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Merdeka Square (Dataran Merdeka)
The 328-foot (100m) flagpole rising from Merdeka Square is one of the tallest in the world, and marks the place where Malaysia achieved independence at midnight on the 30th of August 1957. The square is the heart of Malaysian nationalism and one of the few places in the city where historic old colonial buildings can still be seen. The city's colonial past is still very much alive in the architecture of the surrounding buildings and the large field still hosts the occasional cricket matches. The Tudor-style Royal Selangor Club rests on one corner of the square, looking onto a large video screen displaying religious messages and advertisements. The Club served as a social centre for Kuala Lumpur's British residents; its doors are now open to anyone who can afford the membership fees. In keeping with die-hard customs women are still not allowed entry to the bar, except by invitation. Other buildings of interest around the square include St. Mary's Church, purported to be the first church built in Kuala Lumpur; the Abdul Sambad building, built in 1893 and named for one of the sultans; the High Court building; and the old Town Hall. There are some shops and restaurants in the vicinity and it is an interesting area to stroll around - the square is also nice to visit at night.
The crowded and colourful Chinatown area is a jumble of shops, food, smells and people. The central section of Petaling Street is closed at night to traffic and the street is transformed into an exciting, brightly lit experience. Vendors spread their wares onto the pavement and one can stroll along endlessly taking it all in. Merchandise ranges from jewellery to toys and t-shirts - with lots of fake brands on sale - and bargaining for the best prices is accepted practice and part of the fun. There are many stalls in the market during the day but Chinatown is a more special experience at night, with the bright lights promising good photographs. However, no matter what time of day you visit, be sure to stay vigilant with your possessions as pick pockets are a problem in the area and the crowds, noise and multitude of distractions make it easy for them to operate. Chinatown's popularity is gradually causing a rise in both prices and petty crime, which is unfortunate, but there is great fun to be had, the food is always yummy, and there are certainly still bargains to seek out. Apart from all the exciting shopping and food, there are some great Chinese temples in the area, for those who want to experience a touch of the culture.
The Petronas Towers are designed to impress and encapsulate Malaysia's emergence as Southeast Asia's commercial and cultural centre. Celebrated as some of the tallest towers in the world, the building stands at a height of 1,483ft (452m) and the two towers are joined by a skybridge extending 192ft (58m) across. Traditional geometric principles of Islamic architecture have been followed using modern technology, with an inspiring result. The Petronas towers are used as office complexes that form part of the Kuala Lumpur City Centre Development Park. The towers dominate the city skyline and are particularly beautiful at night when they are lit up like a beacon. Many people will recognise the building from the popular film Entrapment, and other movies and programmes. You can tour the building for free, but there are limited tickets per day so it is a good idea to get there early or book in advance. On the tour you will cross the famous bridge and go up to a viewing platform on the 82nd floor. The views of the city are phenomenal. There is an exhibition detailing the development of the towers and a gift shop selling souvenirs like books, postcards, clothes and miniatures.
Kuala Lumpur Railway Station
British architect, AB Hubbock was inspired by North Indian Islamic design when he conceived this magnificent railway station, which could easily be mistaken for a sultan's palace. Spires, minarets, towers and arches explode against the backdrop of skyscrapers emphasising the glory of Moorish elegance. The building is lovely and has been very well-maintained, and it is a refreshing sight in a city which actually has very little colonial architecture, and few historic old buildings. It serves not only as an aesthetic vision but is in use as an important commuter station; inside it is fairly unremarkable and looks much like other stations. Opposite the station there is an administrative building which is also architecturally interesting. Inside the station there is a small railway museum on the evolution of railway technology in Malaysia; the exhibition is intriguing for railway fanatics, but for those not particularly interested in the technology it may be a waste of time. The Kuala Lumpur Railway Station is ultimately more of a landmark than an attraction - it only requires a quick walk by and photo shoot and shouldn't occupy much of your time - but it is a charming building which attracts rave reviews from many visitors to the city.
Friday Mosque (Masjid Jamek)
Masjid Jamek, the Friday Mosque, is located where the Gombak River flows into the Klang River and with its palm trees and curved steps leading to the water's edge, it is a haven of peace and tranquillity set among the buzz and rush of modern Kuala Lumpur. The mosque is situated on the spot purported to be where the founders of Kuala Lumpur fist set foot. The design was inspired by Mogul mosques in northern India. Cupolas and minarets top the brick walls and arched colonnades. As with all mosques, a visit calls for conservative dress and the removal of shoes; the mosque staff at the entrance supply women and men with appropriate attire for a mosque visit if they have not come prepared. If you only visit one mosque in Kuala Lumpur the Friday Mosque is probably the best option, but the National Mosque is also worth investigating. A modern contrast to the Friday Mosque, the National Mosque was completed in 1965 and remains the largest mosque in Southeast Asia - the vast main prayer hall can accommodate up to 10,000 people. Many of the city's Malay office workers congregate here for the Friday afternoon prayers. The impressive 18-point star-shaped dome represents the 13 states of Malaysia and five central Pillars of Islam. Entry is only permitted once prayers have been concluded. Robes can be borrowed from the desk at the mosque entrance.
