Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia, is a vibrant, bustling cosmopolitan city with an interesting mix of old and new. When we arrived at night, my eyes were drawn to everything from the bright lights of the tall and glossy high-rises that make up KL’s skyline to the packed inner streets of downtown strung with red Chinese lanterns. One minute you’re walking past a luxury mall and the next you’ll see a string of street cafe shacks offering a variety of Asian cuisines. KL is a fascinating mix of cultures. There are signs everywhere in Malay and English. It seems English is the common language among a mix of people who live here, including Malay, Indian, and Chinese. Different neighborhoods of the city reflect these different cultures. We were fortunate to have a friend who lives in KL drive us around the city and show us some interesting things off the beaten path. There’s something surprising around every corner. I hope you enjoy this city as much as I did! Here are my top 6 experiences to have in KL:
1. TAKE IN A BIRD’S EYE VIEW OF THE CITY AT NIGHT
The 88-story Petronas Twin Towers were known as the tallest buildings in the world for six years. When you check in for your tour of the towers, you’ll be assigned a guide who will first take you up to the Skybridge – the midway point – then up to the observation deck on the 86th floor for a 360 degree view of the city and some awesome interactive displays and exhibits.
This is a must for anyone visiting KL and was a great introduction to the city. The lines can get pretty long to get into the towers, so I recommend booking tickets online in advance.
2. EXPLORE THE MYSTICAL BATU CAVES
If you’d like to venture out of the city, head out to Selangor to visit the famous Batu Caves, which houses a 100-year old Hindu temple shrine and attracts thousands of tourists and worshipers. The limestone formations on the interior of the caves are believed to be 400 million years old! There is no entrance fee, but there is a small fee to rent a sari for modesty if you’re wearing anything above knee-length or if your shoulders are bare.
Standing guard in front of the caves is an impressively large gold statue of a Hindu God. There are 273 brightly colored steps leading up to the entrance. It’s kind of steep, and many people find it challenging to make the climb, especially in really hot and humid weather. Apparently, that’s the point. It is believed that since it isn’t easy to enter heaven, the entrance to the temple should also be challenging. Many people take their time and make a few stops along the way to turn around and enjoy the incredible view of the KL skyline and to take photos of the cute monkeys jumping around trying to steal all your food.
Please be mindful of your voices inside the caves, as sound tends to echo rather loudly and disturb the people worshiping at the shrines. It’s a beautiful holy site, and it was a privilege to witness this part of the Hindu culture. Allow 2-3 hours for a nice visit that doesn’t feel too rushed.
As you leave the caves, you’ll see stalls with snacks and souvenirs, as well as artists who will design intricate henna tattoos on your hands. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get our Henna on!
3. VISIT THE ROYAL SELANGOR PEWTER FACTORY
I have to admit that I was a bit apprehensive about visiting a pewter factory (sounds boring, right?), but I was actually surprised at how cool it was! The visitor center had awesome artifacts and information about the history of the factory and Malaysia itself. It’s a big, modern building and the museum displays, artwork, and exhibits are state of the art and well-organized. At the start of the tour, we got welcome drinks served in pewter cups, which keep the drinks pretty cold. Later, we watched a woman hammering motifs into a pewter mug and she let us try it! It sure looks easy, but hammering designs on pewter is tricky and requires a lot of patience, precision, and talent.
Entrance to the factory and the guided tours are both free! At the end of the tour, they let you loose in the gift shop, where they sell all their pewter merchandise. I’m not much of a souvenir person, but they really do have some neat gifts there. I thought the small pewter animal figurine replicas that Malays used to use as currency in the old days were pretty cool! So were the coin trees, teapots, and jewelry. I thought the hour we spent there was well worth it.
4. SHOP TIL YOU DROP AROUND TOWN
If you’re a shopper, there are lots of options for you in KL, from the luxury shops in the KL City Center to the indoor and outdoor street markets in Chinatown. Central Market is an indoor market with various stalls like the traditional markets of the 1800s. They sell everything and anything. It has been named a landmark for Malaysian culture and heritage. Petaling St is a pedestrian street in the heart of Chinatown with shops that sell souvenirs, knock-offs, and delicious street food. I tried jack fruit for the first time and Apam Balik- a Malaysian peanut pancake. It’s kind of like a thick pancake stuffed with a sweet sugar crumb and roasted peanut filling and it’s sooooo good!! Like, I’m dying to go back to KL just to eat one right now, good.
5. GET A FISH PEDICURE
Eeek! Fish sucking on your feet! It’s the latest craze, and it’s cheap, quirky, and makes your feet feel super soft. At first, the feeling is quite jarring and a little painful, but then you get used to it. The fish don’t bite you, they just suck all the dead skin off your feet. It costs about $2 for 15 minutes. It’s weird, but I thought it was hilarious. Definitely checking this one off my bucket list!
6. DRINKS AT THE SKYBAR IN TRADERS HOTEL
Ok, so we splurged a little and stayed at the super swanky Traders Hotel–right across the park from the Petronas Twin Towers. I loved it! The views of the skyline from our room and from the Skybar were incredible!! We were so jet-lagged, but my friend and I ventured up to the Skybar at night to check out the scene: pumping dance music, flashing neon lights, the pool, the views, the lounge cushions, oh my. There were lots of interesting people. So cool, so hip, and definitely worth checking out for an evening out at least, but I highly recommend staying the night here because of its excellent service and location.
I loved KL! It’s definitely one of my favorite Asian cities. The people are so friendly, there’s a variety of ethnic foods and lots of opportunities for various cultural experiences. It’s kind of like visiting India, China, Malaysia, and some kind of futuristic utopia all-in-one! A huge shout out to my friend Chen-Ying for showing us around, encouraging us to try new foods, and for the laughs and good times. The secret is out, folks! KL is THE place to be.
I visited KL in November, but since the city has a temperate climate year-round, any time of year is great to visit this amazing city. Keep in mind that if you want to travel further afield in Malaysia, there are different climates on either side of the country at any given time. This website is a great resource for planning your trip to Malaysia. Don’t forget to pack your sunscreen and insect repellent. It’s super hot and super humid!