Prior to booking and planning our winter break in Malaysia, almost everything I knew about this country I had learnt from watching Catherine Zeta-Jones and Sean Connery wreak havoc in Kuala Lumpur in the film Entrapment. So I knew that Kuala Lumpur is the capital city, and that there’s two tall, identical towers joined by a bridge, and that was about it. So this trip has been not only an amazing tour around this wonderful country, but also a very educational one. Now I’d like to share with you what I’ve learnt, but in order to keep the posts manageable we’ve decided to split them into individual locations. So let’s start with the one place that I had heard about previously, and our starting point, Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia is a melting pot of cultures, with large populations of people originally from China, India, and many other Asian nations. Nowhere is this more evident than in Kuala Lumpur, being the capital city of Malaysia and the heart of the country. Kuala Lumpur also manages to mix both historic and modern features into a wonderful contrast, where beautiful mosques and temples sit perfectly in the shadows of huge, towering skyscrapers. In many other cities one or the other of these would look out of place, but the combination here seems to be just right and it almost feels like the entire city was built at the same time. Even the public transport seems to have been built to service every part of the city almost too well, a far cry from the chaos and disorganisation I had been expecting!
The mix of cultures also provides a fantastic introduction to Malaysian cuisine, which is in fact a combination of many other Asian cuisines into a mix of everything that again just seems to work. It also means that whatever your taste, there will always be something to suit, from noodles and satay from a street vendor through to Starbucks and McDonald’s for the culinary squeamish. Everything here just seems to work well together, even if on paper it looks like it shouldn’t, and it is possibly the perfect place to introduce yourself to Malaysia. So now I’ll take you through the main sights and places that we visited, but first here’s some practical information to help get the best from Kuala Lumpur.
Airport transfer/public transport
Kuala Lumpur will be most travellers’ entry point into Malaysia, as it is the capital city and home to the biggest airport in the country. Nearly all long-haul flights to Malaysia arrive at Kuala Lumpur, as did ours. After arriving the first task is to find transport from the airport to the city centre, over 50 km away, and for this you have a number of options. The quickest option is by train, and more specifically the KLIA Ekspres. This service stops only at the two airport terminals and the central station in the city centre, KL Sentral. The trains run once every 20 minutes, more frequently during peak times, and take around 30 minutes to reach the city centre. It costs RM55 (approximately £10) one way or RM100 (£18) return but it is possible to get these tickets discounted, 10% off if purchased using an automated ticket machine or 15% off by using a contactless credit or debit card at the ticket gates. This is the option we choose for our transfers and I would definitely recommend it, the trains were quiet, comfortable, and clean, and it was incredibly easy to find and use. Just look for the purple signs in the terminal buildings and they’ll take you straight to the ticket machines and kiosk.
There is another train option available, the KLIA Transit service. This is slower than the Ekspres, because it makes a few extra stops along the way. This may make it more suitable if you are staying in the southern suburbs of the city, and it is an excellent option if you are leaving straight away on one of the many regional bus services as it stops at the station that serves them (Bandar Tasik Selatan). To use this service to go to KL Sentral currently costs the same as the Ekspres train, although it is cheaper if you are disembarking at one of the earlier stations, and a trip to KL Sentral will take about 40 minutes. The trains seem to be the same as those used for the Ekspres service, so I imagine they are just as clean and comfortable. They are less frequent however, with only one train every 30 minutes or one every 20 minutes during peak times. They can be found in the same area as the Ekspres trains, on the opposite side of the platform.
Bus services also operate between the airport terminals and the city centre, which are suited for those on a shoestring budget. It costs RM10 (£2) one way and RM18 (£3.50) return and takes approximately one hour to reach KL Sentral, although I would allow for extra time due to potential traffic jams in the city centre. Again follow signs in the airport buildings directing you towards buses. Taxis are also available and possibly suited more for larger groups and families, and have the added bonus of taking you direct to your accommodation. Make sure you agree a price at the start to avoid being scammed, and again these are liable to be held up in the city’s traffic.
Once you arrive at KL Sentral, getting around Kuala Lumpur and to your accommodation using public transport is a doddle. There is an integrated network of trains, monorail, and buses with maps at all the stations to assist with planning your route. Tickets are cheap as well, with most journeys costing only a few ringgit. Unless you buy a reloadable travel card, you will be issued a round token for each journey. It isn’t possible to get return tokens or passes, so you will need to get one for each and every trip. This also applies for transferring between forms of transport, each requires another token. It doesn’t take long to get used to the system but remember to buy the tokens at the automated machines, the kiosks will provide change if needed but you’ll still need to go back to the machines.
Lastly there is also a free bus service, operating throughout the city centre. It runs in one direction only along four routes, annoying if you need to go in the opposite direction but handy for getting around the city. Each route is denoted by a colour; red, blue, green, and purple. Most tourist maps include a route map for both the free buses and the train and monorail network, which also include the locations of the main sights to aid in journey planning. Just be aware that these buses can get very busy at times, which makes them unsuitable for travelling with luggage or backpacks. They are also very prone to getting stuck in traffic, as they run along some of the busiest roads in the city.
Now that I’ve gotten the practical stuff out of the way, it’s time to talk about what we actually did and saw in Kuala Lumpur. So now you know how to get around the city, read on to find out where you should be heading!
