Kuala Lumpur: Your quick local guide

Language spoken: Malay (Bahasa Melayu)
Population: 7.4 million
Currency: Malaysian Ringgit (£1 = 5.35 MYR)
National dish: Nasi Lemak
National fruit: Durian
National flower: Hibiscus rosa-sinensis
Best time to travel: April – August

Selamat datang ke Kuala Lumpur 

Welcome to Kuala Lumpur.

As the doors slide open and you step out of the large and freshly air-conditioned Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) into 35℃, you can’t help but feel you have been suddenly deprived of oxygen for the first couple of seconds.

Widely recognised for the world’s tallest twin skyscrapers gleaming across the modern skyline, highly praised for the food firing up tastebuds and its warm tropical weather. How can one leave not totally in love with the city gifting them an unbelievable new cultural experience?

Picture hot humid air, people wearing shorts and flip flops, mamak stores, motorcycles with men wearing their jackets backwards.

Nevertheless, it is a large magnificent city that continues to thrive and develop with every year, now drawing inspiration from European cultures and opening up vegan restaurants as well as boutique gyms, it will be no surprise that it becomes one of the most diverse cities in Asia.

It may come as a surprise to you, but Kuala Lumpur (KL) is actually a very multicultural city, mainly made up of Malay, Chinese, and Indian people. The result, all of their national holidays are celebrated in one country – Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, Dipavali, and, despite being a Muslim country, Christmas made it in.

The Locals

Three locals share their favourite and least favourite thing about KL as well as what they believe is a misconception about it.

Ehsan Zareh – 22

Yes: “Probably the people. That’s kind of subjective but I think it’s nice how culturally diverse and mixed KL is. Also this means the food is bomb.”

No: “How spread out it is. You can’t really get around unless you drive.”

Biggest misconception? “People tend to think that it’s just like some third world/developing city but it’s really more than that. It feels like it’s sort of got one foot in that world and foot in the other, but in the best way possible. It’s unlike many other places I’ve been to and it’s cool how you can see these two different worlds kind of come together.

Deborah Low – 24

Yes: The food. No: The traffic

Biggest misconception? “We can’t speak English”, however the majority of the people living in the city use English as their first language.

Iskandar Moiz – 22

Yes: Probably to the food. No: “The least favourite is that it’s bloody hot. So you can’t go to parks like Hyde Park.”

Biggest misconception? “I think people don’t expect the city to be as well developed as it is.”

Jalan Alor Street Market

Jalan Alor Street Market in Kuala Lumpur [Unsplash: Job Savelsberg]

Food

If there are two things the locals are good at, it is being late (the traffic is always the excuse) and food, making it as well as eating it. Malaysia and food go hand in hand, it is what the city mainly revolves around. People spend enjoying each others company over their favourite dishes.

The food in Kuala Lumpur is rather reflective of the diversity of those living in the country, it is where the Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisine meet to create something new.

That is why it is important to stress that traditional Malay food and food in Malaysia are two different things. Those who try it for the first time often say that the flavours are so new and are nothing like what they have tasted before. The food scene is something locals praise highly.

The Spruce Eats describes it as “strong, spicy and aromatic, combining the rich tastes of the many herbs and spices commonly found in south-east Asia, continually delight visitors to the country with its incredible variety and flavours.”

As the sun goes down, the buzz in Jalan Alor builds up. Jalan Alor is a famous food street located in the heart of the city. Over the years it has become KL’s food haven as stalls sell food representative of Malaysia. Stalls are distributed on both sides of the street, generating the sound of cooking and the voices of those enjoying their evening.

The atmosphere is very different from what someone would expect after seeing images of skyscrapers. The glowing, high class and the glamorised city is no longer present as you become fully immersed in the average day to day Malaysian atmosphere.

As the city continues to develop, a lot of new places are opening up, especially hip and Instagrammable locations. But when visiting for the first time you need to immerse yourself in the culture and taste the flavours it has to offer.

