Kuala Lumpur … a feeling I’ve not had in a while

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ April 11th, 2011. Updated on October 5th, 2013. Published in: Travel blog » Malaysia.
Jungle, bank, Mosque in Kuala Lumpur

Jungle, bank, Mosque, commercial: Kuala Lumpur is a diverse mix of everything

Kuala Lumpur city gives good vibes from the start

Everything seems to work in Kuala Lumpur. From the moment I arrived I felt comfortable. I found my guest house with no issue, even if it was covered behind a construction site. Made up for by the fact I could keep my shoes on.

The real bonus came the first evening when I went out for something to eat. And, it wasn’t the food. Compared to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur is all the multi-culture, but with less rules.

Multi-culture is thriving in Kuala Lumpur

A rush of street kids tore by as I stepped onto the street. An Indian man removed the contents from his nose in one short sharp blast. Two Malaysian girls walked by in figure hugging skirts and coy smiles. An older woman followed by in a chador.

A sweaty tourist couple looked lost and bothered while what looked to be a Nigerian in designer gear spoke loudly on his phone. Up further an old Chinese couple seemed to be muttering to themselves as they waddled home.

“Kuala Lumpur reeks of multi-culture without formality, something that shouts at me to like it”

Kuala Lumpur, the forgotten capital of South East Asia?

Bangkok gets the spotlight, Hanoi the old streets, Vientiane the peace, Manila the danger, Jakarta the congestion. And, so the list goes on. Then, when Kuala Lumpur is mentioned, people shrug it off as being “nice”. A sure-fire death-blow to any tourist welcoming country.

At a further push people told me there wasn’t much to the place other than the Petronas towers, and some nice food. Shopping was a push with Bangkok just to the north, and Singapore to the south.

Malaysia from the National Mosque

Welcome to Kuala Lumpur a city of multi culture

Maybe it’s this very notion that makes me take an instant like to the capital of Malaysia. But it’s backed up my its heart thumping vibrancy.

A blast from past

Maybe it’s because there is an incredible mix of people here. Indian, Chinese, Indonesian, Pakistani, Filipino, Sri Lankan, and of course Malay all walk the same streets. There is no immediate air of tension here.

Then, from out of nowhere I see someone with the familiar dark skin and features of a people I lived with for over 2 years; Nigerian.

I stare down the big Nigerian glaring back at me with a scowl from a corner. He speaks Hausa to his friend while still on the phone. But I see him notice a familiar wrist band I have.

“Now it seems all my worlds are colliding”

As I would back in his country, I feel like shouting at him to stop staring at me in Hausa. He looks me up and down as only a Nigerian “big man” can. I do the same with disdain. He speaks loudly to his friend while staring in my direction.

I cannot resist the temptation to smile and utter the words “Omo Dudu,” as we pass by.

A double take from the Nigerian, and we are lost in the crowd.

I can’t help but grin widely. It made my night and filled me with a rush of memories from my sub-Saharan life. And, I wonder if I already know why there are so many Nigerians here. And, without asking I already know what they are up to, and what the locals think. But I do wonder how Malaysia is coping …

I’m hedging my bets that I am right.

The raw reality of life and experience is not always as politically correct as many would want

And, I don’t think I would want it any other way. Otherwise it would be better to live a near utopian life in Singapore.

Multi-cultural Kuala Lumpur

People of all types walk the streets to Kuala Lumpur just like they would back home ...

People of all types walk the streets to Kuala Lumpur just like they would back home …

Yes, it’s true. This is what’s pulling me into Kuala Lumpur. It’s mash-up of multicultural society.

“Unlike in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur’s population seem to embody stereotypical types of nationalities here”

One of which I’ve not seen for a very long time. It is a place like this that often times beckons hope to me. Surely this is the ideal place for anyone?

Mild restrictions on alcohol in a largely islamic society keep the Thai style backpackers at bay, along with the slightly higher prices. The average tourist here seems more interested is seeing Malaysia than the inside of a bar. That is perhaps except for the visiting Saudi’s, Iranians and the list goes on.

