Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: A Steamy Concrete Jungle

Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The impressive Petronas Towers at night

The last few weeks in Korea and Japan felt like a vacation…yes, a vacation from our travels.  As weird as that sounds, it’s probably the best way to describe it.  Being with Jason’s family in Korea and then travelling with Jeanne and Dave in Japan felt like we were taking a bit of a break from our usual world of hostels, shared bathrooms, and eating at street stalls.

Don’t get me wrong, we love eating at street stalls, but we also love eating at good restaurants.  So after our “vacation” in Korea and Japan, we got back into “travel mode” after parting ways with Jeanne and Dave.

Up next in our travel adventures was Malaysia – specifically the bustling capital of Kuala Lumpur (known as KL by the cool people – and obviously we are cool *wink*).  We were really excited to visit this city and were looking forward to experiencing the mix of modern metropolis with old-world orient.

What we were NOT prepared for was the oppressive (to the point of almost unbearable) humidity and heat.  On a daily basis, the temperature hovered around 35°C, and with humidity it felt like 44°C!  That kind of heat is fine if you’re on a beach but not if you’re stuck in a concrete jungle.

Although KL boasts several modern transit systems that interconnect, we found this multi-transit system really confusing and difficult to navigate.  After a few weeks in Korea and Japan, we had become a little spoiled by their clean, fast, and efficient metro systems.  KL has monorail lines, commuter train lines, and skytrain lines that all tangled up into a jumbled mess.

Confusing pedestrian infrastructure (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

A confusing network of pedestrian walkways, tunnels, and bridges around the city. Notice the lack of sidewalks.

We decided to try our hand at exploring the city by foot.  But the pedestrian infrastructure also proved to be confusing and difficult to navigate.  Networks of pedestrian walkways, tunnels, and bridges that connect from building to building replaced normal pedestrian sidewalks.  Trying to get from point A to point B meant either scampering across a 6-lane highway or taking a 30-minute detour through underground tunnels and pedestrian bridges.

Confusing pedestrian infrastructure (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

Bridges over random waterways. It’s liked they built all the buildings without any sort of plan of how they would get people from one building to another.

We spent our first day walking around our neighbouhood while trying to stay in the shade.  Jason had read about the indoor hawker stall food centre called Lot 10 Hutong.  Described as a “gourmet heritage village”, it pulls together a hand-picked lot of the best hawker stalls across Malaysia and places them in an clean, air-conditioned indoor food-court.  Normally, I prefer the grimier, authentic street food experience.  But in this ridiculous heat, “indoor” and ‘air-conditioning” were right up my alley.

Lot 10 Hutong (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

Lot 10 Hutong: a gourmet heritage village

Jason and I both got Chinese-influenced dishes.  I ordered a delicious wine chicken & mushroom noodle soup and he got a claypot chicken rice dish.

Lot 10 Hutong (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

Wine Chicken & mushroom noodle soup

Lot 10 Hutong (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

Claypot chicken rice

After cooling off and filling up, we were ready for round two of exploration.  However, we quickly found out that Kuala Lumpur doesn’t have many sights to take in – people mainly come here for two things: shopping and eating.

Shopping

Berjaya Times Square (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

The expansive amusement park inside one of the malls – puts West Edmonton Mall to shame!

The malls in Malaysia are insane!  Now normally, I love shopping and have no problem with spending hours in malls and markets perusing the sales racks.  However, backpacking for 6 months means you have to be really, really picky with what you pick up along the way.  “Do I really want to carry this around for the next few months?” is a question we ask ourselves a lot.  Sure, we can ship things home, but that would get really expensive really quickly and we were already on a tight budget.

Berjaya Times Square (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

Jason trying to figure out how to exit the massive mall complex

So unfortunately, no shopping for this girl.  Jason, on the other hand, was ecstatic about our limited shopping opportunities.  But even though we weren’t planning to do much shopping in Kuala Lumpur, we still ended up visiting quite a few malls – mainly to escape the heat and take advantage of the air conditioning and relatively clean bathrooms…. and of course, the bowling alleys!

Berjaya Times Square (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

The 20-lane bowling alley inside the mall. Look at that picture-perfect form!