You can be easily overwhelmed when choosing what to eat, especially if you have no knowledge of what the dishes are. We, of course, suggest that you try everything, but as a starting ground, these are some of the must-try dishes when visiting Malaysia. Expect loads of flavour and spice.

What to do: Shopping malls

outside view of Pavilion shopping centre

Pavilion Shopping Centre located in Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur [Flickr: Phuket@photographer.net]

The best way to explore any city is to spend time in it as a local would. On a day to day basis and for entertainment, locals spend their time in one of the many shopping malls around the city.

Visiting at least one of them is a must considering the large role they play in the community. Due to the heat, humidity and very heavy rains that can last the whole day, shopping centres have developed way past being for solely for shopping.

Other than shops, there are many restaurants, bars, cinemas. Many of them offer activities such as laser tag, rock climbing, bowling, escape rooms, ice rinks – you name it. Suria KLCC even has an aquarium inside and Times Square has a theme park with a roller coaster. You have not experienced shopping malls of these sizes offering such a wide range of activities to do.

Each shopping centre has a different vibe and different activities that you visit them for. The main ones are Suria KLCC, Pavillion, MidValley and Gardens (these two are right next to each other and connected by a bridge) and lastly 1Utama.

The twins

What is a trip to KL without a photo below the magnificent Twin Towers?

The Petronas Towers are 452 metres high with 88 floors. Today, they are still the tallest twin towers in the world. Construction finished in 1998 but they were officially opened to the public on August 28, 1999 – Malaysia’s National Day.

So what is exactly inside these two large buildings? Petronas’ own headquarters as well as other offices. You can’t really go inside unless you are going on the bridge that connects the two towers mid-air – one of the viewpoints in KL, or make your way to the 86th floor (out of the 88) to go to the observation deck where you can equally enjoy a view and learn about the history of the buildings.

Located right behind it is the Suria KLCC shopping centre that was built alongside the towers. You can enjoy the views of the lake and the park from the outside area and several restaurants that have glass windows facing the back of the building.

Batu Caves

Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur

Batu Caves [Unsplash: Omar Elsharawy]

One of the biggest tourist attractions is just roughly 30 minutes out of the city, attracting tourists with the vibrantly painted 272 steps. The natural aspect in contrast to the busy city is also appealing. It has become and stayed popular for a reason.

The Batu Caves is a limestone hill and is actually a place of pilgrimage for Tamil Hindus. Robert Lewis wrote a concise summary of the caves once you reach the top. “At the top of the steps is the entrance to the largest cave, called Cathedral Cave or Temple Cave. Within it is the largest of several temples on the site.

At a lower level on the flight of steps is Dark Cave, which is sometimes closed to visitors. Other caves lie still closer to the base of the steps.

Ramayana Cave has an entrance marked with a statue of the monkey god Hanuman, the hero of the Indian epic poem Ramayana. The cave itself is lined with dioramas depicting scenes from the epic. The Cave Villa, which includes Art Gallery Cave and Museum Cave, features more paintings and statues.”

Now that you know what to expect – beware of the monkeys, there are plenty of them over there.

Explore the town

There is more to KL than Bukit Bintang. Make sure to visit Bangsar which is more down to earth, offering more choice of bars and restaurants. Publika is a hip shopping centre where the locals tend to meet, it has a small range of stores but mainly focused around food.

Nightlife

The city never really sleeps.

It is difficult to summarise the nightlife there, it very much depends on the type of night you are looking for. There are streets of bars, rooftop bars and nightclubs.

If you are looking for a nightclub, Zouk, Kyo and Play are your best options.

Zouk has been around for many areas and recently renovated to have eight different rooms inside, each one playing different types of music and has different decoration and use of colour inside. There is even a VIP room with a slide. Zouk would be a good place to start as it is right next to Trec.

