Month: July 2015

7 Notes on Kuala Lumpur

Overlooking the city from the Petronas Towers skybridge

Overlooking the city center from the Petronas Towers skybridge

For over a month now I’ve been living outside of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital and largest city. Before arriving, I had very few pre-conceived notions about Malaysia. I knew about the Twin Towers and I had heard there were lots of other tall buildings here. But other than that, my knowledge was very limited.

Here are seven random things that have struck me since I’ve been here.

  1. It’s hot and humid
    Like much of Southeast Asia, it’s hot here. And humid. Because it’s so close to the equator, the temperature remains remarkably constant year-round with highs of around 87 to 92 degrees every day. This makes deciding what to wear an easy choice.
  2. No visa requirement for Americans
    The lack of paperwork required to enter Malaysia made the arrival process quick and smooth.
  3. Predominantly Muslim country
    I arrived in Kuala Lumpur on the first full day of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month when people fast from sunrise to sunset. Since the majority of the population is Muslim, this means a lot of restaurants were closed during the day and the food court at the local mall was deserted.
  4. Mix of cultures
    There are significant Chinese and Indian minorities in Malaysia, which is reflected in the cuisine. I have heard that the different ethnic groups don’t interact much socially, but I haven’t noticed any strict separations.
  5. People are respectful and mild mannered
    From my interactions around town and at CrossFit, people are polite and generally welcoming.
  6. Lots of cats
    There seems to be a high number of cats here, both as pets and strays. There are not as many dogs, however, because Muslims view dogs as unclean.
  7. “Don’t be a pain, stay in your lane”
    Like in many other countries, traffic can be a problem here. Although the main roads are nice and wide, they can be very windy and other drivers sometimes seem oblivious to the cars around them. The radio even runs public service announcements encouraging drivers to stay in their lane and not to tailgate. Also, because of the historical British influence, people drive on the “other” side of the road, which took this Yankee some time to get used to.

Commuting in Ho Chi Minh City

My motorbike in Saigon

My motorbike in Saigon

Last month I spent 12 days in Vietnam’s biggest city – Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon. It was great to see the other major city in Vietnam after living in Hanoi for three months at the beginning of the year.

Saigon definitely seems more “Americanized” than Hanoi, with plentiful fast food places and chain stores. But it also has a strong Vietnamese character, with lots of local places to eat great Vietnamese food – including my personal favorite, pho.

The preferred mode of transport in Saigon is the motorbike. I was able to rent a bike for 500,000 Vietnamese dong (about $23) for one week. The rental service even dropped off and picked up the motorbike from my Airbnb apartment – very convenient!

The video below shows what it’s like to ride through the streets of this southern Vietnamese metropolis. It follows the route from near my apartment in District 3 to a Starbucks in District 1. As you can see, it’s a very vibrant city and without a doubt one of the top spots to visit Southeast Asia.