KUALA LUMPUR: BEYOND THE TALLEST TOWERS ON EARTH
When people mention Kuala Lumpur, many things come to mind as Kuala Lumpur is a great city of many great possessions and uniqueness in reality. As a proud Malaysian, I always refer my beloved capital city as a modern jungle, a city of blue-grayish tint with splashes of dark and light greens.
A Kuala Lumpur Tourism Life: Shopping, Hotels, Food, Weather, Beach, Nightlife, & More!
It is a perfect location for tourists with voracious curiosity to see a modern exotic South East Asian country as it is well developed to be the home of many distinguished skyscrapers, for instance the tallest buildings in the world- Petronas Twin Towers, but it also never lose its green shades as it’s surrounded by a tropical rain forest.
To me, that is the ultimate beauty of Kuala Lumpur that I cherish very much: its diversity. I am glad to now reveal many things that you have to know before set foot in this modern jungle to achieve ultimate fun while touring here in Kuala Lumpur!
What does ‘Kuala Lumpur’ mean?
Kuala Lumpur (locals normally just refer it as KL) literally means “muddy capital’ in Malay, as when it was first established the area was a swampy land between Gombak and Klang rivers junction due to tin mining.
A Brief History of Kuala Lumpur
(I promise I will make it short and sweet)
Malaysia was once colonized by the British but soon gained independence in 1957. Kuala Lumpur was officially removed from the jurisdiction of the state of Selangor and made it to Federal Territory, as the burgeoning capital of the country in 1974. Since then, Kuala Lumpur has flourishing into becoming one of the most renowned, progressive and cosmopolitan city in Southeast Asian, beguiling the heart of millions travellers every year.
What is the weather like in Kuala Lumpur and what should I pack?
Malaysia is hot and humid all year long, with temperature fluctuates between 25 and 35 degree Celsius (between 77 and 95 degree Fahrenheit). Due to the tropical climate we have here, I advise visitors to bring a suitcase full of shorts, breathable summer fabrics clothing and flip-flops! They are essential to let your skin cool down rapidly while going from one tourist spots to another.
Kuala Lumpur does get affected by the raining season or monsoon season between mid October and end of March every year. It normally rains for a few hours block at a time and rarely for the entire day; you can spend those hours chilling indoor at one of our many great shopping mall and continue sight seeing when the sun is out, so I do not see the monsoon season as the deal breaker for visiting Kuala Lumpur. And guess what, you then get to see the beautiful raining and after rain tropical scenery, plus the hot weather normally gets lower down a few degree after rain to make it cooler for outdoor activities.
However, if you plan to visit tropical islands at the eastern side of the Peninsula (i.e. Pulau Perhentian, Pulau Tioman, Pulau Tioman etc.) as well then you totally should choose to visit Malaysia at other time period.
The only natural disaster that happen in Malaysia is flood. The water normally subsides after few days and it does not happen often in Kuala Lumpur area. The haze coming from wild fire at neighboring country sometimes affects Kuala Lumpur. The pollution lasts for a few weeks and causes minor discomfort. A simple face mask will suffice if this happen.
Oh and, bring a bottle or two mosquito repellents as well–they are vital for survival in all tropical countries!
How do I get around? Transportation in Kuala Lumpur
Download Grab Car apps on your phone is the smartest way to get around in Kuala Lumpur. Grab Car is the Malaysia (and also in some other Southeast Asia countries) version of Uber. Uber had actually recently stopped their operation is Southeast Asia and merged in with Grab.
Grab often offers free ride credits and every point that you accumulated from taking rides can be used to redeem ride credits as well.
Only turn to Taxi as last resort, like when the Grab app is down (that sometimes happens, oops). Try to bargain a little with the taxi driver and insist to use taximeter to calculate taxi fare. Do not let them coax or intimidate you into agreeing on a fixed fare that he suggested. They can sometimes be a little aggressive, just say no firmly and walk away from them if the price isn’t fair.
