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Malays, Chinese, and Indians

Kuala Lumpur, Maylasia's capital, is like other rapidly growing Asian cities. An astonishing amount of construction is taking place, particularly in the area of Jalan Sultan Ismail, the main thoroughfare. When the cranes come down, the street will look like a beautiful European boulevard. Chains of international luxury hotels that do not yet have a toehold here are rushing to finish building and begin operating before the start of the Commonwealth Games, taking place between September 10 and 20, 1998.

Cultural Night Show, Kuala Lumpur

Malays, Chinese and Indians populate the city and their presence shaped its appearance. Chinatown looks as though it would not be out of place in Beijing or Hong Kong. The lustrous white railway station is Moorish in design. The British were once here and the prettiest square in town, Merdaka Square, dating from 1897, is an example of their vision of the colony. Kuala Lumpur now has the tallest tower, the Menara or Telecommunications Tower, of any city in Asia and the third highest in the world. An elevator whisks visitors to the top, and for an admission fee they can view the city from the observation deck or stay for a repast or drink in the revolving restaurant.

Kuala Lumpur, the Garden City of Lights, has many parks and is filled with greenery and flora. At night, it is festooned with multicolored lights that sparkle throughout the downtown area.

When entering a taxi, insist that the meter be used and if the driver refuses, negotiate the fare down to one-half to two-thirds of his asking price.


Four major sightseeing companies operate in the capital. From their brochures (ask your concierge for them), it appears that all offer the same basic trips—city or city and country, cultural night and Malacca. Additionally, two tour companies arrange full-day excursions into the countryside to off-the-beaten-track destinations in private cars for a minimum of two persons at reasonable prices. We took three of the most popular standard tours.

A half-day city and country tour is the best way to get oriented to Kuala Lumpur and to visit the outskirts. Although you merely drive by some of the landmarks—Chinatown, House of Parliament, Railway Station, Jame Mosque, Sultan's Palace and Lake Gardens—at other major city attractions—Merdeka Square and the National Monument— you are given the opportunity to walk around. At Royal Selangor, the largest pewterer in the world, workers demonstrate the process of making the alloy into decorative objects. Artistically designed accessories for the home are sold in its shop. Other stops with demonstrations and/or stores that might be included in the tour are a batik cottage, rubber plantation, scorpion farm and butterfly shop. The climax of all country tours is the 272-step climb to the Batu Caves, near the temples where Hindus come to do penance.

There is not much happening in Kuala Lumpur at night, which seems about the only reason to sign on for the relatively inexpensive cultural night. You might drive through the city passing Chinatown and the Central Market or visit a Hindu Temple. Depending on the tour company, there is some small variation in the program, but all end up at the same place, Seri Meylayu, for dinner and a show. The restaurant is fashioned almost entirely from carved teak and looks authentically Malaysian. Dinner, however, will not satisfy most American palates. The selection of dishes on the buffet is endless and nearly all of them are too spicy or greasy or both. The show, well, it's like the one (native costumes, dance, songs and music) that takes place in every country all over the world and that savvy travelers avoid.

Malacca, Malaysia's historic city, where Portuguese, Dutch, British and Chinese rulers left behind traces of their own culture, is a favored destination of tourists who want to sample another part of the country without venturing too far from the capital. Peranakans or Straits-born Chinese settlers intermarried with the Malaysians and developed new customs, beliefs, language and cooking styles called Baba (for men) and Nyonya (for women). Malacca's strategic location led the city to become a leading world port in the 15th century. The wreck of a Portuguese galleon that sank here has been restored and lies in the harbor for visitors to board. Creating a delightful mix of styles; museums, temples, mosques and ancient homes crowd the town. Jonker Street is lined with Chinese-owned antique shops selling old furnishings and collectibles.

Where To Stay

The Regent

From 3 in the afternoon until 6:30, The Terrace restaurant in The Regent is crowded with diners who know that one of the tastiest spreads in town is served here. Officially, it's called high tea, but the variety at the eat-all-you-want buffet could turn into the main meal of the day. Quality is superb, presentation is lovely and the selections stretch over several tables. Choose from among Malaysian specialties like little dishes of dumplings, rice, meats and fish; or fill up on beautiful sandwiches, pastries and exotic fruits, the likes of which can only be found in this part of the world.

We recommend staying on the deluxe butler floors where tea and coffee are brought to the door immediately upon request; plates of fruits, pastries or chocolates turn up nightly; and the operator asks you when you request a wake-up call if you'd like a hot beverage delivered in the morning.

The hotel is a modern multi-storied white and glass edifice whose lobby is built like an atrium and whose facade is sculpted in steps.

Service is attentive, rooms are comfortably decorated and everything is just as would be expected at a five-star hotel.

The Regent Kuala Lumpur, 160, Julan Bukit Bintang. Tel. 03-241-8000, 800-332-3442. Rates start at $229. www.regenthotelsdestinationguide.com/location.process/OID_S5H83VJ6/OLID_9631


Bargain hunting and bargaining in Kuala Lumpur is an intense experience, not unlike that activity in other parts of Asia. Even a brochure published by Tourism Malaysia states that, "Bargaining is very much in vogue and verbal skills and a poker face may help to bring down prices drastically."

A fine assortment of merchandise, as well as a favorable exchange rate against the Ringgit Malaysia (2.4 to the dollar), makes for good values. For local flavor, nothing beats Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, a street of vendors selling typical Malaysian goods, and the Chinese and Central Markets. It's best to visit the Chinese Market at night when the number of stalls doubles and where nice-looking imitations of designer leatherware, sunglasses, jeans and shirts are sold. The Central Market houses artisans and craftspeople who demonstrate calligraphy, basket weaving, woodworking, portrait painting and batik printing and who offer their products for sale. To add to the fun, look for the ever-present fortuneteller who will predict that many wonderful things await you in the not too distant future.

A shopping bazaar takes place during the last two weeks in October in several Malaysian cities. In Kuala Lumpur, discounts range from 10 to 70 percent at 15 venues.

Spring 1997