Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s glittering capital has all the makings of a world-class city. With its high rise buildings, contemporary hotels, swanky shopping malls, and international cuisine, Kuala Lumpur, or KL as it is commonly known, is Malaysia’s most developed and happening city.
The city, which took roots as a small time mining town, has in a matter of 150 years, grown into a completely modern metropolis, with the spectacular Petronas Towers, the world’s second tallest buildings, flaunting its rise to international fame. Kuala Lumpur’s mining industry attracted people from across the world including Britain, China and India, and the joint influences can be seen in the city’s architecture, cuisine, customs, and traditions. It is this multicultural character that makes KL such a fascinating place. The vibrant and colorful atmosphere of the city can be best experienced in the Chinatown, Little India and Kampung Baru, the heartlands of KL’s Chinese, Indian, and Malay communities.
The hedonists can find pleasure shopping to their hearts content in the sleek malls during the day and in the cranking nightlife after the sun sets. But for all its urban landscapes, KL is very traditional in heart. You can experience tranquil moments in its beautiful parks or in the impressive colonial-era buildings. Modernity blends with traditional charm— here you can see pre-was shops and hawkers share space with skyscrapers and spectacular high-rises. This is Kuala Lumpur, your gateway to a unique holiday experience.
Things To See
Take a walking tour of Kuala Lumpur to soak up the sounds, and smells of this colorful city. The central hub for all activities is Datran Merdeka (Independence Square). Also worth admiring is the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, with its intriguing mix of Victorian and Moorish architecture. Providing a striking contrast to the colonial architecture are the Masjid Negara (National Mosque) and Masjid Jamek (Friday Mosque), with their distinct Islamic influence. The ornate Kuala Lumpur Railway Station, now no longer functional, is a cross between the two architectural forms. The western suburb of Bangsar Baru, with its pavement cafes has also captured the imagination of the visitors and locals alike.
You can get a bird’s’ eye view of the city from the observation level of the Petronas Towers or the viewing platform at the Menara Observation Tower.
Petronas Twin Towers (KLCC): KL’s main landmark, The Petronas Twin Towers at 452 meters, is the world’s second highest structure. The design and architecture of the towers draw heavily on Islamic art and modern outlook. The two towers are connected through a sky bridge from where you can take in the spectacular views of the city. At the base of the towers, there is an upmarket shopping mall by the name of Suria KLCC which caters to tourists and the city’s upper class. The Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra is also located inside the towers’ base. Outside the towers are beautiful landscaped gardens for relaxing and taking in the beautiful views.
KL Tower: The KL Tower, or Menara Kuala Lumpur, at a height of 421 m, is the world’s fifth tallest structure. A telecommunications tower, it houses a revolving restaurant at the top. There is an observatory deck on top with built-in telescopes which you can use to zoom in on parts of the city.
Little India: A riot of colors, Little India, along Masjid India Street which is near Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, is delightfully reminiscent of a Middle Eastern bazaar with its overflowing shops, decorations, aromas, and Bollywood music. Soak up the colorful sights and if you wish to tingle your taste buds, you can indulge yourself in the many eateries that line the street. While here, you must try the ‘Teh Tarik’, a local tea that is popular with the people.
Kampung Baru: Founded in 1899, Kampung Baru is the oldest Malay residential area in Kuala Lumpur. Here you can still see the traditional Malay wooden houses, which are a sharp contrast to the concrete houses and high-rise apartments of the rest of Kuala Lumpur. On Saturday evenings, Kampung hosts the Pasar Minggu, or Sunday Market, which starts from 6 PM on Saturday evenings and ends at 1 AM on Sunday mornings. The market is a great place to shop for Malay jewelry, clothes, fabrics, and handicrafts.
National Museum: The National Museum or Muzium Negara, located just outside the Kuala Lumpur Lake Gardens, is Malaysia’s main museum. Outside the museum you can find restored old railway and other old transportation vehicles such as the very first Proton Saga car, bullock carts, and a vintage automobile. The museum houses a variety of exhibits, dioramas and galleries which include historical relics and artifacts, cultural items, arts and handicrafts, flora and fauna, weapons, and currencies.
National Art Gallery: The National Art Gallery is located in a historical building dating back to 1932. There art gallery hosts both permanent exhibits and temporary ones. The permanent collection, which amounts to over 2,500 art pieces, features the work of local and international artists.