You can also take public transport to get around if it is available around the area you are going. Public transport is accessible to almost all area of Kuala Lumpur but sometimes you will need to walk a distance to the destination from the station or that the commuting time is too long, and paying a few ringgits more by getting a Grab ride can save you from those hassles.
The LRT and MRT are great and air-conditioned, and also comes with very fair price. I would advise to avoid the KTM, because it is old, always jam packed with people, and breakdown pretty often.
As for the buses, they are usually over crowded and make frequent stops in heavy traffic. They are extremely cheap though.
How do I get to and from the Kuala Lumpur airport?
The most convenient way to go from the airport to city center is by taking a Grab car or taxi. Grab car offers a fixed airport fare of 65 Ringgit, excluding toll fees. You can also find taxi stand right outside the arrival hall of the airport. The journey normally takes around 45 minutes from KLIA to the city, according to traffic and the area you are getting to.
Another alternative is to take the express train from either KLIA or KLIA 2 to KL central station with the rate of RM55 and the duration of 30 minutes. From KL central, you can either take the train, bus or get a car to go to your destination.
The cheapest way is to get a Skybus from KLIA 2 to either KL central station or 1 Utama shopping mall. It will cost you less than RM15 but do take in consideration of the traffic condition.
Kuala Lumpur Hotels — Where to stay?
Where you stay should depend on your itinerary, mode of traveling and budget. For short stay (few days to a week) with the main purpose of tackling main Kuala Lumpur attractions, you should stay in hotels in the central area, i.e Bukit Bintang.
Hotel at Bintang Walk will cost more but as it is situated at the center of the city with Petronas Twin Towers and many other things on your itinerary so closed by, you will save on transportation cost and travelling time.
If you are travelling with big family, groups of friends or looking for a long-term stay, Airbnb is your best bet. You get to have more options to choose from with Airbnb than just living in city center.
You can venture into staying in an apartment in Bangsar Village, Mont Kiara, Damansara, TTDI, etc. , to get to experience these residential areas that people actually live. Those areas are in good neighborhood with great restaurants and entertainment options nearby that locals go to. I would advise to pick a place closed to a MRT or LRT station, and TTDI is a great area because of that.
As for backpacker, Airbnb is your best option as well. Rent a single room or bed for as low as RM10 per night!
What languages do they speak in Malaysia?
Malaysia is a multilingual country; most of the Malaysians know at least 2 languages, with one being English.
You can get by with just speaking English to almost everybody. Some useful Malay words to know: terima kasih (thank you), sama-sama (you’re welcome), berapa? (how much?), apa khabar? (how are you?), khabar baik (I’m fine).
What are the top attractions in Kuala Lumpur?
Petronas Twins Towers
Petronas Twins Towers is no doubt the iconic figure of Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia.
This amazing building is 452 meters tall and is comprised of 88 floors, featuring 33,000 stainless steels and 55,000 glass panels, and remains as the tallest twin towers in the world till date.
The twin skyscrapers are designed by Argentine architect Cesar Pelli, the building is based on his inspiration deriving from the simple Islamic geometrical pattern of two interlocking squares that creates the shape of a eight pointed stars. It took seven years of constructions to complete this behemoth masterpiece.
Within the buildings, it is mostly used as office space for a variety of company with the largest part of it occupied by Petronas, the national oil company of Malaysia.
Visitors can purchase ticket to go up to the 42nd floor (at the height of 175 meters) to visit the 60 meters walking bridge between two towers. This double decker Skybridge is the highest two-story bridge in the world.
Fun fact: The bridge does not connect to either of the towers, as it is not attached to them but merely “hanging” between them.
KLCC Skybridge ticket information:
At the bottom feet of the twin towers is a shopping centre, Suria KLCC. It features mostly foreign luxury goods and high street labels. You can also find an underwater aquarium and a science center.
Spanning 17 acres around the building is the KLCC Park that provides a walking path, a fountain with incorporated light shows and a children park. It is a great place to get awesome selfie with the famous twin towers.
