Kuala Lumpur, usually referred to as “KL”, is the capital and largest city in Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur also serves as Malaysia’s cultural and commercial center. It is common to see pictures of the city depicted with the famous Petronas Twin Towers, a symbol of the city, soaring against the skyline.
Kuala Lumpur is an Asian tiger that roars: in almost 150 years, it has grown from nothing to a modern, bustling city. Take in its high-flying triumphs from the viewing deck of the world's tallest building, then dive down to explore its more traditional culture in the back lanes of Chinatown. It's a modern Asian city of gleaming skyscrapers, but it retains much of the local colour that has been wiped out in other Asian boom-cities such as Singapore. It has plenty of colonial buildings in its centre, a vibrant Chinatown with street vendors and night markets, and a bustling Little India.
It's hot and humid throughout Malaysia all year round, with overnight lows rarely sinking below 20°C (70°F) and maximums rising above 30°C (86°F) on most days, so whenever you go, take it easy. Rainfall is variable and falls all year round. It is rare for rain to fall all day; it usually confines itself to short-lived torrential downpours in the afternoons. The driest months tend to be June and July.
KL is hot and humid almost all the time. Although there is rain through the year, March to April and September to November are the wettest months. KL's wide ethnic diversity means that celebrations of one kind or another are usually going on somewhere around the city; these can make transport more crowded than usual. Public holidays are a surprisingly good time to be around, as most locals head for the beaches and hills.
Hawker food in KL is varied, cheap and generally delicious. In the Golden Triangle area the best outdoor hawker centre is BB Park, where a mouthwatering array of stalls sell just about everything from tandoori to Western grills and satay.
Jln Alor Eat Street
There's a fantastic choice on busy Jln Alor, which is lined with some of the best Chinese hawker stalls and restaurants in KL. Locals complain that the prices are on the high side, but it's still great value. Most stalls open around in the early evening and close late, although a few are open all day. Reliable operators include Wong Ah Wah and 1+1 at No. 21A.
Tel: 03 2719 8535
Ultra-sleek and with a bar adorned with silver fountains, Shook! is a spacious restaurant offering Italian, Chinese, Japanese and Western grill cuisine and live jazz music. You can see into the kitchens so you can check out all the chef's tricks as he roasts up Peking duck.
Tel: 03 2284 2880
Consistently good food is delivered at this Bangsar stalwart, where Asian favourites such as laksa mix it up with more European fare. After your meal move on to the ultra-smooth Bar Upstairs for a cigar and a cognac. There are four locations, including the Bar Upstairs, across Kuala Lumpur.
Tel: 03 2260 1373
This is an excellent restaurant for North and South Indian cuisine. The thalis (mixed platters of rice, curry, soup and bread) are always a favourite, the chicken tikka is chunky and plentiful; there's a range of vegetarian options, including creamy Indian-style veg, and service is good.
Tel: 03 2078 5909
This relaxed gay bar offers up a range of different theme nights from retro tracks on Wednesday to Sunday's all-night happy hour. Catch the breeze on their spacious balcony overlooking the Klang River. On Saturday night they open up the 2nd floor disco which will quickly become an overspilling mass of rhythm and dance.
Tel: 03 2282 7168
The Roof is a popular destination, one of the large number of bars crowded into the Bangsar area south of the city centre. Three storeys high, with wrought-iron balconies, this is a great place for people-watching while drinking imported wine and nibbling on oysters.
Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre
Tel: 03 4047 9010
Lots of interesting work is getting a stage at the new performing arts complex set in a lovely landscaped park in the north of the city. There's a cafe and a casual Japanese restaurant next to the Sentul Park Koi Centre, a breeding facility for koi carp.
Dewan Filharmonik Petronas
Tel: 03 2051 7007
Home of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, this state-of-the-art venue is music to the eyes and the ears. Come here to dip into some classical music, some international jazz or some traditional Malaysian sounds.