Royal Selangor: You can see how pewter is manufactured and turned into intricate handicrafts at the Royal Selangor Visitor Centre. Established more than a century ago, the center is famous for its beautifully-crafted pewter items that have won several international awards.
National Mosque: The impressive National Mosque exemplifies contemporary interpretations of traditional Islamic art and calligraphy. The main attraction of the mosque is the blue umbrella-like roof.
Thean Hou Temple: Considered to be one of the oldest temples in Southeast Asia, this ornately decorated temple is well known for the murals on its walls. The temple is also a popular wedding venue especially for the Chinese.
Jalan Ampang: A walk along Jalan Ampang will take you back in time, all the way to the early 1900’s. The mansions and ancestral homes belonging to the tin tycoons at the turn of the century bear witness to the passage of time and the growth of the Malaysian nation.
You can choose from a wide range of accommodation options to stay in during your visit to Kuala Lumpur. From leisure to business to budget, the choices are many as are the areas in which to stay. Luxurious hotels, budget hotels, comfortable guesthouses and vacation apartments for long term stays are widely available. For the sake of convenience, we have divided them into the following sections.
Golden Triangle: You can find some of the best hotels in this area. The Golden Triangle is considered to be KL’s city’s prime commercial and banking district. This is a place to stay in if you are here for a shopping rendezvous with its close proximity to the famous Bintang Walk, with its rows of shopping outlets and outdoor cafes. For a high-end option, you can stay in the Hotel Imperial, which is ranked among Southeast Asia’s finest hotels. Another popular hotel is the Shangri-La Hotel, with its lush tropical gardens. Other famous luxury hotels in this area include the JW Marriott Hotel, Ritz-Carlton and the majestic Crowne Plaza. You can also find a range of moderately priced yet decent and comfortable hotels such as the Allson Genesis Hotel and the Hotel Capitol. For serviced apartments you can check out the Maple Suite.
Travelers Digest recommends both the Shangri-La and the Maple Suite.
KL City Centre (KLCC): The KLCC district also has its share of internationally renowned hotels near the famed Petronas Twin Towers, in the heart of KL’s most modern commercial hub. Some famous names include the five-star Mandarin Oriental Hotel and the Corus Hotel. For vacation rental apartments, you might want to check out the Pacific Regency Hotel Apartments.
Putra World Trade Centre: There are several hotels scattered around the World Trade Centre, one of the city’s most exciting commercial sections. High-end hotels include the Legend Hotel and the Pan Pacific Kuala Lumpur. Lower-end hotels include the Dynasty Hotel and the Grand Pacific Hotel.
Chinatown: This is a great place to find inexpensive lodging. Options worth checking out include the Swiss Inn at Petaling Street, Hotel Grand Olympic, and Hotel Malaya.
Kuala Lumpur is a haven for food lovers. It is very easy to find a restaurant or eatery where you can sample your favorite dishes. Kuala Lumpur also lives up to its role as a cosmopolitan city where there is no dearth of options for international cuisine. From road side eateries to fine dining, from local fare to international flavors, the choice is endless.
It goes without saying that the most commonly available food is the Malay food. Originating from Indonesia, where the early traders came from, it is heavily influenced by other races and cultures more so by Chinese, Middle East and Indian. Authentic Malay food is spicy with a tinge of sweetness. Commonly used ingredients include herbs such as lemon grass, pandan leaves and wild ginger bus. Beef and fish are frequently found on the menu.
Kopitiams: You can find them almost everywhere in the city. Basically, these are budget Chinese restaurants that offer local dishes and drinks with nothing fancy in between. Most dishes are cooked on the spot. Kopitiams are popular with locals, especially Chinese.
Food Courts/Medan Selera: These food courts are nothing but a collection of food stalls housed within mini-shops, residential areas, shopping malls, factory areas, and office blocks. The food courts give you the advantage of choosing local and multi-racial mix of dishes be it Malay, Chinese, or Indian food under one roof.
Mamaks: Mamaks were originally open-air food stalls run by Indian Muslims. Today the term ‘Mamak’ refers to any roadside stall run by an Indian that sells traditional Indian food and drinks. Mamaks are popular hangout joints for the after work and college crowd for eating and whiling away the hours. The mamaks are often open from morning till well past midnight.
