Kuala Lumpur: City Garden of Lights

Just a day after wandering around the streets of Istanbul, Vince and I found ourselves in an entirely different city on another continent. We’d arrived in Kuala Lumpur late at night, checked into our hotel, and gratefully crashed into the first bed we’d slept in since we’d left home over 48 hours ago. Upon waking up late the next morning, I felt like doing absolutely nothing and staying in bed until noon, but Vince had other plans. He’d compiled a list of things to go see within walking distance of our hotel, and he managed to talk me into getting ready to go out.

We walked down to the Chinatown neighborhood, where I quickly decided that leaving the hotel had been a good idea after all. The Petaling Street Market was already bustling as booths opened up and shoppers began to crowd the lane which was quickly filling with the smells of different foods cooking. I bought a sturdy fan to add to my collection of fans that I’ve bought while walking around foreign cities when it’s hot outside (it was hot outside), and we both tried some muah chee, a sticky rice treat covered in ground peanuts and sugar.

Outside of the market, we found Sri Maha Mariamman Temple, the oldest Hindu temple in Kuala Lumpur. There was lively music emanating from inside the colorful temple which was ornately decorated with sculptures of Hindu deities. We took off our shoes and went inside, where there was a wedding taking place. All of the intricate sculptural art formed a perfect backdrop for the festivities.

A little ways down the street was the Guan Di Taoist Temple, whose atmosphere starkly contrasted with that of Sri Maha Mariamman. Fragrant tendrils of smoke rose from incense sticks and hung in the air. The artistic style was just as beautiful as the Hindu’s temples, but utilized bright, bold colors instead of airy pastels. Loud, celebratory music was replaced by a peaceful silence interrupted only by the sounds of passing traffic. It was really interesting to see two different places of worship so close together, and I loved the artistic style of both.

It wasn’t even midday yet by the time we decided to go back to the hotel for a break, but it was already excruciatingly hot and humid outside. We had a tour coming up in a few hours, and we couldn’t think of a better way to spend that time than by taking a swim in the hotel’s rooftop pool.

It was a huge relief to get a chance to cool off before the tour, and Vince and I felt refreshed and excited by the time our private guide from Kuala Lumpur Travel Tour picked us up from the hotel lobby. He arrived right on time, and drove us the short distance to one of the most iconic places in Kuala Lumpur, Batu Caves.

Batu Caves is a series of large caves inside of a sheer, limestone cliff. The area is popular for hiking and rock climbing, but most notably, it is home to a Hindu temple that can be accessed by climbing up 272 brightly colored steps. At the base of the rainbow staircase, towers a colossal, 42 meter tall statue of Lord Murugun, the second tallest statue of this deity in the world.

Our guide told us we’d have free time to visit the temple, but he warned us to be cautious of the monkeys, and definitely don’t feed them. We of course had nothing on our persons to feed to a monkey even if we wanted to, so we assured him that there would be no monkey feeding, and then started up the staircase.

Within moments, we encountered the monkeys our guide had warned us about. There seemed to be more long-tailed macaques than there were humans scampering around the stairs and rustling limbs of nearby trees. When I’d promised to avoid the macaques, I hadn’t imagined that I would be surrounded by them, but they were decidedly more interested in anything that looked like it could possibly be food than they were a couple of empty-handed tourists, so they weren’t a bother as we climbed passed color after color of rainbow stairs.

The cave at the top of the stairs brought a welcome bit of shade, but no relief from the heat. Pigeons fluttered around as we stepped into the shadows and marveled at the natural beauty of the cave, combined with the man-made beauty of the temple. The enclosure felt peaceful and contemplative as sunlight filtered in from openings on either side of us.

Next, our guide brought us to a hot spring where locals go to bathe and relax. We were the only tourists on the scene, but plenty of locals were submerged in the geothermal water. Vince and I dipped our hands and feet into the springs, only to find that the water was unbearably hot. Our guide assured us that we would get used to it, but after trying out multiple pools, we thought the odds of that were exceedingly unlikely. Vince challenged me to a contest to see which one of us could stand ankle deep in the hot spring the longest, but after a few seconds, we agreed to call it a draw, and gave up at the same time.

There was a longer drive along a highway that was lined with a palm oil plantation that seemed to stretch on forever before we stopped at one last Hindu Temple, Sri Shakti. We were now in the coastal town of Kuala Selangor, where we would be spending the rest of the afternoon. Sri Shakti was different from the temples we’d seen earlier in the day in that its sculptures were left completely unpainted, so the entire building was a visual puzzle of intricate designs all in the same natural beige color.

