BLEISURE

The MON­U­MEN­TAL CITY

M Style - - Contents - Text: NOELIA FERREIRO

We travel the city to tell you what to do in Kuala Lumpur: a unique des­ti­na­tion where tourism and busi­ness blend to­gether.

El­e­gant, mod­ern and dy­namic while stay­ing in tune with the lo­cal cul­ture; the Meliá Kuala Lumpur re­flects the spirit of the Malaysian cap­i­tal. This makes it the ideal choice for trav­ellers com­bin­ing busi­ness with plea­sure.

Some say that the ex­is­tence of Kuala Lumpur must be some kind of mir­a­cle. In this land of thick jun­gles, in­tri­cate roots, rav­en­ous mos­qui­toes and tor­ren­tial trop­i­cal rain, there blos­somed—like a car­toon flash­for­ward—the tan­gle of glass, steel and con­crete that shapes one of the world’s most mod­ern cities. The young cap­i­tal of Malaysia was es­tab­lished in 1857, when a group of Chi­nese prospec­tors found tin de­posits in the place where the murky wa­ters of the Gom­bak and Klang rivers joined. This is pre­cisely where its less-thaninvit­ing name came from; for those who don’t know, Kuala Lumpur means ‘Muddy Con­flu­ence’.

With the fever of this new El Do­rado, the rain­for­est was stripped of its trees and the rivers’ shores were filled with build­ings that, over time and due to British rule, took on var­i­ous styles: Mughal, Malay, Vic­to­rian, Moorish.... Then, of course, came progress, and with it, the sky­scrapers that sprung up here and there un­til the city be­came a sort of Asian Man­hat­tan, al­beit much more re­laxed. A cos­mopoli­tan, ec­cen­tric, some­what chaotic city whose pulse lies be­tween the an­cient and the ul­tra­mod­ern, while fly­ing the flag of savoir vivre.

So many races, lan­guages and cul­tures come to­gether in Kuala Lumpur (KL) that its charm verges on mad­ness. It’s the mad­ness of both a fu­tur­is­tic city with sky­scrapers and aerial mono­rails, and a vil­lage where the colo­nial past co­in­cides with bustling eth­nic en­claves. The most im­por­tant are Chi­na­town and Lit­tle In­dia, form­ing the cen­tral core of the pop­u­la­tion along with the Malaysian peo­ple. To­gether yet sep­a­rate, these three com­mu­ni­ties co­ex­ist in har­mony and mu­tual re­spect, de­spite the fact that each pre­serves its own signs of iden­tity: tem­ples, food, lan­guage and more.

That said, mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, with its rich and shift­ing cus­toms, is the trait that truly de­fines what’s be­come one of the most vi­brant cities in South­east Asia (with apolo­gies to Bangkok). Al­though it of­ten has to com­pete with the sprawl­ing na­ture of the rest of the coun­try, with the hu­mid forests fraught with friendly monkeys and the idyl­lic beaches that line the is­lands, the city is a fully fledged des­ti­na­tion that war­rants a visit in its own right.

The Petronas Tow­ers, of course, have a lot to do with that. These twin tow­ers are loaded with Is­lamic sym­bol­ism— al­though at first glance they may not ap­pear to be—and are, in the eyes of many, a true ar­chi­tec­tural won­der. At a height of 452 me­tres, the look­out-like tow­ers were the world’s tallest build­ings from 1998 to 2003 (when they were sur­passed by Tai­wan’s hulk­ing Taipei 101), and to­day are ranked sev­enth on the list of the world’s pointi­est sky­scrapers. Their merit, beyond ca­ress­ing the clouds, lies in their em­bod­i­ment of the im­age of moder­nity, the sym­bol of a 21st-cen­tury me­trop­o­lis.

The work of Ar­gentina’s César Pelli, this mon­u­ment of re­in­forced con­crete, steel and glass is said to come close to per­fec­tion. Its star-shaped de­sign unites ground-break­ing so­phis­ti­ca­tion with tra­di­tional Is­lamic im­agery, and stands out among the rest of the tow­ers that make up the city’s fi­nan­cial dis­trict: the so-called Golden Tri­an­gle, the vi­brant heart of mod­ern Kuala Lumpur. Here, in this for­est of tow­er­ing build­ings, the big­gest busi­nesses, the big­gest ho­tels, the big­gest restau­rants and the big­gest shop­ping cen­tres con­gre­gate. So do the tourists, at­tracted by its daz­zling life­style and pul­sat­ing ac­tiv­ity. Money flows, cir­cu­lates and spreads. Cars pa­rade along in­ter­con­nected mo­tor­ways. Every­thing seems to mul­ti­ply at the speed of light.

Right here in the com­mer­cial cen­tre, born in the 1990s in the heat of eco­nomic growth, among the brand new con­tem­po­rary ar­chi­tec­ture cham­pi­oned by au­thor­i­ties to show the world a re­newed city, sits the ho­tel that best cap­tures the spirit of KL. One that com­bines moder­nity and tra­di­tion, com­fort and ex­cel­lent ser­vice, with­out ne­glect­ing the lo­cal cul­ture. The Meliá Kuala Lumpur does all of this and more. Es­pe­cially now, after the com­pre­hen­sive ren­o­va­tion— car­ried out in var­i­ous stages—that has given it a new face. Ac­cord­ing to An­drea Barbi, Mar­ket­ing and Pub­lic Re­la­tions Man­ager of the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion, ‘With the re-launch of this new Ur­ban Chic Ho­tel con­cept, we have not only given the guest rooms and com­mon ar­eas a more el­e­gant, mod­ern and dy­namic ap­pear­ance; we have also en­dowed the whole space with har­mony, in a way that cre­ates a clas­sic style with con­tem­po­rary touches’.

