Join Aiden Jewelle Gonzales as she explores Malaysia’s vibrant capital.
Too often, we ignore our neighbours for sights further afield, thus missing out on some truly remarkable experiences. Malaysia, home to world-famous locales that include Mount Kinabalu and most of northern Borneo, is one such oft-overlooked gem. While its dense jungles and magnificent mountain ranges are a goldmine of exploits for any intrepid adventurer, we’ve honed in on Kuala Lumpur (KL) for the explorers among us who wish to take a quick 48-hour jaunt to Malaysia’s bustling capital. So step right in and Selamat Datang ke Kuala Lumpur!
A Diverse People
Although the majority of the country’s population are native Malays, almost a quarter are of Chinese descent, and about seven percent are of Tamil Indian descent. Thus, wandering around KL, you’re likely to hear an animated orchestra of Malay, Hokkien, Cantonese, and Tamil, and the cuisines and culture are often an exciting amalgamation of these. Fortunately, everyone speaks English, so communication should be a breeze.
Before and After You Fly:
- The currency in Malaysia is the ringgit (RM), and the current exchange rate is about 7.5 Thai baht per ringgit.
- As with any country, airport exchange rates are extortionate so we’d suggest changing only a small amount at the airport.
- The airport is an hour away from KL proper, but you have a few options to get to and from the city centre. A Grab is a flat rate of RM 65 (THB 490) and a high-speed train to a central hub called KL Sentral costs RM 55 (THB 400) and takes about 30 minutes. If you’re price sensitive and don’t mind the scenic route, take the bus for RM 10-12 (THB 75-90).
Where to Stay:
For ease of travel, stay in KL’s Golden Triangle, its central entertainment and commercial district that also encompasses tourist destinations like the Petronas Twin Towers. LRT (metro) stations abound there, and Grab is usually cheap and convenient. There are plenty of affordable hotels in the area, such as The Bed KLCC, an air-conditioned capsule hotel for as low as RM55 (THB400) per pax.
The Pudu Integrated Commercial Complex, or ICC Pudu is open from 6am to 2pm and serves an array of local breakfast foods, with a focus on Chinese cuisine. Don’t skip the Ah Weng Koh Hainan Tea & Coffee stall which serves a punch of flavour in the form of Hainan coffee, and our personal favourite, Toasted bread with kaya (a local coconut egg jam that is a particular treat).
Reach New Heights
No first-time trip to KL is complete without a visit to either the Petronas Twin Towers or KL Tower; both icons of KL’s magnificent skyline. Since climbing to the top requires a fee and the – albeit stunning – views are quite similar, I would suggest visiting only one.
Petronas Twin Towers
The Petronas Twin Towers are KL’s glittering jewel, standing a proud 452 metres above the ground. The tallest twin towers worldwide, their archetypal design is a reference to the Islamic eight-point star. Make the most of your 15-minute tour of the Skybridge that connects both towers 170 metres above the ground, and bask in the breathtaking panoramic views atop the Observation Deck on the 86th floor. Tickets are RM 80 (THB 600) for adults. Afterwards, explore the KLCC area which has the sprawling Suria KLCC mall and the verdant oasis that is KLCC Park, or take the 15-minute air-conditioned Bukit Bintang Walkway to the more upscale Pavilion shopping mall.
- Although they’re open from 9am to 9pm, last admissions are at 8.30pm and the towers are closed on Mondays.
- Don’t buy tickets from third-party websites as they’re often a scam.
The seventh-tallest freestanding tower in the world, KL Tower looks down on the city from 421 metres above. A whopping 300 metres aboveground, the Sky Deck features our favourite picture spot – the Sky Box. You’ll have 10 minutes at a time to take death-defying pictures with only a sheet of glass between you and KL’s brilliant cityscape above, around and below you.
- There are two Sky Boxes, but we suggest taking pictures in the one with the Petronas Twin Towers in the background for that truly iconic shot.
- Bring a professional camera – official photos are for sale, but staff will also take photos for free using whatever camera you’ve brought with you.
Stop for lunch at Ali, Muthu & Ah Hock Kopitiam in the city’s vibrant Chinatown. Open daily 8am to 4.30pm, this restaurant is a hit among locals for their old-style interior, casual atmosphere, and varied fare. If there’s one thing that you can’t go to Malaysia and leave without trying, it’s Nasi Lemak, the national dish of rice cooked in coconut milk and wrapped in banana leaf, and this restaurant’s Nasi Lemak Ayam Goreng (rice and fried chicken) is award-winning perfection. Vegetarians should check out their array of meatless options, such as their Mee Rebus (noodles in potato-mashed gravy).
