Seven Wonders of Kuala Lumpur

Of course, when I signed up for a tour with BeMyGuest to see the Seven Wonders of Kuala Lumpur, I was a little sceptical. I mean, sure there are maybe one or two landmarks in Kuala Lumpur that I would consider a “wonder”. Like the iconic Petronas Twin Towers, or the 421 metre spindle-pointed Kuala Lumpur Tower. That’s two, but seven wonders? Really? Imagine my surprise when my guide told me that neither are on the list of seven we will be visiting!

It was around 10 in the morning when the tour van picked us up at the hotel. There were 7 of us in total, 8 plus our guide cum driver, Thomas. Two Canadians, a German and two Belgians, all travelling around the region. After a brief introduction on the itinerary for the day, we set off for the first stop.

Wonder #1 – The Old Colonial District of Kuala Lumpur & the City Gallery

Sure, I have been to KL plenty of times. It is after all just a stone’s throw away from neighbouring Singapore. But it was always along the shopping belt around Bukit Bintang. Never have I been to this Old Colonial District. So you can imagine my surprise getting off the van and seeing the Independence Square, where the flag proclaiming Malaysian independence was first raised, and the buildings at its perimeter. There were European influenced buildings with Moorish architecture, Corinthian columns capped with Mughal domes. All remarkably restored and housing various museums.

We made for one of the museums – the City Gallery is housed in a historical building constructed in 1899. Inside, interactive displays recount the history of Kuala Lumpur, starting from when it was a quiet tin mining settlement, to its current status as the capital of Malaysia. The centrepiece of the City Gallery is a 12m x 15m room, complete with sound and light displays, containing the largest scale model of Kuala Lumpur City.

Wonder #2 – Batu Caves

To the north of the city, the next destination on our tour: The Batu Caves. This is one of the more well-known sights of Kuala Lumpur, and has been on my ‘to visit’ list for quite a while. The Batu Caves is a complex of large limestone caverns located at the top of a hill. It is also the site of a Hindu temple to one of the main deities worshipped in South India, Lord Murugan, explained Thomas.

“Wow”. As the van approached the site, the unmistakable towering gold-painted statue of Murugan, all 42.7m of him, came into view. Here was the tallest single figure of Murugan in the world. Just off to his left, 272 steps rise up to the top of the hill. We started to climb.

Some bits of info, garnered from my knowledgeable guide and my background as a museum guide myself. Murugan, sometimes known as Kartikeya or Subrahmanya, is the Hindu god of wisdom. The son of Shiva and his consort Parvati, Murugan is worshipped especially in South India. And in Malaysia, where the Tamil community primarily originated from South India, Murugan is very relevant and important.

As we climbed the steps, I cannot help but notice the excitable monkeys. These monkeys of Batu Caves are notorious for their boldness. They would come up to visitors and grab any food, loose items and water bottles right off their unsuspecting victims. And indeed, we saw one making for a plastic bag of snacks, grabbing it off a lady and not letting go. A mini tug-of-war ensued, until the lady gave up and released the bag. Monkey 1 Lady 0.

At the top of the steps, the cave opened up into a high ceiling cavern. There were shrines everywhere. The last one at the end, which I assumed was the inner shrine, had all these devotees offering their prayers, and then engaged in this peculiar act: They grab a coconut husk, and proceeded to smash it into the ground with force, breaking the husk and revealing the white flesh inside. Thomas explained that this ritual is one of purification, where the symbolic act of cleansing oneself is performed, with the white flesh symbolising purity.

Pottering about the caverns are roosters (I could also hear them crowing if I could not see them). Roosters, along with peacocks, are the mounts of Murugan. Mounts? Each of the Hindu deities would have their varanas, or animals which they use as their vehicle. And Murugan’s happen to be roosters, which explains why there are chickens at the top of 272 steps.

Wonder #3: Royal Selangor Pewter Factory

I was not expecting to enjoy this Wonder as much as I did. After all, how is it that a pewter making factory is even on the list? I was proven wrong though.

The visit started with an introduction by the in-house guide, who was witty and informative. He explained how pewter was made (alloy of tin, copper and antimony), showed us some very elaborate pieces of pewterware in the museum. He then took us down to the factory itself, where workers did actual demonstrations of the steps involved, from moulding to cutting to filing. We even got to drink 100 plus from pewter cups.

