I wanted to love Kuala Lumpur like Penang had stolen my heart; after all, they were both in Malaysia, so surely they must have the same vibe and be pretty similar. It wasn’t the case, and for the first time in my travels, I left a destination feeling disillusioned.
But what had it been about this city that I hadn’t liked, and why did I feel uncomfortable saying I disliked it?
Was it because other travel bloggers showcased photographs depicting it as a fabulous place to visit and spoke of its merits? How many layers had they had to uncover to reveal its attraction when I felt my encounter was of a city that had lost its identity and soul?
Back home, when asked how I had enjoyed it, I wanted to shout out that it was terrific but instead told the eager listener that it had been the one place on my epic round-the-world trip I hadn’t liked.
I wanted to encounter the indigenous Malaysian locals I had found so friendly in Penang, but where were they all? Kuala Lumpur seemed to be a melting pot for others who had chosen this capital city as their home and, in doing so, had changed its cultural role.
Is it OK not to love a destination?
I don’t want to offend any residents of Kuala Lumpur as I am sure there is a different side to the city, which maybe I didn’t see, but right now, it isn’t on my “must go to” list of places.
I have seen the backlash travellers receive on social media if they turn against public opinion and admit to disliking a destination but isn’t it a writer’s duty to speak from the heart and not sugar-coat information to please the reader? Are we not all entitled to our own opinions and freedom of speech?
I found that the markets sold counterfeit and plastic souvenirs and stallholders were rude and dismissive, a far cry from the friendly artisan sellers in Penang. At night as we strolled around the markets, it felt far less safe than the other cities we had visited.
Shadows lurked in doorways while business was conducted, and intoxicated men swayed along the pavements and stared at me in a manner that would make even the bravest woman uncomfortable. Was it just me being hypervigilant and noticing things that others had not?
Should I give it a second chance?
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed visiting the Batu Caves and soaring high inside the iconic Petronas Towers. I enjoyed eating the delicious local food and swimming in my rooftop pool at The Face Suites, but for some reason, that still didn’t make me warm to the city.
Was it down to the fact that this was my last stop after a round-the-world trip?
Was I tired and not ready to try too hard to uncover the city’s deeper qualities?
My solution to this dilemma is to return to Kuala Lumpur one day. I want to give it a second chance and be able to walk away with a new-found affection for the city.
I will search to find the street art that pops up frequently on Instagram, and I will walk back up the multi-coloured steps of the Batu caves, which were grey and unpainted when I visited. Malaysia’s national palace, Istana Negara, will teach me about the country’s royal history, and I will skip through the butterfly park without a care in the world.
Still, I only have memories of how it was on my first visit. Kuala Lumpur, I want to love you, and I hope one day I will!
Update 2023: The great news is that I returned to Kuala Lumpur and did love it. I saw a different side to it that I hadn’t experienced before, and I had a lovely trip.
I especially enjoyed discovering a new place that had only sprung up in recent years at Kwai Chai Hong. I also liked revisiting the Batu Caves and seeing it now it had been painted in vibrant colours.
So there you go. By giving a destination a second chance, it may surprise you!
Is there a destination that you have disliked? Have you been honest and told people about your feelings towards it? I would love to hear your comments on this subject.