After our relaxing week in Bali, it was time for a quick stop off in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s increasingly popular capital city. Once simply a layover destination for tired travelers before they continued their journey, the city has largely reinvented itself in recent years. With a history rich in British colonialism, and a challenging yet successful fight for freedom and South East Asian recognition, today, Kuala Lumpur is a serious contender in the worldwide tourism market. Indeed, Malaysia is consistently ranked in the world’s top 10 visited destinations, largely thanks to the appeal of KL and it’s vast transport links around the nation.
So, what is there to do in a city that is steadily becoming accustomed to being a popular tourist hub? Just like other SEA competitors, like Singapore for example, KL has often been referred to as only being good for those airport layover necessities: shopping and business style hotels.
Whilst the city is no doubt an ideal place to snap up a bargain or two, KL also has much more to offer. On our way back to the UK from our recent trip to Bali, we were fortunate enough to spend a few nights among the lights of the Petronas Twin Towers and the KL Tower. With an ideal, centrally located hotel (the Hotel Capitol in Bukit Bintang), we were primed and ready to endure all that Kuala Lumpur had to offer…and then some.
Day One – Climbing Caves and Catching Bargains
Although we did have two nights/three days in the city, we didn’t arrive until around 5pm, so the first evening is largely uneventful with little to report. However, I can say that if you are short on money and looking for some tasty food and lively nightlife, walking any direction along Jalan Sultan Ismail will provide just that. The colourful night markets and food stalls also emerge as the sun sets too, particularly if you arrive during Ramadan as we did, when coming together and eating a meal after sundown is especially important.
Nevertheless, our ‘dull’ evening meant plenty of time to rest for the upcoming days ahead. We decided the next morning to set out for the Batu Caves, and had already learned from many online forums that is was best to arrive early. In doing so, not only do you beat the later rush of tourists and tour buses, but you also avoid the impending heat. We left our hotel just after 7am and reached the caves just before 9am.
Getting to the caves from KL Sentral is simple, convenient, and cheap. We spent a good couple of hours there exploring the various temples and different artwork, so much so that I’m going to doing a completely separate blog post about our visit to the caves and how best to enjoy it. For now though, lets speed through our visit and move on to our next destination of day one: the Central and Chinese markets.
Both the Central and Chinese markets are a delight for any shopper, and also within comfortable walking distance of one another. For more bespoke, high quality items, Central Market is arguably where it’s at. Here you will find the classic souvenirs, as well as some more unique and pricier items. There is also a ‘little India’ within the market, offering an array of carvings and shawls typical to the Indian-style aesthetic. However, if you’re looking for cheap t-shirts, dresses, or maybe even a fake (but undeniably convincing!) Cath Kidston bag or two, the colourful delights of the Chinese street markets will be your heaven. At both the Central and Chinese markets are an array of hot food and local produce to sink your teeth into as well.
After a whiz around each, we ventured towards the KL botanical gardens, an absolutely huge complex that I definitely don’t recommend on a hot day, especially if you’ve already climbed hundreds of steps and walked a considerable amount already! Housing an amphitheater, deer garden, and even it’s own lake and boat house, we were initially shocked to see that the park was largely empty…until we started walking. Nevertheless, we still thoroughly appreciated the beauty of the place and the amount of work that has clearly gone into making the gardens one of KL’s biggest attractions. Today however, we had enough energy to simply enjoy a short leisurely walk around the grounds; our stomachs were growling and our (upgraded!) hotel room was calling.
Day Two – The Best of KL
After our miles of walking the day before, we decided to have a well deserved lie-in and take advantage of our hotel’s 12pm check out. Luckily for us, our flight back to London wasn’t until 11pm that evening, so we still had a good full day to explore central Kuala Lumpur, and tick some more things off of our KL ‘to-do’ list.
We started with a visit back to Merdeka (freedom) Square, the site where Malaysia first raised it’s very own flag after gaining independence from the British, and also where we had briefly walked through the day before. The square is a perfect site from which to showcase Malaysia’s complex history, being just opposite a mock Tudor-style pavilion and across the road from the stunningly beautiful Sultan Abdul Samad building. Just next the square is also the KL City Gallery, home to ‘Kuala Lumpur’s most photographed landmark’, the famous I ❤ KL sign.
Entrance the gallery itself is only RM 5 (£1), and you also get that £1 to redeem against anything in the gallery shop or cafe. The gallery was pleasant enough, and contained enough information and pretty things to look at for an hour or so. What I particularly liked was miniature model of KL, the largest of it’s kind and certainly spectacular. The model is accompanied by a bizarre (but somewhat interesting) light show/presentation of sorts, exploring KL’s current state and its progress towards modernity. It is here that you really discover how far the city has come, and furthermore the pride it’s creators have in its rise to fame.
From model city to actual city, we then headed back towards the most famous of KL’s landmarks – the Petronas Twin Towers. Now, we opted not go up the towers, largely due the hefty price tag that came with doing so (which would take up most of our budget) and partly because our hotel was so beautifully positioned that from our room on the 18th floor, we had had a lovely view of the towers, the KL tower, and the rest of the city for the past two nights. It’s up to you whether you go up them; we’ve heard amazing things but of course if you’re on a budget you may also not have a choice. I would recommend going up at night if you do so however, as this is certainly when the city is at its prettiest.
Aside from the towers, there is still loads to do in the area of KLCC. The KLCC park is a delightful walk and boasts many spectacular photo points for the towers and the rest of the surrounding city. In the convention centre, there is also an array of shops that would keep you busy for days on end. There is also a hidden gem of a gallery too, the Galleri Petronas. It’s a modern gallery that showcases the best Asian talent as well as some fascinating temporary exhibitions. Long-time fans of the gallery say that it’s choice of exhibit is forever changing and constantly offers something new for each visitor. We were particularly fond of the glass exhibit, much to our surprise. Entry to the gallery is also free, and who doesn’t love some free art?
After grabbing some fast food (yes, judge us….we were getting too poor!) we made our way to the final stop on our quick tour of KL – a very literal rooftop bar. The Heli Lounge Bar is located in Bukit Bintang, on the 34th floor on the Menera KH building. Open from 5pm, with the helipad opening from 6pm, it was a perfect end to a whirlwind couple of days in the city. Although the cocktails aren’t cheap (and in my eyes, not exactly nice either, though my boyfriend disagrees), entry is free and the view from the helipad is uncompromising. Just a small rope-like barrier stops visitors from stepping over the edge of this still functioning helipad, and you can enjoy some amazing views as you watch the sun set over the bustling streets and buildings below. If that’s not a perfect and rather fitting end for our wonderful visit to Kuala Lumpur, then I don’t know what is.