Kuala Lumpur is not that much of a great city. However, practically everyone is visiting; because basically, everyone has to: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital and home to 1.7 million Malayans, has two major airports, a busy, reliable train system – and is more or less halfway between the northern border to Thailand neighboring Singapore in the south. It’s a hub.
|View of Kuala Lumpur from the most imposing landmark – the Murugan statue in front of the Batu Caves in the district of Selangor, 12 km north of Malaysia’s capital.|
As a matter of fact, it is the eighth most visited city in the world. So every visitor spends at least one to two days, whether they like it or not. And actually, there are some great spots to like.
How to get there and around
Getting into Malaysia, almost everyone will arrive in Kuala Lumpur, probably at KLIA which is short for Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
It’s a huge airport, but fantastically organized; and getting downtown, there are a couple of different possibilities, however, the average traveller will probably choose between the KLIA express, a train taking you quickly to Kuala Lumpur Sentral, the huge and maybe a bit intimidating railway station, and a taxi that you can prepay at the airport to prevent unpleasant surprises. You just tell the lady at the ticket window where you’re going, you pay, you get a voucher – and off you go to your final destination. This is certainly more convenient than going to the train station – and if you are two people or more, it is even cheaper.
|Kuala Lumpur Sentral is the largest railway station in all Southeast Asia.|
Next to Sentral is also the bus station, serving the entire country and beyond – like e. g. Singapore.
Once you’re in Kuala Lumpur, you can get literally everywhere by public transport – the worst thing that can happen is that you get confused and overwhelmed by all these choices: There is the Rap Transit and the Light Rail Transit and the Mono Rail and there are all these buses – and everything is really cheap and comfortable.
|The Monorail, that serves only a small part of Kuala Lumpur – but no worries: There are many alternatives, nobody ever gets stuck.
(Photo: Sirap bandung, SCOMI Sutra for Rapid Rail, cropped to 7:5, CC BY-SA 4.0)
And to make it even more attractive – there are free shuttle buses taking people to the most important tourist sites.
|Taking the free shuttle bus from the Petrona Towers to the Berjaya Times Square Mall.|
What to see
Although there are many places to visit within the city limits, let’s just start with one of the most iconic landmarks that’s actually located 12 km / 7.5 miles north of Malaysia’s capital at Gombak in the state of Selangor.
Funny enough, on every visit, on each of my visits, the Batu Caves were first on my agenda. And I recommend an early visit to you, too, since the major activity at this important shrine is to climb the 272 stairs. The earlier you get there, the better: fewer crowds, less heat.
Just take the KTM Komuter train at Sentral to Batu Caves. The journey is about an hour and the fare to the Batu Caves is only RM 2.30. You can’t get lost: As soon as you get off the train, you spot your final destination; no wonder: the Murugan statue is almost 43 meters / 140 feet high.
The Batu Caves temple complex consists of three main caves and a few smaller ones.
Closest to the train station is the Ramayana Cave where the story of Rama is depicted along the walls.
|To the Ramayana Cave this way.|
|Inside, everything is really shiny and colorful – emphasized by the lightning in bright colors.|
As you walk from the Ramayana Cave towards the main temple, there are parts where you have to pay an entrance fee. The first time I visited, I got confused thinking this was the access to the large shrine.
Well, it’s not.
There is a museum with some very flashy exhibits that are nice, but there is also a small sort of amusement park which is not: There are some cars and toys for small kids and a menagerie with poor critters like snakes and scorpions in cages. Actually, it’s neither educating nor entertaining – whereby I never find poor critters amusing.
|Here we have Mr. Hanuman, Lord Rama’s right-hand man. 15 meters / 50 feet tall, he certainly does make a great bodyguard.|
Climbing up the 272 steps to the biggest hall, called the Temple Cave, be aware of the monkeys – they are cheeky – and slightly aggressive.
Halfway to the main cave is the entrance to an exhibition on different critters living in the dark caves that should be pretty interesting.
|The main cave – also called Cathedral.|
Merdeka Square and the Historic Center
On the way back downtown, you can get off already at the Bank Negara station and walk towards the Merdeka which is large, yet not very spectacular. However, across the street is the Sultan Abdul Samad Building completed in 1897 to house the British colonial administration – one of Kuala Lumpur’s important landmarks.
|Sultan Abdul Samad Building to the left and the famous flagpole to the right – Merdeka Square completed.|
On the Merdeka Square’s southern tip is the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery – which is not that great, but at the entrance is the I❤KL-sculpture – no visit is complete without a picture…so here is ours:
|Thanx again to the friendly gentleman for taking our picture.|
If you’re in the mood of visiting an exhibition, rather than the City Gallery, you should visit the Textile Museum across the street. They have a permanent collection of national fabrics and costumes and changing exhibitions which do not necessarily deal with Malaysian design.
