Petaling Street Is the Big Time in Kuala Lumpur (Or, Gimme a Whole Lotta’ Roti Prata, Part 4)

I’ll be short: I was so excited for dinner at Petaling Street our first night in Malaysia, but it was totally sidetracked. The time it took getting out of the airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was a bit of a bummer. From long lines at immigration, difficulties with an ATM, buying umbrellas and bug repellent, to getting SIM cards… Simply, it took longer than in Taiwan. And after all that, we still had to get on the KLIA Ekspress for an hour-long trip into the city. By the time we arrived at our hostel, it was late, and we just wanted to eat.

Which is why I now turn to tell you about the glory that was President Corner.

How a Woman from President Corner Became Our Favorite Person in Kuala Lumpur

We had originally wanted to go to Jalan Petaling, but it being much too late, we turned to what we found out was a reliable source: the hostel’s staff. “Where can we eat in Kuala Lumpur this late?” They suggested a business around the corner, and boy were we happy they did. When we walked in (rather sheepishly) we were quickly ushered to a table by a woman who looked and talked very much like she was in control of the situation.

We asked if she would recommend any food to us, and she came to our rescue by telling us about roti prata (filled with cheese and banana) and murtabok — and when we asked about teh tarik, she topped off three glasses for us. So hungry, we devoured these plates and guzzled the glasses, and the entire time, she kept popping back in to see if we wanted anything else to eat (we did) or if we needed more drinks (of course). We basically decided then and there that she would be the spirit guide to our trip, our favorite person in KL!

Dazed from teh tarik and stuffed with delicious Malaysian flatbread, it was then that we realized how rich of a place this country could be for us. Where would we go? What would we see? What wonders could we uncover? It was all before us. And the best part, yet to be understood, was that this stunning leg of our trip would be ours for but a penny. More on that later.

President Corner's sign in Kuala Lumpur
Selamat datang means “Welcome” in Malay. This restoran will be firmly planted in our memories, just right around the corner from Backhome KL.

Stumbling back to our hostels and giddy with tea, we decided we would return to President’s Corner before the trip was over.

BackHome KL Is the Best Hostel in Kuala Lumpur

As stated, we loved Backhome KL. Let me quickly give you a rundown of the first night. When we arrived, it was late. We got a quick tour of the hostel. The place has two floors with an entry hangout area connected to a kitchen nook just beyond with a private TV or movie room connecting. Rooms flank an inner courtyard, and they all have air condition for your comfort plus lockable in-room drawers for your ease of mind. Plus, we discovered the next morning that the hostel has a water purifier that provides cold or boiling water.

What else makes this hostel amazing, though? It is within walking distance of all-things KL including Chinatown, Merdeka Square, KLCC Park, and the central railway station, KL Sentral. Additionally, a wealth of information about the area is freely posted inside the kitchen nook in case you don’t know where to go first. Plus, the hostel has a signup board for more activities; with pub crawls, early morning hikes, discounted MUD KL: Our Story of KL tickets, and foodie excursions to choose from, Backhome KL gives you a great opportunity to meet the nearby neighborhoods and your hostel-mates in one fell swoop.

Breakfasts, furthermore, provide a taste of the area with toast and peanut butter or kaya provided alongside a fruit selection that included fresh pineapple. Want something more? You can easily sign up for a fuller meal from their menu for a modest cost. Honestly, Backhome KL thought of everything, even offering extra goods available for purchase if you run out.  And did I mention the entire place is open-air? It was an incredibly relaxing way to spend a night, staring up into the dark sky.

With a warm breeze swirling down from the expanse, we hung out in the lounge area for awhile more that night before going to bed. The next day proved an adventure worthy of two.

Masjid Negara Malaysia: Everyone Looks Good in Purple

Waking up early, we made sure to grab breakfast including toast with kaya. Now, lemme tell you about kaya: It is a coconut egg jam sweetened with sugar and pandan, a green leaf that tastes like vanilla. At first wary, we devoured this, and after a few swigs of coffee, went on our way on a walk about of KL.

We saw a few things that were impressive, including the old railway train station and its administration building across the street, which were constructed in 1910. Kuala Lumpur used to be governed by the British, and they used many Neo-Saracenic architectural designs in their buildings. We also saw more run-down areas along the river where a lot of construction is happening. Graffiti covers these places, and actually, it is rather interesting, but we read in a few places that KL plans to have completed its major construction projects by 2020 to revitalize many areas of its city. So maybe a trip is in order then?

