Do you know how long it takes to form a first impression about a person? 100 milliseconds. In contrast, it takes about 350 milliseconds to blink your eyes. So, as travelers, quite literally within the blink of an eye, we determine the fate of a city or a country three times over.

I like to think that traveling has taught me to approach every new destination with an open heart and an open mind. It’s a rollercoaster out here, and the truth is that no amount of reading and planning will ever truly prepare you for your own subjective response to the places you visit. We try to keep our expectations in check and not let our hopes for what a place will be blind us to what it actually is.

But the truth is, we all know that the impressions we form as soon as we walk through the doors of the airport or hop off a long-distance bus will generally set the tone for things to come. We all say that we’ll wait until we have all the facts and have collected all of the experiences we can before we deliver judgment on a city or a country but, deep down, we don’t. Hell, sometimes we’ve made up our minds before the plane’s wheels have bumped against the tarmac and we’re taxiing to the terminal. Other times it all comes down to whether you were swarmed by touts and got fleeced on your way into the city, or whether you were greeted with a smile at immigration and the weather is nice when you set out to explore. And other times still, we fall in love (or the complete opposite) with a place for reasons far more nebulous and tricky to pin down. What I do know, is that when we have made up our minds about a place, whether it’s good or bad, we tend to cling to those initial judgments, stubborn and unyielding, even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

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With so many places to see in the world and both time and money limited, it’s hard to justify returning to a place you didn’t much care for the first time around; for most travelers, if they sour on a destination early on, it’s unlikely they’ll ever go back. But every so often life throws a curve ball and we get the chance to do things over and give a place a second shot, only for us to find that a place that didn’t capture our hearts at first sight may improve on follow-up.

Our relationship with Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, is a perfect example of this. The first time we visited Kuala Lumpur, it was just for a quick three days before flying off to Borneo. We arrived excited and enthusiastic, and left anything but. I wouldn’t go so far to say we hated the city, but we certainly didn’t like it very much.

Maybe it was because our hotel had been located somewhere that looked perfect on paper, but proved somewhat inconvenient in reality, far enough from anything we might want to see (not that we really had any idea of what we wanted to see) that getting to places was a bit of a hassle. Certainly the fact that we had foolishly booked a fan room on our first evening in a room without windows that was akin to being roasted alive in a slow cooker didn’t help, and wandering the equally blazing streets didn’t make things any better. The city was so big, so sprawling, so dusty, so noisy, so jarring, we just couldn’t get a handle on it and constantly felt underwhelmed, cranky and off-kilter. We like being in big cities, but we also like being able to explore on foot; in Kuala Lumpur we were constantly feeling like we were risking life & limb every time we walked anywhere, so relentless was the traffic and the fact that motorcycles thought absolutely nothing about jumping the curb and barreling down the sidewalks. Despite months in Asia and having traveled in China and the Philippines, I still assume that capital cities are going to be gleaming and grand, but Kuala Lumpur, every inch of it seemingly in a contradictory state of decay and new construction, felt tatty and a little bit bleak.

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Based on our first date with Kuala Lumpur, I certainly wasn’t in any rush to go back for a second, but we had already purchased our return tickets from Borneo and had little choice in the matter. We didn’t see much during our first visit, and I hoped that perhaps with a little more preparation on our parts, we could make our second visit a little more pleasant. And if not, with no flight tickets to pin us down, we could always leave.

So, it was really a delightful surprise to find that, upon returning from the wilds of Borneo, I actually quite liked the city. I can’t exactly say why that is—certainly the city hadn’t changed in the three weeks we had been gone, and I don’t really think we had either—but, this time, things just clicked. I’ve noticed that one side-effect of constantly pulling up stakes and being on the move, is that it takes very little for new destinations to feel like home. Conventional wisdom tells us that familiarity breeds contempt; experimentally speaking, that claim seems dubious at best, and out here in the world I’ve also found the opposite to be true. When everything is unfamiliar and foreign and it’s so easy to feel off balance, even returning to a place you only know in the vaguest and most superficial of ways can be such a comfort. Feeling like you actually know where you are in a city, recognizing landmarks and being able to anticipate what comes around the next corner, it can make your fondness for a place soar.

