Kuala Lumpur: 3-Day Vacation from Travel


Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur (once the tallest building in the world)

Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur (photos by Lily Leung)

I was a little cranky during my first week in Malaysia.

It started with seeing thundershowers the day I crossed the border from sunny Thailand to Penang, Malaysia. In Penang, the thunderstorms continued and the town didn’t have the charm I expected from a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From Penang, I got nauseous during the curvy five-hour drive to the Cameron Highlands mountains. In Cameron Highlands, the rain continued. On the ride to Kuala Lumpur, I almost felt sick again.

While I’ve happily endured more challenging conditions in my 3 months of travel, such as in India, this series of events made me tired, restless and disappointed. In my first week of Malaysia, I felt as if I’d encountered more rain, more crappy guesthouses and strange travellers than in the last three months combined.

Fortunately, I started to feel better in Kuala Lumpur. At the Central Market near my Chinatown guesthouse, I found bubble tea, the first time since leaving home. Later, another traveller and I took the metro to Kuala Lumpur City Centre and the Petronas Twin Towers, once the tallest building in the world.

I was instantly delighted by the KLCC shopping mall under the Petronas Towers.

It was modern, air-conditioned, shiny, well-light, clean and filled with the brands from at home like GAP, Zara, MAC Cosmetics, Apple to Chanel and more. On my first visit to a ‘real’ shopping mall since leaving home in Toronto, I felt like I was at home seeing familiar faces.

KLCC Shopping Mall under the Petronas Twin Towers

KLCC Shopping Mall under the Petronas Twin Towers

While happily having plates of sushi that evening, I decided:

I don’t care what Lonely Planet, TripAdvisor or other travellers recommend I do in Kuala Lumpur, I’m going to spend my days doing what makes me happy.

I’d rather relax and recharge my batteries, than to see more but feel tired and cranky.


My 3-day date with comforts of home

So, in my three days in Kuala Lumpur, I’m happy to say:

I drank bubble tea, everyday.

Had my familiar caramel Frappuccino at Starbucks, everyday.

Starbucks Frappuccino, KLCC mall, Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur

Starbucks Frappuccino, KLCC mall, Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur

Indulged in sushi, twice.

Returned to the lovely air-conditioned KLCC shopping mall at Petronas, twice.

6 floors of shopping at the base of Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur

6 floors of shopping at the base of Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur.<br />By metro, 3.2 ringgits return trip, $1.10 CAD

Familiar names at Kuala Lumpur shopping mall - Petronas Towers

Familiar names at Kuala Lumpur shopping mall - Petronas Towers

Saw an English movie (Black Swan), ate popcorn, once. 11 ringgits for the movie ($3.60 CAD), 10 ringgits for popcorn and drink ($3.50 CAD)

Visited the Petronas Towers, 3 times. These towers are possibly the shiniest and most alluring man-made buildings I’ve ever seen. More captivating in person than what I expected from postcards or online images. I took a hundred photos.

Petronas Towers from below (good perspective) Kuala Lumpur

Lily at Petronas Towers (perspective from below), Kuala Lumpur

Lily + traveller, Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur

Lily + traveller, outside Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur

Petronas Twin Towers on Supermoon eve (March 18, 2011), Kuala Lumpur

Petronas Twin Towers on Supermoon eve (March 18, 2011), Kuala Lumpur

I also decided to skip the bus rides to Malacca and Singapore and booked a last minute flight to just Singapore for $77 CAD round-trip with regional airline AirAsia.

To continue the theme of feeling at home, I’ll only take my day pack for my 3-day “weekend trip” to Singapore and leaving the rest of my luggage for laundry at the Kuala Lumpur hostel.

If Singapore is as modern and comfortable as Kuala Lumpur, my days in Singapore should continue my mental recharge before I return to Kuala Lumpur for my 10 day silent meditation course.

>> How do you get your rest and relaxation while travelling? Do you feel re-energized by the comforts of home while you’re away?