Anyway, around the corner from these lies the National Mosque of Malaysia, a building that can house 15,000 people. It was constructed in 1965 following the design of an umbrella, and it’s minaret is 73 meters tall. It was huge. In order to enter, we had to take off our shoes and don traditional robes (and if you’re a woman, a hijab as well). The building was incredibly clean and well-laid out. Moreover, the Arabic calligraphy adorning the walls added a sense of majesty that you don’t see in many places of worship. Islam allows no “images” inside their mosques, so they decorate with the script of the Qur’an.

Masjid Negara Malaysia, or the National Mosque of Malaysia
I wish I could have captured its umbrella pattern better. You can see it at top to the left, where the structure is turquoise. The entire building

As we were gazing inside the large central sanctuary, a man approached us and asked if we’d like to learn more. “Do you have ten minutes? I’ll only take 10 minutes,”he said, so, curious, we agreed, and so started an almost hour long conversation into the building and Islam’s tenants. We were perhaps too polite to let him take that much our time, but it was interesting listening to him explain things from his point of view. I’m not sure I had heard a Muslim explain it to me in-depth like this before, so I appreciated his devotion.

Afterwards, we walked around a little more before departing. If you had gone, do you think you would have been uncomfortable here, especially due to many Western stereotypes concerning these people? Traveling gives us the chance to strip those stereotypes away and appreciate people for who they are. I was happy for the chance.

Take Time for KL Bird Park: You’ll Love It

Continuing on our way, we walked a few kilometers with lush tropical flora lining the streets. As we grew closer, we saw from atop a hill a huge netted area, capturing a vast swath of territory with the sounds of birds drifting from within. Yes, we had finally arrived! We were at the largest free-flight walk-in aviary in the world: KL Bird Park.

A photo of KL Bird Park further away
I wonder at the costs to upkeep this. I loved that there was a small rain-forest within the city limits of Kuala Lumpur. Everywhere we go in Asia, it seems like city always meets nature in a harmonious way.

We bought tickets. Immediately upon entry, we encountered a large peacock that kept calling out loudly, something I had never heard before. Inside, you can walk along a path through a variety of areas with birds flitting around you and others separated from the public. Different varieties of parrots or peacocks were allowed to roam about, but larger birds such as ostriches, emus, and horn-bills were kept out of reach. The environment itself was lush and cool. Happily, the canopy kept us out of the sun’s harsh gaze.

Hornbill bird at KL Bird Park, Malaysia
We saw a variety of birds in different habitats.
Photo of a bird behind the cage at KL Bird Park
This was my favorite picture. It seems rather dark and foreboding, like the bird itself.
Danny and Cara reacting to an emu in KL Bird Park, Malaysia
I love Cara’s face here. The thing got right up to the bars and really wanted attention.

Probably my favorite part of the park were the peacocks that you could get rather close to. Moreover, their tail feathers were often extended. And maybe I’ve never paid attention before, but these peacocks just seemed healthier and more beautiful; their feathers weren’t haggard like so many I’ve seen elsewhere, and many of the birds were putting on a show for people (or maybe they were just angry. Probably that).

Beautiful peacock at KL Bird Park in Malaysia
Simply stunning, if you ask me.

In one area, if you wanted, you could get pictures taken with highly trained cockatoos perched all over you. Families would haul their children in, and it was quite the show. Children would be visibly disturbed, huge crocodile tears streaming down their face, and then the parents would say, “Smile!” for the camera, and they would immediately make the cheesiest grin alive. Those children were hilarious.

In another area, you entered through a waterfall and then descended down into a lake area where more peacocks resided. It was here that I saw a peacock shake its feathers for the first time, warding the people away. It was a beautiful display. Back in the main area, we had our first encounter with a silvered leaf monkey seemingly strolling along the wire-fence. You know you’re in a different world when monkeys pop in and out at their leisure.

Of course, to exit the park you must walk through a souvenir shop, but maybe that would interest some. We exited and began our walk to the next area where we planned to eat a late lunch.

Our Self-Guided Tour of Brickfields, Little India

Brickfields is the locally ethnic enclave of Indians. Everything gets brighter here, the music more Bolly, and we spotted traditional Indian garb and jewelry stores all around. Using someone else’s map (try this or this), we decided to walk around the area, but first, we needed food.

That’s where Peter’s Pork Noodles comes in. We had to walk into what looked like a cafeteria called Money’s Corner to find a bunch of different food vendors all lined up and waiting for customers. (And may I say it was incredibly difficult to find? Don’t trust Google Maps to send you the right way.) Anyway, I had heard this one was good specifically, so we tried it out.

We got the pork noodle soup. It was a cheap RM6.5 with perfectly creamy soft-boiled eggs thrown in each (which Cara and Danny promptly gave to me). A selection of minced pork, pork liver, koay teow, mee hoon, yellow noodles is added to the bowl, and you could have a spicy condiment if you wished. Both Danny and I did, but being the smart guy he is, he got some in his eye.