The pieces for sale in the gallery on the ground floor were pieces of fine art, each with patterns and designs elaborately knocked into shape. There were bowls, cutlery, frames, and pendants, amongst others. Some of the costliest items were priced in the thousands.

Lunch: Kampung Bahru (Wonder #3.5)

I’m classifying our lunch point as a wonder in itself. Kampung Baru, where we had lunch, is a traditional Malay village located right in the middle of Kuala Lumpur’s bustle. A little enclave amongst tall skyscrapers and busy streets. It came to be when the colonial powers in the early 20th century created it to encourage Malays to migrate into the city, yet retain their traditional way of life. Kampung Baru today is a bastion of simple living, holding out against development.

Lunch at the open-air hawker stalls in Kampung Bahru was an experience. It was a very communal affair, with rows and rows (and rows) of dishes to choose from. You simply get a plate of rice, scoop up all the dishes you want and pay accordingly later. I picked out a few dishes to sample, delicious. There was even live entertainment, some youths playing the guitar and singing.

Wonder #4: The National Mosque of Malaysia

We continued after lunch (burp!) to the next Wonder: The Masjid Negara, or National Mosque. The building, recognisable by its 73m high minaret, was built in 1965 and can seat 15000 worshippers at any one time. The main prayer hall was high-ceilinged, with large windows that let light in.

Of course, we had to be dressed appropriately to enter the mosque. I was fine, but the rest were given robes to wear. The robes, I have to say, made them really look like characters from a Star Wars movie set. We spent another twenty minutes or so looking around and taking photos, and listening to a caretaker-guide explaining about the mosque.

Wonder #5: The National Monument

The National Monument is a towering sculpture of soldiers, one holding the national flag. The seven bronze figures symbolises leadership, suffering, unity, vigilance, strength, courage and sacrifice. The monument was set up to commemorate the dead who fought in the World War II and the Malayan Emergency. A cenotaph nearby commemorates those who fought in World War I, with their names inscribed on it. Interestingly, the faces of the soldiers do not look Malaysian at all. And this was because the artist who was commissioned to do up the sculpture was the same guy who made the famous Iwo Jima Memorial in the US.

Besides the sculpture, the memorial park also had other visitors, the most fascinating were the group who were apparently filming some sort of Bollywood style dancing. The guy and the girl would dance to the beat of music, before the director would cut in and order a retake after giving instructions. Over and over again, very much the perfectionist. Too perfect, probably, as it started to drizzle and they had to clear up the set. Haha.

And that was the end. Unfortunately for me, I had to catch a flight back home, and had to forego the last two Wonders. It was still a very enjoyable experience. I was not expecting much, and so was pleasantly surprised by all the various sites around KL. My conclusion? KL is not just all shopping and glitzy skyscrapers. There is plenty more!

And here, for the sake of you readers who are interested, are the other two Wonders.

Wonder #6: The Thean Hou Temple & Little Indian Brickfields

The Thean Hou temple is one of the largest Chinese temples in Kuala Lumpur. Little India Brickfields is a place to learn about Hindu culture and temples.

Wonder #7: National Palace

The National Palace is the official residence of the head of state of Malaysia.

Minangkabau of Malaysia

In the 1500s, Minangkabau males engaged in voluntary migration, called merantau, across the Straits of Malacca.They landed in today’s Negeri Sembilan state and founded settlements all over the region. These settlers intermarried with the local population and brought with them the culture of the Minangkabau, or Adat Perpatih, which governs laws, political organisation, traditions and social systems.

One of the most known features of this adat is the matrilineal society, in which women are the owners of land and property. Family possessions are passed down from mother to daughter. Men, on the other hand are encouraged to leave their village to far off lands seeking fame and fortune, which might explain the migration across the straits. However, they are still tied closely to their homeland, many return home experienced and contribute to the running of the family or negeri (hometown) where they sit on the council of leaders.

Those that decided to stay on in Negeri Sembilan also formed their own villages and clans with similar councils of leaders, known as the datuk-datuk penghulu luak. They were still tied to their homeland, evident in the 1760s when a group of these datuk-datuk penghulus travelled to the seat of the Minangkabau king in West Sumatra to request for a ruler. The king sent his son, a young prince by the name of Raja Melewar who became the first king of Negeri Sembilan.

His title was the Yamtuan Besar (equivalent to King) Raja Melewar. He set his royal capital at Seri Menanti, 14km away from modern day Seremban, where it is still used as the seat of the Yamtuan Besar today. He was succeeded by members of the same royal line, a monarchy that still exists to this day.

