Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — A Place Inbetween

Contrary to visual indications, you can drink the water in Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur means a meeting of muddy rivers. In the early days, people came here for the mining of tin and for trading. Kuala Lumpur, or KL, as it is referred, is still a place in the middle. For the city itself, its progressing from old to new, remaking itself into a hub of South Asian business to rival, in its image, that of the titan Singapore or Hong Kong. On a grand scale, the Petronas Towers are the tallest pair of towers in the world [some call them the Twin Towers, but being an American, I really don’t think that I can].

On a more subtle basis, there is the street to street takeover of the bank buildings, climbing up like interest rates as they over-take their crumbling neighbors, the vestiges of KL’s past. According to the heritage tour that I took, there are no measures in place to protect or maintain the old colonial roots of KL. In fact, the nicest colonial style building I’ve seen is my hostel. The tour, offered for free, wasn’t even government sponsored, but from a private council.

Old, meet New. New, take care to wipe the rubble of your shoes from all the crumbling buildings when entering the new lobby.

The mix of native Malays and generations of Chinese and Indian immigrants has created a diverse cultural blend here, but I can’t help but feel that most of their cultural displays created just for the benefit of the tourists (maybe that’s because I spend most of my time traveling through the food stalls and hawker lean-tos in Chinatown). With no focus on real thoughts of the past, KL is truly a city in transit, living in the present for the future.

A city in transit for travelers in motion– Kuala Lumpur is a gateway of sorts for backpackers and vagabonds. Travelers may fly to the large, KLIA terminal on Air Emirates from their homes in Europe or North America before flying out of the low-cost airport on AirAsia to their true, desired location. If not flying in, backpackers will use KL as the bus hub, allowing them a break from the days of bus-riding it takes to travel from Singapore or Melaka up to Thailand and beyond.

This is where we eat

There are a few things to do here to keep tourists interested for a  few days — the aforementioned heritage tour, 2 large parks containing bird and butterfly areas along with gardens and greens, the Petronas buildings, KL Tower, aquarium, and just outside the city, the Batu Caves.


On street level, the Chinese and Indian quarters are packed with enough food stands and discount goods to keep your belly and bag full for days. However, many travelers are more inclined to grab their brand of toothpaste and a quick nap before moving on than truly revering the city.

KL Tower and Petronas Towers -- pretty at night

So, I rode an elephant today…

It happened accidentally actually; some friends and I were cabbing it around the island and they wanted to stop in and see about the supposed 4-hour elephant ride. First of all, something about cabbies is that they take you to the places THEY know, even if it’s not the exact place you asked for. More often then not, they receive a kickback from the location to bring tourists there. Secondly, you wouldn’t want to spend 4-hours on an elephant–no way.

Kinnaree Elephant Trekking

See, when we got there, they had rides lasting 30, 45, or 60 minutes. Kent, who loves to bargain, set up immediately to bargain the three of us onto a couple elephants. I kinda smiled, pinched up, and said sure. Ah, peer pressure–not always about partying.

Recreation of the View while riding an elephant

Once I was on the elephant with my friend, I pretty much squeeked the whole time. The whole ride was ridiculously bumpy and uncomfortable. We kept having to shift our weight around so the chair didn’t slide off, we went down some pretty steep little hills (I was squeeking a bit then; my friend said he thought I was going to freakk out the elephant and buck us off). Plus the manook (elephant trainer) sat right on his neck, and along with controlling him using his feet on the base of its ears, he also used this– an elephant hook.

THIS is an elephant hook

To see these majestic, intelligent, long lived creatures carrying tourists about, some of them chained up, unable to move very far– I saw one repeatedly feeling the beams of her enclosure; I was pretty bummed about it, and I’m not even an animal person.

And yet…

When man colonizes an area that was previously wild, they domestic animals that were there. Elephants could cause a lot of destruction to human settlements if allowed to run free. So elephants have been domesticated, hauling logs and such, or, in the case of tourist regions, carting foreigners from point a to point a.

I think the injustice got to me at first because elephants are so smart and intelligent; also, in western culture, elephants are not creatures to be keep in cages, but to roam free. I liken it to the idea of domesticated cats, dogs, pigs, horses, etc, being inconceivable to many other nations around the world. It’s a cultural difference.

But it was still terrifying.