David Bowden grew up in Newcastle and last worked in Sydney’s Hawkesbury region before moving to Malaysia in the 1990s to work with WWF. After a stint with UNESCO in Cambodia, he returned to WWF Malaysia to work in Borneo. He moved into public relations before continuing his career as a full-time writer. His latest book is Great Railway Journeys in Asia, with Great Railway Journeys in Europe due out next year, johnbeaufoy.com
Chinatown is being rejuvenated with innovative street art and many iconic and funky outlets set in atmospheric settings. Seek out hidden speakeasies such as PS150, Attic Bar, The Crane and Her House. All this unfolds at the base of Merdeka 118, whose erection snuck up on most Malaysians to become the world’s second tallest building at 680 metres. See merdeka118.com
Taman Botani (what most locals still call Lake Gardens) is a relaxing retreat from the urban mayhem that is often KL. It is an expanse of gardens, paths and play areas, with attractions including a bird park, orchard garden and deer park. Locals mostly come here to exercise and there is a circuitous route from KL Sentral, the city’s transport and hotel hub, which makes it a perfect recreation and jogging for guests. There is a trend towards showcasing the park’s botanical assets, and the interpretation signs will help you appreciate that KL was once covered with tropical rainforest.
Malaysians live to eat and conversations are peppered with references to food and beverages. In suburban Mont Kiara, where I live, there are 100 restaurants and bars within walking distance. A staple is breakfast of teh tarik and roti canai at Mallar Bistro (mallarbistro.com), lunch of curry laksa at Madam Kwan’s (madamkwans.com.my) and garlic naan and tandoor chicken for dinner at SOULed Out. My favourite suburban restaurant Lao Ma Zi Tropicana, tucked away in a remote part of Petaling Jaya, is serving very affordable home-styled Hakka cuisine: my order is the Hakka smoked duck and pork.
It’s a misguided developer who fails to place a rooftop bar at the summit of any new building here. KL’s evening downtown lights are hypnotic and best admired from high above the city. Favourites include Blue on the 51st level of EQ Hotel (eqkualalumpur.com), Altitude @ Banyan Tree (banyantree.com) and Marini’s on 57, immediately adjacent to the glittering Twin Towers, where my drink is a passionfruit Pisco (marinisgroup.com).
Moving around during the morning and peak hours can be sluggish at best due to problematic traffic jams. In researching my latest book, Great Railway Journeys in Asia, I travelled on many Malaysian and regional trains, which offer viable alternatives despite the tropical heat and humidity. Kuala Lumpur’s train network is expanding and discovering the city’s attractions by public transport is highly recommended. See myrapid.com.my
Hawker food is cheap and abundant and rarely disappoints. Every Malaysian has their favourite with some outlets attaining “famous” status. My advice is to seek the advice of those in the know, but to be honest, everyone will offer their recommendations.
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