You’re unlikely to make a beeline for this Malaysian misfit but its shabby rundown appearance hides echoes of a well-maintained heritage and royal history.
At the northern end of the Straits of Malacca on the west coast of the Malaysian Peninsula, Port Klang is sheltered by surrounding islands and acts as the gateway to Malaysia’s most developed region, where the capital Kuala Lumpur lies 40 miles to the east.
Since the 17th century, the Malacca strait has been a highly congested and vital shipping channel between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Historically it has been plagued with piracy – and still is to this day – with nearly 100,000 ships passing through this pinch point in what has become the busiest shipping lane in the world.
Little wonder then that the port of Klang is of significance to Malaysia. The hinterland of Klang with lorry-rammed approach roads and huge industrial estates hardly entices the casual visitor. The shabby and dilapidated centre also undermines any potential rush of enthusiasm but beneath it all there’s a distinct charm that is worth investigating if you’re here.
Klang is one of the oldest cities in Malaysia, a Royal city with a palace, mosque and other well-preserved heritage sites associated with the original Selangor Sultanate.
As with many conurbations, it owes its growth to commerce, with the Klang Valley being rich in tin – leading to conflict over control between rival rulers (The Klang War, or Selangor Civil War of 1867–1874) when the British ‘helpfully’ stepped in and it became the centre for colonial administration until subsequently moving to Kuala Lumpur.
We find ourselves walking the streets after a short taxi ride from the port, on a brief foray away from a ship on which we’re guest speakers; whilst the remainder of the ship’s complement either bask in the sun on board, or head into Kuala Lumpur for retail therapy.
As with most towns and cities with any history, it’s the older parts of town that provide the most interest for us, with markets, old architecture and heritage properties that retain character in the face of the modern, often poorly built and maintained, boxes that surround them.
We start our exploration of Klang after a short walk uphill from the centre at the gates of the Royal palace – Istana Alam Shah.
As former Royal capital of Selangor, Istana Alam Shah is one of the official palaces of the Sultan of Selangor. Built in 1960 and now used for royal investitures and ceremonies, it is open at random times for tours; so we content ourselves with the view from outside, where other opulent private buildings can also be seen.
Wandering back downhill, we come across the The Galeri Diraja Sultan Abdul Aziz.
Initially constructed as Sultan Sulaeman Building, designed by British architect AB Hubback in 1909, it was subsequently used by the British as administrative offices and thereafter the occupying Japanese as a war HQ.
Today, it is now one of the more notable museums in Malaysia, highlighting the rich heritage of the Selangor Sultanate. It contains a collection of artifacts and replicas of the Selangor crown jewels.
From here it’s a short walk westwards to Little India – Malaysia’s largest Indian community, which strangely originally grew out of a Chinese community enclave.
In addition to the usual cluttered but lively persona of all Indian communities the most notable landmark in Little India is that of the Indian Muslim Tengku Kelana Mosque, which tends to dominate the street scene. From a small wooden structure, the mosque has undergone several stages of transformation to adapt to the growing numbers of the Indian Muslim community.
Bizarrely, one of the more interesting sights that we now stumble across is the Jambatan Kota, or Kota Bridge
This double decker bridge, the first in Asia, was opened in 1957 with a top layer for vehicles and the lower for bicycles and pedestrians. Although the top deck is no longer used, the lower level is still populated by the occasional motorbike, bicycle and pedestrian.
This rather industrial latticework of metal girders is nevertheless quite interesting and provides a good view of the sluggish green river (to remind you that you’re in the tropics) and Masjid Bandar Diraja – Klang’s Royal Town Mosque
A relatively new mosque, constructed early in the 21st century it nevertheless strikes an imposing sight as it appears to float on the River Klang
There are more aged and established religious centres, both Hindu shrines and Islamic mosques in Klang, such as the Sultan Sulaiman Mosque.
This Royal Mosque was designed by British architect Leofric Kesteven combining Islamic architecture with art-deco and western cathedral influences. It was completed in September 1932 but by this time we have also completed our own desire to walk and are quite ‘templed out’ by this stage, so save it for another time.
We much prefer to succumb to pleasures of the cooked flesh and spend our remaining time in the city investigating its restaurants, which unsurprisingly are numerous and diverse; catering for all tastes – from Malay, Indian and Chinese food – with plenty of fish on the menu.
Its now time to return to ship and to set sail through the Malacca Strait again, as we pass out of sight of industry and commerce into a setting sun over the extensive mangrove swamps – a scant memory of the terrain before trade made this area such a frenetic hub.
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