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travel talk:
Kuala Lampur: Asia's Islamic City

On approach to Kuala Lumpur, as your plane circles the metropolis two things come to mind… one, that it’s not quite as big as you were led to believe and two, “Why on earth did they choose this mosquito-infested plain to build Malaysia’s capital in the first place?”

Not even 50 years old when it became the capital of the then Federation of Malaysia, this mining town turned cosmopolitan city has seen its fair share of colour and diversity throughout the years. The Chinese built it, and now the Malays define Kuala Lumpur as an Islamic centre for Malaysia, attracting Muslims throughout Asia with its religious tolerance, good governance and spectacular itinerary of activities.

Most tourists from China come to Malaysia to experience the vibrant Chinese communities; which is a shame really, considering the country is distinctly Muslim, having enjoyed centuries of rich Islamic heritage dating back to Indian Muslim traders who brought their religion to the peninsula in the 12th century. Many are still there, having maintained strong continental roots to India. You can see them in every facet of life in Kuala Lumpur, most obvious of which are the Chinese-styled Indian Halal coffee shops that dot the old neighbourhoods of the city. Shades of Hong Kongnese cha chaan tengs at these kopi shops serving up rich milk teas and strong coffees alongside old staples like the roti canai and mee goring, two dishes that have helped establish Malaysia’s reputation as one of the greatest countries in the world in which to eat. The process in which restaurant cooks whip up their roti canai – thinly layered folds of pastry fried in butter or oil – is something that can’t be replicated in other parts of the world. It’s something to do with the weather, the cook’s leathery hands slapping together pieces of dough day in, day out and the people who come in the morning to read the paper and at tea time in the afternoon. These cafés, Muslim, Indian or otherwise, help define what community means for the people of Kuala Lumpur. 

What’s there to do in Kuala Lumpur besides eat? Shopping comes in at a pretty close second, and there’s no better place to lose yourself in a mall than at Starhill Gallery, the city’s most upscale shopping centre. It’s been said that Malaysians love shopping because of the weather. Malaysia's horrendous heat and humidity is the reason they love indoor, temperature-controlled shopping malls. Starhill isn’t your average mall, though. Situated on Jalan Imbi, a quick stroll from Bintang Walk, the city’s most popular shopping area, Starhill Gallery is seven floors of pure shopping essence. Floors named after human experiences like ‘Indulge’, ‘Relish’ and ‘Explore’ go a long way to set this mall apart from the rest. It doesn’t hurt that some of the biggest names in luxury retail are here as well, drawing shoppers from as far away as Saudi Arabia and the UAE.


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