Malaysia, the Journey into Southeast Asia
Have you ever thought of making that Southeast Asia trip a reality? Why not? Where to begin? When I first started planning my trip I quickly realized that Malaysia was a great starting point for my Southeast Asia (SEA) adventure. Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia's capital) has one of most transited airports in SEA along with Bangkok's (BKK). You can find low cost flights from whichever destination you are flying in from (Europe, USA, Middle East, Australia). These two cities are a good introduction to SEA's timezone, weather, and culture so I definitely recommend flying here vs. flying to other nearby countries.
I took my flight from LA to Kuala Lumpur with United Airlines; however, Air Asia usually has better deals from the US west coast to Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur. If you book in advance, you may find round trip flights for less than USD $500, as I did. I landed in KL airport at 11:30pm and since the airport is far from the city center, I decided to spend the night inside one of the airport's hotel Sama-Sama Hotels: Home. It was very practical and convenient as it is located inside terminal 2. After clearing customs and getting my luggage, I simply walked inside the terminal and checked into the hotel, no need for a taxi. It was also very economic in my opinion. It cost $40 US for a standard room and breakfast was included.
The next day I took a train from terminal 2 (Kila Express Skybus) Train Schedule - KLIA Ekspres to the city center. It took roughly 50 minutes to arrive at the main station in KL, KL Sentral. I booked my accommodation at the Silka Maytower Hotel - Official Site - silkahotels.com in an area known as "Little India". This hotel is two train stops away from the Petronas Towers and is footsteps away from Jamek Mosque. It was also very economic ($35 US) and had outstanding service. I checked in at the hotel and went out immediately to explore the city.
My first stop was Batu Caves, located about 20 kilometers from KL city center. I took the train (KTM Komuter) directly there from KL Sentral station. Batu Caves is the last train stop and the train runs back and forth every hour. I suggest taking public transportation over booking a tour because the tours are expensive and the rail system is so well connected within the city so you can basically see everything on your own. One of the great things about KL is that it is such a modern city and it is very futuristic. It reminded me a lot of Dubai. See attached the 2017 city train map Kuala Lumpur Train Map (Updated - 2016) - KL City Guide | KL City ...
I arrived at Batu Caves and I enjoyed a nice hike climbing almost three hundred steps to get to the caves and the main temple. This is one of the largest Hindu sites in Malaysia along with some temples in the beautiful city of Penang. I enjoyed my time there and even got henna tattoos on my hands. Batu Caves is a must see when visiting Kuala Lumpur (see below pictures).
After visiting Batu Caves I decided to go head out to Petronas towers. I took the KTM Komuter train once again to KS Sentral and another local train to the towers. In the train I met a young adventurer from Poland, Natalia, who joined me on my visit to the towers and for the rest of the afternoon. The towers are magnificent and the skybridge is impressive. We enjoyed a drink at the skybridge and since most restaurants in the area are quite expensive (financial center), we headed out to the city center.
If you want authentic food I suggest to go anywhere between China Town and Little India. There are so many restaurants that offer a variety of Asian foods Chinese, Thai, Indian, and most importantly, Malaysian food. I recommend trying Nasi Lemak or Nasi Goreng, both are must haves when visiting KL. After a late lunch we decided to walk throughout the city and visit some Buddhist and Hindu temples. We also took a walk around China Town trying all types of exquisite fruits and then enjoyed a lovely dinner. We ended the day by going back to see the Petrona's Towers by night. Make sure you don't pass up on the night experience as it is simply outstanding!
The next day I opted to visit all the mosques and attractions in the city center. I took the train to the closest station to Istana Nagara, bad idea. I really recommend taking either a tour or a taxi to get there. This palace is not in the city center and the last train stop is still about 2.5 kilometers walk to the palace. You can get a taxi to get there and then another taxi to my favorite place in KL, the Federal Territory Mosque. The total taxi fare should cost you less than $20 US.