For some at least, Kuala Lumpur is indeed a veritable party city

So I move back to me and finally I can eat Roti’s for breakfast. Chinese Noodles for lunch, and Laksa for dinner. Not to mention Malaysia is the home to 100 Plus, my best friend drink in this humid heat!

First impressions count

Sabah, Borneo has been my top-notch country since leaving the Philippines (yes, they do personally, consider themselves separate to Malaysia). Now Kuala Lumpur has unexpectedly come out with a delivery that’s just to my taste. At least on the surface. But, we all know what happens when we begin to dig …

I will keep my expectations low on this one for a while, and just enjoy the moment.

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Coming Soon:

Scratching the surface on Kuala Lumpurs favorite past time,  and an attempt to photograph an iconic famous landmark a little differently ….

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46 Great responses to Kuala Lumpur … a feeling I’ve not had in a while

  1. Anna's World says:

    It looks like you might have found a middle ground between Singapore and somewhereelse! But like you said before, keep you expectations low.

  2. Glad to hear that you’re enjoying KL so far. :)
    (Just ignore the occasional passing cockroach/rat and I think you’ll be fine…)

  3. Stuart says:

    You really are making up for miles this year? Have you an end goal in mind?

    Again, big fan as you speak from the heart yet keep a level head. Very few writers out there do that. Keep it up.

    • Thanks Stuart, yes this year is a bit different than before. My newsletter at the start of the year mentioned my plans. Sign up if you would like a behind the scenes update :) End goal is just a place to live

  4. Sabina says:

    Ha – the proximity of the construction site is made up for by the fact that you get to keep your shoes on in your guesthouse. I know what you mean – it’s such a pain to take them on and off all the time. Will you kick my *$% when you learn that I was 2 hours south in Melaka for 12 days and never went to Kuala Lumpur except to enter and exit the country via the airports? I was sick for five days in Melaka and then had tons of work to do, which kept me busy, so that’s my excuse. It sounds like I missed quite a lot, though.

    • I am actually very relieved to get your comment Sabina. Why? Well, at least now I know of one other person, who like me, hates taking their shoes off ha ha. I’ve actually got an article written up about this, okay more a rant, but have been holding it off. Many, many people I come across have no issue with it. But, there are a secret few that also think it’s ridiculous in guest houses.

      I’m just writing up about Melaka now, I think it should be out next week. Kuala Lumpur is good from this multi-cultural aspect. After that, I personally see something void here. At least compared to Kota Kinabalu. I think you did well in Melaka for that length of time at least. I bet you know more about the place than most now!

  5. I must say i preferred Sabah over KL. i love big cities, but the peace and serenity in places like kota kinabalu made a difference.

    i did truly enjoy the multiculturalism in KL and the “malaysia truly asia” campaign that seemed to be everywhere, embracing all the cultures of the country.

    • I’m with you on the KK over KL. I would also pick KK first. Though to have a few more resources to hand would be nice. I’m sure they are on the way though …

      “Malaysia Truly Asia” hmmm you know, just from a personal perspective I don’t really like the campaign. Maybe that will change with more exposure to Malaysia’s culture. But, there seems something is missing. Perhaps the rights of indigenous Malay is what’s bothering me about it. I don’t know. Again, I guess digging deeper might reveal it a little more.

  6. James says:

    Your article really pushed me to visit kuala-lumpur. I had been Singapore in my last vacations but this time.. i ll visit the capital city for sure!

  7. Anthony says:

    These are exactly the same reasons that my Malaysian friend, over in Langkawi is using to get me to choose Malaysia.

    My city is very non-diverse, I didn’t see a non-white person until I was in my early twenties-no sh*t! In a country where there is so much uncomfortable misunderstandings and ignorances about other cultures, it’d be so refreshing to see people from all cultures and religions sitting together and eating! Very nice, sounds like it’s taken you a little.

