Beginning life as a tin mining centre in the early 19th century, today Kuala Lumpur (the ‘muddy confluence’ of the Gombak and Klang rivers), the capital city of Malaysia, is one of the vibrant and modern cities of South Asia. The local Malay culture, influenced over time by the Chinese, the British and Indians, has helped Kuala Lumpur, popularly known as KL, grow into a pleasant cosmopolitan city. First by opening the country to global business ventures and then by hosting several famous sporting events, the city has been quick to rise up the global attraction chart. Apart from its architecturally splendid buildings, such as Petronas Twin Towers and the Menara Kuala Lumpur, KL is also a shoppers’ delight with a large number of high-end malls.
Encouraged by KL’s popularity as a shopping destination, three shopping carnivals are held annually. The Malaysia Grand Prix Sale in March-April coincides with the Malaysian Formula 1 Grand Prix race. The Malaysia Mega Sale Carnival is held from June to September while the Year-end Sale is held between November and January. The run-up to the Chinese New Year also sees malls and shopping outlets offering whopping discounts.
While the city is a typical example of a modern flourishing business centre, hiding in its folds are two interesting blocks, Chinatown and Little India, each preserving the characteristics of the respective countries.
Malaysia can be visited round the year. Festivals, traditional and modern, are also a good time to visit, especially during Ramadan, Chinese New Year, Deepavali and Christmas.
Indians need a visa to enter Malaysia. Before applying, ensure that your passport is valid for at least six months beyond the length of stay in Malaysia. A single entry visa is valid for three months from the date of issue. You can apply online for an eVisa, where each application can be used only once and the visa holder is entitled for a maximum stay of 30 days. Note: The visa-free programme under the Electronic Travel Registration and Information (eNTRI) to Indian nationals visiting Malaysia has been extended until March 31, 2018. Details of all visa application procedures and forms are available on imi.gov.my.
Malaysia Airlines, Air Asia and Malindo Air operate direct flights between India and Kuala Lumpur. KL is connected by direct flights with Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai.
The non-stop KLIA Ekspres train (kliaekspres.com) goes from KL International Airport (KLIA) to the city (KL Sentral) in just 28 minutes. KLIA Transit, a commuter train (kliaekspres.com) runs between KLIA and KL Sentral with three quick stops at Salak Tinggi, Putrajaya and Cyberjaya, and Bandar Tasik Selatan. Note: A direct ticket from airport to city centre is relatively costly. Many advice taking the Transit train to Putrajaya/Cyberjaya and then another train to KL Sentral. Buses are available from the Main Terminal (Airport Coach; airportcoach.com.my) and may take one hour or more (depending on traffic conditions) to reach the city. Star Shuttle bus (starwira.com) runs from KLIA to Kota Raya and Pudu Raya, both near KL’s Chinatown.
Malaysia can also be reached by road and rail from Thailand and Singapore. But many travellers have given negative reviews of the rail service between Thailand and Malaysia. KL is nearly seven hours’ train journey from Singapore. Three trains run between Singapore (Woodlands) and Kuala Lumpur (KL Sentral) — Ekspres Rakyat, Ekspres Sinaran Selatan, and Senandung Sutera (overnight train). Note: Many travellers suggest travelling to Johor Bahru Sentral (JB Sentral; in Malaysia, on the border with Singapore) from Woodlands and buying an onward ticket to KL, which costs much less than a direct Singapore-KL train ticket.
What to See & Do
Kuala Lumpur and its neighbourhoods tuck in a lot of attractions. Hence if you are on a short visit, draw up an itinerary before arriving. Most of the key attractions are in easy proximity of train (LRT/MRT/Monorail/KTM Commuter) stations and bus (Rapid KL/Go KL) stops. A convenient option is the KL Hop-On Hop-Off bus (myhoponhopoff.com) that has 23 stops covering more than 70 attractions. Tickets, of 24- and 48-hour duration, can be purchased in the bus, online, through authorised agents and hotels, and KL Hop-On Hop-Off counters.
You may begin with an early morning trip to Batu caves, a limestone outcrop north of Kuala Lumpur. A steep flight of 272 steps lead to the Hindu temple (dedicated to Lord Murugan) and a panoramic view. Thaipusam in January is the biggest festival. There are eateries at the base of the hill selling Dosa, Idli, etc. On the way back you can stop at the Batik Factory and the Royal Selangor Pewter Factory (intl.royalselangor.com).
Topping the list of must-sees in KL are the Menara KL Tower and the Petronas Twin Towers.
The 421-metre high Menara KL Tower, atop Bukit Nanas (Pineapple Hill) Forest Reserve, is instantly recognisable due to its shining tower. Its viewing deck, perched at 276 metres, offers a panoramic view of the city. You may also go up to The Sky Deck (at 421 metres) and Sky Box. You can buy single/combined tickets in advance (menarakl.com.my). The KL Tower is open on all days, from 9am to 10pm.
The Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC), not to be confused with the traditional city centre, is a multipurpose development area, Part of the KL Golden triangle, it is home to the Petronas Twin Towers, KLCC Convention Centre, the Suria KLCC Mall and the KLCC Park.
Shining bright against Kuala Lumpur’s skyline are the 88-story Petronas Twin Towers, the symbol of modern KL, soaring to 451.9 metres. Take an elevator ride to the 58 metre-long Skybridge, said to be the world’s highest two-story bridge, joined at the 41st and 42nd floors (175m above street level). You can also go up to Level 86 for panoramic views of KL. Open from 9am to 9pm, Tuesday to Sunday (closed 1.00 pm - 2.30 pm on Fridays), it remains closed on Mondays and select holidays. A limited number of tickets are sold from 8.30am (on a first come, first served basis) at the Concourse. Advance booking (petronastwintowers.com.my) recommended to avoid long queues.
