Following on from our Christmas and NYE 2013 adventures in my home town of Melbourne, we started making our way back to London via South East Asia. As we were flying with Malaysia Airlines, we had a stopover in Kuala Lumpur as a reintroduction to Asia before we slingshotted up to Vietnam.
I’d been to Malaysia once before, but only to the southern border city of Johor Bahru on a day trip from Singapore in 2009, so I wanted to see what the capital was like and how it compared to other Asian cities. I soon learnt that Malaysia is a melting pot of Chinese, Indian, Malay and Western cultures, a humid metropolis of chaotic neighbourhoods along with an endless stretch of enormous shopping malls.
Things to See and Do
KL is bursting with street markets, a colourful array of foods to try, lots of places to shop and of course the iconic Petronas Towers. It’s hot, muggy, sticky, dirty and a lot grittier than it’s southern cousin in Singapore. So with that, let’s dive straight in with the big guns.
The Petronas Towers are the standout star of KL and dominate the skyline for miles around. Situated in what’s called the “Kuala Lumpur City Centre” (KLCC), it features an observation deck half way up it and the Suria KLCC mall at ground level. Suria isn’t really where you’ll find the shopping KL is known for, as it’s mostly high-end boutiques here.
In my opinion, don’t bother going up the observation deck. Who wants to overlook the city without seeing the landmark iconic building? You’d be better off checking out the view from the Skybar in the Traders Hotel, which I’ll talk about later.
It was here in Merdeka (Independence) Square that the British flag was lowered on August 31st 1957 and the Malaysian flag was raised for the first time. It’s a very symbolic place for the nation and a great place to get an initial feel for the colonial history of Malaysia.
Also of interest, the Royal Selangor Club used to play cricket here during the British colonial days.
Chinatown (Jalan Petaling)
Situated smack-bang in the middle of Chinatown, Jalan Petaling is a major street market where you can find vendors peddling clothes, souvenirs, toys, counterfeit DVDs and all manner of other knick-knacks that you can test your haggling skills on.
You’ll also find a load of Malay/Chinese food outlets around here also to have a crack at some local eats and loads of budget accommodation options if you find yourself short on cash and a place to stay.
Built in 1888 and rebuilt in the 1930s in Art Deco style, the Central Market was, you guessed it, the central place where trading took place for decades in KL. Now filled with kitschy tourist stalls, the main attraction here I reckon is the food court on the top level with a good selection of treats to try and free wifi. It was pretty underwhelming really.
Berjaya Times Square Mall
Now we get onto something that KL is really known for – it’s epic multi-storey malls. Times Square is in the Bukit Bintang shopping hotspot of KL and is one of the juggernauts when it comes to experiencing the retail craziness this city has to offer.
With over seven levels of all kinds of outlets to explore, this place really is overwhelming. You won’t find any of the high street retailers here, all the shops here are authentic Malaysian places like “Pretty Girl” (size 6 girls clothes) and “Ahmed’s Toys”. If you’re looking for quality, chances are you won’t really find it here.
But on the other hand, THIS PLACE HAS AN INDOOR THEME PARK!
Featuring both a grown-ups and kids area, this theme park covers an absolutely enormous area inside the complex. You pay a flat entrance fee and then all the rides area included. There are all the thrill-ride type rides dotted around the place you’d expect in a decent sized theme park, but then your head cranes upward and definitely the first thing you notice as you hear the roar, is the orange and blue roller coaster that snakes its way around the entire cavernous space. It’s not a slouch when it comes to roller coasters, featuring both a loop and a corkscrew, so you do get some decent airtime on this. It doesn’t last all that long, but you can just queue back up and go again anyway.
The only thing I’ll comment on is that we had to pay 1 RM to store our stuff in the lockers each time we went on a ride, so that added up quickly. The day we went seemed to be quite quiet also, so the place lacked that buzzy atmosphere you’d expect in a place like this and we had to wait a while between rides as the operators waited for enough people to fill up the ride. The Times Square mall is absolutely a must see in KL for anyone with a bit of interest in theme parks though. It’s a great way to spend half a day away from the stifling heat outside and get your scream on.
Food and Drink
Food is another thing people rave about when they talk about Kuala Lumpur. With a mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian available across the city, you’re never really stuck for choice. Whether it’s Nasi Lemak for breakfast, Nasi Goreng for lunch or Chicken Satay for a snack, Malaysian food really has its own unique flavours that you’ll want to widely sample.
One place in particular that we found not far from KLCC is Bijan, a stylish and unpretentious Malaysian restaurant on Jalan Ceylon.