    • I think you should visit for sure. I’ve been to many “multi-cultural” places, and countries. But, KL really seems to be the greatest in terms of nationalities living there in reasonable harmony. That said, there are issues with peoples rights in Malaysia. One that’s very difficult to get a straight answer on. Each person, and each ethnic group has a different take on it. What’s more puzzling is that no one seems to understand that actual governments position on it. Bar, a few alleged “victimized people”.

      So yes, in terms of this, I find Western Malaysia, and KL an interesting place.

      • Anthony says:

        Cool, it’s quite cheap via Airasia in respect to my other options. Is it true that on Valentines Day, the police went round the hotels in Malaysia threatening to beat up the non-married people staying together?

        Or is that just media propaganda crap?

        • I think a little of both. The police enforce Malaysia’s law in this regard, but only to people of the Islamic faith. In other words if you as a tourist are sharing a room or bed with someone that’s not your spouse – you will not have a problem. There have been reports of some harassment by religious police type. I have not seen it. I have heard from Malaysians that there is harassment.

          I certainly would not let it influence a decision to visit Malaysia. Though, if it did, publicly, it might (might) pressure the Malaysia government to stop all this.

      • LivAnon says:

        Malaysia practices “positive discrimination”, so yeah, there are ‘issues’ around people’s rights. Freedom of press/speech is somewhat of a joke. There has been instances of racial tension in the past, resulting in riots/lockdowns – but it’s rarely discussed (my dad was caught up in one in the 60s). And the same party’s been in power since Malaysia gained independence from Britain.

        But that’s politics – it’s the same everywhere.

        Have you stumbled across the alternative Malaysian press yet (online)?

        • No, I’ve not come across the alternative Malaysian press online? And, yes, I am now curious. There is a deep underbelly feeling that definitely permeates Western Malaysia in regards to human rights and discrimination. I’ve questioned people on it, and I think the greatest problem is even the Malaysia people themselves seem to have a problem understand the issues.

          At least this is what I am finding, thus making it even harder to decipher!

          • Liv says:

            Malaysia is a great place to visit – I love to holiday there. Live there – that’s a different kettle of fish. But my perspective is that of an expat Malaysian with no intention of returning except maybe to retire.

            The transitory nature of travel is that a lot of travellers rarely see past the surface. My question is then, do travellers REALLY want to see past that? Following that train of thought – Why would it be important for them to witness all that angst that any country would have, and what on earth will they do with that information once they have it?

            Right now, I’m struck by geographical tensions – east cost and west coast of Western Malaysia. West Malaysia and East Malaysia (a school of thought: without Sabah and Sarawak, there is no Malaysia).

            This is primarily because, its election day in my home state – nothing like an election to highlight issues. See http://bit.ly/h99S2V at Malaysian Insider, ironically hosted in Singapore.

          • You actually touched on an amazing, and insightful point. “Do travellers really want to see past the surface?” I have draft written up about this, but, fear very, very people will actually “get it” nor would many people have an interest. Other than the locals with in said country.

            This in turn brings me to one of my, personal, obstacles.

            Generally, I will travel into a country like any other tourist. If I get a good feeling, or like the place, see potential, I explore a little deeper. The problem occurs in that I tend to ask a lot of questions in relation to things like daily life there etc. In the tourist sector, you rarely, if ever, will get the correct answer. The primary answer to this is that the people within the tourism sector want, and need to portray the good side to the destination. Secondly, they simply are uncomfortable discussing these things with a stranger. And, lastly, many people simply don’t pay that much attention to these things.

            Add to this the difficulties of a “foreigner” like me, trying to learn about life, as opposed to travel, in another country and you get a very mixed result in terms of answers. When you do start piecing things together, and open of discussion on a lot of what you mention, you can quickly be told off as “having just arrived, and know nothing”. Mix in cultural differences, and tension quickly builds.

            An example of this in Malaysia that I’ve come across is racist remarks towards “white people”. And, non-disclosure from people trying to make friends with said “white person” for the purposes of business, investment, etc. I am generalizing a bit here, but these have been my experiences.

