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Monday, October 23, 2006

Kuala Lumpur - the cheapest city on earth!

Located on the old site of the Royal Turf Club in the heart of the capital city, the Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) is truly a spectacular sight. Here, the 88-storey Petronas Twin Towers, the world's tallest twin structures, soars to a dizzying height of 452 metres. Inspired by the Five Pillars of Islam, this gleaming mega-structure was designed by Argentinian-American architect Cesar Pelli. Below lies a beautifully landscaped fountain park designed by prominent Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. KLCC is also home to the world-class Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, Suria Shopping Centre and Petronas Philharmonic Hall. On the left side of the image is the KL Tower, which provides a 360° panoramic view of the city at night from its revolving restaurant.

At the weekend, The Wall Street Journal showcased my favourite Asian city - Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia - commonly termed KL by younger locals.

In August, Swiss bank UBS's Price and Earnings Report for 2006, ranked Kuala Lumpur the cheapest of 71 global cities.

UBS said that Kuala Lumpur and Manila are favourable for a short stay- besides expenses for accommodation and food, a stroll around town also has its price. To get a picture of price differences for a short stay in a large city, UBS put together a basket of ten goods and services comprising an overnight stay for two in a first-class hotel, two dinners with a bottle of the house red wine, one taxi ride, a 100 kilometers in a rental car, two outings to the theatre by public transport, and various small expenditures such as a paperback novel or a phone call.

This package is most expensive in London, where visitors will cough up $1180, and Tokyo, where the basket costs $1090, excluding the money needed to get there and back. A short stay doesn’t come much cheaper in cities like Geneva, New York, Oslo or Zurich, either. The global average price for a quick trip is $ 640.

The cheapest places are Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Buenos Aires and Nairobi. For people with a budget of less than $450, Sofia, Bogotá and Lima are appealing choices. Regionally, the price difference is themost extreme between Africa ($ 425) and Western Europe ($ 800), Africa on the average costing over than 40% less for a short trip. But costs differ widely within Western Europe, too: a short stay in London is more than three times as expensive as one in Sofia ($ 380). At $ 723, a short stay in North America is also disproportionately high.

In the previous UBS survey, in 2003, Kuala Lumpur was also a bargain for tourists, with its overnight city break cost of $230 ranking second-lowest to Karachi's $150 (London was the most expensive at $900, followed by Tokyo at $860). Daniel Kalt, a UBS economist, attributes Kuala Lumpur's relatively consistent performance during the years between the surveys primarily to Malaysia's ability to get a firm grip on inflation. He notes that over the three-year period, Malaysia's cumulative inflation was just 5.6%, compared with 12.6% in India.

The Journal's Ken Sesser says that he paid $107 for a room in the Shangri-La hotel room, bought through Web site AsiaTravel.com, would have gotten him no more than the Salisbury YMCA in Hong Kong. In London, the cheapest hotel room he could find on the Internet cost $140, and that had the bathroom down the hall. The startling price differential doesn't end at hotel rooms. According to the UBS survey, a three-mile taxi ride in Kuala Lumpur would be just $1.60, compared with $11.60 in New York and $20.30 in London.

I have paid $90 myself for a room at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, in the KLCC area, just a short walk from the Petronas Towers.

Sesser says that for most Americans, Kuala Lumpur and the rest of Malaysia remain off the beaten path. Last year, Singapore (the island is connected by a causeway at the southern tip of Peninsular Malaysia) attracted more than twice as many American tourists as did all of Malaysia, 371,000 compared with 151,000. Thailand, which borders Malaysia to the north, attracted four times as many Americans, even though Malaysia can match many of Thailand's attractions, such as stretches of uncrowded beaches backed by rain forests and mountains. Mirza Mohamed Paiyab, director general of the government's Tourism Malaysia, says the difference is primarily because Bangkok and Singapore are large air-travel hubs, the first with many connections to Indochina and the second to Bali and Australia.

There are direct flights to KL from many of Europe's capital cities.

Malaysia comprises Malays who are Muslim (65%), ethnic Chinese (25%) who dominate the business sector and Indians.

Experience the variety at a Chinese restaurant in Malaysia, at a great price, and you will feel that a visit to a counterpart in Dublin is very deflating!!

Check out the food guide.

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