Festivals, Fireworks & $5 Dinners: Welcome to Kuala Lumpur

In 2008, after an exhilarating three years exploring Southeast Asia, my husband David and I decided to settle down for a little while in Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur (KL). This modern, dynamic city offered all the comforts of home and we really liked the low cost of living, but most of all, we loved the city. Plain and simple.

To start with we rented an apartment in the upscale “Golden Triangle” neighbourhood. This is the trendiest part of KL, right in the city centre, with incredible views of the iconic Petronas Towers and the Menara Tower. We were treated to a light show from our living room window every night as the Menara changed colours. Shopping was within a short walk and a hawker centre, with cheap, delicious local food, was just around the corner.

As nice as it was living there, it was a little too close to the action—nearby nightclubs played loud music well into the night—so, seeking a little peace and quiet, we started looking for another home.

We settled on Brickfields, a residential area right in the heart of Little India. We soon found a fantastic furnished, two-bedroom apartment. It was on a high floor of a modern complex, meaning we had great views. It also had a big swimming pool and 24-hour security—and, at less than $600 per month, it was a real bargain. (You can still get similar two-bedroom properties in the neighbourhood from $575 to $800 per month.)

The monorail station was just 50 metres from our front door or a five-minute walk would have us at KL Sentral train station. We never needed to own a car, which is a real advantage to living in KL. Our apartment was also just across the street from one of the city’s largest Hindu temples so we got to see plenty of colourful celebrations throughout the year. Occasionally we would leave our building and walk into the middle of a parade of devotees happily celebrating some special event, dressed in vibrant saris and shiny bangles, bindis and blessings adorning their foreheads. Drummers would beat a hypnotic tempo as vendors set up shop nearby, hoping to tempt the crowds with fragrant curry puffs and sweet Indian treats.

The neighbourhood was wonderfully quiet at night. The only sound we ever heard was the occasional distant pop and fizz of fireworks—holidays, celebrations, festivals…Malaysia loves to party.

Our own little tradition was a Thursday night visit to the pasar malam, or night market. This is where we would come to stock our kitchen with mangoes, fresh produce, meat and fish. The vendors got to know us and we never needed to haggle over a price. We’d often take home some just-prepared street food—perhaps some fiery beef rendang or satay sticks with delicious peanut sauce—a huge meal for the two of us never cost more than $5. If we chose to eat out, the bill would run to about $13 at an air conditioned, indoor place, leaving plenty of money for occasional shopping sprees or spur of the moment trips to explore the region further.

The only drawback for us—though many expats would consider it a benefit—was the unchanging climate. It stays at a pretty constant 28 C to 32 C year-round. But it’s far from unbearable, we spent two happy years here before making the move to Hanoi, Vietnam, with its more seasonal climate—and we come back to visit as often as we can.

On our recent trip back to KL, a visit to our beloved Brickfields was a must. There’s been development of course, new skyscrapers, fancy hotels and a swanky shopping centre. But, for all it’s gained, the old neighbourhood hasn’t lost any of its charm.

There’s new business, growth and wealth here, and amidst it all there’s still the colourful people that make this neighbourhood so special. The Hindu temples are still active, the devotees still celebrating life, the dozens of restaurants selling vegetarian food and spicy cuisine are still packed every night and dinner for two at the night market still costs less than $5. As we wandered through this enchanting neighbourhood on our last night in KL, we were treated to fireworks. Some things never change.

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