We first experienced Kuala Lumpur (KL) during a 6-hour layover between Paris and Koh Samui, Thailand. Our brief time checking out the city impressed me enough that I knew we would need to come back and explore it more. I had heard that it was a great place for food, and I loved the general vibe I felt while walking around. I had expected a grungy city with really only a couple of monuments to be of interest. Boy was I wrong!
The nice air-conditioned train ride from the airport to the transportation hub of KL Sentral also sported free WiFi. Not a bad welcome at all.
On our 2nd visit to KL, we traveled by train from Ipoh, another city we really enjoyed. By the time we left, we were seriously considering skipping Songkran festivities in Thailand to stay in Malaysia longer. Since Malaysia gives most visitors an entry stamp for 90 days for free (the best in SE Asia!), it’s an even bigger temptation to stay.
Be honest. You aren’t surprised this is the first category I’m listing, right?
KL is a wonderful place for food lovers. Malaysia is comprised of 3 ethnic groups, and the cultures have intertwined somewhat producing some excellent cuisine. Malay food has some very unique flavors. In fact, it’s the first time I’ve encountered a dessert containing dried shrimp.
Chinese food in Malaysia is quite varied. The descendants of the original immigrants to Malaysia from China are referred to as Nyonya. There are other groups of Chinese who immigrated later, and their food is different from Nyonya food, the latter focusing more on fresh ingredients and combining flavors. There is Chinese food, and then there is Nyonya food. Make sure to try them both.
Because of the Tamil culture, there is lots of Indian food to be discovered in KL. The Tamil are from southern India, and the food is different from most of the Indian cuisine typical Westerners have sampled. Though, you’ll find plenty of that, too. Make sure to try some roti tisu in a mamak.
As this is a large, modern, very commercial city, you’ll also find plenty of Western restaurants in case you need a taste of home. Besides the standard fast food places, you’ll also find restaurants like Chili’s, Pizza Hut, Kenny Rogers Roasters, Baskin-Robbins, and even Godiva chocolate stores. Just don’t expect these to be very cheap. You’ll experience Western prices or higher.
While in KL, I highly recommend taking Food Tour Malaysia’s street food tour. They offer a lunchtime “food walk” tour, but the nighttime street food tour (called “off the eaten track”) gives you cultural insights that shouldn’t be missed. You’ll get to enjoy typical food and drinks from the dominant Malay, Chinese, and Tamil ethnic groups. Just make sure to eat light during the day and wear loose-fitting clothing at night. You’re going to need a lot of extra room. Even my normally very finicky son ate almost everything we were served, including seconds of some of it. I can’t think of a more potent recommendation!
There is so much to do in KL! The following are just a few suggestions. There is really a lot to do in this city.
The iconic Petronas Towers are a sight to behold. At the base of the towers is a large shopping center. Outside this shopping center you’ll find a small lake. It’s really worth visiting the towers at night when they are lit up. In addition to the gorgeous towers, there is a water show that takes place on the lake at night. The water is lit with a variety of colors and dances along with music. It’s really fun to watch and is free. My favorite price!
While you’re at the towers, it’s worth visiting the Petrosains Discovery Centre inside the shopping plaza. Additionally, you can take the underground walkway toward the convention center where you’ll find the Aquaria KLCC. This is one of the better small aquariums I’ve been to. Tigger enjoyed it so much he gave it an 8-9 helicopters out of 10 on his trademarked “toy flying helicopter” rating scale.
It can get quite hot in Asia, and especially so here. Because of the humid heat, you’ll find a lot to do in malls. Including at Berjaya Times Square, a good-sized mall with a New York City theme on some levels. Cruise around the indoor green area of Central Park before taking a trip through Tiny Taipei. But the real fun is upstairs where you’ll find an indoor amusement park, complete with a rollercoaster featuring a 360-degree loop.
And, of course, you’ll also find amazing cinemas featuring plenty of new-release films. Unless it’s a local film, the shows will be in English with Bahasa subtitles. Movie tickets and snacks are incredibly low priced (how does $7 USD sound for 2 tickets with advance-selected seats, 2 large drinks, an order of chicken nuggets, a hotdog, and a bag of popcorn?) and offer some impressive luxury seating arrangements.
KL has a really good metro and monorail system which makes getting around the city quite easy. There are also commuter trains leaving from KL Sentral to most of the areas right outside the city limits, and often beyond.
Taxis are metered and easy to hail. Most shopping centers, and of course transportation hubs, have a taxi desk where you pay in advance based on your destination. If you despise having to barter with taxis, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief in KL.
Airport tip: There are a few airports in KL: KLIA is the large, very modern international airport; LCCT is the low-cost carrier terminal which is quite a distance from KLIA; and Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport, which is another low-cost carrier terminal on the other side of town (accessible only by taxi or bus, but taking the train to Sentral first will save you money). Getting to KLIA and the LCCT is pretty easy by commuter train. It’s inexpensive and runs about every 20-minutes during peak times from KL Sentral. If you’re going to LCCT, however, you’ll have to get off the train at the penultimate stop and take a shuttle bus (included in your fare) to that terminal. Generally speaking, you can get from KL Sentral to the LCCT in as little as 45 minutes. Obviously, it’s wise to plan for a longer journey just in case. When deciding between the train or a taxi, make sure to account for KL’s very congested traffic.