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Maybe, too, having already experienced Kuala Lumpur, our expectations were more in line with reality than the fanciful fiction promoted by guidebooks. Staying a block away from the Central Market this time, an easy walk to Chinatown and a myriad attractions, we found ourselves settling into the rhythm of the city, this time finding pleasure in our desultory walks around town. Second glances seemed to bestow me with x-ray vision, as I pierced through the grit and grime and saw the charm lurking just beneath the surface as we walked. Whereas before I had felt the city was an assault on my senses, overloading and overwhelming me, this time I felt I could home in on the good things: the astounding architecture (about which, more in a later post)—an intoxicating blend of stately Colonial and ornate Islamic buildings, the abundant food choices (all delicious), and the bubbling character of the city that comes on strong but is benign and actually kind of endearing. When the streets became too much, we took refuge in beautiful museums, tranquil mosques, and fragrant markets swathed in color. Previously, we had approached Kuala Lumpur like a fist ready to attack, clenched and apprehensive; this time, we relaxed and let the city splay before us, unguarded and at ease. We spent five days days exploring, and I felt grateful every day we hadn’t ruled it out entirely after our first visit.

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Perhaps Kuala Lumpur is like a good wine that needs time to breathe before consumed, its astringent notes mellowing and softening, slowly becoming palatable. We’ve visited Kuala Lumpur three times since arriving in Asia (as the Air Asia hub, it is the epicenter of cheap flights), and every time, we like the city a little bit more, uncovering new pockets to explore and finding contentment in returning to old haunts, comforting touchstones to ground us in a bustling city that seems to be constantly mutating into something new.

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We’ve all heard the bromide about it being a woman’s prerogative to change her mind; I’d go one step further and say this should be the traveler’s prerogative as well. After all, first impressions are all well and good, but it’s those final ones that we take with us when we depart that really matter.

Tell us: Have you ever visited Kuala Lumpur? If so, what did you think? If not, have you ever visited a place that you initially didn’t care for but came to appreciate?

Author profile: Stephenie Harrison


In another life, I moved from Toronto, Canada to Nashville, TN to pursue my doctoral degree in Psychology. That chapter of my life is now finished, but I did earn the right to demand you call me Dr. Steph (though I respond just as well to plain old Steph). I am an avid reader whose book collection is rivaled only by my many pairs of cute shoes. I also like to knit, hold impromptu karaoke parties, and try new and unusual foods. Generally not all at the same time. I also really love to learn languages, which may explain why I took 3 years of Latin in highschool. I'm turning over a new leaf, so instead of looking forward, I'm going to work on enjoying the present, so the country I'm most looking forward to is whichever one we're in right now!

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Read comments (46)

  1. February 3, 2014 at 9:23 am
    Feb. 3, '14

    Hi!

    I never actually made it to KL but I heard people’s various opinions. This certainly is a nice addition to it, a very positive one. I always wanted to visit KL anyways, regardless of what people say. Even visiting a dirty old hole can be a cool experience. Plus, as you say, it’s a hub of cheap flights so I’ll definitely get there sooner or later. Hopefully sooner cos I’d like to visit Cameron Heights while I’m still young and agile haha

    I have to say I really enjoy reading your musings while I sit in chilly London staring at my lunch.

    All the best!
    Les

    PS. That whole sentence where you compare KL to wine is gold! My literary sensuality has been tickled! haha
    Les / The Indie Traveller recently posted..Ilha Formosa: A visit to the Yehliu Geopark in Taiwan and an Encounter with Àiyù Jelly

    • February 4, 2014 at 9:14 pm
      Feb. 4, '14

      So glad you enjoyed this, Les, and I hope you make it KL some day soon! I’m sure compared to the chill of London, it would be a nice change of pace. :)

  2. February 3, 2014 at 9:45 am
    Feb. 3, '14

    Yes, we have visited Kuala lumpur and found it weirdly conservative and quiet. Bukit Bintang was an exception but somehow it did not feel real. I wouldn’t want to return to any part of Malaysia because like you said time and money is limited.

