I maintain a series of benchmarks for various cases named Ways to Rome. The short answer is that the fastest parser is XML::LibXML.
In your case if XML::Simple is that slow, maybe that's because you are using it's default, pure Perl, parser which is really slow. Do you have XML::LibXML or XML::Parser installed? You might also need to set the $XML_SIMPLE_PREFERRED_PARSER (or $XML::Simple::PREFERRED_PARSER) to XML::Parser or XML::LibXML. See the Environment section in the docs of the module.
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