Trec consists of restaurants, bars, small clubs for you to enjoy at night. After having spent some time at Trec, you can easily walk into the club when you are ready and you feel the crowd has built up.

With Trec offering a wide variety of places to go and Zouk having eight rooms, if you are planning to do one night out, this would be your best choice by exploring everything in one go.

With KL being so large, it is practical for people to have designated areas to party. It allows many bars and mini clubs to be in one area. If you arrive at the location and are not happy with the bar, rather than leaving the place as a whole, you walk next door and try again.

A place called Changkat used to be the place to go. You can walk through it as it is still a good place for a drink.

Kyo is a club at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. It has grown in popularity over the past 2 years and is only attracting more attention. If you are looking for one club and one club only, Kyo is the place to go.

Play provides you with a completely different experience, this is a club a local might go to, but definitely not as big as the first two.

For bars with a vibe try the Pisco Bar and The Rabbit Hole which are enjoyed by the locals.

For a night with a view, The Helipad is a must visit. It is an actual helicopter pad that turns into a gorgeous place to have a drink, chat and enjoy the spectacular view from above.

The rooftop bar will give you more of a night out experience along with great music and people. You will be outside so make sure you dress appropriately.

Aerial drawing of Trec and Zouk

Aerial drawing of Trec and Zouk [Trec]

Getting around

Traffic Jam in rain in Kuala Lumpur

Traffic Jam in Kuala Lumpur [Unsplash: Deva Darshan]

Long roads and highways make up half of the city.

The MRT/LRT only opened up in 2003. It has definitely benefited the city by providing locals with public transport to get to work and avoiding traffic. But as it is a fairly new introduction, the MRT does not reach everywhere, especially the places where locals tend to live.

By using the train you are very likely going to need to grab a cab or an Uber to get you to your final destination, sometimes even to get to the MRT/LRT itself.

At the end of the day, KL is built around driving, it will always be a driving city.  As a local, it is practically impossible to live a day to day life without owning your own form of transport. You can not walk from point A to point B as you can in London for example. Side-walks are pretty much non-existent unless you are in the very city centre such as Bukit Bintang where one can make their way around by foot.

Be prepared to get a lot of Uber rides if you want to explore the city to the fullest. You must note that traffic jams in Kuala Lumpur are extremely bad.

Make sure to not arrange any travelling early in the mornings between 6:00am and 7:00am, or between 5:00pm and 7:30pm. These are the times people are travelling to and from their work. Why until 7:30pm?

Monkey sitting at Batu Caves location in Kuala Lumpur

Monkey at Batu Caves [Unsplash: Remi Yuan]

Because yes, you can easily spend two-and-a-half hours in your car making your way back home, with 75% of that time being completely stationary.

The trip to and from the airport takes around forty minutes if commuting by car. If you wish to take the KLIA Ekspress train from the airport, it will take approximately 30 minutes to arrive at KL Sentral, which is perfect if you are staying at the Hilton Hotel, however, as mentioned, that is rarely the case.

Where to stay?

If you stay in Bukit Bintang, you will be staying at the centre of it all. You will have the shopping centres, the food and the nightlife nearby. But if you would prefer to stay away from the noise and somewhere less hectic but not too far out for you to travel everywhere, Bangsar is the place.

Speak Malay

Even though people speak English in Malaysia, having a few phrases up your sleeve will always come in handy and is just a nice thing to do before paying a visit to a foreign country as we put effort into learning a bit more about them.

Good morning – Selamat Pagi
Good afternoon/evening – Selmat petang
How are you – Apa khabar?
Good night – Selmat malam
My name is… – Nama saya… 
I am from… – Saya dari…
Thank you – Terima Kasih
Reply to thank you – Sama sama
Sorry – Ma’af
I don’t understand – Saya tidal faham
Help! – Tolong!
I love Malaysia – Saya suka Malaysia 

 

 

 

 


Featured Image by Zukiman Mohamad via Pexels