Some cities feature such a mish-mash of buildings and roadways and transit lines that nothing stands out. Sure, as you wander the streets in major SE Asia cities you might come across a cluster of old brick colonial administration buildings now serving as art galleries and museums, old Hindu temples with intricately carved figures, large modern mosques, and huge upscale flash-and-glass shopping centres. But seldom does a structure so completely dominate the landscape as does the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur. No matter from which direction you are approaching the city, you will soon spot this pair of 452 metre high towers and the skybridge that connects them.
If you saw Entrapment a few years ago (featuring Sean Connery, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and art thievery) you have seen the towers and the skybridge support bars up close. This is truly an iconic structure, described in many places as “the pride of Malaysia”. It was the tallest building in the world from completion in 1998 until a new building in Taipei reached higher into the sky, but it remains the tallest twin tower building in the world.
To walk the skybridge at floor 41, and spend time in the observation deck at floor 86, visitors must buy tickets for an assigned time – we arrived around 11 am and got a pair of tickets for the 4:15 pm tour, just enough time for us to wander the surrounding downtown area for a little while and grab lunch. By the way, the ticket seller asked if we would tell her our ages – and upon hearing them, offered us the senior’s discount – half price in fact. We appreciated the savings; we’re not sure how we feel about being identified as seniors!
At the assigned time we gathered with about 20 others for the very fast ride up to the skybridge, which has two levels of walkway – one for tourists and one above for staff. It was quite amazing, the view and the engineering that made it possible. The bridge is kind-of “floating” between the two towers so that in the event of an earthquake, the skybridge will not crash into either tower, but will move in and out as needed. We were told that in order to speed up construction, two separate consortiums were hired to build one tower each, one lead by a South Korean company and the other lead by a Japanese company. They also have lots of statistics to impress us: 33,000 pieces of stainless steel and 55,000 glass panels make up the exterior of the building.
It is then another fast and very quiet elevator ride up to a few stories below the observation floor, a quick change to a pair of smaller elevators and we have a stunning 360 degree view of the city – and a much closer look at the top of the other tower. Did I already use the word stunning? Okay, let’s go with awesome this time. Nothing else in the city comes close to the impact this tower will have on you, looking up from the outside, or looking out from the inside. Wow.
Back down on the surface of the earth, we caught the last run of the city hop-on, hop-off bus for a slow crawl through rush hour traffic, no commentary, and as it turns out, the driver took a short cut and skipped some of the attractions we were supposed to see, as we learned the next day when we hopped back on. Just the same, Kuala Lumpur doesn’t have much else to offer – some old colonial building and Chinese shophouses, the National Palace you only get to look at through a big archway, and large shiny malls.
Kuala Lumpur does a relatively efficient rapid transit system, even if the monorail, LRT, and bus stations don’t always line-up for getting across the city. We did manage to take public transit all the way to the famous Batu Caves, long ago turned into a Hindu shrine but open to the public. Up 272 steps there is a massive inner chamber, and then further in there a second chamber open to the sky, recalling for us the time we swam in a cenote in the Yucatan.
We’re a bit behind with posting; stay tuned for a report comparing Penang Island, Malaysia and Phuket Island, Thailand. And don’t worry gentle readers, we’re keeping an eye on the anti-government protests in Bangkok, our next stop!