For the historically inclined
Published/Last edited or updated: 17th December, 2017
History and military buffs, and those who don’t mind a walk in the park shouldn’t miss Malaysia’s National Monument (Tugu Negara) set by Jalan Parlimen, just to the north of the Perdana Botanical Gardens.
Three monuments make up the site. The first, a cenotaph surrounded by a large square body of water, bears a series of inscriptions at its base reading, “To Our Glorious Dead (1914–1918), (1939–1945) and the Emergency (1948–1960)”. It sits at the upper entrance of Tugu Negara (by the tour bus parking area) and commemorates not only the war effort during both World Wars, but also the Malayan Emergency. It was originally erected by the British, at the centre of a roundabout near the old Kuala Lumpur Railway Station. It was moved to its current position in 1964 to make way for a flyover downtown.
Next comes the “Central Pavilion”, with its three gold domes and floor of Langkawi marble. As you continue around, be sure to look up at the ceiling and you’ll see the emblems of the many regiments who served during World War II and the Malayan Emergency.
The third monument is in the form of tall, bronze soldiers supporting their fallen comrades. The seven statues are said to represent leadership, unity, vigilance, strength, courage, sacrifice and suffering. The intention is for the figures to depict the victory of democracy, peace and freedom over “communism and evil”. Dedicated to the 11,000 people who died during the Malayan Emergency, the monument is thought to be the largest freestanding bronze grouping in the world.
The statue was designed by Austrian sculptor Felix de Weldon, the man who was also responsible for the famous Marine Corps War Memorial (the Iwo Jima Memorial) in Virginia, USA. Malaysia’s first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman had been inspired by the statue in Virginia during a visit to the States in 1960, and personally met with Felix de Weldon to have him create it. Anyone who has seen the US version will note the similarity in style.
Immediately below Tugu Negara is the ASEAN Sculpture Garden and if you’re here for the monument, the gardens are worth a very quick look. The landscape features the work of some Southeast Asian respected sculptors and is home to six sculptures made of glass, steel, bamboo and marble, the gardens were officially opened in 1987 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of ASEAN.
“Growth” was the name chosen for the 20 slabs arranged in a tumpal, or shape pointing upwards; the sculpture symbolising the dynamic growth of the ASEAN region in its first 20 years was designed by Malaysian artist Syed Jamal. The six small sculptures positioned in a circle was made using Malaysian marble by Singaporean sculptor Han Sai Por to symbolise the growth, unity, peace and harmony of the region. Look out for the contribution from the Philippines, entitled “Barong-Barong”, a modern representation of what Filipinos call a makeshift shack, made of salvaged materials. The remaining works are entitled “The Gate of Harmony,” “Progress” (from Thailand) and “The ASEAN Dance” (from Brunei).
Admission to both the National Monument and the sculpture garden are free, and the monument can be accessed daily, 07:00–18:00. If you simply want to snap a couple of pictures, you won’t need to spend much time here, but if you enjoy war history, Tugu Negara is worth perhaps an hour. This is a very popular stop on the tour bus circuit and can get quite busy—go early for the best chance to have it to yourself.
The monument is a solid 20 minute walk from Masjid Jemak or a taxi or grab car should be able to whisk you there in five to ten minutes. Starting from the monument you can then walk down, continuing through the Botanical Gardens to the Bird Park and eventually walking out of the green and back into the big city by the Islamic Arts Museum.
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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