    • February 4, 2014 at 9:16 pm
      Feb. 4, '14

      I’m not sure that I personally felt that KL was very conservative, but perhaps I expected it to be a lot more conservative than it was and found it surprisingly liberal and laid back (the people at least). It wasn’t our first stop in Malaysia and we’d visited a few other cities before visiting, so perhaps that had something to do with it as well.

  3. February 3, 2014 at 9:56 am
    Feb. 3, '14

    I’m always torn on re-visiting a place that I didn’t like the first time. On one hand, there are so many places in the world that are on my want-to-see list that I would rather head to those places than re-visit a place I didn’t like in the first place. On the other hand, when in a new place for a relatively short period of time, so many personal feelings go into how you like a place that I might not be giving it a fair shake. For example, when Kim and I didn’t really like Mendoza, Argentina – but we both had the flu and had hit a travel-wall. Is that Mendoza’s fault? No, but I don’t necessarily want to give it a second chance, either.

    I’m glad Kuala Lumpur finally opened up to you, like the big, bold, fruity wine that it is!
    Brian recently posted..Unwanted Advice: How to Improve Airports and Airplanes

    • February 4, 2014 at 9:19 pm
      Feb. 4, '14

      You’re right that it can be agonizing to decide whether to give a place a second shot or not. I think for me it comes down to whether I felt I gave it a fair shot or whether I can think of concrete things that I strongly believe would greatly change my experience. With Kuala Lumpur, we knew we had to go back for at least a day or two, and so we thought deeply about what had made our first visit unenjoyable and how we could change that. There are certainly other cities that we’ve been to that did nothing for me, but that I feel I still got a good sense of what they are and I know that we just don’t jive (Beijing is a great example of this). Maybe if I went back I’d like it a bit better, but I was sufficiently underwhelmed that I won’t be going out of my way to find out!

  4. February 3, 2014 at 10:08 am
    Feb. 3, '14

    I have to agree, we can make up our minds a bit quick sometimes. One of the things I like to do is on the ride from the airport into the city, see how much chaos exists, how the driving looks. Admittedly, if it’s too tame, I’m a little biased. I like it to feel frenetic…I don’t know why! This is an open and honest post…loved it.
    Corinne recently posted..Driving in (Eastern) Malaysia

    • February 4, 2014 at 9:21 pm
      Feb. 4, '14

      That first airport ride can really be critical, can’t it? I often find that my impressions of a city during that time rarely change much, especially if they are positive. I mean, airports are rarely in the best part of town so if you find yourself enjoying the vibe of a place even when taking a tour through some of its least impressive bits, that’s got to be a good sign!

  5. Steve C
    February 3, 2014 at 11:20 am
    Feb. 3, '14

    Hi Steph, I really liked this post. Yes, I’ve been to KL, but long ago; before the Petronas Towers were even built! Our experience was kinda “Meh”. We were about six months into our RTW and had just arrived from Singapore by train. We stayed in a “Hostel” and think the dorm beds had bed bugs. Walks around our neighborhood were bland at best, but the food we had was very good.

    I remember the park, close by the National Museum. That’s where my wife had her first melt-down, wondering what we were going to do when we were finished traveling. We were both pretty burned out and this City wasn’t helping much. Our next stop was going north by bus to the Cameron Highlands. Long treks through the jungle there brought us back to good mental health.

    About your first three day stay compared to your second visit, I think time was the culprit. When you only have three days, in the back of your mind you kinda want everything to click. When you arrive without an end date to leave, things are very different. It’s another example of “Slow Travel” is always better. Only three days means pressure to me and I hate pressure. Travel and pressure do not go together!

    • February 4, 2014 at 9:24 pm
      Feb. 4, '14

      Hi Steve! Good to hear from you again!