At first glance, KL seems to take pride in its cutting-edge modern architecture. But take a closer look and you will find that the city has a fair number of old buildings, including mosques and temples, lovingly preserved.
Take a tour of the Merdeka Square (Dataran Merdeka), lying opposite another iconic landmark, the Sultan Abdul Samad Building (a grand Moorish building dating back to 1897). It was at the Square (a landscaped park) that the British Union Flag was lowered and the Malayan flag raised at the stroke of midnight of August 31, 1957. The Old Railway Station is a neo-Moorish structure dating back to 1910). Located near Merdeka Square is the Masjid Jamek (built in 1909) reflects Mughal influences.
Of the Hindu temples, the Sri Mahamariamman Temple with its ornate ‘gopuram’ is much visited. Of the Chinese temples, you may visit the six-tier Thean Hou Buddhist Temple, Chan See Shu Yuen Temple of Chinatown, and the Kuan Ti Temple (a Taoist shrine) also in Chinatown.
The Muzium Negara or the National Museum (muziumnegara.gov.my), housed in a building featuring traditional Malay architecture, is open every day (9am to 6pm), except during the first day of Aidil Fitri (Eid-ul-Fitr) and Aidil Adha (Eid-Ul-Adha).
If you are travelling with your family or need a break from the glass and steel facades, then head for some of the parks, the zoo and other attractions. The Perdana Botanical Gardens (the Lake Gardens), at the edge of the city, is home to the the KL Bird Park (klbirdpark.com), butterfly park, an orchid garden and a deer park. Adjacent to the twin towers is the landscaped KLCC Park which features a jogging track, walking paths, a water fountain and a wading pool for children. Aquaria KLCC (aquariaklcc.com) is an oceanarium with over 5,000 different exhibits of aquatic and land-bound creatures over a sprawling 60,000 square feet area.
If you want to know what old Malay settlements looked like, then opt for the Jalan-Jalan@Kampung Bharu guided tour package (Tel: 603-2698 0332; advance registration recommended; otherwise registration begins 15 minutes prior to walk) by Kuala Lumpur Tourism Bureau. You will be taken through one of the oldest Malay settlements in the city, Kampung Bharu. The free guided walk is conducted every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday from 4.30 pm to 7 pm.
A visit to KL is never complete without visiting its traditional shopping zones, especially the one in Chinatown, and the glitzy malls. The older Central Market (open 10 am to 10 pm) deserves a visit too. Running alongside the main market building is the Kasturi Walk (open 10.30 am and 10.30pm) an outdoor but covered lane lined with kiosks and stalls. Apart from Suria KLCC (suriaklcc.com.my), you can visit Midvalley Mega Mall and 1 Utama Shopping Centre. Part of the KL Golden Triangle, Bukit Bintang is known for its shopping zones, cafes and open-air dining outlets. Key attractions here include Berjaya Plaza, Berjaya Times Square, Bukit Bintang Plaza, Imbi Plaza, Kuala Lumpur Plaza, Lot 10, Low Yat Plaza, Pavilion KL, Starhill Plaza and Sungei Wang Plaza. Petaling Jaya and Subang Jaya, just outside town, are also popular for their malls such as Sunway Pyramid and Empire Subang, respectively.
For a short excursion, you can visit the Genting Highlands, about 45km drive from Kuala Lumpur. Located at the top of a hill, often wrapped in clouds. It is an integrated resort city under Resorts World Genting (rwgenting.com). Come here for its amusement parks, casino, high-end hotels and gourmet restaurants, and shopping mall. You can also go on nature trails in the hillside. Getting to the hill top in the Awana Skyway (a combination of standard and glass-bottom gondolas) is fun, with a panoramic view of the resort city.
Where to Eat & Drink
Although Kuala Lumpur's food trail is not as famous as those of its neighbours Thailand or Singapore, it is equally interesting. A melting pot of Malay, Chinese and Indian culture, it has a unique cuisine that is a mix of all three. Its global food scenario is no less exciting. Popular Malaysian dishes include satay, nasi lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk with anchovies and chilli paste), rendang, roti canai, murtabak, laksa, chicken rice, bak kut the (stewed pork ribs), and fried kuey teow.
The traditional Kedai Mamak (curry houses), usually run by Indian Muslims, are the places to go for local cuisine, especially roti canai, dhal and curry sauce, and the frothy tea or the teh tarik.
KL’s Chinatown, especially Petaling Street (also a popular bargain shopping zone), is a great place to explore if you are looking for street food. In the evening, you will find stalls sprouting all over the place. During the Kampung Bharu guided walk, you may try out Malay food such as bubor lambok (spiced rice porridge), kuih-muih (traditional cakes and sweets) and the famous Nasi Lemak Antarabangsa.
The Bangsar neighbourhood has high-end restaurants offering Western cuisine. The Golden Triangle is known for its vibrant nightlife. Neon-lit nightclubs dot the Bintang area.
Besides, the food courts of shopping malls and restaurants attached to high-end hotels have a plethora of options.
Where to Stay
Kuala Lumpur has plenty of options, ranging from budget hotels and guest houses to luxury and star hotels. But budget to mid-budget may be deficient in various ways. While planning, check deals and offers by the luxury hotels. If want to stay near the popular attractions, then look for accommodation in the KLCC or the Chinatown. Those keen to explore the nightlife, may head to Bukit Bintang. For a comprehensive list of hotels, check kl-hotels.com, booking.com, and airbnb.com.
For more information on Kuala Lumpu, visit malaysia.travel