Information and sample costs for Kuala Lumpur

  • Free 90-day tourist visa issued on arrival
  • Currency is Malaysian ringgits (MYR), $1 CAD = 3.1 MYR
  • Monkee Inn guesthouse in Chinatown, 15 ringgits ($5) for a A/C dorm
    See Hostelworld.com for other hostels.
  • Mass Rapid Transit is an efficient and cheap way to get around, 4 stops from Chinatown (Pasar Seni) to KLCC (Petronas Towers) is 1.6 MYR one way
  • Delicious and cheap food everywhere, 2 ringgits for 1.5L water, 8.50 ringgits for giant plate of noodles
  • Visible ethnicities: Chinese, Indian and all the colours in between. Religions: Buddhist and Muslim. Languages: English, Malay, Chinese, Tamil
  • See Wikipedia, WikiTravel and LonelyPlanet for more info

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  • Mel

    Hi there!

    A friend showed me your blog and I just wanna drop a line to say well done! I’m from Malaysia myself (currently residing in Hong Kong) and your post brought back fond memories – I used to be a regular at KLCC as I live only 5 subway stops away! My office is also 10 mins’ walk away. I used to have dinner there at least 2-3 times every week. My friend and I joked about KLCC being our canteen.

    I’m sorry to hear that the weather wasn’t very welcoming when you first arrived, but I’m glad that you enjoyed the food and the mall!

    I hope the meditation goes well. Keep posting!

    • Hi Mel,

      Thanks for stopping by! I can completely understand how someone could be a ‘regular’ at KLCC. It’s such a vibrant, beautiful, bright and energetic place! I haven’t been to Hong Kong for many years, but I remember HK being really metropolitan with lots of buzz and activity too.

      Thanks for the good wishes on the meditation – I came back yesterday and thinking about the right words to describe the amazing sensations I felt :)

      – Lily

  • wow nice shopping center, I love it when you say the food is cheap there. :) I always wanted to see Mala

    • Hi Sarah,

      I love cheap and delicious food too, anywhere, period! I think we’re foodies at heart. I’ll think of you next time I eat a plate of $0.50 roti and sauce :)

      – Lily

  • Rob

    Hey! I just read your article carried by the Toronto Star and I wanted to say that I was in KL and Singapore for almost 2 months from January to March 2011. If you are still in town, I recommend the Nam Heong Chicken Rice shop in KL’s Chinatown (near Central Market). My mom used to go as a kid, and this trip, she took me along for lunch as well. Best food (and prices) in town.

    Feel free to email me if you would like any more ideas of things to do in KL or SIngapore :) Cheers!

    • Hi Rob,

      Thanks for stopping by and for the recommendations on the food. I think I’m staying near Central Market so I’ll look up this chicken rice shop you speak of. It’s so lovely that your mom took you there, it’s like happy childhood memories being passed on. I’ll definitely let you know if I need any KL or Singapore tips, thanks for offering :)

      – Lily

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  • Considering you weren’t travelling you got some great shots!

    • Thanks Robin. I love strolling around with my camera. It’s one of my favourite downtime (and uptime) activities, so taking photos definitely helped me feel happy and comfortable :)

      – Lily

  • Kim

    Sounds like you got what you needed! I always enjoy reading your updates when they appear in my inbox :)

    • Hi Kim,

      I really enjoy reading your updates as well :) I’m so happy and excited to watch your journey progress. The time will fly by so fast and you’ll be off in no time. Amazing!

      – Lily

      P.S. Just liked your FB page, can’t believe I didn’t Like it already!

  • It’s your journey so you always have to listen to what you want and need. Sometimes it is overwhelming to think about what we should do during a trip that we neglect to enjoy the more quiet or simple moments.

    • Hi Grace,

      I totally agree with you. I think the most beautiful and special moments I’ve had travelling (and in general) have been moments of stillness and calmness.

      – Lily

  • We did the same thing in KL! Seriously, probably the same Starbucks too. NO SHAME!

    • Hi Canaan and Kent,

      Sweet! Cheers to downtime, good coffee and comfy chairs at Starbucks!

      – Lily

  • Haha we had these moments too, sometimes its good just to stop every now and then. If you frind something you enjoy there is no point rushing on! Traveling can be tiring so we all need to have a rest from the relentless lonely planet books sometime ahah

    • Hi Jozef,

      Yeah, I’m finding that the sustainable pace for multi-month trips is totally different from the pace of a 1-3 week trip (which is the longest I’ve gone in the past), so this was definitely a learning experience. Lonely Plant and TripAdvisor is pretty relentless, as you put it, so now visit less places/do less activities but do them more thoroughly and thoughtfully, as opposed to marching through lots of sights but remembering little about each.

