Kuala Lumpur Holidays
Kuala Lumpur's dramatic transformation from humble jungle beginnings to a booming cosmopolitan hub has resulted in a city where old meets new, east meets west and, luckily for travellers, luxury meets budget. Commonly referred to as KL, today Malaysia’s buzzing capital is home to over one-and-a-half million people. Touting a skyline that’s famous for being dominated by one of the tallest buildings in the world, KL offers a bit more breathing space between its skyscrapers than many other Asian metropolises. Surprisingly, it also heralds some lovely patches of greenery. A distinctive factor of this economically driven city is the melting pot of religions and cultures that meet here, making it fascinatingly multicultural. Expect a unique fusion of Chinese, Indian and British influences. KL is certainly not your typical Asian experience, and that’s what makes it so alluring.
A very developed city by Asian standards, what’s fantastic about Kuala Lumpur is that it’s still highly affordable for travellers. It’s also safe and the locals are typically multilingual, so most speak good English. The city's variety is intoxicating, from market stalls to designer shops, street food stalls to fine dining restaurants, colonial architecture to modern skyscrapers, and budget inns to five-star resorts. But you’ll also discover historic mosques, Buddhist temples and Hindu shrines, as well as a thriving local art scene and the convenience of Wi-Fi enabled cafes. Eating and shopping are the popular pastimes between sights, and on the fringe of the city, parks and monuments make for easy day trips away from the hustle and bustle. Most people find a couple of days is the perfect amount of time to explore this unique city.
Things to do
The variety of things to do in Kuala Lumpur means there’s something for all tastes. The number one attraction is easily the Petronas Twin Towers, a world-famous icon and the tallest twin structure on the planet. For the best view of all, walk through the Skybridge linking the towers 170m above the ground. Otherwise, opt for a different view from the observation deck atop Menara Kuala Lumpur, also known as the KL Tower. Back on the ground, marvel at the popular Hindu temple Sri Mahamariamman and the massive Chinese temple Thean Hou, before soaking up the colonial atmosphere of Merdeka Square. Adjacent to this you’ll discover bustling Little India and Chinatown, always brimming with eateries and stalls, especially vibrant Petaling Street. Close by you’ll also discover the Golden Triangle, KL’s modern heart, a commercial, shopping and entertainment hub. Another shopping and entertainment hotspot is Bukit Bintang, where you could easily spend hours.
If you’re a lover of all things art and history, don’t miss a trip to the Islamic Arts Museum, National Museum, National Textiles Museum and Wei-Ling Gallery. Alternatively, retreat into the beauty and peace of green utopias in the middle of the city, such as Perdana Botanical Garden or KL City Centre Park. They both boast their own beautiful lake and make for fabulous escapes from the city hustle, traffic and markets. The Bird Park, Butterfly Park and National Planetarium are also great for nature-lovers, but even more abound in the surrounding hinterlands. An absolute must is the rugged limestone Batu Caves, where you’ll find Malaysia’s most sacred Hindu shrine and cave temples. Other highlights include the treetop walkway through the rainforest at the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) and the bird-watching hotspot of Fraser’s Hill.
Food & restaurants
Kuala Lumpur's rich multiculturalism is manifested in its food. A vibrant mix of primarily Chinese, Malay and Indian influences, you’ll also discover tastes heralding from other South East Asian destinations. Various aromatic spices, coconut milk, lemongrass, tamarind, ginger and galangal dominate the flavour of dishes incorporating rice, noodles, vegetables, seafood and meats like chicken and pork. Iconic dishes to try include nasi dagang (fish curry and coconut rice), banana leaf, bakuteh (meat bone tea), hokkien mee (Chinese style fried noodles), sang har kwey teow (flat noodles with prawns and egg broth), satay skewers and BBQ pork. Also, anything that incorporates nasi lemak (coconut rice) is true Malaysian style. Served with hard-boiled eggs, spicy sambals, roasted peanuts, fried anchovies and crispy cucumber, it’s the national dish.
