Category Archives: Kuala Lumpur

Four Great Kuala Lumpur Buildings

From the modest kampong set up in the 1820s by Malay settlers from Sumatra, Kuala Lumpur has developed into a thriving, twenty first century metropolis which can boast some of the world’s most impressive architecture. Although some buildings, like the Menara KL and the Petronas Towers, can be seen from the shopping centre or from the hotel window, it’s worth venturing into the streets and braving the rather scary and incredibly noisy traffic to get a different perspective. It’s also worthwhile taking a stroll to look at some older, less prominent, but by no means less impressive, buildings.

Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur
Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur

The Petronas Towers is KL’s most famous landmark. It was designed by the Argentine-American architect Cesare Pelli for the Malaysian oil company Perolium Nasional and was constructed between 1992 and 1998. Its twin shafts, glass curtain walls and scalloping are distinctive but its footprint; an 8 sided star with rounded nodules is a common feature of Islamic architecture. It is this blend of innovation and tradition that make the twin towers such a fitting symbol for the Malaysian nation. It has rapidly become one of the world’s most photographed buildings and its fame was increased even further by the Sean Connery/ Catherine Zeta-Jones film Entrapment. Although the Petronas towers have now been surpassed as the world’s tallest building they still remain as the world’s tallest twin towers and as an architectural icon.

The Menara KL which doubles as a communications tower and observation post is another example of the blending of modern functional architecture with traditional, Islamic decorative features.   By day it is the conventional telecommunications tower with a long shaft, followed by a pod and topped with antennae. But by night it is lit by a typically Islamic checkerboard pattern of lights which shine like jewels against the sky.

The Kuala Lumpur Railway Station, on Jalan Sultan Hishamudda is as breath-takingly beautiful and extraordinary in its own way, for its own time, as the Petronas towers is, in its distinctive fashion, in this time. It was designed by the British architect, Arthur Benson Hubback, who had served in India and brought a wide knowledge of Anglo-Asian architecture to the project. The station’s style, labeled Neo-Moorish, Indo-Saracenic or Neo-Saracenic, was common at the time and incorporates typical Islamic turrets, arches, checkerboard patterns and mosaics with touches of late Victorian grandeur. Although the station no longer echoes with the whistle and hiss of steam and the clank of iron, it is preserved for posterity as a museum.

Another of KL’s landmark buildings is the  Royal Selangor Club which was once the domain of the pink gin, the panama hat, the Somerset Maugham suit and the white glove. It’s a long, low, white, mock Tudor structure with a red-tiled roof, set in an expansive lawn. You can almost hear the echoes of ball on bat, cries of “Howzat!” and restrained applause. The British flag was lowered here for the last time in 1957, when independence was declared and Malaysia was born. The site, originally called Selangor Padang was re-named Merdeka Square. The old building serves as a backdrop to the new nation’s annual independence or Merdeka celebrations.

These are just four of KL’s great buildings. There are hundreds more, equally fascinating some of them large and modern, but many of them modest and ancient. They all have their own special stories and they are all part of the multi-cultural history of the city and its people.

Today, Kuala Lumpur echoes constantly with the sounds of construction as it continues to grow and its architecture continues to develop.

Seri Melayu, a Malaysian showcase

The Seri Melayu Theatre Restaurant, on Kuala Lumpur’s Jalan Conlay aims ‘to provide a holistic cultural experience enriched by authentic cuisine, décor, music and dance and Malay hospitality ….” (Restaurant brochure)

Dancers and guests at Seri Melayu
Dancers and guests at Seri Melayu

Architecturally, the Seri Melayu is a showcase of Malay traditions. Made entirely from local timbers, it is styled on the rumah kampong the old Malay house, with elongated windows and wide eaves. The gabled roof, with the traditional Tunjuk Langit at its apex, is inspired by the dwellings of the Perak and Malacca. A tiled Malaccan stairway leads up to a wide verandah with carved rails. Tall wooden doors, thick with intricate carvings, open into the restaurant’s richly paneled lobby. The huge dining hall is designed and decorated in the luxurious style of the Malay Istana or palace. Its walls are paneled in wood and along its centre are four elaborately carved columns or Tiang Seri. At the ceiling the carvings merge and blossom into a giant hibiscus. The central column is another feature of the traditional rumah kampong and in the old Malay home it was of great importance and significance as the mainstay of the house.

If the Seri Melayu’s décor evokes the ambience of the Istana, its buffet of gourmet Malay cuisine evokes the generous traditions of palace hospitality. Presentation, variety and abundance are hallmarks of this extensive, colourful, sumptuous feast. Catering to local gourmets as well as foreign tourists, there are dishes to tempt and please all palates, from the afficiando to the initiate. There are satays, laksas and redangs, in a dozen different forms, and as many other ikan, goring and acar items. The desserts are delicious and include kueh mueh (little local cakes) and tempoyek (fermented durian) Choice is difficult and over-indulgence a real hazard.

The Seri Melayu’s cultural performance of Malay music and dance is another kind of feast. Featuring some of Malaysia’s famous folk dances, accompanied by the traditional string instrument and drums, in a parade of gorgeous costumes, it is a breath-taking spectacle of sound movement and colour.

For the tourist an evening at Seri Melayu is a total, traditional Malaysian cultural and culinary experience, in a setting typical of old Malaya.  Magical! But please, don’t wear shorts or you’ll be obliged to don a sarong before you enter!

 

Shop till you drop in Kuala Lumpur

“The shopping’s great in KL but that’s it! You wouldn’t want to spend more than couple of days there” a sun-tanned latte sipper in a Melbourne café advised her earnestly listening friends.

Gorgeous textiles from Malaysia
Gorgeous textiles from Malaysia

True, the shopping is great in Kuala Lumpur, you can buy anything there and what’s more everything is either reasonably, or incredibly, cheap. Even in the high-end centres like KLCC, under the Petronas Towers, you can snag a Gucci or a Zegna for a good price while over on the Bukhit Bintang, also known as the Golden triangle, in swanky malls like Lot 10 and Starhill there are more well-priced designer deals. Then, of course, there’s China Town, where you can buy copies of all the same stuff for less than song.

But the bargains don’t stop at clothes. There are plazas, like the BB (Bukhit Bintang) stacked with electronic goods and gadgetry; computer gear, cameras, ipods, ipads, phones as well as all the software and accoutrements to go with. Cheap DVDs and CDs, both real and pirated, abound.

The cavernous lobbies of the KL shopping mega-malls also favour the showcase, often featuring local crafts, clothes, jewellery and textiles by local producers and designers. This is fortunate, because it’s possible that in the grab for global goodies at Asian prices, the true treasures of Malaysia might go un-noticed – treasures like the rich variety of sumptuous textiles, the traditional costumes with a modern twist, or the beautiful lace kabaya, the delicate chain of three brooches that fasten them and the gorgeous sarongs that go with them.

Shops open late, always after ten, but often after noon, and close as late as midnight. They are always packed with people, most of them tourists, like our latte-sipping friend, trawling for the latest and cheapest. It’s a long, hard, serious business hunting bargains, haggling over prices and finally hammering home the purchase. So to ease the shopper from one deal to another, there are endless chains of pit-stop cafes, bars, eateries and ice-cream parlours. Then to break up the hours, there’s the spectacle, such as the fun-park with its roller coaster screeching and swooping around the upper reaches of Times Square Berjaya. And last, but not least, there’s the ubiquitous foot massage, to ready the worn-out shopper’s feet for the trot back to the hotel.

Yes it is true, the shopping is great in KL, in fact, the whole shopping experience is great in KL but that definitely isn’t it, there’s more – lots more.