It’s no surprise that Kuala Lumpur is one of the most popular cities to visit in South East Asia. There is so much to do and see there. KL (as the locals call it) offers delicious food, interesting history, beautiful architecture, stunning panoramic views from its many rooftop bars, and countless shopping opportunities. One of my favourite things about Kuala Lumpur is how varied it is. The city is incredibly multicultural, with a heavy influence from its Indian and Chinese immigrant communities. Malay is the official language, but you will also hear Cantonese, Mandarin, Hindi, Tamil and English on the streets. This cultural diversity is reflected in the city’s food scene, architecture, history, religious landmarks and cultural events. If you’re looking for an exciting, diverse city for your next holiday, bump KL to the top of the list.
The Petronas towers
These towers are enormous – you can’t miss them! The Petronas towers held the title of the tallest building in the world between 1998-2004. It still holds the title of the world’s tallest twin towers at a staggering 88 floors. I was really impressed by the mix of Islamic design and postmodern architecture. Inside the towers, you can find a six-storey shopping centre, a concert hall and office space. There’s also the double-decker Skybridge connecting the two towers on the 41st and 42nd floors. You can find an observation deck on the 86th floor. Bear in mind that only a limited number of tickets are sold online and on-site for the observation deck, so consider buying your tickets in advance to skip the queue.
If you want to snap a great photo of the towers, the best spot is from Simfoni lake in the KLCC Park. There’s a beautiful water and light show every evening at 8pm, 9pm and 10pm. Tourists and locals gather to watch relaxing show: classical music accompanies the burst of water jets, lit up in a rainbow of gorgeous colours.
The Batu Caves temple complex was built into a 400 million-year old limestone hill. It is a very important site within Hinduism and the caves are dedicated to Lord Murugan. A gigantic statue of Murugan stands by the entrance to the main cave; this statue is 140 ft/42.7 metres high, supposedly cost a whopping 24 million rupees to build and is covered in 300 litres of gold paint, brought in from Thailand.
To reach the main cave (known as Cathedral Cave or Temple Cave), you have to walk up 272 steps. The stairs are beautifully painted in different colours of the rainbow and are the perfect selfie spot. Before climbing the stairs, make sure that you are complying with the strict dress code. Knees and shoulders must be covered before climbing the steps. If you haven’t brought the right clothes with you, you can rent a sarong at ground level. Once inside the Cathedral Cave, you’ll be wowed by the enormous space and impressive Hindu shrines. You might spot some long-tailed macaque monkeys, but try not to feed them as it makes them territorial and aggressive. You can even try rock climbing in and around the Batu Caves, as there are over 160 climbing routes in the area.
For those with mobility issues, you can visit two smaller caves (Art Gallery Cave and Museum Cave) to admire statues and paintings. Both are accessible from ground level. The Batu caves are very easy to reach from the city centre. The train from KL Sentral takes 30 minutes and you need to get off at the final station. It’s a popular tourist attraction, as well as a Hindu pilgrimage site, so I suggest arriving as early as possible to beat the crowds.
Did you know that 60% of Malaysia’s population is Muslim? I am really glad we visited the Islamic Museum as it is full of incredibly beautiful artifacts. Within its 12 galleries, you can find more than 7000 examples of Islamic jewellery, artwork, handicrafts, and textiles. My favourite area was the Architecture Gallery which has detailed miniatures of the grandest mosques around the world, including Mecca, Istanbul, Casablanca, Delhi and Jerusalem.
A short walk from the Islamic museum is the National Mosque of Malaysia. It is a huge, stylish building that can accommodate up to 15,000 worshippers at once. There is also a prayer hall with a beautiful 16-point star-shaped roof. It is possible for visitors to enter the mosque, but there is a strict dress code and foreigners will be given hooded robes to wear. Unfortunately we weren’t able to look inside as the mosque is closed to non-muslims multiple times throughout the day. It’s a good idea to call ahead if you want to visit to check the opening times.
If you’re a foodie, you simply cannot miss Chinatown, which is bursting with a wide variety of hawker stalls and eateries. You can also buy souvenirs and handmade goods at the Petaling Street flea market. You may want to venture inside one of the traditional Chinese medicine shops which sell curious ointments and balms you have probably not seen before.
You can find Central Market here (also known as Pasar Seni). A market has been held in this spot since 1888 and it is a very clean and well-organised (with air conditioning!). Vendors don’t hassle you to come inside their shops or browse their stalls, so it is a relaxing and enjoyable shopping experience. There is a good food court on the upper floor, serving Malay, Indian and Chinese food.
