|The Petronas towers. Photo provided by Zadiraka Vladislav, Fotolia.com|
Often overlooked on the Southeast Asia tourist trail, Malaysia shines as the continent’s cultural kaleidoscope, where disparate flavors, trends and customs create a single nation. Though the country is divided ethnically and politically among its diverse Malay, Chinese and Indian populations, for the average visitor, Malaysia is a cultural wonderland, flaunting a global showcase of opulence, bizarre foods, serene landscapes and manmade marvels.
Most recognize the capital, Kuala Lumpur, called “KL” by the locals, from the 1999 film Entrapment with Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones. The world’s tallest building then, the Petronas Twin Towers, soaring 1,500 feet towards the heavens, formed the backdrop for the characters’ final heist. Even though the dual structure lost its title as the planet’s tallest edifice in 2004 to a Taiwanese skyscraper, it’s still one of Kuala Lumpur’s most jaw-dropping attractions and just the starting point of a city filled with the unexpected.
An entire village dedicated to business and leisure envelops the Petronas towers. Kuala Lumpur City Centre, or KLCC, encompasses parks, recreation centers and the mother of all shopping havens. Every upscale store imaginable spreads over three connecting megamalls with an entire floor of Asian restaurants and two floors of food courts. Visitors quickly realize shopping and eating are Malaysia’s two national pastimes. The city’s premiere hotel, the Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur, is in the center of the KLCC neighborhood.
|A picturesque view of a local mosque in Kuala Lumpur. Photo provided by Pablo H. Caridad, Fotolia.com|
The property offers instant immersion into the finest ingredients of the KL melting pot. The guest rooms and suites exude the brand’s signature sophisticated style with elegant wood furnishings accessorized by tasteful gold and copper drapes, pillows and linens. The view-heavy outdoor pool area satisfies the craving for sun-drenched afternoons filled with cool cocktails and relaxation. The hotel’s 10 food and beverage outlets reflect the country’s diversity with venues that have become true social and eating institutions. For example, Lai Po Heen, the hotel’s contemporary Cantonese restaurant, teems with sexy, multinational businessmen and fabulous lunch ladies sampling traditional Chinese specialties like bird’s nest soup and more regional items such as durian pancakes. Downstairs the party rages nightly at the hotel’s trendy Arabian-style lounge, The Casbah.
The more understated Mandarin Oriental Club Lounge caters to business and leisure travelers. It offers space for work or relaxation and multiple opportunities to delight in local and regional dishes at breakfast, afternoon tea or cocktail hour. It may not have the variety of the famed hawker stalls of Jalan Alor, KL’s superlative street-food market, but you may well find your plate filled with dishes like pineapple fritters, curry fish head and banana-leaf rice.
|The Mandarin Oriental’s Lounge on the Park, Kuala Lumpur.|
One could endlessly bask in the Mandarin Oriental’s luxury, but it’s worth spending days exploring the wider environs. With postcard-perfect vistas, Meredeka Square faces the lavish Sultan Abdul Samad Building, also known as the Big Ben of KL for its grand clock tower. The highly manicured Lake Gardens area is home to the National Butterfly Park (once the largest in the world); Deer, Orchid, Hibiscus and Bird parks; and National Planetarium. As you amble through the Lake Gardens, prepare to see curious monkeys by the roadside, in trees and on fences. Batu Caves, a sacred Hindu shrine, is another must-see. You’ll be out of breath after climbing 272 steps to the cave entrance, but soon you’ll succumb to the overpowering nature of the shrine and the breathtaking views.
Nature lovers will also want to head to Firefly Park Resort in Kuala Selangor, which offers night trips down the Selangor River to watch masses of fireflies light up the entire sky. Think of it as aurora borealis meets entomology rather than the confluence of mismatched ideas—insects with luxury travel.
Meredeka Square’s Sultan Abdul Samad Building.
A visit to the Batu Caves Hindu shrine (left) is awe-inspiring. Photo provided by Guido Amrein, Fotolia.com
A busy night in Chinatown.
The Mandarin Oriental’s pool provides quiet respite.