      I think arriving in KL from Singapore would definitely be a bit of whiplash—we have friends who did the same as you and they HATED KL (far more fiercely than our general apathy the first time). I think you’re right that one of the curses of the long-term traveler is that we’re constantly going to amazing places and having these wonderful experiences one after the other so it’s easy to burn out and difficult to appreciate places on their own merits rather than in comparison to other places. I remember when we first started traveling, with the exception of China, I LOVED everywhere and felt like I couldn’t choose a favorite place. Now that we’ve been gone for so long, I definitely have opinions about which places I really love, which ones were ok, and which ones just didn’t do it for me.

  6. February 3, 2014 at 11:50 am
    Feb. 3, '14

    We stayed close to Central Market too and I have to say that I loved my first encounter with the city, simply because I hadn’t been to Asia in a couple of years and I missed the smells, the sounds and the general chaos of it. Having said that, KL definitely isn’t my favourite city and Scott didn’t really like it, even though we found ourselves there around 3 times during transit to other places. The food was ok, but not as good as other parts of the country, and the touts and touristy-ness of the place can be a bit overwhelming.
    Julia recently posted..How NOT To Photograph The Northern Lights In Iceland

    • February 4, 2014 at 9:26 pm
      Feb. 4, '14

      I agree that the food in KL is not as great as other Malaysian cities (or, at least, it’s more difficult to find the good food), which may have been why we were thrown for such a loop on our first visit. Compared to Melaka where it was impossible to get a bad meal, we definitely found KL more challenging. I don’t think I found it excessively touristy though; certainly less than Melaka and George Town, though I do like both of those places an awful lot. To me, KL is just a really big city, with some of the upsides that brings and the downsides too!

  7. February 4, 2014 at 6:16 am
    Feb. 4, '14

    I love Kuala Lumpur!! And I must say that for me it was love at first sight, actually!!

    However there have certainly been places that have ‘grown on me’. Istanbul was one of those places – didn’t love it when I first arrived, it felt unemotional and cold compared with Iran where I had been previously. But the more time I spent there, and then a second visit in the height of summer really helped me understand what makes Istanbul one of the world’s great cities. I’m heading back there in July, and can’t wait to learn and love even more about it!!
    Tim | UrbanDuniya recently posted..Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka’s ‘little Britain’?

    • February 4, 2014 at 9:28 pm
      Feb. 4, '14

      It’s always nice when you fall in love with a city at first sight, but there is something really rewarding about a place creeping up on you and wriggling its way into your heart, isn’t there? I always feel a bit proud of myself for having stuck it out and finding the good parts of a place and there’s a nice sense that you’ve taken advantage of a bunch of things you would have otherwise missed out on.

      We haven’t made it to Istanbul yet, but when we do, we’ll keep your experiences tucked away in the back of our minds.

  8. February 4, 2014 at 9:15 am
    Feb. 4, '14

    Well put. I think the thing to take away is you always, always need to have an open mind; whether it be about a place or otherwise.That way you are open to picking up on the good you may not have noticed the first time.

    I’ll be giving a few German cities a round two this upcoming Spring, I wonder if it will be the same for me, though I never hated any of them, really. We will see! Enjoy your time in Kuala Lumpur! :)
    Sally recently posted..What is This Place? Notes on a Return Home

    • February 4, 2014 at 9:31 pm
      Feb. 4, '14

      You know, I backpacked through Europe for a few weeks in 2005 and although there were some places that deeply underwhelmed me, I can’t remember really hating anywhere. I probably wouldn’t go back to Brussels or Vienna by choice, but if for some reason I wound up there again, I know it would be fine. Asian cities on the other hand, especially at first, were so different from western cities that I have absolutely been miserable in some places. At the end of the day, as you say, the key is to keep an open mind and remember that we adapt a lot faster than we give ourselves credit for!

  9. February 4, 2014 at 11:04 am
    Feb. 4, '14

    I second Brian, it’s hard to return to a place you weren’t enamored with when there are so many incredible places waiting to be explored. But like you said, a lot of outside factors can have a negative impact on your first impression. My first time in Budapest, the Iceland volcano had just exploded and wrecked havoc on the weather. We faced gale force winds that uprooted trees and caused power outages and freezing rain that blew sideways and upended umbrellas. It was unpleasant to say the least. But I knew that the city still had charm to spare so I went back over the summer and fell head-over-heels in love.

