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  • Kuala Lumpur in Our Backyard by John Phelps 2009

    Though once in Thailand you may not want to leave, Kuala Lumpur is a cheap travel hub and well worth a visit. I recently passed through for just two days. I left with a fascination that will bring me back soon. It resembles a Western European and an Asian city at the same time. With bakeries and flower shops, sidewalk cafes and chic restaurants, street dogs and friendly police, you may get confused about what continent you are visiting.

    Air Asia's super cheap flights to Europe are what brought my wife and I to KL. I figured we would break up our travel time after a train trip from Surat to Had Yai and another flight to KL by resting a night and seeing a few things before taking a fourteen hour plane ride to London. Once in the airport, it's only a few dollars to take a bus into the city central station (KL Sentral). Most of the cheap places to stay are in the hip China Town, just a few metro stops away (Pasar Seni). Getting off of the metro here, we called Wheeler's Guest House to get directions. In a grand gesture of hospitality, they sent a staffperson to the metro station to meet us. And this is a cheap backpacker's hostel! He greeted us and we walked through the aromas of roasting chicken, bouquets of flowers, and fresh bread that emanated from all the small shops in the bazaar area. My wife and I had been exhausted after our long day of travel, but were reinvigorated by the plethora of different people to watch, foods to taste, and other-worldly sites to see. The National Mosque loomed across the metro tracks as we headed across town to see the Petronas Towers. The largest mosque I have ever seen, it is so solemn it makes you pause in the middle of all the bustle.

    Arriving at the Petronas Tower's Metro Station, we pop out of the narrow corridors into an ultramodern shopping mall. If the Jettson's go shopping, this is the place. We walk into the Prada store just to be posh. We assumed a posture of affluence and examine several keychains that cost about a hundred dollars. Since we didn't come to add to our complete fall selection of teacher clothes, we walk out of the mall in search of one of the highest skyscrapers in the world. We scan the skyline, but can't seem to see them anywhere. Turning around, I see that we have just been standing underneath them. These towers are one of the top must-sees in South East Asia. You have to see both sides of the spectrum, the crumbling towers of Angkor Wat and the impossibly climbing Petronas Towers. Thailand is an amazing place as a base to travel from, to be awed by the ancient and the cutting edge of the modern.

    We were not able to visit the Sky Bridge (the highest point you can go in the Towers) because we missed the last tour. You have to get to the visitor's office around 7:00 AM to sign up for a tour, as they have a huge line all day after that. We made a note to allow time for that next time. We walked towards the walking streets around Times Square. Escalators lifted us over busy intersections. Smiling policemen approached us to ask if we needed directions. We were starving as we headed towards China Town again, so we sought out a place that looked to have the most typical Malaysian food.

    We were seated behind a large pack of businessmen smoking clove cigarettes. The waiter came and I asked for what the businessmen were eating and drinking. The waiter brought us two plates of fluffy rice with chicken and two glasses of te tarik. Eating the fluffy rice was like eating confection-ized air, and chicken was amazing. Te tarik is a bubbly milk tea that made everything go down well. We resumed our walk with full stomachs until we got to another approximately six by six city block walking street area in China Town.

    Huge paper lanterns of every color announced the main drag of the area, along with the everthickening throng of shoppers and party-goers. We walked into the center of it and sat at a sidewalk cafe to do some people watching. Stalls along the walkway selling every type of shoe, knife, and electronic gadget were doing a booming business. After sitting awhile, we walked and browsed until our feet were weary. Eventually we made our way to bed and left much of the city unexplored, knowing that KL is just in our backyard, waiting for us to come back.