The unique feature of Negeri Sembilan is that it is an elective monarchy, according to the Adat Perpatih of the Minangkabau. Unlike the other nine Malay States with a king (known as a Sultan) whose selection is hereditary, the Yamtuan Besar is elected by the datuk-datuk penghulus from a pool of potential princes in the royal line. Yes, the same Minangkabau chieftains of the tribes who went to search for the first ruler choose the king. This council today is made up of four undangs (district lords) in the modern day luaks (districts) of Sungai Ujong, Rembau, Jelebu and Johol. These undangs are descended from noble Minangkabau families matrilineally, and have historically been the rulers of their clans.

Then I realised how Negeri Sembilan (literal translation is “9 lands”) got its name. What I thought referred to the 9th out of 13 Malaysian states actually refers to the 9 original luaks of Negeri Sembilan. Today the state comprises 7 administrative districts, though the council of 4 undangs of the luaks still exist, performing ceremonial duties and the important task of selecting the next Yamtuan Besar.

I visited Negeri Sembilan over a weekend, and the Minangkabau influence is proudly showcased everywhere. In the main city of Seremban, overhead bridges had the distincitve curved roof structure that mimicked the shape of a bull’s horns. Even the local KFC fast food restaurant was in a standalone building designed like a traditional Minang house. In the nearby villages out in the countryside, homes still bear traditional Minangkabau roofs.

The grandest Minangkabau building is the Old Palace at the royal capital Seri Menanti. It is an impressive four storey building built in 1903 constructed without any nails. The palace is today used as a museum featuring the history and regalia of the royal family. Within Seri Menanti town, there is also the royal mausoleum, a mosque and the new Royal Palace, where the current Yamtuan Besar resides.

If you are ever in Negeri Sembilan and wish to learn more about the fascinating Minangkabau of Malaysia, you should also visit the State Museum Complex. Located in Seremban, the museum offers a look into the culture and history of the Minangkabau. The main building, a grand recreation of a Minangkabau royal home, houses everything from weapons to royal ornament. There is even a section on prehistoric Negeri Sembilan.

Istana Lama Seri Menanti : The four-storeyed old royal palace

A view of the State Museum’s Minangkabau roofs, looking out of a window of a traditional home.

A modern interpretation of a Minangkabau home


Gastronomy: Penang

PA020616, originally uploaded by morphred.

Penang, Malaysia – 01-03 Oct 2010
The Straits Settlements series – Part 2 (Penang)

So here are brief snippets of the highlights of Penang

– The journey there was on the overnight snoozer Konsortium bus (55 SGD), which picks up at Golden Mile tower. It was a 10 hour night ride, ending at the Sungei Nibong long distance bus station on Penang island. By snoozer, it means that the seats recline to about 30 degrees, with plenty of leg space, and your own entertainment unit. I had How to Train Your Dragon on mine. The air conditioning was way too cold.

– Lodging for the day was on the New Banana Guesthouse, clean and at the back of the New Banana travel agency (70 RM for d/room), located at the junction of Lebuh Chulia and Penang Rd. The backpacker places around Chulia charge anything around 30 to 50 RM for a room. New Banana has aircon, tv and free Wifi. =)

– The Penang Hill fiasco. Penang Hill is closed till 2011. The train transport to the top of the hill is under renovation. We took the bus up to Penang hill, and ended up taking the next bus back.

– The public bus service (Rapid) is excellent, with destinations clearly displayed and easy to use. Traveling by bus is cheap and convenient.

– Gurney drive hawker centre has a great vibe, with its open air by the beach concept. Gurney Plaza next door is exactly like an Sg mall, down to its layout (cinema on top floor, supermarket on basement) and its tenants. No surprise, seeing as its under Capitaland’s retail arm.

– Food. Had everything from Nonya chicken curry, Mee goreng sotong, assam laksa, parsembur and retro egg toast in the many quaint coffeeshops littered throughout Georgetown. KW in addition had Char Kway Teow and Hokkien Mee. The initial reason for going to Penang is to have authentic Nasi Kandar, but that was never going to happen. I was waiting to have enough of an empty stomach before ordering Nasi Kandar, but the way I was snacking and eating everything else, that was never going to happen.

