Kuala Lumpur: The Hidden Gem of Southeast Asia
When one thinks of Southeast Asia, they usually think of places like Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, countries like that.
Malaysia really doesn’t come to mind, due to it being overshadowed by the aforementioned places.
I’m here to tell you that it is VASTLY underrated. It’s a hidden gem.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Kuala Lumpur is the largest and most influential city in Malaysia. A population teaming with Malays, Chinese, Indians, and others from around the world, makes the city a melting pot of coexisting cultures that each preserves their own customs, traditions, and cuisines.
The mixture of ethnicities, ancient architecture and modern skyscrapers, and the mouthwatering food makes Kuala Lumpur a fantastic city to visit.
Getting there: your main point of entry will be Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL). If you’re already in the region, flights are incredibly cheap on airlines like Air Asia or Scoot. If you’re coming from the U.S, you can fly Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong.(see me my review on my experience)
Upon arrival, you have a plethora of options to utilize to get into the city. Options include the airport bus to KL Central Station for about 18 Malaysian Ringit(about $4.50 USD), taxis, or the KLIA express to KL Central Station.
Money: Malaysia uses the Malaysian Ringit. The current exchange rate is 1 Malaysian Ringit equals to 26 cents U.S. Unlike it’s neighbor Singapore, Malaysia is incredibly cheap. You can get a decent sized plate of food for less than 5 USD, and a 4 star hotel for literally 20 USD a night.
Weather: Kuala Lumpur is HOT all year. I went in March, and it was well above 90 during the day, and really humid at night.
Customs: Malaysia is a Muslim nation, so if you like pork, you’ll be out of luck. Be mindful of certain trains because some cars are dedicated to women and children only.
What to see and do:
Petronas Towers: nothing screams Kuala Lumpur more than the Petronas Towers. When I was a kid, I watched an episode of Megastructures about these towers. Malaysia wasn’t a well known country, and the Prime minister at the time wanted to change that. After watching it, it encompassed my love for architecture and engineering. I made it a mission to see them for myself when I got older.
Standing at the base of the towers, it dawned upon me that they are honestly more aesthetically pleasing than the Burj khalifa in Dubai. The Burj is impressive because it’s tall as hell. That’s it. The Petronas Towers are impressive because they’re uniquely Malaysian with it’s unique shape, and embodies the Malaysian cultural integrity.
At the base outside, you’ll find a long fountain leading towards the entrance, and can’t help but notice the most distinctive feature of the towers, which is the bridge that connects the towers about halfway up, as well as locals trying to harass you by trying to sell you these wide angle lense attachments for your phone(they’re garbage as hell by the way). My phone(LGV20) already has one, so I didn’t bother.
On the inside at the base, you’ll find a big shopping center with a ton of high end stores like Gucci or Prada, as well as the entrance for the Skybridge tour.
Entrance used to be free, but now it’s 80 Ringit (about 22 USD).
While on the tour, you’ll take the elevator to the Skybridge, on the 41st floor, which is 170 meters obove street level. If you’re afraid of heights, this isn’t for you. Contrary to popular belief, the Skybridge isn’t actually attached to the towers, as explained by your guide. You’ll have about 10 mins to roam the bridge and take photos. The views from up there are incredible.
After the conclusion of the Skybridge part of the tour, you’ll take the elevator to the 87th floor to the observation deck. From there, you’ll get a 360 degree view of the city, and well as learn about how the Petronas Towers compare to other skyscrapers around the world.
Historical district of old Central Kuala Lumpur: the area makes it a great place for a walking tour. Merdeka square is home to the Kuala Lumpur national mosque named Nasjid Negara, and one of the tallest flagpoles on Earth.
Menara KL Tower: this looks like the Space Needle in Seattle, as well as Auckland Sky Tower in New Zealand. Entrance is 47 Ringit(about 15 USD). There is a restaurant up there, and well as panoramic views. At the top, you’ll also be strapped in so you won’t fall off.
Little India: known better as Brickfields, this area is home to Hindu Temples, small food markets, stores selling saris and other Indian clothing. Most go there for the food.
PetalingStreet(Chinatown): my hostel(Amigo Hostel) was literally in the middle of this area. As soon as I walk out the door, I’m in the middle of EVERYTHING.
Chinatown isn’t on the same level as Bangkok, but there are a TON of food, drink, knock off goods, and jewelry stalls. As a shopper, you could spend HOURS here. I wasn’t ashamed that I did. hehe.
Central Market: if you want Malaysian souvenirs, this will be the spot to get them, as well and some great restaurants upstairs.
Batu Caves: with free entrance, and a 30 min train ride from KL Central Station, this is one of the most sacred Hindu religious sites outside of India. Bring good walking shoes to climb the 272 steps to the top. Upon reaching the top, you’ll be rewarded with a gorgeous cave full of Hindu shrines, and vegetarian restaurants to replenish your calories after the climb at the bottom. Watch out for the monkeys!!
Bukit Bintang: if you’re wondering about nightlife, this area CANNOT be missed. Despite Malaysia being a Muslim nation, this area is LIT in every sense of the word. From shopping, to endless entertainment, to clubs, to happy ending massages, this area has it all. I met up with a few expats living there, and they made sure I had a blast!
Food: Kuala Lumpur has a pretty amazing street food scene, but nowhere near close to Bangkok. You HAVE to try Chee Cheong Fun, also known as rice noodle roll, and BakKutTeh, which is the meat soup. It’s like a party in your mouth, and everyone is invited. Folks you don’t like we’re invited. It’s THAT good.
Accommodation: Kuala Lumpur is home to some of the world’s cheapest 5 star hotels. Where you want to stay varies on your interests. If you want to be near all the action, get a hotel near Petaling Street. You’ll be close to shopping, as well at the train that takes you to Batu Caves.
They drive on the left side of the road in Malaysia.
If you want to get an airport shuttle, you can prebook them on Expedia like I did. Grab(Uber) is absolutely GARBAGE for arrival. Departure is completely different.
Taxis tend to overcharge tourists, so be mindful of that.
Power plug is the same as the U.K, so bring an adapter. I personally use the ZLC adapter, which can be purchased on Amazon for 10 bucks.
If you don’t have an international plan, you can purchase a SIM card upon clearing customs.
As stated at the beginning of this review, Malaysia is a Muslim country. Be mindful of their customs and traditions.
Kuala Lumpur is a pretty walkable city, but you can utilize Grab, or the monorail system.
Trains stop running at around midnight, so plan your excursions accordingly.
Kuala Lumpur is honestly a hidden gem of Southeast Asia. No matter what you’re interested in, whether it be history, shopping, or food, Kuala Lumpur is bound to have something that’ll make you excited.
I definitely hope this review helps you with your travels to Kuala Lumpur. As always, feel free to message me or comment with additional questions!