Pasar Malams: Pasar Malams or ‘Night Markets’ are great places to dine on light traditional food. Here, you can find anything from items such as cookies, local cakes, and Chinese pastries to kebabs, roasted duck, noodles and other heavier food items.
Restaurants: You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to dining in a restaurant which is within your taste and budget. Restaurants in KL serve everything from Malay, Chinese and Indian to international dishes such as French, Italian and Japanese. Besides, you also have a wide array of choice if you wish to dine in high end restaurants. Some restaurants worth checking out include Al Amar for outstanding Lebanese food, Frangipani for French classics, Hakka Republic for Japanese, and Sage for some of KL’s most unique dishes.
Kuala Lumpur is also the shopping capital of Malaysia. There are a wide range of shopping areas and prominent malls in the city. The most sophisticated shopping center is the Suria KLCC mall nestled between the Twin Towers. Budget and mid-range shoppers can head to Petaling Street (in Chinatown) or Bukit Bintang.
Bukit Bintang: This is a popular shopping destination for both tourists and locals. In fact this shopping area caters to all tastes and budgets. There are a number of malls all located within walking distance from each other. You can visit Sungei Wang Plaza, Lot 10, Bukit Bintang Plaza, and Low Yat Plaza.
KLCC: The main draw is the Suria KLCC Shopping Mall between the Petronas Twin Towers. Its strategic location and easy accessibility by subway trains make it a popular, shopping destination for both upper class locals and tourists. Adding to its popularity is its proximity to KL’s prime commercial area of Ampang, which is famous for its nightspots and tourist attractions.
Petaling Street (Chinatown): Petaling Street, in Chinatown, has tourists and locals flocking to the numerous stalls, which open from afternoon until late night. The entire street is a night market that has a multitude of traders selling goods ranging from food stuff to toys and fancy watches to fashion accessories.
Mid Valley: With more than 400 shops and outlets, the Mid Valley Megamall seems to have everything under the sun, from cheap electronic goods, groceries, and fast food outlets to fancy fashion goods.
Excursions From Kuala Lumpur
Sunway Lagoon Theme Park: This spectacular theme park is situated just 15 minutes’ drive from Kuala Lumpur, in Petaling Jaya. The Waters of Africa area is said to have the world’s largest man-made wave pool. Besides you can also enjoy a wide range of thrilling African-themed water rides. There are two other parks, World of Adventure and Wild Wild West, which also offer exciting rides. Other major attractions include the aquatically themed Voodoo Adventure and Kalahari Kids, providing you the perfect opportunities to cool off on a hot day.
Batu Caves: These caves are located north of the city in the nearby Selangor state. The main cavern is in a large limestone hill. Around 272 steps lead up to the entrance of the cavern. The Batu caves are a religious site of worship for Hindus. The site also has the ‘Dark Cave’ with restricted access as it holds a diverse range of fauna, such as spiders, bats and snakes. There are tours available to enter and explore the 2-km Dark Cave. A word of caution when you explore these caves—do keep a watch out for the monkeys who will brazenly nick your bags for food.
Nightlife and Entertainment
If you thought that the fun in Kuala Lumpur ended with the setting of the sun then think again. Come evening and the city comes alive with youngsters, revelers, and tourists heading to the clubs, bars, karaoke lounges, pubs and discos pulsating to the rhythm of music. Although Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country, alcohol is freely available and the nightlife is one of the liveliest in Asia.
The multiplexes in the city show contemporary English, Hindi, Malay, and Chinese movies. Then there are the local groups that stage interesting Asian and Western dramas and dance dramas. You can also enjoy the traditional Malay opera known as bangsawan. You also have the option of shopping at night and there is no better venue than the pasar malam, the local night street market, for shopping for some great bargains. The Saturday market on Jalan Raja Muda and Jalan Petaling in Chinatown are equally popular for socializing, shopping and simply watching the people.
Pubs in Kuala Lumpur close at around 11 PM; this is the time when the discos start to warm up and stay open until around 2 AM. Some have live bands and light shows but often require cover charges or drink minimums. Nightclubs and cabarets, or “kelab malam” as they are locally called, include variety acts, floor shows, and bands. Karaoke is favored by the Chinese who love to croon oldies and contemporary pop music from Hong Kong. Nightclubs can be found far out of the city and they normally cater to the city’s teenagers, although there are a number of dance floors in the Golden Triangle.
