Kuala Lumpur was added to our itinerary when we found out that it was only a short flight from Singapore. It didn’t hurt that there are also frequent and cheap flights between the two cities. We decided that a two day trip was just enough time to visit the Petronas Towers and to get a quick taste of the city. Compared to the high-costs in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur is a great destination for budget travel, with cheap food and reasonably priced accommodations.
Kuala Lumpur is not just the capital city of Malaysia, it is also one of Southeast Asia’s busiest cities with a huge international community. The city is a mix of historic monuments and gleaming skyscrapers, leafy parks and busy markets. But it’s more than that, it is an interesting melting pot of culture that has embraced modernity, while retaining its traditional customs. Kuala Lumpur is widely recognized for many of its iconic landmarks, including the Petronas Twin Towers (the world’s tallest twin skyscrapers), Petaling Street flea market, and the 400 million year old Batu Caves. Here are a few of our favorite places to visit in Kuala Lumpur:
1. Petronas Towers – The 88-story Twin Towers are one of the most iconic and the most visited landmarks in Kuala Lumpur. They once held the title as world’s tallest skyscrapers from 1998 to 2004, until Taipei 101 was built and took away that honor. Since then, there have been a number of buildings that have surpassed it on the list, but they still retained the title of the world’s tallest twin towers. The Skybridge that connects the two towers is also the highest two story bridge in the world.
The architecture of the Petronas Towers resemble motifs from Islamic art, Malaysia’s primary religion. It has a sleek steel and glass façade that is brightly illuminated at night to stand out like two beacons of light in the vast city. The centrally located towers can be seen from many vantage points throughout the city. But the most popular location for photo opportunities is at the foot of the behemoth towers, especially at night.
2. KLCC Park is a popular public park located right by Suria KLCC and the Petronas Towers, providing the much needed greenery for the surrounding high rises. At the very center is a large 100,000 square foot man-made lake with a fountain that can shoot water up to a height of 138 feet (42 m). Lake Symphony holds daily light show performances after dark when a rousing choreography of water and lights dance across the lake following the tempo of music.
The lush green park has many other features like a 1.3km long jogging track, a large children’s playground with a wading pool, and ornamental sculptures of whales and dolphins. Aside from being a great place to relax and cool down in a busy city, it’s also the perfect place to get a snapshot of the twin towers. The view of the looming towers gets better as you move deeper into the park.
3. Changkat Bukit Bintang is well known for its nightlife and club scene. This busy street, located right by the Jalan Alor night food market, is where KL’s most popular bars and restaurants can be found. It is a trendy place, filled with posh cocktail lounges, subdued whisky bars, and lively Irish pubs. It is also where expats, locals and tourists come to mingle. Every night there are live band performances, foreign film screenings, stand-up comedy shows, and many other events. A few of the popular places for drinks are the relaxed and casual Translate Art Bar, the sophisticated Arthur’s Lounge, or the Rabbit Hole – a place inspired by the fantasy worlds from Alice in Wonderland and the Chronicles of Narnia.
Also conveniently located at the beginning of the street are many massage parlors, where you can stop in for a 30 min foot massage after dancing the night away. The staff sit outside with a menu of services and call out to you as you pass by. A 90 min full body massage costs about 20 dollars while a 30 minute foot massage will only set you back 6 dollars. The prices are on par with other Asian countries, slightly more expensive than Thailand, but less than China. The nightlife in Kuala Lumpur does not disappoint, and whatever you’re looking for, you’ll probably find it at the vibrant Changkat Bukit Bingtang.
4. Merdeka Square, also known as Independence Square, is located in the heart of the city. This is the place where the Union Flag was lowered and the Malaysian flag was raised for the very first time in 1957. Aside the significance, the square is surrounded by many historical landmark buildings.
Right across the street is the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, built by the British and used as the office for the High and Supreme Court in the seventies. It presently houses the Ministry of Information, Communications, and Culture . The building has a unique design with Islamic features, and the clock tower nearby adds to the distinctive look. A little further down is the National Textiles Museum, with its outstanding exterior and onion-shaped dome. Next to it is the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery that tells the story of the city through miniature models. Everywhere you look, you’ll see architecture that has middle Eastern, Chinese, and Colonial British influences. We ended our walk by the a shaded pergola with a nearby waterfall at the end of the square, where everyone was getting some reprieve from the heat.
5. Pedaling Night Market is a vibrant street market in Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur with hundreds of tightly packed stalls selling all kinds of stuff at dirt-cheap prices. You’ll also notice the abundance of counterfeit goods – everything from Fendi purses, to Hermes belts, to Beats headphones. If that’s not your thing, there are still plenty of other interesting items that make perfect gifts and souvenirs. Some of my favorite buys are – a tiny fan that is powered by your phone’s charging port, pairs of bamboo socks, and Pokemon Go T-shirts back when it was still all the rage. The market is open during the day, but only with about half the stalls. As night falls, the whole place comes alive under the bright lights and the hanging lanterns. The hoards of people weaving through the narrow lanes checking out the goods and haggling adds to the busy atmosphere. Similar to Thailand and Hong Kong night markets, it is customary to negotiate with the stall owner for the best price.
6. Another interesting market to visit is the Chow Kit ‘Wet Market’, Kuala Lumpur’s largest wet market. It is usually open in the morning and sells a breathtaking array of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as live and dead animals, fish and other seafood. This wonderfully chaotic place is where locals go to pick up ingredients to make their daily meals. Everything looks so fresh and inviting, and made me wish I had access to a kitchen.
Beware, this is not your typical tourist market, the sprawling place is smelly, humid, and packed full of people. The ground is usually covered in puddles of dirty water. Everywhere you look, you’ll see butchered animals on display, some of which can be quite gruesome if you’re not used to the scene. This place is definitely not for those with a delicate of stomach or the faint of heart. But once you get over the chaos and smell, you’re in for an experience. This place gives you a glimpse into life in Malaysia, that is not often seen in the main tourist areas.
A Few Things to Know Before You Get There:
- Most places only accept small bills. We found this out when we tried to purchase tickets for the monorail and the machine didn’t accept any bill over 5 Ringgit. Make sure you have plenty of change when you’re walking around.
- There are metered cabs in the city, but some of them are not turned on. The meter price is usually only a fraction of the cost that the cab driver quotes you. Before you get in, make sure you confirm that they agree to run by meter, or you’ll have to negotiate a price. The drivers will sometime decline a ride if you insist on the meter, preferring to wait instead for someone who would take the quoted fare.