No Black Tie
Tel: 03 2142 3737
A classical concert pianist runs this small but chic bar and live music venue - the stage is hidden behind the curtain to the rear; when concerts are held (usually Fri & Sat nights) there's a cover charge. Japanese-style nibbles accompany the drinks.
Tiffin Bay/Tiff's Jazz Lounge
Tel: 03 2782 3870
The extraordinary decor of this eye-catching place brings to mind the Mad Hatter's tea party - lampshade stands made from piles of crockery and clashing fabric-covered seating. A great place for your own tea party - but head back again in the evening when the laser lights come on and a good jazz band strikes up.
Mid Valley Megamall
Tel: 03 2938 3333
This colossal complex is indeed mega and probably the best one-stop shopping, dining and entertainment experience in KL. There are 300 stores, an 18-screen cinema, a bowling alley, Carrefour hypermarket and a huge food court. The new KL Komuter Mid-Valley station makes getting here a cinch. There's also a free shuttle bus to Bangsar station.
Tel: 03 2274 6542
The crowded Central Market is housed in a cavernous Art Deco building. It's easy to spend an hour or more wandering around the various craft outlets, which sell souvenirs, clothes and jewellery, Asian artefacts and antiques. They can be overpriced for the quality of goods on offer, so use your bargaining skills.
Kompleks Budaya Kraf
Tel: 03 2162 7533
A highlight of this large handicrafts complex, which stocks a large variety of locally produced batiks, carved wooden artefacts, pewter utensils, woven baskets, furniture, glassware and ceramics is a chance to meet the craftsmen and artists in the surrounding gardens where you find their Art Colony.
Tel: 03 2382 2828
Yet another reason for heading to the KLCC is this fine shopping complex at the foot of the Petronas Towers; it's strong on both local and international brands and is a great place to treat the kids at a wide range of toy shops.
Set in a grove of palm trees, the Masjid Jamek is KL's most delightful mosque. Built in 1907, the mosque is a tranquil creation of onion domes and minarets of layered pink and cream bricks; it looks its best at sunset. Dress appropriately (covered limbs, and headscarves for women).
Menara Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03 2020 5448
At the western edge of the Golden Triangle area is the impressive Menara Kuala Lumpur (KL Tower), one of the tallest telecommunications towers in the world. For a price, and after a security check, visitors can ride the lift to the viewing deck and check out the superb panorama of the city.
Islamic Arts Museum
Tel: 03 2274 2020
This spacious, dazzlingly white building incorporates several domes and other Islamic architectural features. The extensive collections are well labelled. On the 3rd level are scale models of the world's most famous mosques and a full-scale reconstruction of an ornate Muslim room of the Ottoman Empire.
Sri Mahamariamman Temple
Fronted by a marvellous gate-tower, the Sri Mahamariamman Temple is KL's principal Hindu temple, a large and ornate South-Indian Hindu shrine dating to 1873. Vibrantly colourful, the temple houses a large silver chariot that is taken out and paraded to the Batu Caves during the annual Thaipusam festival. Leave your shoes at the entrance.
Thean Hou Temple
Tel: 03 2274 7088
The multi-layered and highly ornate Thean Hou Temple is one of the most visually impressive in Malaysia. It's dedicated to the Heavenly Mother, Thean Hou. Her statue takes centre stage in the main hall, with Guanyin (the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy) on her right and Shuiwei Shengniang (the Goddess of the Waterfront) to her left.
These 92-hectare manicured gardens lie west of Merdeka Square and were once home to the ranking British official. There's plenty to keep you amused, including a butterfly park, planetarium, insect museum, walk-in aviary, orchid garden and hibiscus garden. You can also hire boats on Tasik Perdana (Premier Lake).
Tel: 03 2331 8080
Rising 451.9m (1482ft) above KL, the 88-storey Petronas Towers - currently the world's second tallest building - was completed in 1998 at a cost of $US1.9 billion. The towers' floor plan is based on an eight-sided star that echoes the arabesque patterns of Islamic art.
