Malaysia - Kuala Lumpur
As a big fan of Southeast Asia and eating in general, Malaysia was a place that interested me as a travel destination for a long time. The great food, beautiful islands, and relatively cheap accommodation were all things that appealed to me and ultimately led me to attempt to add it onto a trip I had already planned to Thailand and Singapore. The island of Penang in particular seemed like a great choice, offering relatively easily accessible beaches on the north side in Batu Ferringhi, great food in the restaurants and markets of George Town, and other interesting sites like the Snake Temple in Bayan Baru.
Unfortunately, non-stop flights between Phuket, where we were departing from, and Penang only run on certain days of the week, and we just weren’t able to find any that worked for our schedule. Non-stop flights are available every day of the week however, to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital and largest city. While it lacks the beaches and general scenery of Penang, it still offers an abundance of delicious Malaysian food and the same appealing luxury on a budget.
In many countries of this region you can score 4 and 5 star hotel accommodations for well under $100 USD per night. Malaysia is no exception and really excels in this respect, with many of these hotels priced closer to $50 than $100. My personal recommendation, and the hotel we stayed at on my most recent trip was the Faces Suites. I paid around $85 USD per night, which actually seemed a little high compared to comparable options, but was well worth it. The rooms are much more like condos than hotel rooms, offering full kitchens, living rooms, and varying numbers of bedrooms depending on which room you get. Unfortunately, the kitchen went to waste due to the abundance of delicious cheap food available, but it was nice to have the option.
The real reason to stay at this particular hotel and pay a few extra dollars though is the rooftop pool and view. The infinity pool overlooks the central business district of KL and offers phenomenal views of the Petronas twin towers and the Menara Tower. The pool offers a great respite from the heat and humidity of Malaysia, and the aforementioned views will not disappoint. When we eventually left KL for a stay at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, I actually found their rooftop pool to be a slight letdown by comparison. To be fair, both are fantastic, although the Sands comes with a substantially higher price tag.
There are a few other hotels in KL that are also known for their great views, including the Traders Hotel, but I can’t vouch for any of those personally. I’d return to the Faces Suites in a heartbeat, and while the Marina Bay Sands was a very cool experience, it was probably a one-time thing – I just couldn’t justify the ridiculous cost if I was on anything resembling a budget.
Transportation in Kuala Lumpur also proved to be a learning experience. The airport is quite a ways from the city itself, easily 45 minutes by car, and fearing a huge cab fare and notorious traffic, we opted for the express train for the journey into the city when we arrived. The express train is fantastic, getting you into the main railway station for Kuala Lumpur in about 25 minutes, but is also relatively expensive compared to the local train, which takes longer due to the additional stops, or a cab, which varies in cost depending on the driver and situation. On the way back to the airport on departure day, we actually got a cab, which got 3 of us to the airport directly from our hotel for about half the cost of express train tickets from the central station for 3 people. Traffic was our biggest concern, but because we were leaving on a holiday, there was none to speak of.
While Kuala Lumpur does have a great train system that’s extremely cheap and relatively easy to use, cabs are also pretty cheap, and the convenience was worth it each time we opted to use them.
Most of our time in KL was spent relaxing, but if you do have some energy, I would highly recommend visiting the Batu Caves complex. It’s a huge open cave with various Hindu shrines and statues accessed by a large steep stairway. It’s infested with monkeys who will swipe any food they can find, as well as a few random chickens you may spot freely roaming around. There are several additional caves you can access on site, but the main event was enough to satiate my curiosity. The entrance to the complex at the base of the stairs is also home to numerous food stalls (almost entirely vegetarian given the religious nature of the site) and souvenir stores offering anything and everything you could ever want to buy.
It can be accessed via the train network, but we opted for a cab which was pretty cheap and got us there in about 25 minutes from the center of the city.