Featuring high ceilings and both indoor and outdoor tables, Bijan has a diverse all-Malaysian menu on offer and a great selection of international wines also.
It was here that we scoffed a seriously large amount of quality satay and some great curries also. Definitely worth a look.
How to get there
Situated pretty much half way between Europe and Australasia, KL is a regular stopover city for both Malaysia Airlines and Emirates. Malaysia offer direct flights from at least London and Paris; and Emirates fly from Dubai to Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA)
AirAsia are also based in KL, albeit at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) which although is on the same bit of land as KLIA, it’s actually about a 20 km journey by taxi between the two on the highway. You can get super cheap fares with AirAsia to all parts of Asia and Australia and in my opinion, they’re fine for anything under 4 hours, but I wouldn’t want to fly long haul with them. They’re like the easyJet of Asia.
A bit of orientation
Here’s a handy map laying out all the sights mentioned above to give you an idea of where things are in Kuala Lumpur. Click on the markers to see the sight listed and zoom and pan around to see more of the map.
View 48 hours in Kuala Lumpur in a larger map
Get around in Kuala Lumpur
Getting around in KL is pretty damn easy. The city is well kitted out with public transport in the form of the LRT and monorail and you can either buy individual tokens for journeys or a pre-paid card that you use to touch on and off as you go in and out of stations. Much like Istanbul, London or Singapore. Check out MyRapid for more info on how to get around.
The taxis in KL are also reasonably cheap, at about 10 RM to get around parts of the city. You can also get easily from the airport to KL Sentral station using the KL Ekspres train
Where to stay
When we stayed in KL, we knew we wanted somewhere iconic, comfortable and well appointed that didn’t break the bank. With this criteria (not hard to please I know!) in mind, we decided on the Traders Hotel in KLCC. Situated right across from the Petronas Towers, the amazing view from our room was the first thing that drew us in when we first opened the door. Check this out for a view!
All the rooms feature a super comfy bed, complimentary bottles of water, and check out that retro clock on the bedside table! Evening brought a great turndown service with slippers placed with care next to the bed and just enough lighting. It’s really the little things like this that make a hotel really great.
The Traders Hotel takes the cake for rooftop pool and bar in KL also. From the Skybar you can cast your eye over the entire KLCC area and beyond, all whilst enjoying some more chicken satay and a Tiger beer by the pool. At night, the Skybar turns into one of KL’s trendiest bars, with the cushioned window-side areas booked out for hours. The parade of Nissan GTRs and Porsches in front of the lobby downstairs assured me that this was definitely where the young and rich kids of KL come to play.
But the highlight of our stay at the Traders was definitely the breakfast. Pretty much everything you could ever think of for breakfast was catered for here. The regular stuff like cereal, fruit, yogurt, pastries and a huge hot buffet were catered for, but you could also get sushi, an Indian curry, Malaysian chicken congee or nasi lemak, Vietnamese noodles and more if you wanted. Breakfast really was an immense affair here.
And to top it off, there was a CHOCOLATE FONDUE FOUNTAIN. I had never seen this anywhere, it was literally the icing on the cake.
It was that, and the takeaway coffee machine as you left that really did it for me. If there’s one thing I can never get enough of in the morning, it’s coffee.
Traders also has this ingenious system that helps both guests and staff work together during breakfast. You’re given a card when you arrive that is red on one side and green on the other, and reads below:
Really smart huh? Allows you to completely make the most of the enormous amount and diverse degree of food on offer.
Many thanks to AsiaRooms.com for providing us with two nights complimentary stay. Rates at The Traders Hotel start from just £80 per night. Visit Asiarooms.com for more information and to book.
The currency in Malaysia is the Malaysian Ringgit (RM), and at time of writing you could get yourself RM 4.66 per British pound. KL is a relatively cheap city to visit for a few days. Meals will be about4 RM10-15 each, and a beer is about RM 2-3. Taxis as I mentioned are around RM 10 per trip in the city, and our taxi from the airport cost around RM 150.
KL is definitely isn’t the most beautiful city around, I’ll say that. It is rather gritty, incredibly busy and lacking somewhat in major sights, but it’s the kind of place you need to wander around to really appreciate and get a feel for.
It does have some pockets of goodness like the Traders Hotel and Bijan, so it’s not hard to find ways to escape the chaos of the street. Kuala Lumpur is one of those cities where it’s right in your face, straight away. You see real life almost immediately and it makes for a great introduction into South East Asia. It’s not too over the top, but it does give you that first taste that’ll make you want to explore more of this part of the world.