The locals must have thought I said something particularly mean to him, since he was crying for a few minutes afterward! He had to blow his nose like nine times. Embarrassing! Sad! Either way, it was divine.  Of course, as was becoming our pattern, we decided to have some teh tarik as well. Peter’s Pork Noodles definitely lived up to its hype, and I wish I could bring it home with me.

Sadly, as we left, it started raining pretty heavily on us, forcing us into a temple to wait out some of its worst. After a bit, we walked on, ducking under covered walkways where we could and seeing a variety of places like Buddhist and Hindu temples, churches, a center for the blind (since there are many blind masseuses that reside around here), various shrines, and a fountain. The fountain itself was a gift from India, decorated with peacocks and elephants, and it dominates the entrance area to Little India. Overall, though Brickfields was not too modern or updated, the charm it had made up for the rest. Only modestly (or mostly) wet from the rain, we finally made our way back under the fading light for the last stop of our night: Petaling Street.

If You Go to KL, You MUST Go to Petaling Street

Petaling Street (Jalan Petaling) wasn’t too full on our walk through earlier that morning. People strolled down the street on their way to work, but it was otherwise uncrowded. When we arrived at dark, however, the streets were not only peopled to its brim, but carts and pop-up shops completely obliterated any memory of it being a “street.” We pushed our way through, constantly being flagged down by vendors trying to sell very inexpensive goods such as watches, purses, shoes, and clothes. Chinese lanterns lined the sky and food vendors were plentiful.

A view of Petaling Street during the day
This is before the night time festivities begin.

But first, we ducked into Old China Kafe to see about relaxing a bit. Here, we discovered the amazing soursop fruit. With my research, I found that it tastes like something between a pineapple and strawberry with the slight creamy finish of a banana. Oh yeah, it’s pretty amazing. The soursop juice also had chunks thrown in that were chewy and sweet; even writing about it now makes my mouth water, which is why I must encourage everyone to try this at least five times before leaving Southeast Asia.

Afterwards, we prowled Petaling Street looking for more food. We drank some air mata kucing, a drink made using tung kua and loh hon kor fruits mixed with loong ngan (don’t ask me what these are — the first turns powdery white with age and the second is dried and sweet). Chunks of the fruit were in the drink (as per usual) and it had a deep, syrupy sweet taste to it that coated and cooled your mouth. It went well with the peanut and coconut pancake snacks (apam balik) we found at an uncle’s stall.

This guy was pretty adorable, too: He scurried around his ragtag cart, fumbling through his ingredients and tools looking for what he needed. After we asked if we could have any (some of his last for that night, I think), he kept repeating the simple phrase, “One minute, one minute” in this old-man accent. In fact, anything we asked was met with “one minute, one minute,” even while he found his paint scrapers (!!) to help scoop the apam balik off the large skillet he was using. Everything was just a mess, but we loved him for it, and the snacks, when we finally got them, were to die for. You have to eat these things when you go to Petaling Street.

We finally settled on a restaurant called Kim Lian Kee at Petaling Street’s main intersection. This restaurant is well known for Cantonese food, and more specifically, Hokkien Mee Noodles. A thick egg noodle stir-fry covered in a dark soy sauce, with pork, seafood, and cabbage mixed in, Hokkien Mee makes a delicious fare. When the woman came around to take our order, we also ended up ordering three bottles of Carlsburg. It was time to relax and enjoy the night, after all.

We talked to the hostess whenever she came by about little things here and there, from K-Drama (she loved it) to America; one thing that stuck out to me was when she said she hoped more Americans would travel to Malaysia. She said that she thought Americans might be afraid because it was a Muslim country, but that they shouldn’t be, that Malaysia was safe and welcoming. I took that to heart. It was an intriguing conversation, and every time we passed the restaurant the next few days, I always waved to her. She seemed very happy to see us and wave back.

Our first day, we learned that our money traveled far in Malaysia. We could eat like kings and queens. Best of all, the food was incredibly tasty. So, with full bellies, we made our way back to the hostel, chilled in the lounge, and got ready for another day ahead.

What else could we do in Kuala Lumpur? What cool things were there to see around KL? Join us next time for the answer!

What About You?

What attractions plucked your attention? How would you have liked being in these places? Let me know in the comments below, and as always, please subscribe to hear more!

7 thoughts on “Petaling Street Is the Big Time in Kuala Lumpur (Or, Gimme a Whole Lotta’ Roti Prata, Part 4)

    1. Oh, you should! I plan on posting our itinerary at the end of this series, so you must take a look at it. It really is quite affordable! The food is cheap and utterly good.

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