KL in a day. Sounds impossible and it is. KL is large and impressive but the side streets and food stalls bring everything back to a manageable scale. I would wish you Merry Christmas but we are still Day 1 in KL remember… We had only a day to spend in KL. This big city has a lot to offer the tourist. But you could live in this city and not visit half the malls in it. We had a very strict business-like schedule to cram in as much as we could in one day, thoroughly researched before we left (by moi, hereby known as “the travel agent”). Now that I have been blogging for a while I trust and use only other blogs as references for travel. I recommend you do the same. The personal insights are invaluable.
We landed at 12:30am and took a taxi to our friends house. There are trains and buses but after midnight these leave only by the hour unlike during the day when they are much more frequent. Furthermore, once you get to KL Sentral Railway Station you may not get a taxi to your final destination or they will be really pricey that early in the morning. If you fly Air Asia you will land in the LCCT – Low Cost Carrier Terminal – which is miles away from the city and from the international KLIA airport. The journey to town by taxi will cost you 110 Ringgit (about Rs.2000) for the 45 odd kms. The roads are nothing but excellent. The speeds are bracing and the road discipline of drivers is incredibly polite and cautious. No one wants to get in to an accident in Malaysia. No matter where you come from, you can’t help but be impressed by this city from the get go. Instead of the slums and half built highways you see when you leave most Indian airports and head to the city, KL tells you it’s arrived and so have you.
Please click here for the detailed map with labels if you are planning a trip to KL or to know where we went. The best way to get around KL is by using the trains and buses, the trains being easier to get to grips with. A word on KL public transport. Everything is automated/ touch screens from buying tickets to entering stations. There are humans behind glass screens but they will direct you back to the machines upon instructing you how to use it.
Because the different lines were built by different contractors only buy a ticket till the station you will change at on the line you are currently on. Don’t buy a ticket till your final destination if you know you have to change lines. Unlike the London or Paris Metro, not all the stations and lines are connected. For instance When changing from the LRT to the Mono rail it is quite a walk from KL Sentral to the mono rail station. We just followed the crowd across the street which led us to the station. It’s not that well signposted but my advice is to just follow the lines of tourists and locals. All the blogs told me that breakfast at Imbi market was not to be missed. So we took the train from Taman Jaya to KL Sentral, then changed lines. From Imbi station to Imbi market is actually a very simple walk if you use your GPS or Google Maps but as we were late, we jumped in to a cab who charged us a RIDICULOUS 10 Ringitt bargained down from 20 Ringgit and our first but not last experience of being ripped off in Malaysia). That’s Rs.200 for a Rs.15 auto ride. We had made it in time and Imbi market was in full swing. It’s essentially a wet market with fresh seafood, meat, fruit and veg being sold at the front. At the back are the food stalls and Chinese shops selling all manner of dried sea and land creatures. Exotic fruit like Dragon fruit, Star fruit, Persimons, Mangosteens, Durians.The first pre-emptive strike began at 09:00 hrs at the North West corner of Imbi market. We set our sights on chicken’s feet, and some prawn dumplings/ wantons in a soup with noodles – wanton mee. Chicken’s feet are delicious and it’s a real shame we don’t get to eat it in India. Soft, gelatinous in a soy/oyster sauce type of gravy. The soup broth with some bok choy was divine. What I love about the Chinese and Malay food are the dipping sauce that totally change the taste of the dish. Real spicy red chilli sambal (a paste of red chillies, garlic with or without anchovies ie. Ikan bilis. The taste of sambal changes at each stall so I recommend trying it everywhere. Second target – an old lady selling fish ball soup with mee (noodles). She’s been doing it for 40 years she says. Sauces to add included green chillies in fish sauce, sambal paste and crushed peanuts.
As you find a seat, someone invariably comes up to you and squeakily whispers in your ear. “Minnum?” Which means, drink. Minnum is drink and makkan is food. The drink stalls are run by different people and the food by others.
The DH smacks his lips, swallows his saliva before he tucks in
This stall was next to the famous Aik Weng Tea shop which serves the kaya coconut jam and bread. There was much hollering and bantering between waiters who put on quite a show without actually knowing they were. In Malaysia one bargains for the price of everything except food. We bought a few chinese mushrooms and talked to a lady about how she cooks with them. Saw lots of dried sea cucumbers and other Unidentified dried creatures. The saying goes that the chinese will eat anything that walks with its back to the sun. Below are black Chinese fungus and an assortment of dried things and sea creatures.