Turning into the Leboh Pasar Besar street at the corner, you’ll spot the Jamek Mosque – built in 1909 – to your left. Although I had to cover myself with a heavy cloak and put on a huge hood, as a woman, I was still not allowed inside the mosque. Is the visit worth it? I’d say no since it’s such a fuss and you don’t get to see much, anyway. And you can take the best picture from the Jalan Benteng in front of the HSBC bank.
|Jamek Mosque Kuala Lumpur – where the strictest rules ever apply.|
Did you know that three of world’s ten largest shopping malls are located in Kuala Lumpur? Well, now you do. However, for most of us Westerners, browsing and shopping around in the area south of Masjid Jamek station is far more fun: The narrow alleys stuffed with small shops and stands, an incredible number of restaurants and cafés – how do they say again? Malaysia – truly Asia!
|Jalan Hang Kasturi Central Market – shop till you drop.|
Hidden within all this craziness are some of Kuala Lumpur’s most precious cultural jewels like the Sin Sze Si Ya Temple, the city’s oldest Taoist temple, founded in 1864. It is a bit hidden on Jalan Tun H S Lee.
|No temple is complete without joss sticks leaving you breathless.|
Three blocks down on the same street is its Hindu counterpart, the Sri Mahamariamman Temple. A bit newer, namely from 1973, it is still the oldest Hindu temple in Kuala Lumpur….and, of course, incredibly colorfully decorated.
|Statues decorating the Sri Mahamariamman Temple of Kuala Lumpur.|
A ten-minute walk east of the Masjid Jamek station is an area that shows of Kuala Lumpur’s incredibly fast development – the neighborhood of towers. There are all these luxury hotels and malls that seem to grow way up in the sky. There is the Menara Kuala Lumper – yup, Menara means tower – a communication tower that is partly open to the public, e. g. on the restaurant level.
|A little fascinating extra-tour before you go up the towers: The KL Forest Eco Park at the foot of the tower is a real small rainforest with several nature trails and a comfortable canopy walkway.|
Visiting at tea time is just wonderful since you can enjoy a generous buffet while the venue is revolving so that you get to see all of Kuala Lumpur from above. Highly – pun intended – recommendable!
|Help yourself to some Asian specialties….|
|….and then just enjoy the views. Oh look, there are more towers!|
Another ten minutes walk and you’ll get to the most famous of them all, the Petronas Towers.
These twin towers, 88 floors on 451.9 meters / 1,483 feet high were finished in 1996 and remained world’s tallest building till 2004. Basically, every global player company has an office at the towers and even poverty jet-setter like me can visit – an exhibition level, the bridge, and restaurants. Below the towers is Suria KLCC, a big shopping mall, and the Petronas Philharmonic Hall.
If you have the time, take a stroll at the adjacent KLCC park where every night – of course colorful – fountain shows take place.
|Looking up to the top….|
|….and from the top down to the ground.|
Around Sentral Station
Some of the best places to visit during your stay are actually around the Sentral Station; and even the station itself is a great place – for shopping and eating.
Right behind the station is the National Museum of Malaysia that I like a lot since it explains in a diverting way the development and history of the country.
|The beautiful museum building with friezes depicting Malaysian history.
(Photo: anonym, National museum, KL, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Behind the museum, and across a deadly road – be very careful when crossing, is a green oasis in this mega-city that can get pretty hazy and sticky at times called Perdana Gardens. Here, you can walk for hours just enjoying the lush garden. Or you pay one of the compounds a visit: There are a butterfly park, a bird park, and a deer park.
To get another great view of Kuala Lumpur, it’s great to take a walk across Brickfield, which is the Indian neighborhood, and walk up to the Thean Hou Temple.
|Grand view from a grand place.|
Built by Kuala Lumpur’s Hainanese community in 1894, it is said to be is one of the oldest and largest temples in Southeast Asia.
While Kuala Lumpur is the cultural, financial, and economic center of Malaysia, the federal administration is located in Putrajaya.
Since this city was built only for that purpose, it is very….new. However, there is the Putrajaya lake, the pink granite Putra Mosque, located next to the Perdana Putra, which houses the Malaysian Prime Minister’s office.
|Putrajaya by night.|
If you are interested in how a city is successfully planned on a drafting table – here is an excellent example.
Here you find all the places mentioned above:
Best place to sleep:
Best place to eat:
Malaysia is very proud of the incredible variety of the different cuisines – hence it’s impossible to recommend let’s say ten restaurants – let alone a single one. Then, you have all these markets and night markets where you can feast on fantastically tasty and incredibly cheap street food…it doesn’t stop.
However, I would recommend either the tea time or another meal at the restaurant on top of the Menara Kuala Lumpur – already for the night markets.
Then go to the main post and take your pick!