the crowded monorail from Imbi station was to KL Sentral from where we took an express coach back to the airport (RM10). As our flight wasn’t departing until 20.50 pm we took the free shuttle bus to the nearby Mitsui Outlet Park which is only a ten minute drive away. This shopping mall has only been open for three months, it’s convenient for travellers as there is a complimentary concierge service by the entrance, allowing us to spend some time looking round without our suitcases.
We had visited this mall earlier in the week and bought several items so today’s visit was more a case of window shopping and eating! The waffles we’d sampled on our previous visit were so good that we felt duty bound to return for more. Mine were topped with the delectable Kaya jam (coconut).
We returned to the airport just as the check in desks were opening. Lengthy queues had already formed at the Qatar Airways desk but as we had already checked in on line we were able to avoid this queue and join one with only one family queuing in front of us.
After security we planned to stretch our legs on the Jungle Boardwalk which stays open until 7.00 pm each evening. As it was only 6.30 pm we thought we would have half an hour on the boardwalk but sadly it had been closed as it was raining. Something to do next time we are here, then!
We had to make do with walking round the terminal building instead and passing some time in Burger King until our gate opened.