    Similarly, I visited Rome in August, during a heatwave, when the sanitation workers were on strike and our hotel didn’t have a/c. That was nearly 20 years ago and I haven’t been back since. I’m just about ready to give Rome a second chance :-)

    PS – Steph, love the fun photo of you!!
    Heather recently posted..Snapshot: Central Park in Winter

    • February 4, 2014 at 9:38 pm
      Feb. 4, '14

      On this trip we are CONSTANTLY struggling with whether we should go back to countries we have visited and loved (but not fully explored) or keep on pushing for new experiences and new destinations. So with that in mind, I definitely understand that there’s barely enough time to see it all, never mind going back for seconds with a place you didn’t even care for. The only reason I feel like I should “never say never” and there can be value in returning is because ever since KL, there have been a few places that really didn’t do much for me… but then for some reason or another, we had to return and I liked them WAY MORE that second time. Hanoi is a great example of this, Bali too, and to some extent, so is Chiang Mai. Maybe I’m just super fickle…

  10. February 4, 2014 at 11:31 am
    Feb. 4, '14

    Lovely post on giving a travel destination a second chance, and letting it unfold in its own time for you… And your writing is captivating! We look forward to reading more posts in future and exploring your blog…
    Sand In My Suitcase recently posted..Stone Town, Zanzibar: Haunting slave markets and palaces

    • February 4, 2014 at 9:39 pm
      Feb. 4, '14

      Thanks so much for stopping by AND for saying such nice things! 😉 Glad you enjoyed the post and I’m happy to hear you’ll be sticking around.

  11. February 4, 2014 at 3:51 pm
    Feb. 4, '14

    This is a great post, we loved KL, so I am happy that you were able to give it a second chance. We loved the food, the chaos, the grand malls (and their air conditioning), the quirky hostel we stayed at and the friendly locals. I know it is hard to visit some place that didn’t jive with you the first time for a second go-around, but it seems that every time I have done that I’ve surprised myself and been so glad that I returned. I like the idea of going with your last impressions instead of your first, thanks for a great read!
    Erica recently posted..Superlative-Worthy Salar de Uyuni

    • February 4, 2014 at 9:42 pm
      Feb. 4, '14

      I am right there with you—whenever we’ve returned to places on this trip for whatever reason, I’ve found that I like them a lot more the second time compared to the first. Even somewhere like Bangkok, which I loved at first sight, I love even more every time we go back. Maybe the lesson here is that if you find yourself not liking a place, you should immediately leave and then come back a few weeks or months later and try it again… Perhaps it’s time for us to tackle China again… :)

  12. February 4, 2014 at 3:51 pm
    Feb. 4, '14

    It’s difficult to choose to return to a place you didn’t really enjoyed at first but it’s always good to give it another chance. It has happened to me though hat I visited places I liked a lot the first time and felt disappointed at the second visit. About KL, we didn’t really like it but I’d love to get back there one day to see if I feel differently about it.
    Franca recently posted..A Quest For Blu – Street Art Hunting In Italy

    • February 4, 2014 at 9:44 pm
      Feb. 4, '14

      Ah, there’s the rub! Returning to places you love always runs the risk of them not being quite as good as you remembered. So perhaps this is all about regression to the mean and us finding most places “average”. I’ve definitely been hesitant to go back to places I’ve loved because I’m worried that they’ll fall short of my memories and somehow taint the good times I did have there… so far that hasn’t been the case, but I’m sure eventually we’ll return to a place we loved only to be disappointed.

  13. February 5, 2014 at 11:18 am
    Feb. 5, '14

    Great post as per usual! I’m glad to hear Kuala Lampur has grown on you. It’s a bit saddening to think how quickly we can sometimes write off an entire city or country, one that perhaps we could really love, after a poor first impression. We first learned this lesson upon returning to London last winter. We hadn’t loved the city (at least not the way we thought we would) during a visit in September however due to cheap flights we returned in the winter, staying in a better/different part of town. With a bit of planning and research ahead of time we ended up having a wonderful time. I’m always willing to give a city a second chance, sometimes it’s just hard to find the time, money, and resources to get there. Always a pleasure following along on your journey, take care!
    Calli recently posted..The Enclosed Balconies of Malta

    • February 5, 2014 at 9:11 pm
      Feb. 5, '14

      It’s pretty incredible how critical location can be, especially when you’re in a city that doesn’t have great public transport. Kuala Lumpur actually has pretty decent transport options (as does London, I know), but if you aren’t strategic, you might wind up having to use two different lines (which require two separate tickets) and it is a PAIN. Bangkok can actually be the same way.

