Malaysia is grittier, for a lack of better word. It does not disguise its flaws off the beaten path like Hong Kong does. There are homeless outside of train stops, outside of hotels and hostels, graffiti lines the stores and shops and restaurants, sidewalks are crumbling and entire grates can be missing, inviting your foot to fall in. Every now and then the smell of trash from a back alley wafts in, get too close to the river and the stench of rotting fish also encroaches upon your senses.
But there is a sheen to the immediate downtown, a modernity trying to obfuscate the social and economic problems the country is still grasping with, epitomized by the Petronas Twin Towers, all glossy and futurist and sleek, several holograms project into the air as you tour the building, telling you about the history of the two towers.
And yet there's a comradery and fellowship to it all. Bars spill on to sidewalks, fans staying up late to watch their beloved Premier League teams duke it out, then finding their way to Mamak stalls at 1, 2, 3 in the morning, enjoying the bread and curry and such they are famous for. Malaysia is a melting pot, more so than many SE Asian countries, a Muslim majority sharing space with a significant Chinese population, Indian one, and a host of aboriginal people. Mosques and temples and churches dot the city, every kind of cuisine imaginable finds its way into malls, the big three of the country combining with western standbys and coffee and tea aplomb.
The streets of the city start to echo some of the chaos of surrounding countries, but there is still a general tendency to mostly obey the lights and signs, just make sure you know how to aggressively pass and cut across lanes.
Unlike Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur is far from walkable, highways intersect important routes, impossible to cross, sidewalk quality ranges from pristine to downright poor. Taxis are cheap and plentiful but just like HK and later Vietnam, my white skin appears to be a big sign that reads "please rip me off."
Perhaps most absorbing, surprisingly, are some of the markets, once again reflecting the diversity of the country, goods from a host of world religions, cultures, cuisines all intersect across a busy square, cheap to my western sensibility but not at all lacking in quality, things from Malaysia, Thailand, China, Japan, the UK, and on and on.
Malaysia is a sort of middle ground in the trip, as it were. not quite as rich and modern as Hong Kong, but not as chaotic and unwieldy as Vietnam. Kuala Lumpur was perhaps my favourite city on the trip, a city that it feels that to eat around it would take years - to uncover its nooks and crannies as well - an overlooked city, not said in the same breath as Bangkok or Singapore or Bali, but one who we found filling up our schedule with delights and discoveries with ease.