            On the flip side of things when one does stay a long time in a country, one can experience the opposite side of things as a non native who learns more than the locals. I wrote more about that here.

            Sorry, for going off topic a little, but you comments really struck an interesting cord with me in terms of “finding a place to live” and the difficulties of pealing back these layers that the average, tourist never gets to see, and more likely never does!

            Thanks for the link too. I’m learning a lot about the huge complexities of Malaysia behind the scenes.

  8. Iain says:

    I love cities that surprise you with multiculturalism. Travelling through a large chunk of the world to find so many of its familiar parts in a single place is intoxicating: my senses suck up the surroundings, confused by finding the sounds and smells of two remote places here, far away from both, in the same place. I’ve sometimes felt, on entering a global city, that I am arriving at home.

    • Thats a good point Iain. Visiting multi-cultural places is like a touch of home. There is nearly always an element that reminds you of this. And, in this regard after being on the road a while, remind you of a good place.

      Of course then something will happen and snap you out of it in flash!

  9. iamthewitch says:

    It’s always nice to read other people’s perception of your own country, isn’t it? To know what these visitors see as their first impression.. as well as their thoughts and feelings. I like your post about KL! :)

    • Thanks M. I wasn’t sure how you would take it. I can often times speak to bluntly about things, so I was not sure if I will offend “local people” with my thoughts. But this is the price of a personal travel journal!. That said, I am happy you enjoyed it. Hopefully it will continue!

  10. Jen says:

    hey. i think it’s awesome that you’re integrating the “awesomeness” of a new place with”reality” the way you know it. and i also think it’s really awesome that people appreciate this impending sense instead of just dismissing it as a pessimistic perspective. good times.

    on kl, we’ve been living here since november, and we can tell you from experience, the level of integration goes only skin deep. always: together but separate. it’s a shame because there is potential for great development both culturally and economically. unfortunately, inherent ethnocentrism and poorly based stereo-types dominate. :(

    ps. mosquitos are lame…

    • Hey Jen, thanks for the comment it was an interesting read. I’m really glad to hear someone who’s been able to see the skin deep level of integration in KL, and possible Malaysia. It is something I’ve also written about in The Philippines. I noticed similar trains of thoughts and physicallity in KL, but when I spoke of it was shot down for “only having just arrived.”

      But, this is nothing new. And, yes I agree with you. There seems like massive about of potential in KL/Malaysia to become a stellar example of harmonic multi-culture, only for the fact that there’s a lot going on beneath the surface :( A shame.

  11. i LOVE being surrounded by diversity. there’s so much to see, learn. i am so glad you’re here – can’t wait to read more!

  12. Great writing Dave: I really got the image of the Nigerian “Big Man” – so typical (was there in 1991, for just a couple of months). And yeah, another heads up for diversity.

    the candy trail … a nomad across the planet, since 1988

    PS: any ideas where you’ll next park up ?

    • Thanks Michael. Yep, the Nigerian big man … not hard to miss eh!

      No idea where to park next. I am with friends I’ve not seen in years at the moment, and just enjoying good conversation in that regard. If you know what I mean?!

  13. Jason says:

    Dave I reckon Malaysia is highly under rated on the travel scene, and each time I’ve visited over the years I’ve experienced something a little different, and had a great time.

    I was intrigued while reading about your encounter with the Nigerian fella. I though there may have been more to come, but your paths crossed and you both went on your way. Probably the best outcome, come to think of it.

    • You hit the nail on the head Jason. Malaysia is indeed under rated by many tourists. I don’t quite know why considering the diversity here. I think they are aiming for more high income tourism. The cost is higher than in neighboring SEA countries too.

      Re Nigeria. Well, I was going to write more. But, West Africa is a different kettle of fish. I honestly thought I would get a lot of stick for saying what I did. Many people simply would not understand the way of life there. Even many of the people that travel there. It’s perfectly acceptable to say and do things there, that would land you in jail elsewhere in the world with ease. There’s a book in there somewhere :)

      Meanwhile, now sure if you read my entry What’s in like to live without food or water in Africa?

