Kuala Lumpur's modern airport was designed to include some of the lush tropical vegetation which one finds so abundant throughout the country. That was only the beginning of the architectural surprises that were in store for visitors to this beautiful city. Taken to the Mandarin Oriental during the night our brief glimpse of the night lights of the city, showed us a modern city with its share of skyscrapers including the Petronas Twin Towers. They looked like massive, and very elaborate chandeliers, their multitude of silvery lights blazing brightly against the night sky. However, at breakfast the next morning I was amazed to look directly out onto the ornate, 88 story, Twin Towers. At 452 metres high, they were the tallest twin towers in the world. Beside the towers is the KL Centre, a very upscale mall with trendy shops. The Dewan Fillharmonik Petronas, a classical music hall with the massive pipes of a Klais Pipe Organ providing the backdrop for the stage, is situated between the towers at level two. Music lovers attending a concert in this hall, with its wonderful acoustics, could be in for a treat. Also a few steps from the KL Centre we saw a well-planned park, designed for the use and enjoyment of all ages, right in the centre of Kuala Lumpur. A children's play area, walking paths, colourful gardens, grass and water provide a peaceful refuge amidst the bustling activity of the clean, modern city. I was told that the fountain provides a romantic setting for local lovers.
Like Canada, Malaysia is multi-cultural. Three dominant cultural groups are present in Malaysia. The Muslim people make up the largest percentage of the population. Chinese, who are mostly Buddhist, were early settlers in the country and have assimilated well. India's Hindu sect make up the other large ethnic group. We are told that there is no racial strife here as the three cultures are very tolerant of each other. They say that the example was set several centuries ago, when a Sultan of Malacca married a Chinese princess. Today it is stipulated that if there is intermarriage, the person marrying a Muslim must convert and become Muslim. Adding to these, remnants of the Dutch, Portuguese and British colonizers, who populated Malaysia during varying periods in their history, remain to this day. The result of this rich diversity of cultures is a gastronomical delight. We experienced a marvelous assortment of foods during our time in Kuala Lumpur.
The Mandarin Oriental was our first luxury hotel in the city. The staff there made us feel very cosseted and special, like visiting royalty. My room was large, comfortable, tastefully decorated and immaculate. The sumptuous marble bathroom - with all the bells and whistles, gave one the feeling of opulence. A sushi appetizer at six p.m. and chocolate dipped strawberries before bed time were pleasant surprises. A buffet was available for us to choose our breakfast. Breakfast was in the club lounge in the morning. The staff were pleasant and ready to meet our requests. Fresh bakery goods, muffins, croissants, fresh fruit, cereal, an omelet made to order - it was not hard to satisfy my hunger. I do make a point of eating a good breakfast when traveling, as I'm never sure when and where our next meal will be. As it turned out, in Malaysia food was not a problem. It was always good and plentiful.
Dinner in their Pacifica Bar & Grill was particularly memorable due to the unusual presentation of each course. Our menu promised us, "A Journey Through Oriental Flavours." Rather than just a plate of food, each course was artistically presented. Even our coffee, referred to as a "coffee experience," arrived on individual trays with the accompaniment of dishes of whipped cream and shaved chocolate; white chocolate and caramelized swizzle sticks in a bed of aromatic coffee beans - a very tantalizing service. Chef Adam, their award winning chef, really provides a gastronomical treat for guests.
Two more hotels hosted us during our time in Kuala Lumpur: The Ritz Carleton, where we were greeted with flower petals in our path; and The Legend which was our final hotel before leaving the country. The Ritz Carleton also provided us with very comfortable accommodation. Their most surprising feature is the availability of a variety of special baths - from the romantic to the luxurious in the privacy of your own bathroom. They say, "Whether you want to relieve that tension and fatigue after a long day, share intimate moments with someone special or pamper yourself, indulge in one of our butler-drawn baths from the special bath menu." The menu offers: a Gentlemen's Bath with various essences plus a cigar and brandy; Cleopatra's Bath, an exotic milk bath with lavender, cucumber slices and Perrier; last but not least they offer a Lover's Bath with spices, essences, candles, flower petals, chocolates and champagne. I did not hear of any of our group taking advantage of this opportunity - but who knows, I did say "in the privacy of your own bathroom."
