The phrase multicultural doesn’t even begin to sum up Malaysia’s fascinating capital. Just 150 years old, it’s a remarkable melting pot of cultures, religions, architecture and civilisations. And, with 66 shopping malls in Kuala Lumpur alone, this is the perfect place to restock your backpacker wardrobe and get a little taste of luxury before you move on to your next destination…
Places to Stay in Kuala Lumpur
- Chinatown: Arguably one of the most visited places in Kuala Lumpur is the bustling Chinatown. Here you can haggle over the price of anything, from Chinese herbs to cheap rooms. Petaling Street is the main market area, so wander a few minutes from here and you’re bound to find a place to sleep, before returning for a bowl of delicious Chinese Noodles. Cheap digs include the Grocer’s Inn, Monkee Inn and Transit Point B & B. While slightly more expensive but worth the upgrade, you may like to try the Explorers Inn, Reggae Guesthouse and the super clean Back Home Guesthouse.
- Jalan Pudu Lama: This area used to be a lot busier before the main Puduraya Bus Station moved location – as backpackers trudging off the bus from Singapore or Penang found themselves a cheap bed here. Casavilla Lodge with its friendly staff has perhaps the cheapest beds in town and up the road, the welcoming Step Inn is another good choice for budget travellers.
- Changkat Bintang Area / Tengkat Tong Shin: Changkat Bintang is one of the cities main hotspot night areas for expats and KL yuppies with a street lined with cocktail bars, pubs and restaurants… girls make sure you don’t miss ladies night on a Wednesday, where you can drink cocktails for FREE, yes you heard it, not buy one get one free, not half-price, but FREE! Just a 2-minute walk from here down Tengkat Tong Shin you will find many many hostels, some of which are in the flashpacker bracket such as Number 8 Guesthouse, Anggun Boutique Guesthouse and the cute Tropical Guesthouse. Round the corner you will also find the trendy Rainforest Guesthouse and Tiara Guesthouse on Jalan Mesui… a little pricier
- The Golden Triangle: Found surrounding the impressive Petronas Towers, this is the area to stay if you’re a true flashpacker! Here you can find some of the cheapest five star hotels in the World, so if you’ve got cash to splash, take advantage here at only $100-$130 a night!
- Brickfields: Host to KL’s main train station, the atmospheric Brickfields (otherwise known as Little India) is a sari shopping mecca with great banana leaf rice restaurants and Bollywood DVD stores aplenty. It’s also an up and coming location for backpackers to stay, near to transport links, cheaper and more centrally located than ChinaTown. Try the Central Lodge Traveller’s Guesthouse. And it goes without saying that Brickfields is the place to be during the colourful Hindu festival, Deepavali, when the atmosphere picks up and the area really comes alive.
Things to Do in Kuala Lumpur
- Eat Chinese Noodle Soup down a dingy alleyway: Crawl out of bed at 7.30am and grab yourself a bowl of steaming noodle soup down one of the many atmospheric alleyways. A slightly more authentic asian breakfast than your usual fruit, muesli, yoghurt or bagel!
- See the Petronas Towers by Night: Catch a taxi to the famous Petronas Towers to see them in all their glory at night fall. Two shimmering points reaching 90 metres into the skies, they’re the Head Quarters of the national oil company of Malaysia and a dazzling tribute to the rapid success and growth of this proud young city. They held the top spot as the tallest buildings in the world for six years, before Tapei 101 was built in 2004. If you only get chance for one ‘sight see’ in Malaysia, make it this.
Kuala Lumpur’s impressive Petronas Towers, illuminated at night
- Visit the Batu Caves: Catch a bus outside the city to visit the Batu Caves, one of the most significant Hindu sites in the whole of Asia. The caves are guarded by a huge gold statue of the Hindu God, Lord Murugan (Shiva’s son) to whom the sacred site is dedicated. The caves are 13km away and it takes about an hour to get there by bus. Enjoy the rest, you’ll need all your energy to climb the 272 steps to the top! Once every year, during October/November time, it is here at the Batu Caves that you can witness the spectacular Thaipusam Festival, where millions of followers flock to give penance to Lord Murugan, some taking on trance-like states and performing gruesome acts of devotion in honour of the Hindu Lord.
