The first leg of our Malaysia and Borneo tour began in Kuala Lumpur (KL), at the upmarket Traders hotel. It’s in the centre of town, 40 minutes from the airport, and with probably the best views of the Petronas Towers. Buildings in KL go straight up; condominiums, skyscrapers, office blocks, most buildings must be over 20 floors. Our hotel was no exception, and our room was on the 29th floor.
Jet-lagged and exhausted we’d checked in late the night before, just awake enough to be astonished by our perfect nighttime cityscape. When we opened the curtains the next morning we could barely see them, thick fog and rain made a day of slumber our best choice. We were however up in time for breakfast at 10:30am, the buffet was large but expensive, and with so many options in town we only had breakfast here once. My highlight was a Chinese noodle soup in a rich chicken broth, but there was sushi and fried rice, fresh fruit and pastries too.
Being Sunday, and being exhausted, we chose to make the most of our pricey luxurious hotel. On the roof there’s a covered pool and sky bar, once more with views over KL City Park, the Petronas twins and the surrounding towers. We nestled down by the windows, amongst the red sofas and read our Lonely Planet guide. For lunch, from the Skybar, we had a Sam and Paul holiday classic, soft-shelled crab.
Our relaxation was interrupted by mild camera panic, some photos were showing visible signs of dust on the sensor, and we marched off to a camera store in one of KL’s many malls. The shop couldn’t help, but it didn’t matter much, it’s only visible in certain bright images, and the camera at least works. Inside the brightly-lit multi-storey shopping centre we stood in dumb-awe, “Is this Asia? It feels like London. Look it’s the same brands. We could be anywhere. Let’s get out of here”.
Being in Malaysia one week after the MH370 plane disappearance was profound. Everywhere people were glued to TVs and radios, waiting for the next announcement from the prime minister. Taxi drivers had little TVs, and big screens blasted out the news. Where was it? What had happened to the plane? Everyone in Malaysia was keen to find out. Radio DJs read out “Pray for MH370” messages, and outside malls were large prayer walls, with heartfelt letters and prayers of safe return. Purple ribbons symbolised the disaster, and the news events remained with us throughout our holiday.
The weather brightened a bit by the afternoon, and we walked back to Traders via the Petronas towers and another mall. It turned out that perhaps today wasn’t the best day to relax and do nothing, as our only other day, a Monday, everything would be closed. Nevermind, it’s a kind of forceful relaxation. KL is much the concrete jungle, its recent development, widespread construction and faceless modernness suck out whatever character it might have had. It’s probably a great place to live, or do business, but as a holiday destination it’s best as a short stop over. That suited us just fine.
That night, based on reviews and the Lonely Planet, we took a taxi to the observation tower and the revolving Atmosphere 360 restaurant. Until we got there I hadn’t realised it was a buffet, an expensive one at that. The base of the tower is surrounded by kitschy tourist booths, like a mini theme park with a single attraction. Upstairs there’s lurid purple mood lighting and a tacky star-theme going on, but if you can get past that to the windows the view is astonishing. Unobstructed in all directions, its perfect for a spot of twilight photography (if you’ve brought a tripod and you don’t mind your table and food moving away from you as you snap your long exposure).
I was in a foul mood most of the night and didn’t think the food was worth the price. Samantha made the most of her buffet (and my awful company), and enjoyed the seafood, stews, rice and so on. Perhaps it was the jet lag and lack of sleep getting to me? Yeah, I’ll go with that, definitely.
My mood lightened as soon as we left the ‘revolvaurant’, and the slow walk back via the towers and park was more romantic. The mall was still open, and despite it being 10pm, the park was alive with people. By the lake we saw a long-tailed mammal scarper up a tree, it looked a bit like an otter or a marten, but my online searches haven’t revealed what’s usually seen in the park, or what city wildlife lives in KL.
Sunday night at the Traders Skybar was too clubby-wubby for us tonight, so we called it a day.