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Get to know Malaysians and their country by seeing the country two very different ways.
Get to know Malaysians and their country by seeing the country two very different ways.

Get to know Malaysia - from homestay to high-end hotel Add to ...

Check-in occurs over a cup of Chinese tea delivered in a satin-lined wicker basket in the privacy of my Regency-style room on the 21st floor.

The proof of a great hotel room is whether you want to stay in and luxuriate, or go out and investigate. Like an updated accommodation in a gentlemen's club, the room is all Venetian chandeliers and burled wood, but the big window revealing the skyline washes everything with tropical light, and the soaking tub in the marble bath is calling my name.

But I have appointments to keep, so I forcibly eject myself from the room.

A five-minute walk away, shoppers stream through Starhill Gallery, its silvery façade so shiny and faceted it looks like an enormous diamond. A salesperson invites me to try on a Ulysse Nardin timepiece with a polychrome enamel dragon rampant on a midnight blue face (price on request). Across the street at the Pavilion Mall, the Royal Selangor boutique features the Monsoon 1.5-litre pewter water pitcher, which slants forward as though leaning into a strong wind.

A 10-minute taxi ride transports me to the splendors of the Islamic Arts Museum, a serene white marble complex with restful courtyards and garden vistas. The Islamic tradition of avoiding figurative representation has meant that Muslim artists have specialized in the language of geometry as a metaphor for order. The museum offers artifacts of stunning richness – from 10th-century ceramic bowls whose bold patterns make them look like they were thrown yesterday, to medieval manuscripts with spirals of gilding worthy of Klimt.

I decide to dispel a lingering headache with a 90-minute Ayurvedic Shirodhara treatment ($116) at the Anggun Spa in the newly built Hotel Maya. For 20 minutes, oil flows over the third eye area of my head, leaving me rubber-limbed and beyond care. At first, the oil feels soft and soothing, then strangely heavy and annoying, and finally like it's pouring inside my head. Back on the sidewalk, I feel dazed and trippy and weirdly transparent. But my headache is gone.

It's hard to eat badly in Kuala Lumpur, whether at a night market or a gourmet restaurant. After a week of hearty homestyle Malay cooking, the subtle flavours at Shangri-La's in-house Japanese restaurant seem just the thing. Tucked away behind a massive glass-walled wine cellar, Zipangu's menu offers exquisite simplicity – grilled eggplant with a hidden burst of ginger or, a meal in itself, crabmeat, seaweed and egg soup. Dinner over, in good Malay tradition I now have to find a nice place to have supper...

I'm an urban creature to the core, but I wouldn't have missed the Kuala Medang Homestay for the world. There's nothing arm's-length about the experience. You're embedded – you're doing and tasting and giving a wide berth to the black cobra hooding in the middle of the road.

A stay in the boonies recharges your batteries, leaving you more than ready to roll in the bustling megapolis.

WHERE TO STAY

Homestay Kuala Medang: A three-day, two-night Homestay Package starts at $84 and includes lodging, all meals and tours. go2homestay.com/homestay-kuala-medang

Shangri-La Hotel Kuala Lumpur: This five-star hotel caters to high-end travellers. The newly renovated health club includes an outdoor pool and tennis courts. Rooms from $140. 11 Jalan Sultan Ismail, Kuala Lumpur; 60-3-2032-2388; shangri-la.com

WHAT TO DO

Islamic Arts Museum: With more than 7,000 artifacts, it's the best Islamic art museum in Southeast Asia. Open Monday to Sunday. Jalan Lembah Perdana, 50480 Kuala Lumpur; 60-3-2274-2020; iamm.org.my

Starhill Gallery: A multistorey mall featuring international luxury brands and an entire floor given over to spas. Jalan Bukit Bintang, 55100 Kuala Lumpur. starhillgallery.com

Pavilion Kuala Lumpur: Across the street from Starhill Gallery, this posh mall carries all the usual suspects, from Bottega Veneta to Yves Saint Laurent. pavilion-kl.com

THE INSIDER’S ADVICE

Helmi Yusof, 37, is a Singapore TV executive who travels to Kuala Lumpur frequently:

Jalan Bukit Bintang is a shopping stretch peppered with designer coffee bars, perfect for people-watching. You'll find some of the best restaurants along the stretch, too. Le Bouchon [ lebouchonrestaurant.com] serves superb French food and has many times nabbed the Best Restaurant in Malaysia title. Go to the delightful Shook! with a group [Starhill Gallery, 181 Jalan Bukit Bintang] which boasts four open kitchens – Japanese, Chinese, Italian and Western Grill. Just doors away is Enak KL, a terrific Malay fine-dining restaurant. For a night out, No Black Tie [ noblacktie.com.my] is the perfect bar and bistro with good live music.”

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