You’ll find free WiFi in almost every establishment. Celcom also has a really great 3G network. Data plans are a bit on the pricey side, so keep that in mind if you’re a heavy user.
Make sure to bring an adapter for plugs. Malaysia has a unique outlet. Don’t worry if you forget to bring one, though. It’s rather easy to find universal adapters, and they’re inexpensive.
I think people tend to underestimate everything that KL has to offer and don’t plan enough time. We stayed for just over a week, and it really wasn’t enough time. There were still some great places we didn’t get to visit. I’d say give yourself at least a week if at all possible, but 2 weeks would be even better.
Kuala Lumpur just might surprise you, too.
Have you been to KL? What were your impressions?
January 14, 2014
Do you remember what the name of the movie theater was or where it was? That sounds amazing!
January 14, 2014
The one we went to was at Berjaya Times Square, but they’re all pretty much like that.
August 19, 2013
Hello there, I’m from Malaysia and I’m glad that you and your son enjoyed the lifestyles Kuala Lumpur.
Speaking about the food in Malaysia, I had to agree that our food are tasty with different variety selections, and my favorites are the nasi lemak and roti canai. Had you try other local any Chinese or Indian food during your visit to KL?
I had to agree with you that even for a 1-week plus visit in KL is certainly not enough to cover up the entire attractions and places that is a must for visiting. Are you guys will be visiting Malaysia soon? I don’t mind to spend my free time to give you and your son a fun tour of attractions in KL.
August 20, 2013
Yep, we had Chinese and Indian while there. It was quite good. Looking forward to eating there again.
July 5, 2013
We spent almost 6 weeks in KL, mostly working in a shared workspace but we did see a lot of the city. KL is not our favorite city in the whole world but we do love it, in a strange way.
Our host was a very politically involved German woman and she really got us involved in KL. We were there during election time. The whole city was buzzing with anticipation, which was great to see. I think this added to why we love KL, we saw its people go through ups and downs.
For us, KL is a city full of memories, but it’s no Bangkok. We fell in love with Bangkok and we went back there three times already. Not sure if we will go back to KL.
July 5, 2013
Isn’t my favorite in the whole world either, but I did enjoy it quite a bit.
That must’ve been something to be there during the elections! WOW!
June 7, 2013
Hey, I’m from Malaysia and currently living in kl. I’m glad that you loved our country and at the same time I feel sorry about your dissappointment while having holiday in kl.
Kl is no doubt a business district more than a tourist area, although there are still quite a number of things to do and see, but longer stay would probably not recommended. Most visitors to kl will also visit the nearby states, if you don’t mind a little bit of traveling, batu caves, kampung Kuantan, bukit tinggi, genting highlands, Cameron highlands and Melaka city are some of the places that are worth more of your time.
If you still prefer to explore more in kl, Chinese and Indian temples, historical monuments, shopping in major shopping malls, Chinatown are a few more attractions that should be able to kill your time. For nightlife, bukit bintang is a must go area.
Hope you enjoy your stay during your next visit:)
June 7, 2013
I think you misunderstood, Simon. We really liked KL and felt like we needed more time to explore it because we enjoyed it so much! There is a lot to do, and I think most people only plan on a few days, when really there’s much more to do than they might imagine.
September 10, 2013
I believe Simon didn’t read what you’ve written Talon. If he spend some 9 minutes reading it till the end, he’ll realize that you actually enjoyed KL.
September 12, 2013
June 6, 2013
I’m impressed by the number of things you managed to do in such a short period of time. Kuala Lumpur is an amazing place and looks so stunning at night, especially those two huge towers :). As for Malaysian food, I can’t wait to experience it again! It’s like a mixture of Khmer and Chinese cuisine for me, loooove it!
June 6, 2013
And I felt like we didn’t really do all that much. LOL
Malaysian food is so darn good!
June 4, 2013
We had a very different response to KL than you did, at least initially! We had met up with some friends before visiting who had been really underwhelmed and disappointed in the city, so we rolled up mildly trepidatious. Unfortunately, our first visit went similarly to theirs, perhaps in part because we were located in the wrong district which made getting around a real pain and we just felt like we couldn’t get a good handle on the city. We left having only done a fraction of the things we thought we would, and wary about returning.
However, the second time was the charm and we enjoyed our 2nd visit SO much more than the first. Maybe it’s because we already knew what to expect or because familiarity breeds affection… either way, we really enjoyed our second visit and found ourselves way more at ease, and really enjoyed the activities we attempted the second time around. KL still isn’t my favorite big Asian city, and definitely not my favorite Malaysian city, but it grew on me.
July 5, 2013
Isn’t it funny how different areas can get such a different reaction from people. Bangkok was like your KL experience for me. The 1st time was blech! The 2nd time I thought, yeah I could handle spending more time here.