The Kuala Lumpur Tower is the seventh tallest tower in the world, and among the tallest in Southeast Asia! It serves as a communication tower and that is why it features an antenna that increases its height to 421 meters. During the construction period, the appointed building company actually took special care to build a retaining wall around a 100-year-old jelutong tree that added an additional cost of RM 430,000 into the budget.
And also a fun fact of KL tower: every year they will be a KL Tower Towerthon where participants will race up the 2058 steps of stairs in the tower to see who is the fastest!
The main attraction of the tower is the revolving restaurants- Atmosphere 360°. It is situated 282 meters above ground level. The table seating is arranged along the edge of the restaurant, next to the floor-to-ceiling windows. This arrangement is purposefully staged, as restaurants guests would not notice the restaurant is rotating at all upon arrival, but after spending few minutes in the restaurant they will notice that either their outside view has changed or their table is moving- one second you are sitting beside the dessert bar but next you are right facing the grand entrance!
It takes about an hour for the restaurant to make one full rotation. Oh, and you will get to see the Petronas Twin Towers up close while enjoying your meal! You can book table in advance at their reservation website: https://www.tableapp.com/partner/atmosphere360-kltower
Batu Caves is an important Hindus landmark in Malaysia. It is a limestone hill with interior limestone formation that believed was formed 400 millions years ago. The 42 meters high golden statue of Lord Murugan that is located at the entrance of Batu Caves is one of the biggest attraction to visitors.
Climb up the steep 272 steps stairs and you will get to enjoy the stunning skyline of the city center. Do be careful with the over enthusiastic monkeys while you are climbing though, do not leave any food exposed for these little thieves. You can visit multiple Hindu shrines here and take in the view of the marvelous religious architects and paintings. Batu Caves is also a hot spot for rock climbing if you are interested.
Kuala Lumpur Butterfly Park + Kuala Lumpur Bird Park + Deer Park Kuala Lumpur
Bang-bang-bang! These three parks of its own uniqueness should definitely be in your itinerary, and what’s even better, you can visit these three amazing parks all in just one day as they are only few minutes walk from each other.
The KL Butterfly Park comprised over 80,000 square feet of lush green landscaped garden. It is the home of 5000 live butterflies, exotic plants, Japanese koi fish, fresh water turtles and insects. There are a nursery and breeding area where you can learn about the metamorphosis process as to understand how the beautiful butterflies are transformed from cocoons.
A 10 minutes walk from the butterfly paradise brings you to the KL Bird Park. The KL Bird Park is the home to 3000 birds from at least 200 species. 90% of the species that you find here are local breeds while the rest of 10% are from oversea. It is the world’s largest free flight walk in aviary, which would provide tons of fun for visitor to take in the views of birds with different colors and sizes up close. There are also bird shows, eagle feeding and more performances to offer at the park.
The Deer Park Kuala Lumpur is free of charge! This 2-hectare park is designed with comfortable walking pavement and lush greenery in the park provides shades for visitor to stay away from the scorching sun. You can see different species of deer here, while the superstar is the mousedeer that appear in many Malay folklore stories. Mousedeer is the smallest hoofed animal in the world and they are absolutely adorable!
Central market Kuala Lumpur
The Central Market is also known by the locals as Pasar Seni, it used to be a wet market in the 80s and now has renovated into a handicrafts and souvenirs market. You can get a sense of the authentic and traditional Malaysian art style, by browsing numerous stalls that sell batik prints, embroidery cravings, sculptures and more.
If you visit the market during festive season, such as, Hari Raya, Chinese New Year or Deepavali, the market will host vendors that sell festive products, which will be great to provide you a chance to experience the multicultural prospects of Malaysia while tasting different assortment of colorful candy and tidbits.
The second floor of the building hosts a variety of restaurants and food courts that offer authentic Asian cuisines of three main races in Malaysia (namely, Malay, Chinese and Indian) with affordable price.
Bintang Walk is regarded as the shopping and entertainment district in Kuala Lumpur. It is located at the heart of the city and very easy to get to with public transport. It is essentially a long stretch of shopping area with many shopping malls, stores, restaurant, cafes, eateries and hotels in between. Many hotels are situated at this area which make sight seeing and shopping at this area very convenient for visitors, attractions like KL Tower and Petronas Twins Towers are not far from here.