A nation that doesn’t mind eating at any time of day, you won’t be hard-pressed to find such fabulous dishes all across the city. From modest roadside pots of steaming Malay curry to opulent fine dining in glitzy areas, restaurants in Kuala Lumpur have something for all tastes and budgets. For a range of Indian curries and naans, head straight to the Little India of Brickfields. For Chinese, opt for the legendary Jalan Alor eat street or the 24/7 foodie delights of Chinatown, where pork-loving Petaling Street is both atmospheric and tasty. For typical Malaysian fare, delicious street food stalls are easy to find all over the city, and for a family-owned eatery, trample the narrow streets of Kampung Baru. If you’re looking for some eats at the higher end of the price range, all the way up to five-star, these usually lean towards more exotic flavours ranging from French to Italian and Oriental. Some even come with sky-high city views.
Kuala Lumpur offers a wide range of accommodation to keep you comfortable throughout your stay. Budget-conscious travellers can easily book into affordable guesthouses and mid-range hotels, while those with extra cash to spare can indulge in luxurious lodgings boasting brilliant service, style and top of the range facilities. Many reputable international chains call this city home too, including the Traders Hotel, Best Western, Mandarin Oriental, Sheraton, Marriott, Shangri La, Ritz-Carlton and Pan Pacific. Alternatively, you could try something one-of-a-kind. Book into a Victorian-themed boutique inn, an eco-friendly hotel, or a luxurious Malaysian villa style suite perched in the middle of the city. From romantic spots with rooftop bars to family friendly apartments and stylish inns, it’s all on offer.
Still wondering where exactly to stay in Kuala Lumpur? The most popular spot is probably around Bukit Bintang. This places you close to good public transport connections, the eating hotspot of Jalan Alor, and many shops, malls and restaurants. It’s also not too far away from Chinatown and the bustling Petaling Street night markets, where you’ll also find a range of accommodation skewed towards the cheaper options. Travellers also enjoy staying in the Golden Triangle area, home to plenty of shopping and nightlife. This is also where many of the most extravagant options are located. But you’ll also find a range of guesthouses and hotels around Little India, Puduraya Bus Station, and many other parts of the city.
Kuala Lumpur is no stranger to shopping. From bustling local markets to glitzy shopping centres, the locals love scouring the racks here just as much as tourists do. The best time to get bargains is at one of the massive twice-yearly sales, held mid-year and just before Christmas. The main hotspot is Bukit Bintang, where you’ll find many shops and outlets along the road ranging from cheap to luxurious. It’s also home to numerous shopping malls such as Pavilion KL, Fahrenheit 88 and the luxurious buys at Lot 10. Berjaya Times Square is here too, which has its own indoor amusement park with thrilling rides. Another unique spot is Sunway Pyramid, a complex that incorporates a shopping centre (with an ice-skating rink), hotel and lagoon. For the fancy upmarket shops, head to Suria KLCC mall, perched beneath the Petronas Towers and home to a Harrods store.
If you like the sound of atmospheric markets more than gleaming malls, there’s still plenty of action down on the ground. Chow Kit Market is a wonderful assault on the senses with its busy crowds, vibrant colours and the smell of street food wafting through the air. Here you can buy everything from clothes to fresh produce. The Jalan Petaling Market is also a must, where you’ll find heaps of clothes and fake brand name goods. The Central Market is full of local arts and crafts – and it’s located in an interesting heritage area. Just next door you’ll discover more local crafts at Kasturi Walk, and even more if you make it to Kompleks Budaya Kraf. Night markets, called ‘para malam’ are also scattered across the city and make for great entertainment in the dark hours.
Kuala Lumpur is best explored on foot. Although the city can seem overwhelming with its different neighbourhoods, it is extremely compact. Walking is also a great way to soak up the atmosphere. If you’re looking to get some public transport, it’s easy to navigate the central areas using the rail and monorail system, or else the local buses and trams. Taxis are very easy to find – either hail one down or head to a taxi rank. Just be sure that the driver turns on the meter, and be aware that it usually costs a tiny bit extra to put luggage in the boot. For those who can’t stand the heat and humidity that can plague the city, this may be a great option for getting around in air-conditioned comfort.
If you’re keen to explore the local nightlife scene while in town, Kuala Lumpur won’t disappoint. There’s a wide range of clubs, bars, pubs and rooftop lounges to choose from – and even a handful of jazz bars. Many of the late night party spots don’t open until 10pm though, so you can easily start your night in one of the great restaurants or markets around town. Karaoke is another popular thing to do here, a favourite local pastime. So get a piece of the action and sing your heart out in one of the many karaoke bars filled with locals parading all kinds of pop and classics.