Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur

A Break in the Journey

23rd March 2018

Planning next winter’s long haul holiday? When you’re heading from the UK to the Far East or Oceania, you often find yourself in transit through one of the major airport hubs in Asia. You may only have a short time to change planes, but why not plan ahead to factor in a few extra hours (or even an overnight stay ) to give you a chance to stretch your legs and see what these cities have to offer.

Chris Ambrose offers some suggestions for three great stopover destinations…

Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia’s capital city is a great gateway to South East Asia, both because of its geographical location and because it’s the hub for low-cost airline, Air Asia, which has extensive coverage across the region. 

Although Kuala Lumpur airport is around an hour south of the city by bus, there’s a key part of the city that most visitors will want to tick off on a visit here – the iconic Petronas Towers. For a time the tallest building(s) in the world after their completion in 1998, these matching towers dominate the city’s skyline, rising up over the neatly manicured KLCC park below. The first stop on the tour is the glass walkway that connects the two towers at the 41st and 42nd floors, after which you re-enter the lift to go to the top. From here you get the expected fantastic views out across the city: a modern skyline filled with banks and high-end hotels dominating the near vicinity. Unlike many tall tower experiences, you have the added bonus of being able to see the adjacent tower, adding a different perspective. 

In the park below you can lie back under the shade of the trees and gaze up at the towers, or take a cooling stroll through the wading pool if the heat and humidity get too much. If that’s still not enough of an escape from the often sky-high temperatures though, you can hide out in one of the shopping malls – many of which are connected via air-conditioned walkways to escape the sun’s glare and the traffic.

If it’s getting late in the day and you’re looking for something to eat, there’s one particular road that should satisfy your hunger. While fairly innocuous during daylight hours, come nightfall Jalan Alor comes alive, and with its sensory assault of sounds, smells and smoke, this wide but crowded street is a world away from the pristine glass skyscrapers and shopping malls nearby. It’s packed out along each side with stalls selling a variety of Asian and fusion cuisine, and, set back behind them, numerous restaurants with plastic tables and chairs spilling out into the street – each vying to give your nose the most tempting culinary aromas. 

Fighting your way through the vendors, locals, visitors, grill smoke and street musicians you’re sure to find something to take your fancy – from pork buns and fresh fruit smoothies to ice cream and.… Marmite-coated pork. After filling your stomach with some street food delights, you might walk (or waddle) off the meal with a return to the park beneath the Petronas Towers to witness the light and fountain display in the lake.

If you are suffering after a long flight and don’t fancy the organisational hassle of arranging your own itinerary, it’s also possible to book onto a tour of the city directly from the airport, with passes available specially for those with layovers

Singapore

Singapore’s changi Airport is consistently ranked as the world’s best, so you may find you’re happy to pass your time visiting the modern in-terminal cafes, restaurants, shopping, gaming centres or cinema – but with a metro ride of less than 30 minutes to the central Marina Bay area, it’s well worth venturing out to explore some of the other novelties this City-State has to offer.

Rising up over Marina Bay with its distinctive, surfboard-esque roof that spans its three towers is the Sands Resort. If you don’t fancy splashing out on a room at this iconic brochure-cover hotel, then for just 23 Singapore dollars you can ascend to the observation deck (although, sadly, this doesn’t include access to the adjacent infinity pool!), where you can while away the hours gazing over the marina and the city skyline. If you time it right, you can catch an aerial view of the twice-evening ‘super tree’ light display on one side of the viewing deck, then move across to watch a fountain display far below on the other (just be wary of the long queues for the lift down when the shows finish…).

The eye-catching ‘super trees’ form part of the Gardens by the Bay – a large park full of themed gardens, linked via a network of pathways. 
Other marina-adjacent attractions include the novel Helix bridge that curves across the water, and the Singapore Flyer (formerly the world’s largest Ferris wheel) that offers further skyline views from one of its many sizeable glass pods.

If you’re not a fan of heights, fear not – there are plenty of other attractions. The National Gallery of Singapore, opened in 2015, is an interesting stop-off, and often features exhibitions from renowned international artists, as well as permanent displays to highlight and educate visitors in the range of Singaporean and wider Southeast Asian art and culture. The building itself is impressive, combining the City Hall and former Supreme Court buildings with modern wood and glass atriums.

For food, you may find yourself drawn along the river by the alluring changing light displays emitted by the bridges and establishments around Clarke Quay. This is a vibrant waterside development – shopping, restaurants and entertainment – much of which is enclosed by an architecturally pleasing umbrella canopy, enabling outdoor dining even through sudden downpours, as well as amplifying the live music that resonates from many of the bars. Let your dinner digest by taking a relaxing river cruise through the district. 

If you are travelling with children, you may want to jump on the cable car and head over to Sentosa - a man-made island designed as the ultimate recreational area; featuring theme parks, artificial beaches, shopping, restaurants, live shows and countless other family-friendly attractions to keep everyone entertained for hours (if not days!).

Hong Kong

A bustling, multi-cultural metropolis, Hong Kong is a high-rise, high energy destination. Its compelling topography – spread across a number of mountainous islands – makes it a visually impressive spectacle, and one that offers a corresponding range of opportunities for explorations. It’s been 20 years since Hong Kong was returned to China, although unlike the mainland, UK citizens can still enter visa-free to explore the many contrasting sights that it has to offer. 

One of the top attractions on Hong Kong Island is Victoria Peak, popularly accessed by the Peak Tram (although it is possible to get a bus – or even walk). Braving the often long queue eventually sees you packed into a wooden tram that judders up the steep incline of the funicular railway, with the Kowloon skyline over the water gradually appearing as you ascend. From the mini-metropolis at the top station – with its spiraling levels of shops and restaurants – you reach the observation deck, with impressive views across the high-rise jungle in one direction, while the greenery of the mountains drops away to the sea on the other. This is a very popular sunset hangout with its panoramic photographic potential.

Back at city level, for a break from the heat or the crowds, follow a narrow staircase up into a local restaurant, where you’ll occasionally be challenged to guess at the list of dishes from . The more authentic offerings will leave you to guess at the list of dishes from traditional Chinese script. Or failing that, try a trip to one of several Tim Ho Wan restaurants, which will serve up Michelin Star dim sum at an incredibly reasonable price.

For a first time visitor it may be hard to imagine the former life of the buzzing cityscape that sprawls out across the harbour area, but an inexpensive 40 minute ferry from Hong Kong Island takes you to Lantau Island (on the north side of which is the international airport – making it a possible excursion for even the shortest stop-over), and jump on a bus to the small fishing village of Tai O. Here you can catch a glimpse of how a pre-skyscraper Hong Kong may have looked: narrow alleyways, filled with stalls selling all manner of fresh and dried fish, lead around the water’s edge that’s lined with houses and huts built on stilts in the water. You can pay to go on a trip around the area on a small fishing boat, or you can wander off through the village along a network of paths to experience further tranquility and a simpler, less frenetic pace of life.

As an alternative route back to downtown Hong Kong, head to the north side of Lantau Island, and take a trip on the impressively long Ngong Ping 360° cable car , which will take you up through the green peaks of the island to pay a visit to the giant Buddha statue at the top. A couple of Hong Kong dollars at the entrance also gains you entry to the slightly odd museum exhibition housed inside the statue, as well as an ice cream and a bottle of water, which – after scaling the steps to the top – is a welcome addition.

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