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Why KL is not the typical backpackers retreat

Last May we visited Bangkok on a short but busy 3-day stopover between arriving from the UK and heading onwards to Chang Mai.

We met the rest of our tour group in a hotel just off the infamous Khao San Road, a heaving crossing point for SE Asia's many western backpackers. It's full of the typical backpacker crowd, seeking the ‘backpacker fashion' of fisherman pants, swirly tea stained t shirts and vest tops of every iconic brand of Asian lager, this along with the dodgy cheap massages, western inspired food choices and cheap beer and spirits.

Saying that, I could understand why backpackers hang out in drones around these places, there are plenty of other westerners around, cheap accommodation, cheap alcohol and plenty of pizza and burger joints and sometimes taking time out from the culture your visiting doesn't hurt and can be just what's needed to cure home sickness, or at least to get bladdered for under £5. With all these multitude of reasons for being there, we were there because it was the start of our group tour and the accommodation seemed nice enough anyway.

Now we have stepped foot in Asia once again, it’s interesting what a contrast most of KL has been so far. We visited China Town the other evening and it was the first time in KL we have seen a part that somewhat resembled Bangkok. We got on the Kelana Jaya line from the KLCC after getting slightly bored of taking photos of the Petronas Twin Towers from a multitude of different angles, down to Pasar Seni. A 5-minute walk across to China Town and you reach the strangely placed Reggae Bar, seriously, that is a Reggae Bar featuring Bob Marley tributes in Kuala Lumpur, in the middle of China Town? Given Malaysia’s strict stance on soft drugs like Cannabis, it seems oddly placed. But this is a backpacker’s hangout; inside the walls are scribbled with messages and signatures from its many patrons. The place wasn’t half bad, but did remind me somewhat of Khao San road and that expat escapism that seems to creep into people when they are away and want a piece of home. Saying that, Jamaican themed bars aren’t exactly a big thing in the UK or much elsewhere. Even Amsterdam is immune from these types of bars… So the link for me isn’t all that clear.

Anyway, this is where we realized why KL doesn’t seem to be big with backpackers… at least not from what we’ve seen so far. 3 words, Alcohol is expensive! Being a heavily Islamic country, means little demand for my favourite tipple and therefore you can expect to pay around M$10 at happy hour for a half pint of beer, or M$20 for a pint (roughly £4.20 per pint!) and that’s an offer price. Newsagents sell a small can of domestic lager for roughly M$4.99 (roughly £1.10 per can) but don’t expect much of a discount on a multi-pack. We haven’t visited a big Supermarket yet, so I assume that is the best place for cheaper liquor. For backpackers though, this is likely one of the reasons it’s not as popular as Bangkok.

On the other hand, food is a lot cheaper than Bangkok / Thailand in general. Breakfast on the first day was M$3.40 each and consisted of Roti Telur along with fresh Lemon Iced Tea, that’s like 80p!? Something doesn’t add up, how can food be this cheap!? Today’s lunch consisted of roast chicken, rice and soup, with lemon iced tea – that came to M$7.00 that’s like £1.60! Last nights dinner of awesome Clay Pot Chicken & Rice from a market side stall along with an iced Tall Tiger beer came to M$22.50, which is like £4.68, not bad for a delicious and filling dinner and beer in Malaysia!

Despite the alcohol costs, so far I really recommend KL – food is cheap along with accommodation and transport is incredibly affordable. If you stay anywhere near the centre your in walking distance of pretty much the whole city anyway, which makes the Monorail a little pointless until the end of the day, when you legs have turned to lead! It would be great if there were more interesting attractions, but so far boredom hasn’t entered into my mind at all.

KL = Thumbs Up!

China Town by Night

China Town by Night

About Darryl Hall (85 Articles)
Darryl left the shorelines of England in 2013 to study and travel in China and South East Asia for a year. Darryl is a co-founder of escapingthedesk.com, a travel blog with the aim of sharing travel tips, country & city guides for other backpackers. Visit my Google+ page.

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