Lucky me and MalaysiaAuthor: Krystina Marie Price
Date of Trip: April 2006
"Lucky" wouldn't be me. Nope. I'm not one of those. But every so often, I hear the universe creak open a door and I step in, or fly away...
During last year's meeting of the National Business Travel Association in San Diego, I watched my arm shoot up to claim the door prize -- a ticket to Kuala Lumpur (locally known simply as "KL") on Malaysia Air. Consistently honored with 5 Stars for its amiable flight crew and celebrated cuisine, Malaysia Airlines had refitted business class with personal pods, big enough to stretch-out or actually lie down during the 18-hour trip across the International Dateline. Note: the "Gold Club" lounge at LAX provides pleasant service before boarding, but on the return trip the cuisine and lounge were much finer at the Kuala Lumpur Airport (home to Malaysia Airlines). I left the crowds behind to relax while awaiting notice to board first, convinced that the airline lounge alone is reason to consider a business class upgrade.
The legendary Ritz Carlton became my favorite hotel when returning from exploring KL's late night markets. Indeed, I was very happy to feel at home at this first-class boutique hotel.
After two days of maneuvering through warm, torrential downpours, my soggy shoes squished on the rug as yet again, I handed over my dripping umbrella to the doorman. "Welcome home, Ms. Price." he said, as he guided me safely into the lobby.
The clubby Executive Suite provides business or vacation travelers with tasty bites and delightful sweets paired with libations to suit your hearts desire, elegantly served - any time of day.
The elaborate breakfast buffet is a tasting adventure. I suggest sampling the vast assortment of the freshest Asian, as well as Western, favorites. Each dish is imaginatively prepared by visible chefs and served by personal waiters. For lunch, you might try dim sum at Li Yen, the Ritz's own 5-star Award winning Cantonese restaurant.
A Concierge is available, and for special needs, a live butler is offered with all of the 248 rooms. Overall service is personal, precise and very dependable. On your own, sorting out transportation is easily done by stopping in one of the many local tourist offices.
Tip: Advance reservations are key to using Air Asia as the most economical way to get around most of the continent. The business services are efficient and offer everything including state of the art conference rooms and free broadband. The family you left behind in the morning light might be enjoying the fitness center, pool or a treatment in the divine Tropical Spa Village. On your own, you might step outside to Bin tang Walk, the street that leads to Kuala Lumpur Plaza and Starhill, Malaysia's most exclusive shopping mall. Marble and plush carpeting mark this elegant space as surely one of the world's most spectacular spaces filled with the finest designer shops.
If you miss the legendary Central Market, night markets are plentiful. Chinatown on Petaling St. is a mass of bustling hawker stalls selling designer knock offs, and includes a very colorful and aromatic food court. The entire area is flanked by restaurants serving authentic, Chinese regional cuisine, shops selling herbal medicines, toys, textiles, and electronics. Very attractive prices make it a shopper's delight, and with the required bargaining, you will bring it home for even less.
Muslims abstain from alcohol so you won't find a convenient liquor store located around the corner, but you can count on the hotels and most eateries offering beer and wine. At night, Bin tang Walk vibrates with the excitement of evening entertainment. American favorites fill the air. I couldn't resist taking a hometown bow after joining a rendition of "Hotel California."
Inspired by the 5 Pillars of Islam, it's hard to miss the gleaming 88-story Petronas Twin Towers. Soaring 452 meters above the city skyline, they are the world's tallest. The centerpiece of the ultramodern KL City Center, the Towers are home to the Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Petronas Performing Arts Group.
If your time is limited, the Menara Kuala Lumpur Tower, also known as "The Jewel in the Sky" is a great spot to decide which attractions would suit you best. Conveniently located in the vicinity of KL's hotel district, visitors can learn about and see the entire "Garden City of Light" from its observation deck or watch a panoramic view from its revolving restaurant. At 421 meters, is the world's 4th tallest Tower. Situated atop Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve, it's the transmission station for KL's telecommunications, radio and TV.
Safety shouldn't be of concern, as Kuala Lumpur is one of the world's safest capitals. However, allow some extra travel time to cover one of KL's colossal traffic jams.
Feet often progress faster than traffic moves in KL, so after hoofing all over town, I had a Thai massage. Legitimate shops are open well into the night, but beware that the firm touch of Thai massage is not for the timid. An hour later, for the equivalent of about $6.00, I felt truly revived and assured that the circulation in my legs was much better.
A few Muslim females dressed in Burkas crossed my path at airport stopovers. In Taipei, I was fascinated by a very mysterious woman traveling with her two children. Her eyes were very beautiful but the rest of her face was hidden by a short black veil. As she climbed on the escalator behind them, I noticed her exposed hands and arms were covered in Henna Tattoos. It was the real thing and kind of scary. I feel Malaysia's Muslim females wear the Tudung with a great deal of pride. Their large, pastel scarves were often elegantly bejeweled and artfully draped over shoulders of tailored uniforms, designer jeans or everyday clothes. And not one was having a bad hair day! They were a cultural eye opener. The Muslim men I encountered were very kind to me and seemed to enjoy a quiet strength which I attribute to their devotion to faith and family.
Once a multi-Colonial possession, these days KL is a spotless, industrial, international city poised and inviting as a world-class destination. Whether planning a business trip or a Club Med vacation in the area, include enough time to discover Kuala Lumpur. They're waiting to meet you. Besides the shopping, did I mention the food is wonderful?
Malaysians love their food. In addition to aromatic herbs such as lemongrass, anise, cloves, cumin, caraway and cinnamon, coconut milk is usually added to rice and curry which makes it rich and creamy. The best Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisine is said to be found for a few coins at stalls in hawker centers.
NOTE: Above all, don't miss this opportunity to try the local street fare. However, it's important to schedule a Hepatitis A shot before leaving home or stopping in one of the many hospitals the minute you arrive. My doctor tells me that even if you never leave the States, a hepatitis A shot is a good investment for future health.
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