These 60-hectare (148-acre) gardens, established in 1888, form the green belt of Kuala Lumpur, and the lakeside beauty with a backdrop of skyscrapers is reminiscent of New York's Central Park. The lush vegetation surrounds a vast lake, with a number of romantic bridges and plenty of space to relax, read a book, go for a walk or jog, or socialise. Visitors can take a leisurely boat cruise to enjoy views of the gardens from the water (RM4 per hour: Saturdays, 2pm to 5.30pm and Sundays 8am to 5.30pm). There are numerous attractions within the gardens, which incorporate the National Monument, Butterfly House, Bird Park, Orchid and Hibiscus gardens, and Malaysia's Parliament House situated at the northern end. There are wonderful playgrounds for little ones and if you are travelling in Malaysia with children a jaunt to the gardens is the perfect way to let them blow off some steam. The water and shade makes the Lake Gardens a cool refuge from the humidity and crowds of the city, and for those interested in the indigenous plant life there is plenty to explore. There are numerous restaurants fringing the gardens but the best option is to pack a picnic and spend a few hours in some green nook.
National Museum (Muzium Negara)
Many of Malaysia's historical artefacts and cultural treasures are housed in the National Museum, which is an appropriately designed building, reflecting the Minangkabau architectural style of the region. Ethnographic and archaeological exhibits include life-size dioramas depicting various aspects of traditional Malaysian life. Shadow play (Wayang kilt) displays reflect the ancient artistry of the nation, while exhibits of traditional weapons such as daggers (kris) and machetes (parangs) reveal the Malaysian pride in functional aesthetic forms. The museum covers a lot of time and subject matter and can seem discordant as a result of the many topics and occasional lack of linkage between periods and themes; as a result, it is a good idea to join one of the free guided tours that do the rounds daily at 10am (in several different languages) so that you can ask questions and get a bit more information. Apart from the extensive permanent collection there are always temporary exhibits. There is a cafeteria and museum shop, and the premises are equipped for disabled visitors. Photography is permitted in the museum but only for private use and only with hand-held equipment. The air conditioning is a big plus on hot Malaysian days!
Stalagmites and stalactites festoon the interior of these impressive limestone caves, together with the Hindu shrines that honour their deities. The caves were discovered by the American explorer William Hornaby in 1881 and are very interesting in themselves, but have since become a Hindu holy site, particularly associated with the celebration of Thaipusam, a three-day religious festival during January/February. Thousands of devotees flock to the caves during the festival to pay penance and undergo rites of self-flagellation that are fascinating, if a bit disturbing, to observe. The largest of the caves, Temple Cave, is reached by climbing 272 steps to its entrance from which a path leads to Museum Cave - housing a dazzling display of ornamental religious art. There is a clear view from the top to the Subramaniam Swamy Temple, set within a large cave that extends for 262 feet (80m). Onsite companies offer rock-climbing opportunities as well. It is a good idea to take some water as the climb up is tiring. Those with physical difficulties may struggle. Beware of the monkeys: they are cute and fun to photograph but they also steal things that take their fancy, so hang on to your belongings and keep an eye out.
Taman Negara National Park
Taman Negara contains some of the oldest rainforest in the world and spans thousands of square miles of protected land. Its richly diverse fauna and flora have evolved over a staggering 130 million years. The best way to explore the diversity of plant and animal life is by 'trekking' along the jungle trails. Although seldom seen, a small population of nomadic Orang Asli people still live in the rainforest, their makeshift shelters appearing in clearings among the jungle growth. Guided tours to tribal villages are available from several operators. Besides trekking, the park's other attractions are fishing, river rafting or bird watching and climbers can explore the Peninsula's highest mountain, Gunung Tahan at 7,175 fEEt (2,187m). The best time to visit Taman Negara is between March and September. There are numerous canopy and trekking tours offered but it is ideal to avoid the tours and do your own thing to really experience this jungle world. It is easy to self-guide in Taman Negara. Hiking the main path across the park takes about three days and there are wooden refuges to camp in at night to keep you safe. The jungle sounds at night are incredibly special, if a bit unnerving for the uninitiated. There are several luxury lodges within the reserve, but budget accommodation can be found on the outskirts.
Melaka (Historic City)
The fascinating seaside city of Melaka (Malacca) preserves the historic convergence of Chinese and European cultures. Its strategic position on the Straits of Melaka brought a tide of trade with China, India, Siam and Indonesia. Colonial powers wrestled for control, and much of the Portuguese influence from the 1500s is cemented in its architecture. The most notable cultural presence today is predominantly Chinese. Chinese merchants continue to ply their trades in the tradition of their forefathers. Open-air markets burst with colourful fruit, vegetable and fish produce. The oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia, Cheng Hoon Teng, together with the vast Chinese cemetery, support a thriving industry entirely dedicated to the deceased. The merging of Chinese and Malay cultures has produced a unique ethnic group found in Melaka, the Baba-Nyonya. The remarkable lifestyle of this micro-culture can be explored in the dedicated Baba-Nyonya Heritage Museum. Jonker Street is an attractive thoroughfare, almost always strung with traditional Chinese lanterns, which often hosts night bazaars and festivities on weekends. Trips on the Malazza River are popular, and there are many historic buildings to explore, including the Stadthuys, which was once the seat of the Dutch administration and now houses a history museum. There are also some interesting ruins on St. Paul's Hill.