Kuala Lumpur is totally not what I expected it to be. I just always figured that Asia was Asia and that, like Bangkok and Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur would be overflowing with bustling taxis, rickshaws, shouting touts and heinous smells. That's the Asia I know.

No, as it turns out, Kuala Lumpur is different than all that - but in a really good way. First of all, Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia in general) is a fantastic mix of cultures, including Chinese, Thai, Burmese, Indian and ethnic Malay. The strong Muslim culture, which arrived to Malaysia peacefully via traders from the Middle East, is vibrant but not overwhelming. You'll see ladies wearing burqahs and full body abayahs, but you won't feel bad for wearing normal western clothes. The food is also an extraordinary mix of cuisines and the nightlife is jumping.

Kuala Lumpur is a new city. It is vibrant. It is full of dazzling skyscrapers (including no less than the Petronas Towers - twin skyscrapers that are among the tallest in the world), modern metro trains, glitzy nightclubs and buzzing ethnic neighborhoods. And best of all, it's totally undiscovered. Most travelers overlook Kuala Lumpur for its big brother to the south, Singapore, or its party-hard neighbor to the east, Hong Kong.

Here are a few must-do items if you decide to make the trip, in a nutshell:

*Take the elevator up the Petronas Towers for a view from the skywalk, a bridge that connects the two towers - freaky! And not for those with acrophobia.

*Ride the monorail through the Golden Triangle - the business and nightlife hub of the city.

*Bargain with sari'ed shopkeepers for a new pair of beaded sandals in Little India.

*Eat dim sum in the afternoon at Tai Thong Spring Garden Restaurant.

*Spend a lazy afternoon snacking at an open air Malaysian coffeeshop (or kedai kopi).

*Check out the traditional architecture in the old City Centre, including the City Mosque and Kuala Lumpur Railway Station

I was only in Kuala Lumpur for two days, but wish I'd had more time because I could immediately sense that it's a vibrant city that deserves to be explored thoroughly rather than touched upon lightly.

If you're planning a trip to SE Asia, do not (I repeat, do not) skip Kuala Lumpur. Give it ample time (believe me, Bangkok is a mess. You don't want that much time there.) and explore the outlying areas, such as the Hindu Batu Caves, which sadly I missed. Oh, and if you manage to figure out the metro system, please let me know.