Destination: Kuala Lumpur

From Mandalay to Timbuktu: Great Names, Lousy Places

Mandalay. Photo by Stefan Munder via Flickr, (Creative Commons)

In an excerpt from his new book, “The Tao of Travel,” Paul Theroux recalls a number of places that just didn’t live up to the romance evoked by their names:

Mandalay: an enormous grid of dusty streets occupied by dispirited and oppressed Burmese, and policed by a military tyranny.

Tahiti: a mildewed island of surly colonials, exasperated French soldiers and indignant natives, with overpriced hotels, one of the world’s worst traffic problems and undrinkable water.

Timbuktu: dust, hideous hotels, unreliable transport, freeloaders, pestering people, garbage heaps everywhere, poisonous food.

I was always drawn to Kuala Lumpur because of its name. I loved just saying the words, and I loved the way they sounded. I loved the way they evoked lumpy koala bears, or something even more exotic that I couldn’t even begin to imagine.

When I finally went there, I was initially underwhelmed. The Petronas Towers are impressive, but they’re not lumpy koala bears. After exploring the city for a couple of days, however, getting lost in Indian neighborhoods with sari shops and aromatic cafes, and even spending a couple of hours in an elegant old theater watching a Bollywood movie I couldn’t understand, I decided Kuala Lumpur had its lumpy charms.

Ever gone to a place that didn’t live up to its great name? Or that did?

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Budget Air Travel Goes Long-Haul

Last week marked the first long-haul flight by a low-cost carrier—99 pounds for a 13-hour flight from London to Kuala Lumpur, anyone?—and the Guardian went along for the inaugural ride. Maxton Walker sets the scene: “As we budget guinea-pigs join the queue at check-in, horror stories swirl about non-reclining seats and the lack of legroom. There’s even a suggestion that if you don’t book a meal in advance, you’ll just have to starve. I haven’t, needless to say, booked a meal in advance.” His full review of the Air Asia experience is heartening, and surprisingly entertaining.

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