The Federal Territory Mosque is absolutely beautiful! I have visited many mosques during my travels and this is my favorite thus far. It is unique in architecture and it has a calm atmosphere as not too many tourists know about it and because of its distance from the city center. I would describe it as a combination of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, and the Taj Mahal in Agra. It is a blend of the three and it was my favorite site in KL. I would not pass on this one! I met a local at the mosque and she explained to me everything about the history of the mosque, Malaysian culture, the roots of Islam, and even her personal life experiences as a Muslim woman in our modern world. This was such a beautiful day not only because it was perfect for my photography (no tourist traffic) but also because I made a new friend. She ordered a taxi for me and off I went back to my hotel to grab my luggage and head out to my next destination, Singapore.
Overall, I visited the city in less than 2 days. Saw everything I wanted to see and then I was ready for Singapore. But before going there, let me tell you what NOT to do in KL or in SEA so that you take precautions and learn from my mistakes.
When I was planning a southeast Asia trip I constantly worried about safety, especially for a solo female traveler; however, after this trip, I can attest SEA is much safer than most Latin American countries. My problem is I felt safer there than I do in my hometown in Guatemala.
However; feeling too comfortable may also cost you if you are not cautious. I suggest the following:
1. Get medical and travel insurance before your departure. Even if you are in good health, accidents can always happen. Travel insurance will cover your for the cost of your belongings in case they are lost or stolen.
2. Do NOT leave your belongings alone for one minute (even inside a 5 star hotel). Thieves are so sleek, the moment you let your guard down that's when they strike.
3. Always carry emergency money in cash somewhere else other than your wallet or purse. This could bail you out of a bad situation.
4. Make sure to do your homework on the location of your home country Embassy in whichever country your are visiting. It is easier to already have this information handy in case of an emergency.
5. Enjoy but always be aware of your surroundings. Feeling too comfortable may cost you if you are not cautious.
Why am I recommending all these things? Let me tell you about my adventure in KL...
After returning from the mosque I was supposed to leave to the airport to catch my flight. I arrived to the hotel 1 hour before expected so I decided to go launch on the rooftop pool for a while since I had time to spare. While I had left all my belongings at the front desk so I only took my small purse and my phone. I was the only one at the pool and two security guards, I took a quick swim, closed my eyes and tried to take it all in, a month ahead in SEA was something I only dreamed of, I was in full relaxation mode. When I got out of the pool... surprise, my mini purse with my wallet, $500 US in cash, my credit cards, and passport were gone! Luckily, my phone had slipped out of my purse and fell under the bench I had left it at. I asked the security guard who was there and he said he had just returned from the bathroom (WC) and the other guard was on his lunch break so he saw nothing. I had to run downstairs, inform the lobby about the robbery and well... this is when the adventure began.
It was going to be a holiday in Malaysia starting the next day so all government institutions were closed for a week (including the US embassy in KL). I had to quickly make a call to them asking what was required to renew my passport and how long it would take to get it, their response was... "You must do this today, and you only have till 3:30pm." It was 1:30pm already and I was beginning to freak out. Long story short, after learning about my long to do list, the hotel manager asked one of the bell boys to take me throughout the city on his bike to get all these things done. I would never make it with KL traffic.
First, I had to go to the police station to file a police report and took about 1 hour wait time just to file, It only happened after pleading with people in front of me to allow me to cut in line and explaining the situation. Then I needed to go get passport pictures taken and then head out to the embassy. I am lucky that I had emergency money in one of my backpack pockets because I needed cash for passport fees. After getting my pictures we rushed to the US Embassy in the middle of KL traffic, to our luck, we arrived exactly at 3:30pm, except that we arrived at the wrong building. We had to rush to the US Embassy (about 8km away) and finally I arrived just in time to get my new passport. After about 1 hour wait time I had to rush back to the hotel, rush to the airport and purchase a new plane ticket to Singapore for that night. It was one of the most stressful days of my life but after getting money sent via Western Union and safely making it to my hotel in Singapore nothing mattered anymore, I was safe, and my itinerary was not interrupted at all (except for a few hours delay). It could have been much worse. This is the reason why I recommend the above to everyone traveling not only traveling to SEA but in general. These sort of things happen everywhere even in developed countries.
I am not saying these things to scare you, not at all! I want to make sure you have the best experience possible. Southeast Asia is by far one of my favorite destinations (if not my favorite) in the world and I want to make sure you have a good time while you're there.
Now that you know my story and my thoughts ... embrace it... SEA is waiting for you!