      I know there’s a lot of ambivalence about London but I have always loved it and suspect I always will. I’m glad your second time around with it was a big improvement!

  14. February 5, 2014 at 2:32 pm
    Feb. 5, '14

    So we didn’t visit KL multiple times. But we did live there for six weeks. I feel like I sort of know my way around KL. We stayed in PJ, a suburb of KL so we didn’t just see the city center, we got around.
    Now. I was going to say something about how I liked KL but not loved it. But the more I thought about it, the more I loved it. At first glance, I liked KL. Living there was fine but not spectacular, or so I thought (this counts as my first impression). Looking back now, I really did love it there. The crazy malls, the food, the Indian people everywhere, the public transport. We saw a real life civet cat just walking around our neighborhood, and also a snake and a BIG lizard. We saved a kitty’s life. We were there during election time, which was insane. Oh man… all those memories.

    • February 5, 2014 at 9:13 pm
      Feb. 5, '14

      I really think KL creeps up on you! I’m still not at the stage where I think I would want to base myself there for an extended period of time, but given that every time we return I like it more, that very well could change. I think there’s a lot to explore and uncover there, and being able to conquer it bit by bit is probably key.

  15. February 5, 2014 at 6:34 pm
    Feb. 5, '14

    KL is for food. Done.

    (I say this as someone born there.)

    It’s pretty cosmopolitan, so not that conservative IMO.

    My adopted hometown, Auckland, suffers from a similar issue. It’s a hub for NZ, but nobody comes to NZ for the cities.

    I would say we had trouble connecting with certain cities for the same reason – staying too far away from the centre, never getting our heads around the layout/neighbourhoods. just never really managing to ‘get into’ them.
    NZ Muse recently posted..I need your advice

    • February 5, 2014 at 9:16 pm
      Feb. 5, '14

      I agree that KL is actually quite cosmopolitan and really not too conservative at all. And yet, ironically, I think KL might have been our least favorite food city in Malaysia! We definitely found some good places to eat, but we also ate a lot of unmemorable or lackluster meals too… I think because it’s so big, it was just a lot harder to find reliable food options, at least at first.

  16. February 6, 2014 at 6:01 am
    Feb. 6, '14

    I totally agree that it can be really hard to shake first impressions of a place. It’s especially rare for a destination to grow on me if my initial experience there is negative; I never recovered from Jakarta enough to really love Indonesia, for example. I can only think of one place that I warmed to after an initial dislike and that was Chiang Rai, after we stumbled upon a completely different area of the city. Glad to see you warmed to KL; I like that city!
    Amy recently posted..The Secret War in Laos

    • February 6, 2014 at 10:39 pm
      Feb. 6, '14

      I’m actually really surprised that you guys like KL as much as you did given your dislike of Jakarta. Admittedly, we didn’t spend much time in Jakarta so I can’t say I know that city well at all, but it actually seemed very reminiscent of KL to me! But I do see what you are saying—I often wonder if we would have liked China more if we had not started in Beijing…

  17. February 8, 2014 at 7:56 am
    Feb. 8, '14

    Glad to hear things went better for you the second time around!
    Amanda recently posted..Weekend Cooking: Butter Chicken