You can also find Merchant’s Lane in Chinatown. It’s an Instagrammer’s dream, full of quirky restaurants, hipster cafes and fun, creative street art. Lastly, make sure you don’t miss the vibrant, colourful, and ornate Sri Mahamariamman Temple, which is the oldest Hindu temple in Kuala Lumpur. It is a place of worship for the local Tamil community and has a colorful façade featuring a range of Hindu deities.
Kuala Lumpur is such a lively, dynamic city that many people visit the Lake Gardens to enjoy some peace and quiet. This calm oasis is 230 acres in size and includes a deer park, the Perdana botanical garden, 6000 orchids in the Orchid Garden, more than 5000 butterflies in the Butterfly Park and 3000 birds in the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park. The latter is one of the world’s largest covered aviaries containing peacocks, flamingoes, rhinoceros hornbills, macaws, cockatoos, parakeets, lorikeets and much more. You can easily spend an afternoon wandering around the Lake Gardens. Most of the park is free to enter, although some sections require an entrance fee. If you want to visit the Bird Park, the Butterfly Park and the Orchid Garden, you can buy a combination ticket.
If you need more time away from the hustle and bustle, KL has many others parks including the ASEAN Sculpture Garden, KLCC Park, Titiwangsa Lake Gardens, Metropolitan Lake Gardens, Taman Tasik Permaisuri, Bukit Kiara Botanical Gardens, West Valley Park near TTDI, and Bukit Jalil International Park. There are also three forest reserves; the Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve in the city centre, Bukit Sungai Putih Forest Reserve and Bukit Sungai Besi Forest Reserve. I had no idea KL was such a green city, with so many open spaces, beautiful plants and flowers, and wildlife reserves.
Jalan Alor street
Jalan Alor is a long street full of restaurants and hawker food stalls, offering a wide variety of cuisines. Some vendors focus on selling one signature dish, while others offer a selection of food to choose from. Restaurant tables spill into the street and the plastic chairs are filled with people eating, drinking and having fun. You can choose to eat in or grab some food on-the-go.
Vendors can be a bit pushy, trying to lure you into their establishment, but take your time to browse the menus and decide what you want. As a general rule, a restaurant full of diners happily tucking into their food, or a stall with a long queue are safe bets.
Wandering around Little India is a sensory experience, with tantalising scents wafting down the street and Bollywood music blasting from windows and doorways. Flowers and garlands decorate the streets, whilst the aroma of spices and incense entice you inside the many restaurants. Once you’ve stuffed yourself with delicious food, you can walk it off by visiting the different jewellery, fabric and clothes shops.
You can find Jamek Mosque here, the oldest mosque in Kuala Lumpur, built in 1909. It’s a stunning building with white domes, symmetrical minarets and incredibly ornate detail. It’s free to enter (although donations are appreciated) and women will be given a robe to cover their heads and entire body. Men wearing shorts will be given a cover for their legs. The mosque opens for visitors at 10:00am but then closes from 12:30 until 2:30pm to prepare for prayer.
Merdeka translates as “Independence” and is where the Malaysian flag was raised in 1957 to celebrate the country’s independence from the British. A 95-metre flagpole still remains; one of the tallest in the world. You can find the Sultan Abdul Samad Building (the Ministry of Information, Communication and Culture of Malaysia), the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery and St. Mary’s Anglican Cathedral in Merdeka Square.
There is some signage but I suggest reading up on Merdeka Square before visiting so you can truly understand the historic significance of this area and its surrounding buildings.
Jalan Bukit Bintang
Jalan Bukit Bintang is a busy shopping area suitable for all tastes and budgets. There are upscale shopping centres, luxury fashion boutiques, street markets and high street stores. Some of the most popular shopping centres are Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, Lot 10, Plaza Low Yat and Sungi Wang Plaza.
Along with hundreds of shops, you can find lots of hotels in this neighbourhood, along with restaurants, cafes and bars. There’s also the KLCC city bar, indoor theme park (Berjaya Times Square) and aquarium. It would be very easy to spend a whole day and night in Bukit Bintang.
I hope this post has given you a lot of ideas about what to do and see in Kuala Lumpur, and why I think it is such an exciting, diverse and lively place to visit. I know I have only scratched the surface of what KL has to offer and will definitely be back to explore the city even further.
Ciao for now
The Curious Sparrow