After a relaxing short break in Langkawi, arrival into Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) was a breeze. A high-speed train from the airport (the KLIA Express) whisks you to the Kuala Lumpur Sentral Station in 28 minutes flat for about $11 US – not my cheapest ride from the airport but you can’t beat it in the efficiency department.
From the Sentral Station there are a myriad of other train lines to transfer to that will get you to various parts of the city. I knew that my hotel was next to a “KL Monorail” station so after a few minutes of searching, I found the Monorail line and bought a ticket at the machine.
It’s funny, it always gives me a small amount of pride to be able to navigate my way through a foreign city’s train networks without having to ask any questions or look like a lost (and blond) tourist.
I am especially proud when I can use the ticket machine on my own and don’t have to go to the ticket counter. It’s a silly thing, but it makes me feel like I really know what I’m doing (whether I actually do or not is irrelevant). I’ve discovered that if you take your time and read all the signs, 9 times out of 10 you can figure it out (and that 10th time usually only applies when nothing is in English).
Buoyed once again by my navigational genius, I arrive at my hotel about 45 minutes after touching down at KLIA. I’m trying a new hotel while in KL this year and I’m even going to stay there two nights in a row!
It’s a newly re-branded Sheraton Imperial Kuala Lumpur – it used to be just The Imperial Hotel – at $30/night (plus a few points) it was too cheap to pass up. When I checked in, the front desk gave me two room options for my upgrade; a club room with a view of the Petronas Towers or a suite with a city view in the other direction. I’ve seen the Petronas Towers – quite remarkable, really – I took the suite.
It was a good choice because the suite was just beautiful and, after all, the Club Lounge had a view of the Towers if I really wanted to check them out from afar. By the time I got to the hotel it had started to rain outside so I took this as a sign that I should take it easy for my first night, get some sleep and start fresh in the morning. Since it was still Sunday, it was my last chance to sleep through the night without having to work, I took full advantage.
When I woke up Monday morning, I had a loose game plan for the day. Today was officially Chinese New Year in Kuala Lumpur and, though I’m not in China, I had learned the hard way on previous trips that ALL of Asia celebrates the Lunar New Year and I knew many things might be closed.
I wanted to visit the Petaling Market in Chinatown (which I had visited on my first trip here on RTW #1), the Petronas Towers and surrounding KLCC Park, and the 2 biggest shopping centers – Suria KLCC and Pavilion KL. All were easily accessible by city’s excellent metro network so I grabbed my hotel-provided city map and headed out.
The Petaling Market was just as I remembered it, dirty and loud, but full of street food and bargains – I do love a good Asian market! I bought a few gifts and wandered around in the oppressive heat for a while before hopping back on the train for the short ride up to the Petronas Towers and Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) Park.
I had also visited this park on my first trip to KL but was not prepared for the Chinese New Year crowds I encountered today. The park was packed with KL residents and visitors out enjoying a gorgeous (though sweltering, 95 degree) holiday.
The weather was absolutely picture-perfect and the splash pool/fountain area of the park was overflowing with children and adults alike. In fact, it wasn’t long before I took my shoes off and waded in myself – it was, after all, ridiculously hot. I can just as easily take pictures of the towers with my feet in cold water as I can from the steaming concrete, right?
Enter the Paparazzi…
So, as I was taking pictures, a disturbing trend began to develop. People kept stopping me and asking to take pictures with me. It was really odd. First, it was a Muslim woman who motioned to her camera while I was in the fountain. I thought maybe she wanted me to take a picture of her (like I am always asking people to do for me on these trips) but it turned out she wanted to take a picture with me. Strange, but ok, why not?
After her, it was a group of a dozen (probably 20-something-year-old) guys, who all wanted a turn taking a picture with me. I am perplexed, but trying to be gracious so I patiently wait while each young man takes his place next to me and his friends snap the picture, all with huge smiles on their faces. They could not be more polite but at this point I begin to think this is some sort of scam.
I am constantly on guard when people try to get too close to me in crowds and I always make sure my bag is in my full view. (I may be jaded and paranoid but jaded and paranoid have kept me out of trouble on 4 trips around the world, so I’m sticking with it.) But none of the men get anywhere near my backpack, they just seem happy to stand next to me and have their picture taken.
I finally extricate myself from the crowd of “paparazzi” at the fountain and continued my walk through the park trying to find good angles of the towers for photos. The Petronas Towers are enormous so trying to find an angle where you can get all of them in a photo is actually quite tricky. I don’t get far before another group of men (and women!) are stopping me again to ask for pictures. What the heck is going on here?!?!
I can’t decide if they just don’t see very many blonds around here of if they actually think I am someone famous. I figure maybe this is my 15-minutes of fame and go with it. And because turnabout is fair play, I start taking pictures of the people taking pictures of me. Plus I wanted proof, figuring no one would believe this. Nothing like this happened the last time I was here so I’m still confused by the whole thing.
Finally, I had to leave the park because I couldn’t walk 20 feet without someone wanting to pose for a picture with me – I kid you not, small crowds were forming and starting to follow me as I walked. It was a little creepy. Once I left the park and blended with the other tourists and locals in the enormous Pavilion KL Shopping Center, I didn’t have any more paparazzi issues.
I did a little more shopping and headed back to the hotel for a shower and a quick nap before dinner. Now that it’s Monday I’ll be up most of the night working so I have to take my sleep when I can get it.
Heading to Cambodia tomorrow…I guess this might be a good time to break out that guide book and start planning my 3 days in Siem Reap.