The capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur is described by its residents - with humor and dubious objectivity - as ‘similar to other cities in Southeast Asia, but better.’ It is a bustling and frenetic place, hot and humid, with a population of nearly two million. Kuala Lumpur is a financially powerful and metropolitan city in an often more conservative country.
Langkawi - sometimes called the Jewel of Kedah - is an archipelago of roughly a hundred small islands off the northwest coast of Malaysia proper. Often referred to as a tropical paradise, it is well-trodden ground for both foreign and domestic tourists.
Eat Malaysian Food
One of the best experiences you can have in Malaysia is trying the amazing variety of multi-ethnic food on offer. Ignorant tourists (like myself) on their first trip to Southeast Asia may find it reminiscent of Indian or Chinese cuisine, a reflection of Malaysia’s melting pot culture. My personal favorites include -
The national dish, nasi lemak, of which I had a vegetarian-style variety. It mostly consists of coconut rice with egg, peanuts, spicy sauce, and small slices of vegetable. Fish and meat eaters combine this with dried anchovies and chicken or beef.
Roti canai is a type of pancake or flatbread. Flaky and thin, it is eaten crepe-like with the fingers. Half the fun is watching it made - the dough is tossed, spun, stretched paper-thin, folded, and grilled. It often comes with curry or a spicy dip.
Curry laksa is a spicy noodle soup made with coconut milk. It can be topped with bean curd, egg, and fish or shellfish. The noodles are usually thick and rice-based, but vermicelli is a popular substitute.
Visit the Petronas Towers
The tallest twin buildings in the world, the Petronas Towers are a famous landmark in the Kuala Lumpur skyline. They were designed to reflect common themes in Islamic art, and opened in 1996.
Tourists may be interested in Suria KLCC shopping center, which is located between the skyscrapers, or the small park behind the towers, complete with fountains, wading pools, and paths among the trees.
Climb to the Batu Caves
One of the most amazing sights in the greater Kuala Lumpur area - about half an hour’s drive from KLCC - is the Batu Caves in Selangor. The highest of the main caves reaches over 300 feet, and the cave in the far back opens to the sky. The natural limestone that forms these caverns is millions of years old.
The Caves are historically a sacred site for Hindus. They host festivals and pilgrimages, priests and devotees. Exactly 272 steps lead up to the cave entrance. Standing guard at the foot of these steps is a gold-painted statue of the Hindu deity Lord Murugan. Completed in the mid-2000’s, it is one of the tallest Hindu statues in the world.
Monkeys of the long-tailed macaque variety are permanent residents of the Caves and surrounding area. They are happy to take food from tourists - sometimes without the tourists’ consent - and can sometimes be seen bickering over heaping platefuls of rice while tiny baby monkeys cling to their chests.
Despite being small and quite cute, they can also be a biting hazard, so it’s best to be cautious.
Swim at Langkawi Beaches
Langkawi has a number of beautiful white-sand beaches. Most of them are a good distance from the airport and main tourist area, and popular northern spots like Tanjung Rhu or Pasir Tengkorak can take more than an hour to reach by car.
Each beach has something special to offer, though most have soft sand, palm trees, picnic tables, and small stalls of novelty items.
Crawl the Bars
On the southwest corner of the island is Pantai Cenang, a popular and touristy area near to the water. Hostels, bars, restaurants, and shops are clustered here near the main road.
Cheap tropical and bohemian-style clothing and jewelry is on offer at most of the stalls, which eventually close as night creeps on and the bars become more lively. It’s a great place to do some quick shopping, then sit for a mixed drink and talk the night away.
Visit the Oriental Village and the Cable Car
The most famous attraction on Langkawi is the cable car or SkyCab on its west coast a 15-minute drive from the airport. The gondolas ascend skyward, stopping first at a Middle Station with access to walking trails. The ride ends at a Top Station on the island’s second highest peak, where tourists can reach the suspended Sky Bridge.
The cable car leaves from the Oriental Village, an outdoor mall and tourism center with souvenir shops, restaurants, and man-made ponds. Its most recent addition is a 3D interactive art museum, featuring more than a hundred paintings.
Down the road a ways is the scenic Telaga Tujuh or ‘Seven Wells’ Waterfall. Surprisingly beautiful and attended by ever-present monkeys, it’s a fun place to wait for the allotted time on your cable car ticket.