Cosmopolitan, chaotic and constantly changing, Kuala Lumpur (or KL, as Malaysia’s capital city is affectionately known by locals and travellers alike) offers an authentic Southeast Asian experience — and is a truly compelling place to visit.
Too often dismissed as simply a travel hub, the tendency is to rush through KL en route to somewhere else. My advice is to take a few days to explore what is absolutely one of Asia’s most dynamic cities. Foodies and culture vultures will love this destination, and shopaholics can revel in the city’s renowned retail scene.
Enjoy this Kuala Lumpur travel guide.
Top cultural experiences in Kuala Lumpur
The Petronas Twin Towers are KL’s most iconic landmark.
They’ve been featured in Hollywood movies and are recognised as the world’s highest twin structure. A proud symbol of Malaysian innovation, the Towers’ Skybridge and Observation Deck give visitors a bird’s eye view of the cityscape below.
Malaysian has a rich cultural heritage. For a peek at the living past, go to Kampung Bharu. This traditional Malay community was established at the turn of the 20th century and today it maintains its original customs, identity and way of life.
While the country’s official religion is Islam, Malaysia is a multi-faith nation — and visiting some of Kuala Lumpur’s fascinating temples during your stay is a must-do. The ornate Chinese Thean Hou Temple is one of the most popular sights, as are the Batu Caves in the city’s north. This ancient limestone cave system houses a century-old Hindu temple.
Alongside Malay influences, KL’s culture draws strongly from the proverbial melting pot of ethnicities who call this city home. Discover bustling Chinatown or the Indian enclave of Brickfields on a guided walk with food tour operator Simply Enak. Knowledgeable and engaging hosts will introduce you to wet markets, old-style shops and popular local dishes, including arguably the best nasi lemak you’ll have ever tasted.
Great places to eat in Kuala Lumpur
There’s no end of delicious delights to indulge in in Kuala Lumpur.
You can find sensational street food in a climate-controlled and English-speaking setting at Lot 10 Hutong — a seemingly endless warren of well-known hawker stalls clustered under one roof. A dizzying array of dishes is on offer: from countless varieties of nasi goreng and noodle soups, to Taiwanese bento-style boxes, curry puffs and even a durian café selling only pastries filled with the country’s favourite (and very pungent) fruit.
For a taste of colonial customs past, take afternoon tea at the historic Hotel Majestic. This quintessentially English ritual is served in your choice of setting (with different price points). Whether you opt for the classic tea lounge or the breathtakingly beautiful greenhouse setting (amongst 1,000 orchids), you get the same tiered service of sandwiches, scones and savouries — and an equally gracious affair.
Want to try fine dining with a difference? Dining in the Dark is a novel restaurant concept whereby guests, guided by visually impaired ‘darkness experts’, are taken through a multi-course dinner in pitch black surrounds. Enjoy guessing the flavours, which are revealed only at the end of the meal.
Where to shop in Kuala Lumpur
Shopping is one of Malaysia’s favourite pastimes.
There’s no shortage of vast air-conditioned shopping malls in which to splash your cash or window shop, and enjoy some respite from the heat and traffic outside.
Suria KLCC in the city centre offers the full fashion spectrum from top-end designers to high-street labels, while a wide range of affordable local and international brands can be found at Nu Sentral in the CBD.
If you are after a more organic shopping experience, the heritage-listed Central Market (Pasar Seni) — originally a wet market at its inception in 1888 — is unbeatable for traditional arts, crafts and quality souvenirs.
Over at the Petaling Street open-air bazaar, you can haggle with stallholders over T-shirts, bags, wallets, watches and other touristy knick-knacks of varying quality.
Ways to relax in Kuala Lumpur
For some quiet time, head to KLCC Park.
It features 50 acres of walking and jogging tracks, a man-made lake with water fountains and a tropical garden flourishing with 1,900 native trees. It’s an oasis of greenery in the heart of the city.
On the opposite side of the city, the sprawling 92-hectare Perdana Botanical Gardens is home to the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park — consistently rated one of the city’s top attractions. The park is home to around 200 species of native and exotic birds (including some that will be very familiar to most Aussies!), and is well worth a relaxed meander.
In the evening, make your way up to the Heli Lounge Bar — a working helipad by day that transforms into a unique bar concept after dark. Wait-staff dress up as pilots and serve cocktails with names such as ‘Chopper’ and ‘Jet Fuel’. Self-proclaimed as ‘KL’s best kept secret’, this hidden gem has an exposed rooftop showcasing completely wall-free, jaw-dropping 360 degree vistas of the city skyline and urban sprawl below.
For another chic take on cocktail hour, check out Marini’s On 57 — the nation’s highest and swankiest rooftop bar. The door list, dress code and hard-to-find entrance (not to mention three separate elevators to whizz you to the top) only reinforce the bar’s exclusive status. Once inside, the vibe is fun, chilled and unpretentious.
Do you have any tips to add to our Kuala Lumpur travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Cindy Bingley-Pullin considers herself a writer, wanderluster, corporate bee and happy homemaker. In between analysing spreadsheets in the office, she pursues her combined passions of travel and freelance writing. Her work has appeared in Virgin Australia’s Voyeur, International Traveller, Fitness First magazine and the Sydney Morning Herald.