One of the few sights to see in the city is the iconic Petronas Towers.  It IS pretty impressive to see up close (from the outside) – especially when it’s all lit up at night.  Attached to the Petronas Towers is a massive high-end mall (of course!)

Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Unflatteringly-angled selfie with the Petronas Towers.

Eating

Since shopping wasn’t really part of our plan, that just leaves eating on the agenda – which we both had no problems with.

An interesting area to visit in KL is Petaling Street/Chinatown.  Pirated CDs, fake Louis Vuitton purses, and street food stalls are crammed into the narrow and bustling pedestrian streets.

Petaling Street (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

The packed narrow streets of Chinatown

Jason snacked on a banana leaf-wrapped sticky rice dumpling, while I found an awesome little spicy beef rice noodle stand in a back alley

Spicy beef noodle soup at Petaling Street

Spicy beef noodle soup at Petaling Street

Malaysian culture is a fascinating mix of predominantly Indian, Chinese, Malay.  This ethnic mix, along with its geographic location, allows for many influences in Malaysian cuisine – Indian, Chinese, Malay, Indonesian, Thai, and Arabian.  All of that cultural diversity will naturally lead to a melting pot of unique flavours and dishes.

Gravy beef over rice

Gravy beef over rice

Mee Goreng (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

Mee Goreng – a spicy and tasty fried noodle dish that is very popular in Malaysia

Mee Goreng (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

Another version of Mee Goreng

Our eyes and tastebuds were delighted to find this amazing food street, Jalan Alor, almost right next to where we were staying.

Jalan Alor (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

The popular food street, Jalan Alor

We walked right past it during the day, barely giving it a second glance.  During the daylight hours, it’s pretty easy to miss – but when the sun sets, this street comes to life.  Hawker stalls jostle for space on the streets while restaurants set up plastic stools and tables that spill over the sidewalk right onto the street.

Skewered meat and seafood (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

Everything tastes better on a stick, right?

Seafood stall on Jalan Alor

A seafood stall open for business

Jalan Alor (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

Tables were packed with locals – the best sign of good food

We ordered a feast that night: soy-glazed chicken wings, deep fried frog legs, and curry noodles – with a few cold pints of beer to wash it all down.

Jalan Alor (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

Jason just moments away from inhaling the bowl of curry noodles

Jalan Alor (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

A meal fit for (Malaysian) royalty

Yes, the food was delicious, but irritated with the frustrating pedestrian infrastructure and the oppressive heat, we decided to hightail it out of Kuala Lumpur after only 2.5 days – the shortest we’ve spent in any one place so far.  Off to the beach – the only place one should be in 44°C weather!

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Buenos Aires: City of Neighbourhoods

Sunset over Buenes Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires is a wonderful city – probably one of our favourite cities in South America. It’s a city of beautiful French and Spanish architecture, fascinating political and cultural history, a vibrant arts scene, great restaurants – it makes for an incredibly liveable city. Jason and I have spent over 3 weeks in Buenos Aires – the longest we’ve stayed in just one city and we loved every moment of it.

Buenos Aires kind of reminds us of Toronto, or Paris, or New York – probably because it’s also a city of neighbourhoods. Each neighbourhood or district has its own unique look and feel. The posh refinement of Recoleta, trendy hip Palermo, gastronomic Las Canitas, the proud roots of La Boca, historical Montserrat…the list goes on. It’d take weeks to explore all the little nooks of Buenos Aires, and weeks we took.

Luckily, Buenos Aires has an excellent and inexpensive public transport system: a clean and efficient subway system (ARS$2.5 or CDN$0.50) and a very extensive city bus network (ARS$1.60 or CDN$0.30). We only used a cab twice the whole time we were there.

The Subte - the subway in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Las Cañitas

We stayed in a modern little apartment in Las Cañitas

Our modern apartment in Las Canitas neighbouhood

Our apartment for the 3 weeks in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Wedged between Palermo and Belgrano, Las Canitas is a pretty, tree-lined neighbourhood. It popped up in the 90s and quickly became a neighbourhood of signature restaurants and hip bars. Today, it possesses the highest concentration of restaurants and bars in the city.

At Las Cholas, one of the great restaurants in Las Canitas

At Las Cholas, one of the great restaurants in Las Canitas

Montserrat

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we also spent a few days in Montserrat. A place of historical significance, Montserrat is the district that holds Plaza de Mayo, the Cabildo (where Eva “Evita” Peron famously addressed the nation), and Casa Rosada.

