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Christmas in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


I suddenly woke up in Kuala Lumpur and realized our bus was stuck in bumper to bumper Christmas Day traffic. I peeled my face from the bus window and stared up at the cities iconic Petronas Towers. I was dropped off at the bus station and found myself being chirped at by throngs of Indian cabbies. I told the first taxi driver that I needed a ride to the Traders Hotel beside the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center (KLCC). The first driver told me it would cost 40RM for the ride. The price seemed a bit steep so I continued to walk along the street. I stopped a group of local girls and asked them how much it should cost me to get there. They said I should pay no more than 20RM to get to the hotel.

A few minutes later another young Indian cabby asked me where I needed to go. I told him KLCC and he responded, “50RM is a good price.” I looked at him in shock and said, “I know you are overcharging me. I don’t even have that much money on me!” He then asked me how much I was willing to pay and I said, “15RM.” He laughed in my face, pointed at his skin and said, “You are a rich white man.” Appalled I made a rather uproarious disgusted gesture and walked away. I grabbed my map of the city and made the decision to take the moral high road (and the health conscious transport method). In the heat of midday I strapped myself into my bags and walked across the city, waving “no thank you,” to all taxi drivers who approached me for a ride. The walk was a rather exhausting, sweat inducing haul which had me walking past crazy men with pythons around their neck, smiling hippies and streets covered in pedestrian shoppers.

I quickly realized my decision to walk rather than take a cab was a good one. I was walking twice as fast as the cars, buses and taxis that appeared to be parked on the main street. I studied how the locals crossed the street and my jaw dropped in disbelief. The streets were so jammed, the sidewalks so filled with people that cars and pedestrians alike did not even look up at the traffic lights. The general rule in KL is to watch where you are going and make a weaving dash through the maze of slowly moving vehicles. The cars constantly coast across the street and people just flood into the mess and make their way across.

I finally reached the KLCC and spotted the Traders Hotel just up the street. My shirt was soaking in sweat and my back was aching as the straps of by pack were digging into my shoulders. I walked into the main lobby of one of the nicest hotels in the country looking like a hobo. I walked into the elevator and pressed the button for the 33rd Floor SkyBar. I threw my bags on the floor and slumped into a couch. I told the waitress to announce my arrival. For the next few minutes, as I waited to meet my fellow classmate Iris Lam, I walked around the cities most famous bar. The bar is covered in large panes of glass which allow for the cities best view of the Petronas towers. In the center of the bar is a swimming pool where hotel guests lounge with champagne in a quiet, calm and luxurious atmosphere above the chaotic streets bellow.

Iris and I both studied Hotel and Food Administration at University and I always try to make a point to visit my fellow classmates if they are working abroad. Iris manages the SkyBar so it seemed like a fitting place to meet her just before she started her work day. We quickly said hello and grabbed my bags to take to a cab downstairs. She put me in a taxi and I zoomed through the cities most luxurious shopping centers, hotels and restaurants. I arrived at her apartment building smack dab in the heart of the Golden Triangle. Her French room mate Cindy, from Lyon greeted me at the street and showed me to their apartment.

I poked my head out of the apartment sliding window and realized I was located smack dab in the middle of the ritziest part of the city. Directly across the road is one of the cities other Five Star Hotel properties. I could see guests lounging beside the pool sipping on martinis. The cities best bars, clubs, restaurants and luxury shopping center are all located a two minute walk from her apartment buildings, KL Plaza.

Cindy and I walked down the trendy gastronomic lane, Changkat Bukit Bintang Street where we met up with Iris and her other French room mate from Dijon. We spent the next two hours enjoying a delicious Italian Christmas meal at Ciccio Restaurant. We started with two plates of Bruschetta (smoked salmon, cream cheese, sun dried tomatoes and capers to start followed by grilled eggplant topped with melted brie cheese). We shared two bottles of Le Rine Pinot Grigio and slowly nibbled on pumpkin stuffed ravioli with sage butter sauce, a classic Caesar salad and a simple Margherita pizza. It was such a treat to chit chat with new friends and catch up with old ones on Christmas Day.

After dinner Iris headed back to work while Cindy and I walked to a brightly lit park directly in front of the cities landmark Petronas Towers. The towers glow bright yellow and twinkle, blink and shine across the city at night. The towers are surrounded by a beautiful man made pond which features an impressive water fountain show.