  18. February 9, 2014 at 7:37 pm
    Feb. 9, '14

    What a beautifully written post! I’m a big fan of the woman’s prerogative, but I can totally get on board with the travelers prerogative as well. I know what you mean about our preconceived and sometimes ill-conceived notions about a place. They say, psychologically, that once we’ve made up our minds as humans, we’re often reluctant to change them and perhaps that’s why in cities we’ve decided we don’t like from the get go, we choose only to see the negative things of the hustle and bustle, grip about the distance and the dusty. But second chances say so much more, and perhaps a bit of mental preparation for what to expect helped you relax and focus on the positive this time around. I’ve never been to KL, having heard mostly feedback similar to your first experience, but I did have a similar experience in India. I wasn’t sure I liked India at all for the first three or four weeks. I had gone expecting to fall in love with it, and then feared I would leave hating it. I’m not sure what it was, but somewhere in that 3-4 week mark, I completely fell in love. I think something clicked and I finally began to understand why things are the way they are, the people they way they are, and I respected it for what it was and joined in. I almost left early, but instead extended my trip another two weeks, and it still has a special spot in my heart. I can’t wait to return!

    • February 10, 2014 at 11:22 pm
      Feb. 10, '14

      *Puts on Psychology PhD Cap* You’re exactly right about how difficult it can be to overthrow preconceived notions—we tend to display a confirmational bias, in which we seek out information that backs up what we already believe to be true. This reduces cognitive dissonance, which is an unpleasant sensation in which facts and beliefs don’t line up, so we look for facts that justify what we believe. *Takes of PhD Cap*

      Thank you for sharing your India story with us—it’s a place I really want to visit and really want to love, but I know it’s a challenging destination and I expect I’ll likely find it quite jarring and unsettling at first. I think if you’re not feeling the love after 3 or 4 weeks, it’s unlikely you ever will (at least at that time), but simply dismissing a place after a few days is probably doing you (and it) a disservice.

      • February 14, 2014 at 9:53 am
        Feb. 14, '14

        Look at me, preaching to the psychologist! Do you really have a PhD? I find it all so fascinating! I know you’ve mentioned being scared of India before, but I really think you two will love it.

        P.S. I haven’t been ignoring your email (just low on time) and I definitely will respond tomorrow!
        Jessica J. Hill recently posted..Things to Do in Crete, Greece

        • February 15, 2014 at 10:09 pm
          Feb. 15, '14

          I really have a PhD! That’s what I was working on before we left to travel—after I finally defended my dissertation, 3 months later, we were in Japan!

          We did visit Nepal near the end of last year, which I guess is like India-lite in certain respects and we did fine while we were there. I think SL will be a little more in-your-face than Nepal, but I’m fairly confident we can handle it. I guess we’ll see!

  19. February 10, 2014 at 9:10 pm
    Feb. 10, '14

    We haven’t visited KL yet, but I am familiar with the feeling you describe. Our start in Vietnam was rough, but even just upon entering Saigon by bus, I had this overwhelming sense that any hardship we’d endured would be won over by this country. I had a strange sense of faith, despite the many (MANY) roadblocks thrown at us. I feel like we’ve usually been completely blindsided by the places that we’ve disliked.
    Carmel recently posted..WHAT IT’S LIKE RIDING A BUS IN LAOS

    • February 10, 2014 at 11:28 pm
      Feb. 10, '14

      I think one of the things that worked in our favor is that KL wasn’t our first experience of Malaysia—we had already been to two other cities, so our feelings about the city were divorced from our impressions of the country as a whole, which is good. I think I’ve told you guys that we have had the worst prediction rates on this trip—whenever I think I’ll love a place, I don’t, and the places I was ready to dismiss (or skip) prior to visiting have been the ones we’ve loved so much. Maybe the only exception has been Vietnam, because I REALLY wanted to love it, but I was also very hesitant and tentative going in because I had heard so many mixed things. So I guess I wanted to love it, but really worried I would not. I’m glad that it has just gotten better and better for you guys!

  20. February 13, 2014 at 5:18 pm
    Feb. 13, '14

    I had exactly the same first impression of KL, although I was also pretty sick during our visit which probably soured my impressions. It’s weird how the noise and bustle, the traffic and the dirt really didn’t bother me in any other Asian cities but I was desperate to leave Kuala Lumpur. Maybe we’ll have to give it a second chance some day…
    Maddie recently posted..Finding new experiences close to home – Take 12 Trips, January

    • February 13, 2014 at 7:59 pm
      Feb. 13, '14

      I think you might like KL on a second visit, as I really felt very similar to you. None of the things I found so abrasive our first time in KL were quite as jarring and bothersome the second time back. We found a lot of things we really enjoyed and although I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite city in Malaysia, I really don’t mind occasional jaunts back there to explore a little more.