The Legend, whose accommodation was equally sumptuous, hosted us to an unforgettable Chinese dinner in their Topkapi Suite. Decorated in Moorish style, this penthouse suite was one of the most elegant suites I have ever encountered. Inlaid mother-of-pearl furniture and a fountain caught my eye as I entered the huge living room. The elevated banquet table was draped with filmy, white sheers, creating an atmosphere of Persian opulence. We could imagine ourselves being entertained there by some rich Sultan. Our dinner began with a tea ceremony. A young man, dressed in copper-toned silk, mixed a special blend of eight teas, each unique in its own way. Once properly steeped in a pot with an exceptionally long spout, the young man ceremoniously held the pot up high - nearly on his forehead - from where he began to accurately pour the tea into the cups sitting before him. We were aware this tea ceremony was a special tribute to their Canadian visitors. Our meal started with, "Three Hot Seasons" (Hot and Sour Jelly Fish; Deep-Fried Seafood Balls; Diced Chicken with Dried Chilli and Cashew Nuts) and progressed through eight more exotic courses. Each plate was served with artistry and designed to tempt the palate. One plate was decorated with a delicate little swan carved out of a white vegetable. I wished I could keep it to bring home, it was so exquisite.
Our first lunch in Kuala Lumpur was in a Chinese Restaurant. It was a many-course Cantonese dim sum, much as would be found in a good Cantonese Restaurant at home. I must say, I really enjoyed it. Another night a bib was tied around my neck and a sizzling hot steak, on a hot cast iron serving dish, was placed before me. Believe me that was a delicious steak! As we continued on our journey we had the opportunity to try many more interesting foods, too numerous to mention here. Our last dinner in Malaysia was at an Indian Restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, where we were treated to a typical Indian buffet. The foods were spicy and quite a contrast to any of the other meals we had eaten. One thing you can be sure, there is always the opportunity for new gastronomical experiences while traveling through Malaysia.
Shopping offered variety too. As previously mentioned, the KL Centre offered a variety of up-scale shops. Here, my friend Lenora and I were given a demonstration on how to put on the traditional Malaysian wrap-around-skirt. Woven in a very intricate design, the beautiful fabric was a little too pricey for our budgets. Several of us went to a small department store in Kuala Lumpur, that was recommended by our guide. Here we found some excellent buys. I would love to have had more time to peruse their merchandise. However, in the short time available, I managed to get the small suitcase I went looking for, and also came home with some dainty new lingerie. The Central Market offers a large variety of crafts and souvenirs. Unfortunately we went there to eat and only saw the market stalls as they were closing. For anyone interested in pewter, Kuala Lumpur's Selangor Pewter Factory offered a wide range of very beautiful pewter goods. We had the opportunity to tour the factory and see the craftspeople at work. They are very skilled and produce some of the best pewter pieces in the world.
In the short few days we were in the city I found
Kuala Lumpur to be a fascinating place to visit.
We were warmly welcomed and graciously
treated to so many of the wonders they have to
offer. As their theme song says, "Malaysia is
truly Asia." Maybe the diversity we found there
truly is the essence of Asia!
Story and Photos by M. Maxine George
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For more information contact:
830 Burrard St., Vancouver, B.C. V6Z 2K4
Phone: 1-888-689-6872 Fax: 011 603 746 5637
The Mandarin Oriental
Kuala Lumpur City Centre, 50088 Kuala Lumpur
Phone: (603) 380-8888 Fax: (603) 380-8833
The Ritz Carleton
168 Jalan Imbi, 55100 Kuala Lumpur
Phone: (603) 242-8000 Fax: (603) 243-8080
Putra Place, 100 Jalan Putra, 50350 Kuala Lumpur
Phone: (603) 442-9888 Fax: (603) 443-0700
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