Iris got home at 6am after a long day of work on the 33rd floor so we didn’t head out of her apartment the following day until 3pm. We enjoyed a cheap and cheerful lunch back at the cities famed Jalan Alor hawker food stall street. We sat at Cu Cha Chinese restaurant and gobbled up a bowl of steamed rice and three plates of BBQ Pork, roast duck and garlic tossed Hong Kong greens.

I spent the afternoon properly committing myself to the discovery of each and every nook and cranny at the Pavillion shopping center. I strolled through fashion friendly Marc by Marc Jacobs, Top Shop, Prada, Hermes and Dior Homme. I found myself softly caressing a cashmere sweater at Burberry when I suddenly realized how inappropriate it was that all of these designer stores were selling cozy sweaters and thick winter jackets. I called over an energetic employee and asked who in their right mind would purchase a cashmere sweater in a city that is hot and humid 365 days a year. He answered, “Local Malaysian’s do not buy any of these cloths. Everyone that shops for these items are rich businessmen and tourists from Japan, Korea, China, Russia, the Middle East, Europe and North America.” I thought it must be kind of weird to know that every day when you go to work you have to try and sell a product that you yourself would never wear.

I passed by what seemed like hundreds of upscale eateries specializing in everything from Japanese Sushi, Spanish Tapas and French Bistro. I stood over a bridge on the top floor which gave me an amazing view of the entire open air complex. I stared four floors bellow and was delighted to look, at people who were chatting at the opulent Godiva Chocolate Café.

In the evening I returned to the Pavillion (which clearly has become my hang out). I arrived at the massive white and golden Christmas tree to be pleasantly surprised by a large crowd. I walked around and soon discovered what the fuss was all about. Around twenty ornately costumed mimes, wildly dressed women posed for pictures with tourists and eager locals. Each of these performers held a large bag which read “Malaysian Savings Sale.” I thought, “What an incredible way to encourage people to shop. Throwing a carny friendly parade no less!”

After spending several hours sucking the Starbucks wireless signal dry I headed back to the streets at midnight. I walked by a small crowd which formed a semicircle around a small band of Rastafarian hippies who cooed into the night sky. I returned to Jalan Alor with a starving stomach and a penchant for gastronomic excess. I walked all the way down the street, reading each menu and watching which street side stalls had the most locals. I finally sat down at the Great Wall Restaurant where I ordered a cold Iced Tea with lemon, bottle of Tiger beer and two entrees: a delicious plate of duck and ginger rice followed by crispy lemon chicken.

The following day I spent the afternoon lounging at the Pavillion’s impressive basement food court. I wasn’t surprised that the restaurant offerings were top notch seeing that the malls reputation is one of luxury. I walked through the entire bottom floor passing by tapanyaki grills, Korean BBQ, Indian tandori, Japanese Sushi, Hong Kong dim sum, Thai, Vietnamese and Malay favorites. I stopped at a spot called Hong Kong Roasts which had a beautiful collection of glistening roast ducks hanging in the window. I ordered a crispy duck leg with steamed rice and chicken broth. The skin was crispy like a perfectly basted Christmas turkey and the meat fell off the bone. The duck was slathered in green onions and a sweet and tangy sauce.

At 6pm I rushed back to the apartment to meet Cindy as Iris made a reservation at SkyBar for us at 8pm. That morning she had handed me a little packet full of free drink tickets for each of the SkyBar’s signature cocktails.

Raised in Manhattan
A combination of sweet Rosso Vermouth and Canadian Club Rye Whisky infused with dark raisons.

Kiwitini
Fresh Kiwi fruits muddled together with Belvedere Vodka and a dash of sugar, fine strained in to a champagne flute and topped with Moet Champagne.

Mata D’Or
Hand pressed Passion Fruit together with Pomegranate syrup served over ice in a sling glass and charged with Red Bull.

Selangor Sling
Tanqueray Gin and Cherry Brandy Liqueur shaken with pressed pineapple juice, fresh lemon juice and a tough of Angostura Bitters strained over ice and topped with soda and Benedictine D.O.M. Garnished with lemon and maraschino cherry.

Lychee Rose
Belvedere Vodka and Lychee liqueur stirred slowly over ice with a hint of rose syrup. Garnished with Lychee Fruit.