  21. February 24, 2014 at 12:55 am
    Feb. 24, '14

    Yes, like people, places don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. But if you stay long enough, or return as you did, you can get a completely different experience or even come to love a place. Istanbul was like that for me. I looked forward to spending a month there only to be disappointed by the apartment, where I never felt like I was at home. But in the end, the apartment wasn’t the city and I ended up making the best out of the visit. Now Istanbul is high on the list of places I miss.

    When I was a solopreneur, in my previous life, I learned that familiarity breeds liking, not contempt. Bromides versus psychology, I suppose.

    I didn’t care much for KL at first, for reasons similar to yours. Too hot, too much development and traffic… But we were visiting a friend, staying at his house, so we felt at home pretty quickly. Now the main, if not the only, reason to return is to see our friend again.
    Peter Korchnak @ Where Is Your Toothbrush? recently posted..Toothbrush Talk: Slow vs. fast travel

    • February 25, 2014 at 2:31 am
      Feb. 25, '14

      You are the second person to have mentioned a difficulty with Istanbul, so that is good to know as we may be heading there after Sri Lanka!

      The fun thing about social psychology is you can kind of find a study to back up whatever theory you want—there are a bunch of little variables you can tweak that can change the results of those studies in monumental ways, so sometimes familiarity breeds liking and other times it breeds contempt…

  22. April 12, 2015 at 5:54 pm
    Apr. 12, '15

    Hi Stephenie,

    I went to Kuala Lumpur in September last year and I am glad that we stayed there for a week. Prior to our stay in KL, we had a nice island getaway in Pulau Redang which we really loved. It was a relaxing experience, but that came to a screeching halt, the moment that we landed at KL.

    I can agree with the point you made about first impressions, being a lasting one. At first, when we got to the city, I found the whole experience overwhelming. I did find KL to be an urban jungle city. Things were moving really fast and to be honest, we had stuff that did happen to us while we stayed there (broken phones, taxi disputes and late change in accommodations). Nevertheless, I did not let that deter me from understanding and connecting with the people and the environment.

    I found some great eateries in KL Sentral (Brickfields) and I befriended a local roti chef at Hussein cafe. To this day, I still miss the roti canai that the chef use to make for us, it was so good. I remember talking to a nice lady who owned a shop at Nu Sentral, and I got a great advice about places to explore in Chow Kit and Bukit Bintang. Also, I came across travellers from Europe and Australia at Bukit Bintang and we spoke about our travel experiences over dinner. It was nice and in spite of everything that happened, I came to love KL, the moment that I freed myself from the thoughts of negativity about the place and just saw it for what it was; a beautiful, vibrant city filled with great cultural diversity and friendly people.

    In the end, I had a great time in Malaysia. I miss the vibrancy, the food, the beaches, the people, the landscape, the biodiversity, well pretty much everything. Malaysia is an interesting country to travel in and I was fortunate enough to experience it. It was unfortunate, that we were unable to go to Penang and Melaka but I will go there one day. I am glad that you had a chance to go back to KL and that you enjoyed the experience, this time around. Once you get into the rhythm of Kuala Lumpur, everything just falls into place.

    Thank you so much for sharing your travel experiences of Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia, I appreciate it. Have a lovely day!!!

    Adam
    Adam recently posted..A trip to Malaysia

    • April 14, 2015 at 10:35 am
      Apr. 14, '15

      Hi Adam! Thank you for sharing your experiences about KL and I’m so glad to hear you so thoroughly enjoyed your time there. Finding friendly locals (or fellow travelers) and good food really works wonders, doesn’t it? :) KL is such a big city that I know we’ve only seen a small part of it… I’m sure we’ll be back again one day and will take the opportunity to explore (& eat!) some more!

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