The face of Evita on one of the buildings in Montserrat

The face of Evita on one of the buildings in Montserrat

San Telmo

Closeby is the neighbourhood of San Telmo. It’s a beautiful old neighbourhood – its history rooted in tango dancers pressed together on the cobblestone streets, colonial houses, and antique stores. Today, it’s one of Buenos Aires’ trendiest areas – full of hostels, refurbished old pubs, and independent designer boutiques.

Cobblestone streets in San Telmo

Cobblestone streets in San Telmo

On Sunday, many of the main streets close down for its weekly antique fair and is packed full of performers, artisans, and market stalls.

Sunday Antique Market in San Telmo

Sunday Antique Market in San Telmo

Performers in San Telmo

Artists & performers in San Telmo

Performers in San Telmo

Artists & performers in San Telmo

San Telmo was one of our favourite neighbourhoods. We frequented this neighbouhood often – returning to enjoy Argentine pizza, grab a microbrewed beer, or to wander through the market.

La Boca

Another neighbourhood steeped in history is La Boca. The old port (Vuelta de Rocha), is where thousands of European immigrants arrived at the end of the 19th century – bringing and instilling a very proud Italian subculture in the neighbouhood.

The old port in La Boca

The old port in La Boca

La Boca is also home to the rowdiest and craziest football club in Buenos Aires: the Boca Juniors. Fans are so rowdy (and sometimes violent) that tickets are no longer sold to visitors- only club members can purchase tickets to football games. We were told that the only way tourists can see a game is to either purchase tickets on game day through very sketchy scalpers (i.e. counterfeit tickets galore) or to go through a tour operator that charges USD$150/ticket. Jason REALLY wanted to see a football game while in Argentina. But we didn’t end up seeing the Boca Juniors.

La Bombenera: the Boca Juniors stadium

La Bombenera: the Boca Juniors stadium

La Boca can be pretty dangerous. We were advised, by our guide book and locals alike, to not wander off the beaten path and to always be aware of our surroundings. Luckily, the beaten path offers some very interesting sights.

El Caminito in La Boca (Buenos Aires)

El Caminito in La Boca

El Caminito in La Boca (Buenos Aires)

Colourful sheet metal houses in El Caminito

‘El Caminito’ is one-part tourist trap and one-part bohemian getaway. The picturesque streets are lined with colourful sheet metal houses and filled with (artists dressed like) tango dancers that want to take a picture with you (for a fee, of course!)

Belgrano

Belgrano is a quiet neighbourhood that’s also home to the city’s Chinatown. The stores here sell anything and everything; pungent smells waft from the fish markets; and barbecued duck and pig carcasses hang in the front of restaurants.

El Barrio Chino in Belgrano

El Barrio Chino (Chinatown) in Belgrano

I can see why there are no Asian people in the rest of the city – they all seem to congregate here. I also found my favourite comfort food here: a steaming bowl of noodle soup.

Noodle soup in El Barrio Chino

My favourite comfort food: noodle soup

Recoleta

Recoleta became the most exclusive area in the city in the late 1800s when a yellow fever epidemic forced the wealthy aristocrats from San Telmo to the tree-lined streets of this upper class neighbourhood.

Parks and walkways in Recoleta

Parks and walkways in Recoleta

One of the most exclusive addresses in the city can be found in Recoleta, but no one actually lives there: the Recoleta Cemetary. It’s a must-see for all visitors, especially during the week when it’s eerily empty and quiet.

Recoleta Cemetary

Spooky Recoleta Cemetary

Recoleta Cemetary

Looks like its ready for Halloween year-round

Recoleta Cemetary

Recoleta Cemetary: beautiful and eerie

Evita’s remains are buried here with her family, under her maiden name.

Eva 'Evita' Peron's final resting place

Eva ‘Evita’ Peron’s final resting place

The above were just a few of the neighbouhoods we visited and enjoyed. There are so many more neighbouhoods to explore. If you get a chance to visit other neighbouhoods in Buenos Aires, leave me a comment below and let me know about it. Or did I miss any of your favourite neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires? Tell me about them 🙂