These days, Kuala Lumpur is becoming people’s first impression of Asia, owing to the growth of airline connections from its well-appointed and high capacity airport facilities, its thriving economy, and the positive reputation that is preceding Malaysia in travel circles.
And what great first impression it is! KL, as it’s known by the locals, is a highly modern, efficient, and clean city, populated with people from a dizzying array of ethnic backgrounds, living together in relative harmony. With all these cultures from various places comes a variety of religious traditions, ways of living and cuisines that will keep you occupied for days on end.
This city is at the centre of the rise of Malaysia and Southeast Asia in the early stages of 21st century, and the modernity and design of its buildings show it off well. If you thought that Asia is a dirty place filled with poor people, tropical diseases, and shady characters looking for a chance to separate you from your cash at soonest available opportunity, Kuala Lumpur will do a lot to change your mistaken assumptions, all while keeping you well-fed, entertained, and touched by the kindness of its people.
As mentioned before, Kuala Lumpur is home to people of many differing ethnicities and religions, so there is much to see in relation to cultural attractions. Start your sightseeing adventures in Chinatown. If you aren’t staying here (there are a lot of guesthouses, hostels, and budget hotels in this area), then take the RapidKL LRT to Pasar Seni.
The Sze Ya Temple, located at the corner of Jalan Tun H.S. Lee and Jalan Cheng Lock will grant a look into the Chinese Buddhist style of temple. This house of religion was erected in 1864, when this now great city was but a humble tin mining village on the muddy banks of the Klang River.
Not far from Sze Ya is the Sri Mahamariamman Hindu Temple, built in 1873, demolished in 1888, and re-built after the building that took its place was demolished in 1968. This ornate place of worship features an impressive gopuram at the entrance, setting the tone for what lies inside. A silver chariot, used during Thaipusam celebrations each year, is located within the inner sanctum of the temple. It cost 350,000 RM (>$100,000 USD) to make, and that was over 100 years ago!
Next, head back to Pasar Seni and transfer to the KTM Kommuter line and head to the Batu Caves, which is located at the northern end of the line. At the Batu Caves, you will find one of the largest statues of Lord Murugan in the world, towering over visitors at a vertigo-inducing 42 metres high! The caves themselves hold a variety of statues honouring various Hindu Gods, and the site of the Batu Caves is the epicentre for Thaipusam celebration each year, where devotees show their dedication to Hinduism by piercing their flesh with an assortment of skewers and spears … ouch!
Shopping + Skyscraper Sightseeing
With a rapidly rising middle class and abundant oil wealth, outstanding shopping experiences can be found all over Kuala Lumpur. In Chinatown, if you are looking for a place to pick up some new kicks, a novelty t-shirt, or some DVD’s/CD’s of questionable legality, the walking street at Jalan Petaling is where you’ll want to go. Wedged between Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock and Jalan Sultan, you can find all of these items, plus many more. Be prepared to haggle furiously though, as vendors will often quote a price that is ludicrously high to start. This crowded market also makes it easy for a pickpocket to nick you if you aren’t careful, so wallets in your front pockets guys!
The Central Market, located 5 minutes from Jalan Petaling, or a short stroll from the Pasar Seni LRT Station, is another excellent option. Located in indoor air-conditioned comfort, walk through either of the two levels, and pick yourself up a decorative sarong, a fine leather belt and then finish with a fast food, hawker court, or a restaurant meal from one of the many locations in the market.
If the ambiance of a modern shopping mall is what you crave, then hop on a RapidKL LRT train and head to KLCC. Here, you can get your obligatory shots of the Petronas Towers, and then head into Suria, the mall located at the base of the towers. If you have got cash to flash, you’ll find many shiny things to redeem it for here. From Louis Vuitton to Prada, indulge your pricey passion for fashion here!
However, if you are on a slightly limited budget, and found the 90 RM ($30) fee to go up to the sky bridge (not even halfway up the tower complex!) a little excessive, then head to the equally impressive KL Tower. Here, you can ascend to 335 metres above Kuala Lumpur for much more affordable fee of 38RM (just under $13 USD), and get a better view of the city below you.
Being the capital of a country with such a great diversity of excellent cuisine, it is difficult to know what or where to eat. In general, check out the Chinese hawker food courts for lots of tasty noodle (mee) and rice (nasi) dishes, or for anything made with pork. As you may imagine, Chinatown is your best bet for finding these establishments. Indian restaurants and hawker courts are at their best in Brickfields, where the greatest concentrations of Indian people exists in KL. Be sure to try a banana leaf restaurant, as it is a truly unique experience!