Kuala Lumpur is probably the only place in the world where a Malay gentleman will buy a Japanese sushi prepared by a Bangladeshi in restaurant owned by a Chinese businessman. In the process, he will also probably be greeted by an Indonesian waiter and hail an Indian cab home.
Unlike the neighboring Singapore, the city is not all about shopping and sightseeing. It’s about trying street food in cramped alleys, about mingling with so many immigrants from other parts of Asia, and about seeing the color, smell and experiencing the living and being in Asia.
To really enjoy the city, though, you must stop being a tourist and learn to see the city through the eyes of a KLites. If you were staying with a Malaysian, this is the tour of Kuala Lumpur you will probably take.
1. Breakfast at a Mamak Restaurant
You will start your day by ordering a cup of teh tarik (literally pulled tea) and a roti canai at nearby Mamak restaurant. You know that Jamie Oliver will cringe at the sight of the sweet tea and the oily flaky flying bread, but you tell yourself, this is the first and the last time you try them.
While there, you watch your brewer expertly drag a long stream of pull tea without spilling and you snap some pictures of the Kung-Fu like roti-tossing action.
2. Head on to Port Dickson
Those who have visited Kuala Lumpur will know that the city is in summer mode every single day of the year. While British tourists fed up with London’s soggy weather will love the tanning sun, those living in the city can’t wait for the weekend to soak up at the nearest beach.
The solution? You head on to Port Dickson — a former charcoal producing town 90km away from the city.
There’s no pristine white sand or blue waves crashing against rugged shores here. The waters are actually brown instead of blue. But that’s okay. Like the rest of the locals, your break is all about picnicking by the beach and letting the kids run wild before you get back to town.
3. Explore Chinatown
In the evening, you drag back your kids to your KL hotel. It’s time to test your haggling skills in the Chinatown. Famous for its pirated clothes and bootleg DVDs, you brave the choking crowds in the walkway and you slide past pushy seller on both sides of the Jalan Petaling.
When you see something you like, you haggle like a KL city dweller (that means driving a bargain ridiculously hard, at 50% of the asked price).
Hungry for dinner, you then scan for open tables around the dirty and scruffy open air Chinese restaurants around the area. Halfway through, you managed to escape the chaos. You ordered Hainanese chicken rice while you watch a torrent of Chinese DVD sellers besiege other foreign tourists.
The real Kuala Lumpur isn’t always advertised, so travelers skipping the three will leave a city thinking they have experienced it all. But reality is, they only saw a small portion.