Our last day in KL we decided to take the hop-on-hop-off tour bus, dubbed “my hop-and-off” by some of the locals, around the city for some old-fashiond sight-seeing. There are a number of musuems, temples, markets and other interesting cultural spots in the city that we wanted to see. We started at the Petronas Towers and after unsuccessfully trying to buy a ticket to the top floors we headed to Central Market in Chinatown.

The market is a maze of very thin corridors packed with back-to-back stalls of souvenirs, t-shirts, counterfit bags/watches/gadgets/gizmos/whathaveyous, textiles, fabrics, you name it. Also foods. I bought a funny shirt but I don’t have a picture of it right now; you’ll probably see it later.

Our first museum was the National Museum of Malaysia. It gives a detailed history of the geography and geology of the peninsula and its inhabitants and their culture over the last 25,000 years. These are the boats that the Malacca empire used. They’re very strong but were no match for the Portuguese armada.

These are some weapons from that era as well.

This statue was in the giftshop. A shame it is too big to take with us.

Malaysia considers itself to be a Muslim country and Islamic culture permeates everywhere. Malacca, the center of culture and commerce of the peninsula for many centuries, was ruled by sultans who convered to Islam and spread Islamic religion and culture throughout the region. In the north-east states of Kelantin and Terengganu sharia law is enforced for Muslims and there have been unsuccessful attempts by state authorities in recent years to impose sharia law on all matters within the states, whether you are Muslim, a non-Muslim local or a tourist. Social culture is generally very conservative and very little alcohol is sold in restaurants or shops. In Kuala Lumpur there are many Muslims but also enough non-Muslims that the culture is somewhat more liberal; however it is always evident the the country is Islamic. Along with Muslim culture comes Arabic art, language and thought.

In light of this influence on Malaysia, the Islamic Arts Museum proved to be well worth a visit on our hop-and-off tour.

Much of the museum focused on Islamic architecture, particularly mosques. Muslims take great pride in their places of worship which also serve as community centers. One of the Five Pillars of Islam is to donate 2.5% of your income to the local Islamic center which allocates much of the money toward building and upkeeping the mosques. This diagram shows some of the more prominent mosques in the Middle East.

Here is a model of the most important Islamic site in the world, the mosque at Mecca, Saudi Arabia. All mosques in the world face Mecca. Another of the Five Pillars of Islam is the hajj or journey to Mecca. This site receives over four million Muslims per year. Every Friday the mosque is filled with close to a million people.

The museum also highlights the importance in Muslim culture of learning, technology, science, astronomy and medicine and the contributions Muslims have made to these fields over the centuries. The following astronomical model was designed by Muslim astronomers.

Across the street from the Islamic Arts Museum is the National Mosque. It is actually only the fifth largest mosque in Malaysia and hosts about 15,000 Muslims every Friday.

The mosque opens and closes to non-Muslim visitors several times throughout the day according to when prayer time is. We showed up ten minutes before it opened again for visitors.

Up the stairs are expansive white clean corridors and pools that I do not think are for swimming. The center hall is large and open so that the crowds have plenty of space to kneel for their prayers.

From here we decided we were sick of waiting for the hop-and-off for twenty minutes after every stop and figured walking back to the hostel would be easy enough. It ended up being a three mile trek through the city but it was a very enjoyable walk and allowed us to see parts of the city we otherwise would not have.

After dinner we decided that instead of going to Kota Bharu in Kelantin as we had tentatively planned we would head instead to the full moon party on the island of Koh Phangan, Thailand via buses to Penang, Malaysia and Hat Yai, Thailand. The 20 hours of travel time to get there (not including bus and ferry layovers) have provided me with the time to write the last five posts. The bus from Hat Yai to Surat Thani, where we will catch a ferry to the island, is overbooked and there are a dozen people standing in the aisle for the nine hour drive. But now I am getting ahead of myself again.

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