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When during the mid-nineteenth century Chinese workers from the tin mines settled at the confluence of two rivers, the Klang and the Gombak, they could not have foreseen that half a century later this "muddy confluence" (the literal meaning of Kuala Lumpur) would have become a modern, gleaming metropolis. Malaysia and the capital of the country have experienced tremendous growth in recent decades. And that shows in the skyscrapers of Kuala Lumpur. But between these concrete giants, steel and glass you can still find some colonial buildings, ancient mosques and Chinese temples too.
Still, we begin this guide with a modern building: the Petronas Towers. These two towers of 452 meters high were the highest buildings in the world, from the moment they opened their doors in 1997 until 2003, when that position was taken over by Taipei 101 in Taiwan, which in turn was overtaken by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. On the 41st and 42nd floor the towers are connected by an air bridge. Not far from the Petronas Towers you can find the Menara, a television tower of 421 meter. Because that stands on a hill, the top of these tower is higher than the Petronas Towers. From the observation deck you have a nice view on Kuala Lumpur's skyline.
The heart of the town is the Datran Merdaka (Independence Square). This is the site where the British flag was lowered for the last time on the 30th of August 1957. Now, a Malaysian flag hangs proudly on the tallest flagpole of the world, 100 meters high. Around this square you can see beautiful buildings, like the Selangor Club and the Supreme Court building, Sultan Abdul Samad Building, an intriguing mix of Victorian and Moorish architecture. The old railway station has that special mix too, it looks more like a sultan's palace than a place where trains arrived and departed. Not far from the Merdaka Square you will find another example of colonial architecture, the St.Mary's Church.
If you walk south from the church, you will end up at the origin of Kuala Lumpur. Amidst skyscrapers you can find the Masjid Jamek (Friday Mosque). Especially the onion shaped domes of the minarets stand out. Elsewhere in the city is the modern Masjid Negara (National Mosque) with a particular fan-shaped roof.
One of the most attractive aspects of Kuala Lumpur is its ethnic diversity. Besides Malays many Chinese and Indians live in the city. Jelan Petaling is the heart of Chinatown. In the early hours it gets really busy in this district. There are many customers for the food stalls where you can eat delicious Chinese cuisine. In the evening, the street turns into a lively market, which sells everything, mostly fakes, from watches to clothes. Not far from this street is the colorful and richly decorated Hindu temple Sri Mahamariamman. Like the name suggests, around Jalan Masjid India lies the district where the Indians live, Little India. Both in restaurants and on the street you can eat excellent Indian food here.
Just north of Chinatown is Pasar Seni (Central Market), a beautiful Art Deco building in blue and pink pastels. This used to be a market where fresh produce was sold, now the trade includes pottery, batik, carvings, souvenirs and art from Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia. You guessed it: mainly aimed at tourists.
True art can be found in the Islamic Arts Museum. The three-storey building is filled with fine examples of Islamic art, including architectural masterpieces. Like the scale models of the Taj Mahal and Amir Timur Mausoleum.
If you wish to dive into the rich history of Malaysia you have to visit the Muzium Negara (National Museum). The building in itself is worth a visit; it was built in several Malaysian styles from various regions of the country. In addition to the displays on history, culture and traditions, there are on-site antique locomotives, cars and other vehicles at the museum.
The green heart of Kuala Lumpur are the Pond Gardens (Taman Tasek Perdana) which have been built around an artificial lake. It also includes an orchid garden with more than 800 species of orchids, a hibiscus garden, a deer park and a butterfly park.
At about half an hour's drive towards the north of Kuala Lumpur are the Batu Caves. These limestone caves are being used as temples. The largest is the Cathedral Cave, with many statues of the Hindu god Murugan. The Dark Cave has jagged rock formations and the inside the Museum Cave you can see scenes from the Indian mythology. It is quite a climb up to these temple caves, but you will be rewarded and luckily there are drink and food stalls everywhere.
There are several jungle parks to the north of Kuala Lumpur, the closest one being Templer Park, and if you drive a little further you can get to the Serendah Forest Reserve and the Commonwealth Forest Park.
The Sunway Lagoon Theme Park is located on a place that used to be the site of tin mines. The park is divided into three theme parks: Waters of Africa with water attractions, World of Adventure including a large suspension bridge, and Wild Wild West.
It takes some getting used to the very busy traffic of Malaysia. Thus, you can best park your rental car in one of the parking garages, which are always found near large shopping malls. Three centrally located car parks are Asia Park on Jalan Bukit Bintang and the two car parks behind the Dorsett Regency Hotel.
Kuala Lumpur International Airport is located 50 kilometers to the south of the city center. From the center of town, the airport is accessible with a rental car taking the highway to the south (North-South Central Link Expressway; time to/from Kuala Lumpur: about 1 hour.) This is a toll road. An alternative is the highway between Kuala Lumpur and Seremban. Budget flights depart from a separate terminal that lies 20 kilometers away from the main terminal.