Pavillion KL is one of the more upscale shopping complex that brand shoppers likes to go. You get luxury brand like YSL, Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton, Versace as well as local clothing brand like Vincci, CarloRino, Bonia and many more. You can also find mid range brand like Uniqlo, H&M, Forever 21 and Mango here. Starhill Gallery is another luxury shopping gallery that only houses upscale brands like Dior, Valentino, Hermes, Kenzo and Omega. It is also connected to JW Marriot Hotel and Ritz-Carlton Hotel, enabling hotel guest direct access to the luxurious shopping gallery.
For low price ranged shopping, Berjaya Time Square KL and Sungei Wang Plaza are the places to go to. Vendors offer cheap pricing products there that you will easily ended up with 10 bags of shopping hauls. There is also a theme park in Berjaya Time Square KL, where you can go on a roller coaster rides in the mall, or put your kids in the theme park while you go enjoy shopping fun!
Sunway Lagoon Theme Park
The Sunway Lagoon Theme Park consists of 5 parks. It is situated at Petaling Jaya, about 15km southwest of Kuala Lumpur city center. If you wish to enjoy the coolness of the splash of water in the hot weather in Malaysia, you can get to the ‘Waters of Africa’ park for a day of waterslide and pool fun. Main attraction includes a wave pool, a 360’ pirate ship, a manmade surf beach, river ride and many more.
At the ‘Scream Park’, Sunway Lagoon’s newest addition, you get to visit the extensive version of a haunted house- a haunted theme park! There is a ‘Night at the Museum’ attraction where you get to visit the exhibition of the famous movie set replica. The Pontianak Theater of Fear gives you a show that guarantees goose bump! There is also other interactive activity like laser tag for visitor to play.
The ‘Amusement Park’ consists of 2 parts- Wild Wild West and World of Adventure. Visitors get to experience different roller coasters and rides and get to take a walk on the 428 meters long bridge to take in the scenic view of the whole expanse of Sunway Lagoon.
The ‘Extreme Park’ is the ultimate destination for you if you are an adrenaline junkie! It has the world longest slingshot ride (the G Force X) and Malaysia’s longest flying fox ride. Visitor can go bungee jumping, rock-climbing, go-karting, drive an all-terrain vehicles, spend time in paintball arena and archery range.
To complete this extensive theme park, Sunway Lagoon also has a ‘Wildlife Park’. ‘Wildlife Park’ is the home of over 150 species of animals that offers many live animal shows and interactive wildlife displays.
In addition to this amazing wonderland of a theme park, Sunway Pyramid shopping mall that is situated next to it is a gigantic mall that offers wide ranges of retail stores and restaurants selection. The unique appearance of Sunway Pyramid that goes with its Egyptian theme is its main attraction. This shopping complex takes the shape of the pyramid tomb and has a giant lion head on top of the mall entrance. I have to say that it is pretty epic to see!
Genting Highlands is an integrated resort development that is an hour drive away from Kuala Lumpur. It is known for the casino and as a getaway from the city heat as the temperature does not go above 25° C. The Genting Group has also recently renovated a shopping mall and theme park, provides more food options and activities for visitors to enjoy while visiting. So if you are looking for a short road trip, Genting highlands will be perfect for that. There are also buses at cheap price to go to Genting Highlands, or you can just get a Grab car.
What and where should I eat? Kuala Lumpur Restaurants & Food
Rich cultural heritages and multiracial influence makes Malaysia cuisine one of the most unique phenomenon in the world. The three main races of Malay, Chinese and Indian contribute their respective traditional culinary culture to the country. From upscale restaurant to hawker center, Malaysia is the food paradise that provides a wide variety of flavors and affordability. Here is a list of signature food and restaurants you cannot miss if you ever set foot in Kuala Lumpur.