– The highlight would have to be the parsembur hawker, who stands beside his stall and to the beat of techno (I’m a Barbie girl, anyone?) sings an infectious “rojak, rojak, rojak…” ad nauseum, with his chopper on the chopping board. He drums up business that way, im sure. =)

– Penang Times Square is still halfway under construction, with the main shopping complex completed and only half-filled by tenants. It’s the next big thing though; shiny, located in the central town area, just beside current big time shopping draws, Prangin Mall and Komtar. Watch for it.


– Georgetown itself is a mixture of Chinese temples, Indian temples, mosques, and colonial buildings, depending on which part you go to. Fort Cornwallis isn’t much to look at, but it does give an insight to Penang’s history. I can understand why Penang and its smorgarsbord of sights, smells and sounds would fascinate the western traveler.

– Flight back home. Penang to Senai airport in JB. Senai airport’s been renovated since I was last here, and it’s pretty convenient to get to the Kotaraya terminal and then to Singapore from the airport.

To summarise, went there, ate, walked, ate, sat down, ate, slept, ate, ate, walked, ate, went home. Did not get to savour my Nasi Kandar. Meaning I’ll just have to return here another time! =)


Papa Loves Mambo at Jonker 88

Papa Loves Mambo at Jonker 88, originally uploaded by morphred.
21-22Aug, Malacca, Malaysia
The Straits Settlements Series – Part I

Despite not wanting to go anywhere over the weekend, I ended up joining KW, WQ, YQ and Al in driving up to Malacca. On a Sat night, while fasting. For less than 24hrs.

Driving with a GPS is a no-brainer. Just follow instructions blindly. And Malacca looks the same. A World Heritage site, plenty of peranakan-ness. Basically, i wilted in the heat, and watched everyone eat lovely chendol ice kachang in gula melaka. The company’s great though, and the 500km drive was worth it. 🙂

Visit: Jonker Street, Formosa, Mahkota Parade
Sleep: Kings Hotel Apartments
Eat: Nasi Kandar / McDonalds

A blink and you miss moment in Shah Alam

21 July 2010, Shah Alam, Selangor

Well, well… what do we have here? Visiting up north for a short jaunt. Staying in a nice business hotel for a change? And not traveling budget? What else if not for work. =( Still, it’s a case of not looking a gift horse in the mouth. Nice dinner, nice buffet breakfast, nice lunch. And any brief jaunt out of Sg, even those that are rushed, is welcomed. (actually this post is just cos i love the shoes on carpet shot…)

A brief excursion to Pulau Dayang

9 – 11th July 2010

The briefest of brief getaways, but the first of many more this year hopefully. I was off to Pulau Dayang for a spot of diving. After gallavanting off for months, and then sitting put, finally getting out of town is a welcomed excursion.

The dives themselves were good yet not fantastic (and this is relative, considering my last dive was in the Red Sea!) but I had a good time nevertheless. It must have been the company. =) The dive outfit was professional and the dive group was a fun bunch. Normally these dive trips out of Sg will come with one or two weirdos in tow. This time round however everyone somehow clicked nicely. That’s about it. Hahahahah.

Now, if you are reading this and you have any ideas for places to travel to (or need a travel buddy!) drop me a holler! I’m always keen =)

99 – DXB to home

5th Mar, on plane to KL

Slept in. Went up to the lounge, printed my flight tickets, and in general lazed around while waiting to go to the airport later in the afternoon. I was just talking to Fabian earlier and i realised the first Singaporeans I met on this trip was back on Day 1 were Tristan and Geordie, on the KL to Abu Dhabi flight. Then they are linked to Fabian whom they met for the first time in Yemen and subsequently traveled together for a bit over there. And now on Day 99 i’m ending my travels with Fabian at Dubai airport. Kind of like coming round a full circle for me. I’m not sure whether you know what i am ranting about, but yeah, i find it amusing.

Checked in luggage with no problems. I took out my yellow fever vaccination papers and put them in my hand luggage just in case i get stopped at KLIA. Walked around the airport’s duty free shopping area for a bit, but really i was just looking past the shops.

Malaysia Airlines, decent and actually pretty good service. I’m typing this from the plane. I imagine i would be a little jetlagged later today since its 2am in KL and im still wide awake! It’s a 7 hour flight. I’m comfortable enough, but my peeling skin is really getting to me, since it itches like heck and i feel like scratching the layers off. Try to catch some sleep now. Signing off.