      – Lily

  • We did this several times while in Bangkok during our RTW. It became our home away from home with all the creature comforts we needed when we started to feel tired, overwhelmed, or just homesick. Sometimes you just have to do what is familiar to you to get yourself out of a funk. At first we felt a little guilty doing things like going to malls, Starbucks, and eating pizza while we were in a place like Thailand, but after a while we realized how silly that was and just started doing whatever it was that we wanted. Good for you!

    • Hi Adam,

      I think the moment we realize we should exactly what we feel like doing while travelling (as opposed to following lists from Lonely Planet, Trip Advisor and such) is that moment travel becomes just living life. In past trips, which were always 3 weeks or less because I was working, I really tried to maximize the activities/sights on my trips and went at a unsustainable pace, because I knew that the time would be “up” soon and I’d return to my “real” life. Now, that I’ve travelled for a few months, “real” life actually has been travel. Such a new and wonderful feeling.

      – Lily

  • This made me think about what home comforts I’ve yearned for over the years. After six months of living in Vietnam I decided I needed a place with a proper bathroom – no more straddling the toilet to have a shower. And when I was really sick with dengue fever, I just wanted some tomato soup and a ham and cheese sandwich. On proper thick-cut grain bread, not the airy fairy white bread that’s popular in Vietnam. I was in hospital and one of the nurses organised a nearby cafe to deliver my ham and cheese sandwich. It was so good.

    • Ha! I know what you mean about showering with the toilet. It’s a bit different from the western style bathrooms where the shower is distinctly separated from the toilet and basin. Speaking of toilets, I saw a very funny women’s toilet today at the mall in Kuala Lumpur – it was a western toilet, but with no lid, shaped like a urinal but at the sitting height. I was so confused I actually laughed out loud and got some funny looks from the locals!

      – Lily

  • You did well. As soon as sightseeing becomes an obligation and you start feeling guilty if you don’t, it’s time to quit, enjoy yourself, do as you please and don’t give a *bleep* if you missed a world heritage site. It won’t go away and still be there for another time should you decide to return.

    • Hi Inka,

      Thanks for the encouragement – you’re right, the town/sites will always be there later! Better to keep myself happy and come back later than to see it unhappily :)

      – Lily

  • Love the Petronas Towers self portrait, I must try that perspective next time.

    It’s great to have a city recharge after slogging it out on the road for a while. And Starbucks all over Malaysia have free wifi :)

    • Hi James,

      I love the perspective too! The traveller I was with suggested it, so I have to give her credit for that :) As “untravel” as it sounds, I love seeing Starbucks once in a while when I travel, reminds me of happy moments from home when I’m just having a chat with friends or strolling through the city on a weekend morning… plus, free wifi is always good and in Singapore many locations are even open 24 hours!

      – Lily

  • Wow Lily, you look more and more tan! Must have been the beaches of Thailand?

    The pic of the towers is GORGEOUS. Did you use a special camera for that one?

    For me, I bring the comforts of home with me when I travel (though I don’t do long stints of traveling like you do) and indulge in my snacks from home when I’m feeling nostalgic about food from home. :)

    • Hi Youngandthrifty,

      Haha, my mom said the same thing to me recently about my tan: “you’re getting darker and darker!” I think my time on the beach and diving in Thailand was where I accumulated most of the colour you see.

      I used my Canon XS (basic DSLR) with the standard 18-55mm lens for all the photos, so it wasn’t a special camera/lens (unless you count a DSLR as a special camera). I did shoot them in RAW and processed it myself though.

      I started my trip with some comforts from home, like Oil of Olay face wipes, 500-thread count bed sheet (neither of which I still have) so Starbucks, bubble tea and sushi are my main comforts from home, though in Kuala Lumpur was the first time I’ve had these in months!

      – Lily

  • I wonder if they have Bubble Tea (favorite flavor: taro) in South America.
    To answer your question, indulging in familiar food from home is definitely my way of taking a vacation from vacation.

    • Hi Jack and Jill,

      That’s a good question, maybe in a Chinatown area? If you find out please let me know :) I definitely agree with you about having similar food from home as travel comfort – my favourite is having Starbucks (travel blasphemy, I know!) Luckily, it’s not too hard to find around the world!

      – Lily