Nobody is going to argue with you if you go around and claim Nasi Lemak is the national dish of Malaysia because it is 101% true. The main components of Nasi Lemak consist of only 3 things: cooked coconut rice, fried anchovies and peanut and sambal (Malay style hot sauce paste) wrapped in banana leaves into a cute triangle shape. Some vendors add eggs, fried chicken, sambal squid and other side dishes to the dish as well. The sambal is said to be the real deal breaker of a great serving of Nasi Lemak, the sambal has to taste good to bring out the awesomeness of this very dish. A fun fact about Nasi Lemak is that it is typically eaten as breakfast food, what a blessed way to start a new day ahead! You can buy Nasi Lemak almost anywhere in Kuala Lumpur, from the breakfast food stalls by the street, Malay eatery (known as mamak) and restaurants. You really do not have to look too hard for a good packet of Nasi Lemak, as it is almost always good, all the time.
Recommended Nasi Lemak spot: Village Park Restaurant
Satay is the Malay version of yakitori, skewers of marinated chicken, beef or mutton cubes on bamboo sticks served with sweet and tangy peanut sauce. The skewers are barbequed over a wood or charcoal fire, you can smell the bbq fragrant from miles away! Satay is often time served with some fresh cucumber slices and ketupat (rice packed dumpling) on the side to clean your palate. Just like Nasi Lemak and many other Malaysian cuisine, you also do not have to look too hard for a great satay as satay is pretty ubiquitous in Kuala Lumpur and they are typically pretty damn good.
Banana Leaf Rice
The Indian immigrants in Malaysia were originated from Southern India, and they brought their traditional way of serving rice dishes on banana leaves to Malaysia. This cuisine involves a big piece of banana leaf, and putting your meal on it. Besides rice, you get to pick meats, vegetables, side dishes and gravy to load on your banana leaf plate. A banana leaf rice restaurant normally has good selection of vegetarian options as well.
Recommended Banana Leaf Rice place: Sir Nirwana Maju and Devi’s Corner.
Although chicken rice is an everyday dish for fellow Malaysian, but the preparation and cooking process is rather tedious and time consuming. The rice is cooked with the chicken broth that drips from steaming the chicken meat to give the rice the fragrance that nobody can resist. It is served with the hot sauce specially made for chicken rice to complement the dish.
Recommended chicken rice spot: Nasi Ayam Chee Meng at Bukit Bintang
Bak Kut Teh (Herbal pork rib soup)
Some believes that Bak Kut Teh is originated from Klang, where the coolies working at Port Klang put together any herbs they can find in a pot, mixed with water and pork rib and boiled it into soup. Bak Kut Teh has a distinct taste of herbal aroma, the pork meat is normally stewed until it is tender enough to melt in your mouth. It is typically eaten as breakfast, even though it is not rare to have it as other meal as well. It is normally eaten with strips of fried dough called you char kuey, the dough will soak up al the flavorful soup and explode in your mouth! Many eat it with a pot of hot tea as well in the believe that it helps dissolve the pork fats content in the soup.
Roti Canai is another dish taken from the Southern Indian food culture. It is a hand tossed Indian flatbread/crepe served with dal and other type of curry on the side. Roti comes in numerous forms, either sweet or savory. On the sweet side, there are roti with condensed milk, roti with banana slices and roti with milo powder. As for savory, you can get roti with eggs, roti with cheese, roti with sardine and many other variations. Vendors are very creative with their roti creation; you can find roti tsunami (roti served with two soft boiled eggs), roti Beckham (roti served with eggs, tuna, cheese and mayo dressings) and roti Hawaii (roti with either minced chicken or beef, cheese, sausages, pineapple and mayo) on the menu. The no topping roti kosong (means empty) is delicious to eat with the curry and dal as well. Roti is normally eaten as breakfast or as snack that goes well at anytime of the day. You can find roti at any mamak store with price as low as RM2.
