After a semester of rural China, incivility, and the overall sense of chaos that is part of living in China, Kuala Lumpur (KL) was a welcome change! Jess and I had a month off from teaching (Chinese New Years holiday) and we headed to SE Asia.
We caught a night flight out of Xi’an and arrived in KL at 7:05 in the morning. Our senses instantly went into overload. The scent of the ocean replaced the smell of garbage, pollution, and shit. Smoggy, grey skies disappeared and made way for vast blue skies and fresh air. People didn’t shove and elbow their way into trains; in fact they were very cognizant and polite about everyone’s space.
KL was once a British colony and gained their independence in 1957. As a result, the city has an exciting blend of Muslims and Hindus, an extremely diverse ethnicity (blacks, whites and browns casually walk the streets without a second glance) and colonial age architecture balanced with an impressively skyline to rival any modern city.
Spend 3-4 days in KL. It is a city to be absorbed more than a city to be checked off. KL can be best seen through it’s coffee shops, parks, and streets. Jump into it and allow yourself to get lost! While you’re doing that, here are a couple points in the city worth aiming at, while you wander the streets:
The “GoKL City Bus” is free! Get a map at a train station and use these busses. There are 4 main routes, they can take you anywhere in the city that you want to go (for the Batu Caves you will have to take the Komuter Train), and best of all they are free!
Things to do:
1. Batu Caves (& Thaipusam)
Jess and I were super lucky in that we landed in KL during the Thaipusam Festival (Full Moon in February). This is the largest Hindu Festival in the world and 1.6 million people flock to the Batu Caves (2015) to witness devout Hindus pierce their bodies, dance, and carry heavy offerings up the steps to the Batu Caves.
The Batu Caves are an absolute must regardless of the time of year. The caves are super cool and worth visiting. 272 steps take you high up the mountain and the caves that await you are inconceivably large and impressive. There are tons of street vendors and people selling things before you get to the caves as well, which make good places to stop and get water or buy cheap souvenirs.
2. Petronas Twin Towers (& KL Tower)
Paying a crazy amount of money to go up a building never seems worth it too me. I wouldn’t recommend going up the Petronas Towers for the simple fact that they are expensive and the coolest thing in the city will be the only thing you can’t see … the Petronas Towers! Instead, just walk around and enjoy the true awe of the buildings from the outside. They are worth going up to the base of them … the architecture is fantastic!
If you really want to pay to go to the top of a tower, go up the KL Tower instead. It’s 49 RM (roughly $13.50 USD) and you will get a great scenic picture along with the Petronas Towers.
3. Merdeka Square
I loved this square. It is a laid back area within the city and a great place to people watch. When I was there, skateboarders, bikers, and walkers were all inter-mingling peacefully along the walkways and stairs. Awesome British architecture is all around; combined with a lively atmosphere! I’d highly recommend strolling to Merdeka Square for 15-30 mins.
4. Tun Abdul Razak Heritage Park
The park is a great place to meander around and kill a few hours. It’s relaxing and has lakes, trails, and even a little man-made waterfall. There are a lot of different options within the park and the surrounding area if you’re willing to spend a bit extra (fairly high entrance prices). Amongst these extras are: The Butterfly Museum, Planetarium, and a couple museums. Don’t expect much and it serves as a relaxing, aesthetically pleasing park.
5. Little India / Little China
KL is big enough to attract foreigners from all over the world. As a result, they have decent minority sections worth visiting.
Little China is cool if you have never been to China. If you have been to China then it’s worth skipping. There are tons of mini street stores that are willing to barter with you. They have all the popular rip-off brands, gizmos, and electronics you can imagine. It’s also a great place to try some authentic (non-western style) Chinese food.
Little India is just okay. It is one street (about 2 blocks worth) and has some Indian restaurants and Indian shops. If you have nothing else to do it’s worth a visit, but it’s really not that impressive.
Like any large and modern city, KL has a respectable shopping district. You will find all the big names, foreign restaurants, and everything else associated with this area. Work your way to the “Pavilion” and you will have unlimited shopping … if you’re into that kinda thing.