National Art Gallery
Tel: 03 4025 4990
The National Art Gallery has a permanent collection of work by contemporary Malaysian artists, and rotating exhibitions of Asian and international art, including photography. The gallery also conducts symposiums and art classes for kids.
Tel: 03 2692 6270
With its famous old planters cafe and bar downstairs, the Coliseum has a potent sense of colonial history. Rooms are huge and quiet, albeit without bathrooms (some rooms have sinks), and come with ancient electric switches, tables and chairs, high ceilings and wardrobes. This atmospheric hotel is a KL institution.
Tel: 03 2072 33333
Right in the heart of Chinatown is the comfortable Swiss-Inn, catering to European and Japanese tourists. On the side of the hotel that fronts busy Jln Petaling, there is an outdoor coffee shop with set menus, high teas and evening steamboat meals.
Set in a gorgeous old colonial building richly decorated with original features and ethnic chic (rattan furniture, woven rugs, coloured blinds), Le Village is a comfortable and easy-going establishment.
Malaysian Tourist Centre (MTC)
Tel: 03 2164 3929
Housed in a mansion built in 1935 for rubber and tin tycoon Eu Tong Seng, and almost a tourist attraction in its own right, this is KL's most useful tourist office; they host good cultural performances.
Just outside of town you can go swimming in a giant water theme park or explore mammoth cathedral-like limestone caves. KL has golf and tennis facilities, or for something different, you could take a craft class to learn the art of batik or pottery.
Work up a sweat power-walking up and down the landscaped hills of KL's vast Lake Gardens, just west of the central city area, or chug along strenuous forest trails at the jungle park run by the Forestry Research Institute (FRIM) 15km (9mi) northwest of downtown. There are good short walks here too, including a canopy walk across wooden bridges strung between the soaring tree tops. KL's Merdeka Square, Chinatown and Little India are all great places to wander around at leisure taking in the atmosphere and heritage buildings.
Renting boats on the Premier Lake in Lake Gardens is a popular weekend activity for locals and tourists alike. The gardens lie at the edge of central KL and are easily accessed by buses from Chinatown.
The large open air pool at Chin Woo Stadium next to Chinatown is a great place to cool off with a swim in the city centre. The waterslides and bubbling pools at the Desa and Sunway Lagoon Waterparks are huge fun for both children and adults.
The best-known attraction in the KL region is the enormous Batu Caves, just 15km (9mi) north of the city. The caves have both a natural and supernatural magnetism, as they are a sacred site for Hindus and a focal point for the annual Thaipusam rituals. The limestone caves at Templer Park 22km (14mi) north of KL are also good for exploring.
Golf is a popular pastime among KL's wealthier citizens, and this town has no shortage of golf courses. Non-members can play at the Royal Selangor Golf Club on weekends, and the Saujana and Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Clubs are also popular.
You can double up for tennis at the Bangsar Sports Complex, which also has squash and badminton facilities. Chin Woo Stadium at the National Sports Council Complex is another good place for tennis.
KL's ethnic mix means you can eat Malay food for breakfast, Chinese for lunch and Indian for dinner. In between you can snack on deliciously fresh tropical fruit. There's good-quality food to suit all budgets, ranging from hawker centres and coffee shops to fine dining at exclusive restaurants.
KL promotes itself as a shopping haven. Browsing in the street markets is atmospheric and unpredictable, a (mostly) pleasurable assault on the senses. If it all gets too much, it's time to head indoors to the shopping malls and department stores.
The numerous night markets scattered around the city are crowded and atmospheric, buzzing with the sounds of haggling and portable stereos pouring out Asian pop. When it's time to move on to indoor entertainment, the Golden Triangle and Bangsar areas are the places to head for bars and dancing.
Every accommodation option is available in KL, although the truly worthwhile budget place is rare. Hotels with Rumah Tumpangan signs in Malay are long-term boarding houses or offer a different type of customer service. There are plenty of luxury hotels primarily for business travellers.