The Peranakan cuisine (which is also known as Baba-Nyonya cuisine), is the fusion of Chinese ingredients with Malay spices and cooking methods, beguile the heart of many food connoisseurs. The examples of Peranakan cuisine include laksa, sambal udang petai, nyonya chap chye, assam pedas and ayam buah keluak. Peranakan cuisine accentuates the flavors of both sweet and spicy, often time with colorful display as well. Peranakan cuisine is definitely a special treat that only exist in very few part of Southeast Asia that you have to try when you are visiting Kuala Lumpur.
Recommended Peranakan spot: Precious Old China at Central Market, Baba Can Cook and Shelly Yu’s.
I listed Madam Kwan’s because this chain restaurant runs by Malaysian chef and businesswoman Madam Kwan Swee Lian is an one stop restaurant for tourist that want to taste all signature Malaysian dishes without the hassle of going all around the city to search for great ones. Madam Kwan gained her nickname of ‘Nasi Lemak queen’ with her signature Nasi Lemak recipe. You can get everything from chicken rending to dessert cendol, and the food quality is guaranteed. However, the price is a bit on the steep side if you compare with those dishes you could easily get from local hawker center.
Where’s the party at? Kuala Lumpur Nightlife
The party scene in Kuala Lumpur is pretty epic. From theme clubs to speakeasy bars, you get all different kind of nightlife experience in Kuala Lumpur. It is never going to be boring at night in Kuala Lumpur!
TREC KL is a 7-acre entertainment hub situated along Jalan Tun Razak, only couple minutes short car ride from Petronas Twin Towers. You can find numerous restaurants, darts bar and clubs here with Zouk KL, the leading club in KL for the past 14 years as the main attraction here. You will have to pay cover to get into Zouk though. TREC KL are flooded with party animals every weekend nights.
One thing that you will have to pay attention to is the people that work at the door at each bar, they are not really a waiters, I think their job content is more like a sales person. As they get commission with every drinks purchase a customer that come in with their lead, they tend to be a little pushy when they see people linger around to look at menu at the door. Do not get intimidate by them, firmly say no if you do not wish to go into a certain bar and walk away.
Arena Bar KL and Arena Bar TTDI
These 2 places are where you going to find the cool kids (local young people) hangout out every weekend. Both Arena Bars are equipped with electronic beer pong tables that refill beer cups automatically! It is a great place to come with group of fiend or to make new friends by playing few rounds of friendly beer pong matches. Their KL location is also just a short car ride away from Bukit Bintang area.
A visit to Suzie Wong is more of a unique visual experience. The bar is decorated with the ambience of old Shanghai from the 70s, as you can see porcelain vases, red embroidery curtains and drapes everywhere in the bar. All waitresses are dressed in cheongsam dresses and retro hairstyle. There will always be live band performance, then the dancing performance will start around midnight with dancers in colorful costumes and make up performing the theme choreography of the night. I strongly suggest coming for a show one of the night when you are in Kuala Lumpur. The entrance is kind of tricky to find though. Just ask the worker around, they will kindly assist you.
The Speakeasy Bars trend only hits Kuala Lumpur recently and there are couple pretty great ones around with spacious seating for group hangouts, great cocktails and amazing bar theme. My personal favorite is The Pawn Room, with the elegant pink décor and retro ambience. PS150 is the one that have done a great job in combining contemporary and local attributes in their interior decoration, and the bar itself is hidden behind a creepy old toy store. They also infuse Malaysian flavors into their cocktails by using ingredients like pandan and coconut. HYDE at 53M, JungleBird and 61Monarchy are other speakeasy hotspots you should try out. For visitor, it would be an interesting experience trying to treasure hunt these hidden bars all around the city!
The rich cultural heritage plus modern aspects plus affluent greenery of the country makes Malaysia a unique place to visit. Traveling in Kuala Lumpur is actually quite easy with no language barrier, cheap transportation fare and not to mention Malaysians are known for being super friendly and helpful! It is also super cheap to eat, drink and shop with meal as low as $2.
Furthermore, the Kuala Lumpur airport also serves as Asia connecting hub, once you get to Kuala Lumpur, you can easily book a 30 USD flight to neighboring country like Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and more to continue your adventure!