The Meliá Kuala Lumpur boasts an un­beat­able lo­ca­tion in the Golden Tri­an­gle, just steps from Times Square and right in front of the Imbi Mono­rail sta­tion, which con­nects the whole city in one amaz­ing trip. There’s noth­ing like climb­ing aboard this fu­tur­is­tic train (cool, com­fort­able and cheap) and watch­ing through the win­dow as mosques, Bud­dhist tem­ples and typ­i­cal al­ley­ways speed by... see­ing it all from a dif­fer­ent an­gle.

The Petronas are also a short walk away, across streets that re­flect the busi­ness side of the city. This is why the Meliá Kuala Lumpur, con­sid­ered one of the best ho­tels in Malaysia, is the ideal ac­com­mo­da­tion for to­day’s trav­ellers: those who travel for work but are also look­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence mo­ments of leisure. ‘With its re­flec­tion of the qual­ity stan­dards of an in­ter­na­tional five-star ho­tel, and its mod­ern, func­tional de­sign, this ho­tel at­tracts both busi­ness tourists and those trav­el­ling for plea­sure’, says An­drea.

The fa­cil­i­ties also make things eas­ier for this kind of cus­tomer. There’s the ex­clu­sive en­vi­ron­ment of The Level, lo­cated on the top floors of the ho­tel (the 18th floor and up). It’s a pri­vate re­cep­tion area with per­son­alised ser­vice, where guests don’t have to worry about any­thing at all. There’s pri­vate (ex­press) check-in, flex­i­ble check-out and free use

of a fully equipped meet­ing room, as well as ac­cess to a lounge and ter­race where you can sip a cock­tail and en­joy in­cred­i­ble views of the city. ‘On top of that, we of­fer an­other set of ser­vices to make busi­ness stays more pleas­ant’, the gen­eral man­ager ex­plains, re­fer­ring not only to the gym and the pool, but also to the culi­nary as­pects of the fa­cil­i­ties: two bars and a restau­rant of­fer­ing in­ter­na­tional cui­sine, with an open-kitchen de­sign.

So, with all your tasks com­pleted and your stom­ach sat­is­fied, you can carve out some free time to ex­plore the sur­round­ings. Start at the Masjid Jamek, the old­est mosque in the city, sit­u­ated at the ex­act spot where the rivers join. Or at In­de­pen­dence Square, the city’s colo­nial heart, where the mark of his­tory en­dures in the form of St. Mary’s Cathe­dral and the strik­ing Sul­tan Ab­dul Sa­mad Build­ing—erected by the British, de­spite its re­sem­blance to the Mughal style of the Taj Ma­hal, and bring­ing to mind 'One Thou­sand and One Nights'.

This dis­tinc­tive fea­ture of KL lets you leap straight from the past to the fu­ture. Busi­ness trav­ellers will be es­pe­cially in­ter­ested in Putrajaya, the new ex­ec­u­tive cap­i­tal of Malaysia, 36 kilo­me­tres south of the city. It’s an in­trigu­ing ex­per­i­ment, dig­i­tally de­signed and man­aged and based on the con­cept of a gar­den city sur­round­ing a lake, whose shores are home to the ad­min­is­tra­tive en­ti­ties of the Malaysian govern­ment. De­vel­oped by the coun­try’s lead­ing ar­chi­tects, the city com­bines an amaz­ing mix of styles, high­lights of which in­clude el­e­ments of Mughal ar­chi­tec­ture and Is­lamic or­na­men­ta­tion.

An­drea Barbi, how­ever, con­tin­ues to point to mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism as the true ex­pres­sion of the essence of the me­trop­o­lis—from the di­verse neigh­bour­hoods to the im­pres­sive Batu Caves (13 kilo­me­tres from the city), which is one of the most pop­u­lar Hindu shrines on the planet. Above all, she rec­om­mends its de­light­ful cui­sine, which is a melt­ing pot of in­flu­ences. ‘No one should leave the Malaysian cap­i­tal with­out try­ing its lo­cal dishes: break­fast at Imbi Mar­ket, a fa­mous an­cient refuge; lunch at Ngau Kee, the old­est spot for noo­dles and meat­balls; and din­ner at Seng Huat, my favourite restau­rant’, she sug­gests. ‘And of course durian— the king of all fruits’. In case you had any doubt.

On the left, the ho­tel ter­race where you can dine with the sky­line of the Malaysian cap­i­tal at your feet. In the back­ground, the Kuala Lumpur Tower (1995), 88 floors and 421 m tall. Be­low, the city’s old­est mosque, Masjid Jamek.

Above, the Petronas Tow­ers (3 min­utes from the ho­tel by ,mono­rail). On the right one of the rooms of the ex­clu­sive ser vice The Level; the ho­tel’sspec­tac­u­lar fa­cade; The Kitchen restau­rant and buf­fet; the Garbo bar, a per­fect place to re­lax be­side the ho­tel’s pool; and the ho­tel'sin­ter­na­tional buf­fet.

Above, the Lobby Bar,ideal for hav­ing a cock­tail after a hard day. Be­low it, re­cep­tion.On the right, the golden statue of the Hindu god Mu­ru­gannext to an iso­lated wa­ter­fall, 14 km fromKuala Lumpur.

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