As soon as we arrived Iris sat us at our reserved seats right along the glass wall. I popped myself up on a bar stool and stared out at the two glowing twin towers. While flipping through the menu we nibbled on an addictive bowl of Cajun spiced sweet roasted cashews. Over the next two hours we ordered all of our complimentary cocktails and slowly nibbled on the following two entrees: open faced waygu beef burger with vegetable confit, smoked cheese and sweet potato wedges. Followed by a grilled haloumi cheese, wild rocket, hummus and ciabatta sandwich.

The ambiance and vibe at the bar in the evening is really spectacular. The pool glows from beneath and a DJ plays low key lounge-house mixes. The crowd is full of wealthy tourists, many which were European and Middle Eastern families spending their Christmas vacation in Malaysia. As I continued to sip my martini’s and cocktails dry I couldn’t help but laugh as I watched the waitresses strut down the central runway with platters of food and drinks over their heads. The runway/deck sits directly over the pool and borders the cabana couch group seating areas. I wondered to myself how funny it would be if someone dressed from head to toe in Gucci or Versace slipped into the pool after a few too many drinks.

Iris was able to get off her shift early so we headed to the cities nightlife hub. We ate a bit of steaming street food while sipping on vodka cran’s before heading downstairs into a rather energetic bouncing nightclub. After we had expended our prancing excitation we hopped in a cab to Juan Alor for some midnight hawker treats. We sat down at Iris’s favorite Thai venue where we enjoyed a Green Thai Mango Salad, Chicken Fried Rice and a very hot bowl of Tom Yum sup (which made Iris’s eyeballs dry up faster than a cracker in the desert).

The following day we were shocked to realize that we had slept in until 2pm. We whipped ourselves into shape and readied ourselves for an action packed last day together. I propped myself out of bed as Iris readied herself for the shower and we both said, “oh my gosh”, and started running through our heads all the things we had to do before our Christmas Dinner party with the two French girls at 8pm.

Our first stop was the Pavillion where we had a quick bite to eat at the cities famed Madame Kwan’s restaurant. The place was packed full of locals gobbling up the eateries famed Malay favorites. The restaurant is known for serving high quality street food in a comfortable ambiance. We both shared a plate of Nassi Lamak, the traditional Malay breakfast which consists of curried chicken, coconut rice, sardines, cucumber and boiled egg. After a quick breakfast we walked over to the KL Shangri-la hotel. Iris gave me a quick tour of the properties beautiful restaurants, outdoor patio and pond as well as the basement ballroom.

From the hotel we hopped in a taxi to the cities famous Batu Caves which are situated seven miles north of the capital. Hindu priests have used these caves as temples since their discovery in 1878 by William Hornaday. As we arrived at the caves we were greeted by large gang of mischievous monkeys. A long 272 step staircase leads up to the cave entrance. Directly to the right of the staircase stands a massive 43 meter tall golden statue of Murga, the highest in the world. Once a year the Thaipusam festival is held at the Batu Caves which is a celebration for the son of Shiva (Subramaniam) and the becoming “one” of Pusan and the Brihaspati stars. Every year the festival brings as many as one million devotees and other visitors which cover the stair case in brightly coloured sari’s and fill the air with incense. The festival is famous as devout Hindus skewer portable shrines to their bodies and carry them all the way from central KL. Iris and I climbed all the way to the top, stopping to wave and smile at 60 year old Indian woman who huffed and hobbled beside us. Once at the top we walked inside the cave and up to the main Temple. I will never forget seeing the half naked Hindi priest who I am sure, without a doubt would win the award for world’s hairiest man.

Arriving back in the Golden Triangle Iris and I ran around the shopping center so she could buy her housemates their Christmas presents. We then rushed back to the house to wrap the gifts, shower and dress ourselves for our mystery meal. The two lovely ladies from France had the kitchen door closed and all of a sudden said they were ready for us to start drinking wine (to our great delight of course). Each of the three courses was paired with an appropriate wine. Our first course consisted of a simple salad with Dijon vinaigrette, whole grain loaf and froie gras. The main course was a perfect plate of beef with peppercorn cream, mashed potatoes and fried baby spinach. As we sat in our seats bloated with satisfaction we nibbled on our bowls of fruit salad, ice cream and biscuits.

After a lovely visit to Kuala Lumpur, and a three week adventure through Malaysia, I thought it wise to get to bed as early as possible as I had to wake up at the vile hour of 3:30am for a very early flight!

 

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