  14. El Buen Samaratin says:

    That feeling? You will feel it again. I did.

  15. Ciki says:

    Welcome to Malaysia! Glad you love my country woo hoo:P who else will feed ya like us lot eh:P

  16. Really, really enjoyed this post! You shed light on a place that I’m curious about and why you’re attracted to it.

    I love diversity as well, that’s what makes us individual as much as similar.

  17. Travis says:

    really interesting read… i’d love to get to kuala lumpur sometime. any suggestions on parts of the city to make sure to visit?

  18. rokh says:

    glad you’re loving malaysia so far, it is indeed still one of my favourite places in the world, of course i am bias as i’m from here. but it is safe to say it has one of the best food as well, do try them out!

  19. Brendon says:

    Thanks for the read. We just arrived in KL ourselves from New Delhi and are enjoying just about everything from the food to the shopping to the city life. It feels clean and modern throughout although I suppose it varies by neighborhood. While we will not be here long enough to explore too deeply the innards as you, the best of luck on your quest!

  20. Loeffle says:

    Had the same first impression of KL and still like it much better than e.g. Jakarta.
    It’s safe, people are friendly and you can easily spend your time in various ways. And compared to Singapore I’d choose KL for shopping.

    I like placed like KL or Singapore to end my trips before returning to Europe. Even if they are still very Asian you can get used to busy every day life a bit there.

    Sadly flight prices to South East Asia rose a lot this year, while prices to America dropped :(

    • Agree with you about KL over SG for shopping, it’s easier in KL. Interestingly, I have an article comparing SG, KL and one other city coming up soon.

      I’ve not really been paying much attention to flight prices as most of what I do is overland. Though making it to the USA by land would be a long shot :) Prices in SEA are rising too, as is domestic/regional tourism. Sign of things to come …

  21. hayadith says:

    i’m heidi, and I’m from Malaysia..
    i hope it’s not too late for me to say ‘ selamat datang ke Malaysia’ to you.
    enjoy ur holiday~
    anyway, i suggest to you to come to Putrajaya, and some islands in Terengganu, very nice..
    and I think, if u really want to experience how’ multi culture’ really works in Malaysia, have a visit to schools, especially during break time..
    anyway, Malaysia is still like any other country..we still have problems, sometimes race and religion issue rises..
    I am MAlaysian, but not from KL. I am from JB, very near to Singapore. Most people in KL are not really from KL. I come to KL for 5 months industrial training which is compulsory for me to take b4 I graduate..

    Most ppl come to KL to work, you can see how ’empty’ KL would be during Eid Fitri (muslims celebration). Not just Malaysian, Indonesian and etc will go back to hometown.

    Well, some people come to KL to make a living and succeed, but some are not..I joined 1 volunteer group to distribute foods to homeless in KL, we have hundreds on them living in the street.

    To be surprised, I was surprised at first to know KL has homeless, but that’s the fact.

    If you walk near Plaza Kotaraya (near Pasar Seni LRT station), and even below the Pasar Seni LRT Station, u’ll see them. We distribute food every night, at places where they sleep, but on Saturday evening and Monday night, we just stay below the LRT station, and wait for them to come to us.

    You can join us if you want.

    p/s : keep on writing..

    • Thanks for the offer Heidi. I’ve seen some of the homeless under the LRT station in Pasar Seni, and photographed a few. I didn’t realize there was a food distribution group working there at night. And, yes, if I go there again I will contact you and join in. Thanks for the comment!

  22. mohamed says:

    hi dear,
    glad to hear that you are enjoying malaysia. having lived in scotland, london, istanbul, dubai and new zealand, and having travelled to many different cities, I would rank KL as the second best city i have ever been after london. but you must travel to the heartland as well eg kelantan or langkawi to really enjoy malaysia truly asia.