With so many cultures and religions in Malaysia, there is quite an amazing number of occasions to celebrate. Although some of them have a fixed date each year, the Hindus, Muslims and Chinese all follow a lunar calendar, so the dates for many events vary year to year. Tourism Malaysia puts out biannual Calendar of Events sheets with specific dates and venues of various festivals and parades, but state tourist offices have more detailed listings.
The capital is a good venue for Malaysia's major holidays and festivals like Thaipusam (when devotees of Lord Subramaniam prove their faith by piercing their body parts with metal spikes and hooks), Chinese New Year and Deepavali (Festival of Lights, when tiny oil lamps are lit outside the homes of Hindu people to entice Lakshmi, goddess of wealth, inside).
City Day is 1 February, when KL commemorates becoming a federal territory. Celebrations take place at Tasik Perdana and Lake Titiwangsa gardens in the north of the city.In July, KL goes flower-crazy during the Flora Fest, with exhibitions and the international Floral Parade.
At midnight on 30 August, revellers crowd Merdeka Square (like Times Square on New Year's Eve) to celebrate National Day, the anniversary of Malaysia's independence in 1957. There are parades and festivities the next morning, usually at Commonwealth Stadium, but ask a tourist information office to be sure. For two weeks in September, KL celebrates Malaysia Fest (also called the Colours of Malaysia) with exhibits of traditional arts and special cultural performances around town. The October Shopping Carnival follows on its heels.
KL is arguably one of the safer Southeast Asian capitals, and most busy places are reasonably safe even at night. The odd pickpocketer is likely to be among a crowd; just keep your money close and be wary of any potential scams. While credit cards are easily safer than cash, don't readily give out your number to less than established places, as fraud is on the rise.
Kuala Lumpur International Airport, in all its monolithic glory, will be your welcome to the city if you fly in from overseas. These days Subang, the old airport, is used only for domestic runs. You can get to Singapore, Thailand and to destinations within Malaysia by train and bus.
The colossal new Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) is 75km (47mi) south of the city centre at Sepang. Two terminals are linked by a shuttle service and host all international arrivals and departures. Nearby is also the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCC-T) the base for budget airline Air Asia. From KLIA, the speedy KLIA Ekspres train will whisk you to KL Sentral(Central Station) downtown in 28 minutes. Taxis from the airport operate on a fixed-price coupon system and coupons are available in the arrival hall.
KL's main Puduraya bus station is just east of Chinatown. Buses from Puduraya go all over Peninsular Malaysia, including the east coast, and to Singapore and Thailand. Buses also run out of KL Sentral.
KL Sentral (Central Station) is the hub of Malaysia's national railway system, the privatised Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM). Daily long-distance services depart from KL Sentral to Butterworth, Wakaf Bharu (for Kota Bharu), Johor Bahru, Thailand and Singapore. The KTM information office in the main hall can advise on schedules.
The public transport system within KL is speedy, comfortable and uncomplicated. The city has made significant improvements to expressways and the rail network to reduce traffic congestion. While buses and city trains move huge numbers of people, travellers will probably find most joy with the fast and frequent Light Rail (LRT) and monorail.
Commuter trains leave from KL Sentral and mostly service suburbs seldom visited by travellers. Trains are not much good for getting to tourist sites, but they may be useful for day trips to Selangor and Negeri Sembilan states.
Taxis are a cheap and useful way to get around. Drivers are sometimes unwilling to use the meters - check with locals about going rates or simply get out and hail another cab. Once on your way, KL's confusing one-way systems may make you feel like you're going in circles and wonder whether the driver is ripping you off. Hold your tongue; the shortest distance between two points in KL is rarely a straight line.
240V 50Hz (RM)
Local Area Code: 03
1,800,000 with 62% Malay, 23% Chinese, 7% Indian, 8% other
Malay (official), known as Bahasa Malaysia, English, Tamil and Chinese
52% Muslim, 17% Buddhist, 12% Taoist, 8% Christian, 8% Hindu, 2% tribal
Malaysian Ringgit (RM)
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