I never really write about the big cities we visit. I feel that we never stay long enough for a blog post to be of any valuable interest and that I would just be chewing back what’s already been written too many a time anyway. There’s also the fact that big cities have their way with making me restless, unable to concentrate and staring at all the shiny things in amazement. Richard has been calling me a magpie for years. I blame Sephora and H&M. However, I still felt like regurgitating a line or two about KL, if you’ll humor me one instant.
Ten years ago, when Richard backpacked through South East Asia, there were no youth hostels, no dorm beds. The reason for that was quite simple: private rooms in guesthouses and bungalows were already such good value for money that you’d wonder what kind of cheapskate would pay $3 to share a dorm with strangers when you could have a private room all to yourself for $5. Fast forward to 2014, and there has been hostels with dorm rooms in every single place we have visited those last seven months, although we have yet to stay in one – but that’s all about to change in a couple of weeks when we visit Singapore. Yes, accommodation prices in South East Asia have inflated a fair amount in the last decade, but the backpacker crowd is still one that it pays to cater to – because they stay, sometimes for a long long long time.
Hotel prices in South East Asia are obviously still extremely cheap in comparison to western prices, but one thing we have noticed is that, with bigger cities, failure to dish out a little bit more cash than you usually would will almost always send you straight to a flop house. Stinky bathrooms, no window, a couple square meters, mold, critters, bodily fluids belonging to previous tenants, we’ve pretty much seen it all. And being that we are in Malaysia right now, the wealthiest and most expensive country we’ve visited since January, we weren’t quite sure how much money was meant to be dished out in order to avoid any or all of the aforementioned. Enter Airbnb to the rescue.
We’ve used Airbnb before, notably in New York where we spent a fantastic two weeks last January sharing a flat with John and Gina in Brooklyn for a fraction of a dump hotel price. But searching Airbnb for accommodation in South East Asia hadn’t yet occurred to us – that is, up until two less-than-ideal stays in Bangkok. On our third visit, I thought I would take a peek at my Airbnb app out of desperation to see if there was anything better than what Tripadvisor and Agoda were churning up. And surely enough, there was a lot of very reasonably priced gems scattered all over the city to chose from. Nothing that was any cheaper than the cheapest of guesthouses, but places that seemed a lot cleaner, bigger and better located. So we booked our own super clean, super tiny little flat in the middle of Lumpini for $15 a night and vowed to repeat the experience the next time we were in a big city.
A quick survey of the web for hotels prior to arriving in Kuala Lumpur confirmed that Airbnb was going to be the way forward in this case also. Some minutes perusing the fresh new site and a few clicks later, we had found ourselves a room on the 14th floor of a brand new condo with 3 roommates, 2 minutes from the Titiwangsa monorail station for $22 a night. For the same price as a flop house, we had a clean and spacious room with a/c in a secure building, free access to a modern gym and swimming pool, friendly flatmates we could always ask for recommendations and a kitchen – which turned into a great money saver as we cooked quite a few dinners at home out of veggies and tempeh bought from Chow Kit market located a short 10 minute walk away. Incidentally, we were a little more excited than necessary when we first saw fresh tempeh rolled up in banana leaves for sale for a mere few cents at the market. Fried in a bit of my Koh Phangan coconut oil and served with a big fresh salad and we were in vegan paradise.
As for KL itself, in all honesty we found the sights somewhat underwhelming – or just plain weird, in the case of Putrajaya, which felt like it was straight out of a George Orwell novel. Driving through the deserted streets of this dystopian city while the driver monotonically names the various ministries and government buildings, all the while taking regular pauses to breath heavily and make mouth noises into the microphone was the most bizarre experience. Fortunately, the Petronas Towers saved the day with the palm sweating sky bridge walk and magnificent (albeit extremely foggy) views from the top floor. Otherwise, in a nut shell, the sprawling Chow Kit market’s fruit traders antics are a sight in and out of themselves, Bukit Bintang is a shopaholic paradise in which we spent way more time than necessary and the Batu Caves were disappointingly dirty and overcrowded. But at the end of the day, we always had our lovely crash pad to go to, our home away from home that made our stay in Kuala Lumpur a very enjoyable one indeed.
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Favorite vegan restaurant in KL
Simple Life (in Lot 10 mall, Bukit Bintang)
We tried several vegan restaurants in KL but Simple Life is the only one that stood out for us, and we ended up returning several times. We tried the whole grain yam porridge (14rm), multigrain nasi lemak (15rm), the laksa and the Thai style organic beancurd with multigrain rice (14rm) as well as several of their fruit and veg juices which contain no sugar or water. Everything was incredibly delicious, plentiful and of top-notch quality. Some dishes contain eggs, but they are clearly identified on the menu. I’m still dreaming of the laksa, but for now, I’ll have to settle on my very own vegetarian Asam laksa recipe.