The nightlife in Kuala Lumpur can be classified under the following areas:
Bukit Bintang: The most happening area is Bintang Walk, with international restaurants and glitzy pubs catering mostly to a foreign crowd. Here, you will find an international atmosphere and clubs with themes from Japan, Ireland, Brazil, and much more.
The most renowned bar is Planet Hollywood which serves great American food and has a fantastic bar. There is a live band every night. Carnegie’s, another great Western-styled pub plays rock & roll as well as R&B music. Blue Boy, another small club nearby has a reputation for queerness and cabaret shows.
KLCC: KLCC is another famous nightlife area in Kuala Lumpur with clubs, bars, pubs and lounges scattered around the roads of Sultan Ismail, Pinang and Ampang. The main attraction here is The Zouk club with a 2,000 clubber-capacity Main Room. Then there is the Velvet Underground, a cozy bar and lounge for mostly adult professionals. Alexis, further down the road, is a very elegant bar and restaurant, with an international menu and weekend performances from jazz bands.
Bangsar: This is a much favored area for locals and expatriates. Most of the pubs, clubs and bars can be found on the streets of Telawi.
Kuala Lumpur experiences hot and humid weather throughout the year with rainfall of varying intensity depending on the time of the year. This makes the city a year round travel destination. Temperatures range between 29°C – 35°C during the day and 26°C – 29°C at night. It may get colder after periods of heavy rainfall. Rainfall occurs mostly between October to March. May till July are in general the drier months. Kuala Lumpur usually has heavy sunshine during the mornings lasting till the afternoons, while the evenings may see rain and occasional thunderstorms.
By air: The award-winning, ultra-modern Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) is a major gateway to South East Asia. It serves flights for over 45 international carriers, including Malaysian Airlines, the national carrier. There is a fast transit train which connects the arrival gates with the arrivals hall.
Approximate flight times to Kuala Lumpur:
- From London: 13 hours
- From New York: 20 hours 15 minutes
- From Los Angeles: 17 hours 45 minutes
- From Toronto: 21 hours 45 minutes
- From Sydney: 8 hours
Airport facilities include ATMs, bureaux de change, tourist information, hotel reservations, 24-hour shopping, duty-free, restaurants, postal services, and car hire.
Transport to the city: The Express Rail Link connects KLIA with the KL KAT Terminal at Sentral Station, in the city centre. There are two airport services – the KLIA Ekspres, which completes the journey without stopping, and the KLIA Transit, which stops en route at Salak Tinggi, Putrajaya/Cyberjaya and Bandar Tasik Selatan. You can also hire pre-paid taxis in the arrivals area.
By Rail: The main routes from Kuala Lumpur are south to Singapore and north to Bangkok.
By Road: The North-South Highway extends from Singapore to the Thai border via Kuala Lumpur.
Kuala Lumpur is well connected by a network of buses, light commuter trains, and fleet taxis. The traffic jams here are legendary and as such commuting by trains can be a better option.
Taxis: The red and white taxis can be flagged down from almost every point in the city. Normal taxis include cars like Proton Wiras, Iswaras and Sagas, while premier taxis, use Renault MPVs. Though taxis are all metered, cabbies generally flout the rules. The premier taxis, however, charge by the meter. You can report errant cab drivers to the authorities by noting down the details of the taxi and driver which is stamped in bold on the car’s left side of the dashboard.
Buses: Buses are a cheaper method of travel around the city. However, they are best avoided during the morning and evening rush hours because they can get overcrowded. Rapid KL, a government-sanctioned company, is the main bus service provider. You can purchase monthly passes to use Rapid KL buses.
Rental Cars: You can rent a car from various agencies in the city. You will need to pay a deposit depending on the rates. You can choose from compact cars to luxury sedans and large vans to 4-wheel drive vehicles.
Trains: The Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) railway cuts though major residential areas in and around Kuala Lumpur. The Monorail, Putra LRT and Sistem Aliran Transit Ringan (STAR) are the light rail transit systems, which utilize elevated tracks that cut across and above busy intersections in the city. Most of the train systems connect in KL Sentral, Malaysia’s central railway hub located in Brickfields.