Dried sea weeds, sea cucumbers and other odd ball creatures
Tempura chillies, ready to be deep fried
I sampled a pancake that tasted like a sweet appam and the texture of a very crispy dosa. The man had a row of appam chattis in front of him with lids under a coal fire. Like any malyali housewife he would expertly cajole the thin pancake batter around the edges of the hot in this case oiled bowl slap it on the fire and slap on a lid. He would open and slap down lids along the line to let some steam in to prevent the pancakes sticking but often it looked like he didn’t know quite which one had on the fire and which ones were empty! The slapping and clanging of iron lids on pots went on but there was clearly a system to his apparent madness. I think it was the noise of the lids that drew me to his stall. The Chee Cheong Fun stall (fun is the rice noodle and chee cheong is pig intestines) was all over. And there were no oyster omelettes in sight. Bellies full but still feeling light, we headed back to Imbi station, this time on foot, on to our next destination – Petaling Street and Central Market. Petaling Street is a lovely pedestrian street with knock off goods of all kinds. Vendors follow you down the street reducing their prices by 5 Ringgett for every step you take. I was told that in Malaysia always start your bargaining by reducing the asking price by half, and in some cases even by a quarter. We bought a remote control Super Car that does fancy things like spin its wheels rounds and inverts itself. The asking price was 70 Ringgett and when I gave her the disbelieving long drawn out “Nooooo, La” she dropped the price by half of her own volition! I didn’t even have to ask for half. At which point I suspected that the item was not worth 30 Ringgett but probably 15 or 20. When neither price was acceptable to her we walked away, almost half way down the street when she came shouting behind us with the toy wrapped in a bag and said, Ok 25 ringett. NO, we said 20,. OK 22. That’s bargaining in KL. In KL you can bargain for anything but no one bargains for food. All along Petaling Street are these little drinks stalls or “Minnum” stalls so in the mild humidity of KL you’re never far from a cold cold beverage. The DH was captivated by the hunting gear on display with all the laser sightings, military style scopes that are not commonly found on shopping streets. Hunting wild boar is still legal in some parts of Malaysia, ergo the availability of Green Beret type gear. But not knowing what these things should be worth, he was hesitant to get too attached to them and start a price war. I was captivated by the abundance of fake Cath Kidston bags. A very specific UK designer who uses vintage prints was an unusual thing to find among the more well known fake Guccis and Pradas and CKs. As our first foray in to bargaining, we were quite timid and I walked away from traditional Chinese silk blouses and dresses with slits on the side. From the colourful Petaling Street to Central Market just a few streets away. Central market is a handicrafts bazaar inside a mall. You can still haggle in here and there are the most beautiful items you will ever see. Spectacular curios and artefacts one cannot leave without buying something. We came away with two lovely masks. The mask shop was fascinating and once we bargained the guy down from 50 ringett for 2 to 40 ringett, we were well pleased.
When I came here in 1999 the food court was amazing. Great Kwoy Teow and Claypot chicken. But this time round it was not good. Cold food lacking in flavour. I’m told that the food court in 1 Utama shopping mall is much better. This meal was the only real disappoint on our whole trip and even then, it wasn’t all that bad. The DH had the Nasi Lemak and I had the Kwoy Teow
Bland Kwoy Teow with some Indian pappadams. Not good, I wouldn’t eat here again.
From Central market we shelpped all the way back to Amcorp Mall. This is not a mall on the tourist trail. It’s a very old mall taken over on the ground floor by the last surviving flea market in KL and the top floor has second hand books. They also sell at half price the excess prints of books and magazines. We love flea markets or as we love to call it “junk markets” and ever since Udalnaya market in Russia, we are always on the look out for similar places. People set up stalls and spread out an array of curios, artefacts, records, antiques, furniture, some of them very valuable and others not so. Each stall is not dedicated to a particular item. So there’s plenty to look at.
Ammo boxes army surplus and typewriters
Match boxes from around the world
An old Chinese man showed us an antique weighing scale. We saw beautiful Chinese and Japanese crockery. Stalls with an odd mix of junk like flippers and shuttle cocks. We saw a pair of brass lamp stands with shades that we fell in love with. We kept circling the stall, we talked to the lovely Chinese couple who owned the stall and were encouraging us to take it but we regaled them repeatedly of our long journey through Malaysia one that lampshades and brass lamps would make very cumbersome. We had trains, ferrys and planes to catch and we knew it would be impossible to bring them home. 3 hrs later, nearly exiting the mall twice, we finally bought them. I can’t show you a picture as they are neatly wrapped. But when we get home and they find their places, I’ll be sure to show you them in their new home. We bought enough things to warrant borrowing a suitcase which brought all our stuff back safe – not a thing broken.
We ended the night with food at the “stalls”. Stalls in Malaysia are buildings open on all sides and along the periphery are guys with gas burners and woks each serving up different items for you to try. You grab a table, then walk around ordering what you want from each guy. They bring the food to your table, you pay each one as he brings it to you and that’s your meal done. As is the case with eating good food, one forgets to take the pictures before scoffing down the food. So all I could capture was the Char Sieu BBQ pork – divine as always.
There’s always the “minum” lady, this one in tight bright green spandex who forced a beer on to our friend. We ate excellent Char Sui which is Chinese barbequed pork, pork bun – a fluffy dental white casing filled with sweet juicy pork that’s been braised. Add a little sambal and it changes the taste completely. We were to eat many a pork bun on our travels. The fluffy lightness of the “bun”that turns to tissue as your teeth sink in. The Chinese really know what they are doing.
We had the famous char kwoy teow, Portuguese style bbq sting ray (Ikan Bakir) which I liked but the DH didn’t so much. The Popiah, which I had read so much about was quite a disappointment – a very very thin pancake like a Kerala style neer dosa, filled with sweetish turnip and other veges that did nothing for my taste buds. Probably the only food item in Malaysia that i didn’t like, and we ate pigs intestines, so go figure. There was beef and chicken satay which were really beautiful – the best I had the whole trip.
Day 1 in Malaysia was a huge success – packed with excellent food and shopping, KL really delivers. But we had Penang to discover or rather Penang to eat our way through so we were off early morning by train for the 8 hr journey to Butterworth followed by ferry ride to the Island of Penang – the mecca of Chinese food and generally all good food in Malaysia.