My eyes wandered up and down the temple, trying my best to take in as much of it as I could, all while knowing that I wouldn’t be able to process every detail even if I stayed for hours. I was particularly drawn to a line of elephant sculptures that flanked either side of the building’s formidable, wooden door. I couldn’t help but think about how in a week’s time I would be in the jungle looking for wild elephants, and a rush of anticipation overwhelmed me.

After our quick stop at Sri Shakti, our driver took us to Melawati Hill, which was the stop on the tour that I had been looking forward to for weeks. Melawati Hill has significance as a historical stronghold with a number of interesting artifacts including a lighthouse, remnants of a fort, and a couple of more gruesome sites like an execution rock, and a poisoned well that was used to torture prisoners. From the walls of the old fort, one can see all the way to the Malacca Straight, the expanse of water that separates the Malaysian Peninsula from the island of Sumatra.

But none of this was what excited me the most about Melawati Hill. In true form, I had been anticipating this moment for so long because the hill offers a unique opportunity to view silver langurs, also known as silver leaf monkeys, up close. Silver Langurs are very pretty monkeys with a deep charcoal colored fur that fades to a silvery glow at the tips and wide copper eyes. At Melawati Hill, they have become accustomed to people feeding them, so they are known to be docile, and not at all shy around humans.

I knew that the langurs wouldn’t be skittish, but I didn’t realize quite how outgoing they would be. I was expecting great opportunities to take photos of them, but I didn’t expect that they would be trying to inspect my cameras and tugging on my pant legs. One even jumped up onto Vince’s shoulder at one point, and another grabbed me by the finger while I was trying to film it. I quickly moved my camera away while marveling at its tiny, almost human hand next to my own.

The langurs were a delight, and the one thing that could have topped off the experience happened without warning while we were at the top of the hill. A mother langur emerged from a nearby tree and we got a great look at her gorgeous little baby clinging onto her stomach. Silver langurs are a bright orange color when they are young, so they look entirely different from the adults. My heart melted as I watched the pair with rapt attention before mom jumped back up into the tree and disappeared from view.

As we walked back downhill, I was practically glowing with happiness. It seemed as if we’d already managed to pack a week’s worth of activities into our day, but our tour wasn’t even over yet. It was dinner time now, and I was certainly feeling hungry after such a long day. We drove to a seafood restaurant on the bank of the Selangor River, and our guide put in a food order for us. They were able to make a vegetarian dish for me so I enjoyed a hefty helping of fried rice and veggies while Vince feasted on seafood, all while enjoying a lovely view of the river in a relaxing environment.

It was nearly dusk once we’d finished eating, and it was time for the final leg of our tour. We boarded a little boat with a handful of other passengers, and rode upstream until the last bits of sunlight faded into night. As soon as the light of day was gone, the trees on either side of the river began to sparkle with the rhythmic blinking of millions of tiny fireflies. Everyone in the boat sat in quiet awe as the trees twinkled like Christmas lights. It was a lovely way to end an action-packed day.

I slept nearly all the way back to our hotel in Kuala Lumpur where we were only able to get a few hours sleep before our early morning flight to Borneo the next day. We said goodbye to Kuala Lumpur, but only temporarily as we would be spending another night there on our way home.

After another week and a half of epic adventures on Borneo (more posts coming soon), we arrived back in KL and checked into the same hotel we’d stayed in before. The hotel may have been the same, but we were returning with a whole new set of sights and experiences that we hadn’t had when we left. We still had almost a day to spend in KL before our flight home, and we started it by grabbing lunch in the Atmosphere 360, a revolving restaurant overlooking the city from the KL Tower. The buffet lunch was decent, but the ever-changing view of the city was by far the main attraction. We stayed for a full rotation of the tower, which took a couple of hours.

Afterwards we spent the rest of the day in the city, stopping to visit Aquaria KLCC, and the newly opened Museum of Illusions. All in all, we’d had a great time in Kuala Lumpur, and felt that there was an abundance of fun things to do there. Normally we both get “citied-out” fairly quickly, but I felt like I could have spent a week in KL and still not run out of things to do-a very nice discovery for a place we only stopped at to take a break in between flights!


  1. What a fabulous stopover KL proved to be. I so enjoyed sharing your experiences and sights. Thanks for taking me a long for the ride. I loved the temples, statues and the beautiful langurs.

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