- Take a Trip to Malaysia’s National Mosque: Known as Masjid Negara, prepare to get even hotter as you don long purple saris to wear here. The central dome is open only to Muslims, but you can look from the outside and you are welcome to take photos. The central dome itself is really impressive and consists of an 18 pointed star symbolising the 13 states of Malaysia and the 5 pillars of Islam.
Malaysia’s colourful National Mosque, Masjid Negara
- Explore the City by Foot: There’s no better way to get to know a city than traipsing around it in yer flip-flops. In particular, KL turns out to be an interesting city to explore on foot as it changes literally every 100 metres. Countless cultures can be encountered in a matter of minutes… Walk down a road with a store selling Bollywood films, a Nepalese knife vendor, glittery paintings of Jesus, a Chinese tea vendor, a chic gourmet coffee shop. Where am I again?
- Visit a Chinese Temple to have your Fortune told: Visit a Chinese Temple to get your fortune told by a wise old Chinese woman. The tradition here is to shake a pot full of sticks (known as ‘Chieng Tung’) until one falls out. The number stick that falls out depicts significant meaning for you and you take a piece of paper that corresponds to your number. If you are happy with your providence, (or even if you are not!) you then crawl under a line of tables in order to make the fortune come true! Chinese New Year is the most exciting time to visit a Chinese Temple as you will witness an array of special rituals taking place, of which the worshippers are more than happy to have you join in.
- Party the night away: If you’re not already sick of hearing Bob Marley on repeat, head to the popular Reggae Bar in Chinatown for a night of beers, friends and fun. While the beers aren’t super cheap, (where are they cheap in KL?) this is arguably the best place in the city to find travel buddies. Or if you’re feeling swish head to Changkat Bintang to continue the night’s revelries…
- You can grab cheap flights into Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) from anywhere else in Asia via AirAsia, Cebu Pacific or Tiger Airways. These fly into the brand new Low Cost Carrier Terminal, which is a RM2.50 bus ride away from the main terminal, from which frequent buses and trains run into the city (it takes about two hours to get to the city in rush hour!)
Top Tip: Beware of touts at the airport, they will be more than happy to organise you a taxi to your desired destination, but you will pay over the odds for it!
- If you’re arriving by road, then head across the Thailand-Malaysia border at Bukit Kayu Hitam and drive along the North-South Expressway. Kuala Lumpur lies midway along the road.
- Long distance buses to Kuala Lumpur are easy to find, arriving into many bus stations across the city. Most as serviced well by public transport, to get you to your final destination within this bustling capital.
Where to go next?
- Kuala Selangor: Famous for it’s synchronised fireflies, just an hours drive northwest from Kuala Lumpur where the river joins the sea. It’s therefore also famous for it’s delicious fresh seafood restaurants. Selangor Bus No. 141 leaves every half hour from the Medan Pasar Bus Hub.
- Melaka: A must visit, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is seeped with history and culture to soak up and explore. Found on the West Coast of Peninsular Malaysia, buses leave KL from the brand new bus terminal Bersepadu Selatan.
- The Cameron Highlands: 200km from Kuala Lumpur, in the Highlands you will be sure to find a cooler climate and spectacular scenery. Standing at 6,666 feet above sea level, it is the highest point in Malaysia accessible by car… once a cool getaway for the English colonial gentry. It is also the area where famous Thai silk mogul, Jim Thompson mysteriously went missing…
- Singapore: Renowned as the most expensive city in Southeast Asia, Singapore makes a great place to relax (in the least Asian of Asian cities) before heading onto your next backpacking destination. Grab a cheap flight from KLIA or hop on one of the many buses which depart from all over the city. It is a mere five hour bus ride to Singapore from KL.
- Indonesia: The largest archipelago in the world, Indonesia shares land borders with Malaysia so is an obvious onwards step. Only one third of it’s islands are inhabited, gaining it a reputation as the Sleeping Giant of Southeast Asia. While there is a land border, you can also travel to Indonesia by ferry or plane and most Western travellers can get a VISA on arrival for around $25. Get a 5-hour ferry from Penang to arrive in Sumatra’s bustling city Medan to begin your wild Sumatran adventure! Slightly more off the beaten track territory…