Chinatown is often the beating pulse in the heart of every metropolis, and KL is no exception. Must-visits in the area include Petaling Street, an open-air market that is a shopper’s paradise of imitation goods, colourful knickknacks and local eats; the ageless temples cloistered in the area such as the Kuan Ti Temple, a 121-year-old Taoist shrine; and Central Market, an artist’s haven of local handicrafts, trinkets, and art, all housed in a 120-year-old art-deco style National Heritage site. Open from 10am to 10pm, the latter is where you’ll be able to buy authentic local presents such as Malaysian batik (wax-dyed) prints. Merdeka Square, built to celebrate Malaysian independence from British rule, is popular among photographers. Make sure to take a snap with the “I love KL” sculpture nearby, a must for all KL sightseers.
When we asked around, the unanimous recommendation by Hokkien locals was that visitors should savour the famed Bak kut teh dish at least once. Literally “meat bone tea,” the daunting name belies the popularity of this scrumptious Chinese broth. Traditionally made with pork ribs, halal and vegetarian options of this slow-cooked clay pot dish are also available. We recommend going to Jalan Ipoh at the city centre to try this delicacy at either Leng Kee or Ban Lee, both restaurants that have won much local acclaim.
The KL city centre is rife with bars, lounges and speakeasies for that perfect post-prandial tipple, but one not to miss is PS150, a speakeasy in Petaling Street with a rich and racy history. Housed in a former pre-war era brothel, dark wood panelling and red lanterns take you back to yesteryear while you sip on locally-inspired cocktails that are one of a kind.
Start your day early with breakfast at Yut Kee, one of KL’s most popular breakfast spots among locals, which serves contemporary Malay dishes from 7.30am to 4.30pm every day except Mondays. Just a short walk from the Dang Wangi LRT station, the restaurant’s striking cherry-red exterior and arched windows are hard to miss. After you give your name up front you’ll have to wait to be seated, but the end result is worth it. Definitely try the Chicken chop and the Roti babi, a stuffed pastry done in the local style.
It would be a crime to visit KL and not pay your respects to the iconic Batu Caves just a short drive or train ride away from the city centre. These illustrious caves, considered one of the preeminent Hindu religious sites outside of India, have been lighting up travel blogs for years due to their striking rainbow stairway climbing up the mountain face, as well as the magnificent golden statue of Lord Murugan that guards it, the largest one worldwide of the deity. Beyond the resplendent 272 steps are three awe-inspiring caverns housing striking temples, outsized stalactites and stalagmites, and a large extended family of cheeky macaques.
- Open from 7am to 7pm, go early to avoid the heat.
- Wear something loose fitting and comfortable, but cover up your shoulders and knees.
- Bring your own drinks and snacks to avoid being overcharged, but nothing too heavy.
- Beware the monkeys – keep watch over your belongings and don’t brandish bottled drinks near them as they’ll grab them off you.
Back in the city centre go to the hopping Bangsar area and try out KL’s homegrown burger brand, myBurgerLab, that’s recently made waves among the city’s younger crowd. Each burger is a study in scrumptious local flavours, such as the Ultraman, which features salted egg yolk buttermilk sauce, infused with cili padi (cut chilli) and curry leaf. We definitely recommend the Mushroom fries, Portobello mushrooms deep fried to perfection and served with their signature red sauce.
Kuala Lumpur Lake Gardens
A 15-minute car ride away from Bangsar is the Kuala Lumpur Lake Gardens, a sprawling allotment in the middle of KL that features some of the city’s most enthralling wonders. The KL Bird Park, open daily from 9am to 6pm, doesn’t come cheap (RM 63 or THB 470 for adults) but you’ll have no regrets. With a wealth over 3,000 local and foreign birds and over 200 individual species, it’s the most immense walk-in aviary worldwide and will definitely leave you raven. Check out the Butterfly Park nearby, the largest one in the world, which has over 5,000 species that’ll have you aflutter, as well as the free Deer Park and Hibiscus and orchid gardens of lush flora. The Masjid Negara mosque is also open to the public and is magnificent in both scale and design.
- There are plenty of packages that allow you to see both the Bird Park and the Butterfly Park for a cheaper price.
You can’t visit KL without sampling any of the local Tamil delicacies, the most iconic of which is a Banana leaf rice dinner. With immense banana leaves serving as plates, you’re offered a veritable cornucopia of dishes to mix and match. We highly recommend Devi’s Corner in the Bangsar area, with its famed Banana leaf rice, its Mee goreng mamak (spicy fried noodles) as well as various veg options to keep you feasting till the end of the night. Afterwards, visit the nearby dessert café Inside Scoop, replete with cheerful yellow walls and modern fixings, for some ice cream made from local ingredients and flavours.