Petronas Towers and KLCC
The Petronas Towers are the iconic symbol of Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia, and a good place to start your sightseeing. Once the tallest buildings in the world, and still the tallest twin towers in the world at 452 metres, they stand proudly over the city and are visible from all over Kuala Lumpur. I must admit that I wasn’t too impressed with them for their height, I guess having just seen the Burj Khalifa can be blamed for that, but I was impressed by their architectural beauty. They are probably the most striking skyscrapers I have seen, with their star shape being a welcome change from the usual square or pointed buildings in cities all over the world. The area around the towers is also a welcome change from the rest of the city, with the large KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Centre) Park starting just behind them. This includes a lake that sits in the shadows of the towers, and where you can watch water fountain displays similar to those we saw in Dubai (you can read about that here). The park is also an enjoyable place for a stroll and an excellent vantage point for photos of the Petronas Towers. This was where we came to watch the fireworks on New Year’s Eve (to satisfy my Entrapment pilgrimage!), although we didn’t realise that the fireworks would be going off from behind us instead!
The main attraction here is the Skybridge that joins the two towers together, the world’s highest at 170 metres. It is possible to visit the Skybridge to enjoy the views of the city, although it is highly advisable to book tickets online to avoid the infamously long queues that will greet you at the ticket kiosk if you don’t. One other piece of advice I have to give you is to check the opening hours. The Skybridge is closed on Mondays, something we didn’t realise until it was too late and meant that we wouldn’t be able to fit a visit in. Also included in the tour is a trip up to the 86th floor of one of the 88-storey towers, for what I imagine are even more impressive views of Kuala Lumpur.
Also inside the towers is a shopping mall, where you will find shops for many European and American brands as well as local shops and stalls selling crafts and souvenirs. The mall was surprisingly quiet in comparison to the throngs of tourists that we usually found outside, and it actually turned out to be a good place to find souvenirs and somewhere for a meal. There are also a number of bars and restaurants located in the vicinity of the towers, and the ones we saw in KLCC Park seemed to offer the best views to enjoy while having a drink or a bite to eat. They are aimed purely at tourists however, so prices are much higher than in other parts of the city.
KL Tower and Eco Forest Park
Another building that can be seen from all over the city is the KL Tower, a purpose built communications tower similar to the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada. The tower stands at 421 metres (30 metres shorter than the Petronas Towers) with an observation deck at 276 metres, an open-air deck, and a revolving restaurant at 282 metres. We only visited the observation deck as the open-air deck was closed due to the weather conditions, yet the views were still good and partly made up for missing out on the Skybridge tour. The observation deck is a doughnut shaped walkway with gift shops and photo kiosks on one side and large windows looking out over the city on the other, allowing views of the city from every angle. There’s also plenty of fixed binoculars (similar to those once found at the seaside all over the UK) which seemed to be free to use, if you would like a closer view of the surroundings. Once you’ve had your fill of the views, there are plenty of express lifts available to whisk you back down to the main lobby. Here you’ll find even more gift shops and photo kiosks, as well as more attractions such as the F1 simulator which was unfortunately not in operation at the time of our visit.
Outside of the tower there are yet more tourist shops in case you forgot to buy that Ferrari merchandise you’ve always wanted while you were inside. It was raining consistently when we came out so we didn’t linger about here for too long, and I’m not sure we would have anyway regardless of the weather. We were more interested in the attraction that predates the tower and which makes the tower more unique, which is the Eco Forest Park that the tower was built inside of. This is an area of rainforest within the city centre, which has been created as an escape from the pollution, noise, and commotion of the city.
It is free to enter and there are many walkways through the park, each clearly signposted and well-maintained. There is also a canopy walkway made of a number of towers and suspension bridges, which enables you to enjoy viewing the rainforest from above. We only walked along a short section of this, but we found that to be enjoyable and the information boards describing the species in each area were very informative. Back on terra firma, we followed the main walkway through the rainforest which winds its way from the top near the KL Tower all the way back to the city streets at the bottom. The path can be walked in either direction, but I’d definitely recommend going from top to bottom as it is quite steep in places and the heat and humidity makes it even more of a challenge. Having already been on a forest trek in the Cameron Highlands (more on this soon!) I can say that the Eco Forest Park is a great example of a rainforest in the city. It is easy to forget where you are while walking through the dense undergrowth, surrounding by tall, towering trees of a huge variety. It was raining whilst still being warm when we visited, which added even more to the authenticity of the environment, so much so that it was almost a surprise to find ourselves straight back into the city once we’d reached the bottom. It’s definitely a great place to spend an hour or two, and a fantastic contrast to the rest of the city. I’d actually say that I enjoyed the Eco Forest Park more than visiting the KL Tower, but it’s still worth doing both if you are in the area.
The Batu Caves were the first place to be put on our ‘must-see’ list, as it was somewhere that Ms Lust had missed out on during her previous visit to Kuala Lumpur. Batu Caves is the name given to a collection of cave systems that have formed in a limestone hillside, now located within the outer suburbs of Kuala Lumpur. They have become a popular tourist attraction, mainly due to the Hindu temples, statues, and shrines that have been built here. It is within easy reach from the city centre, with a station served by the KTM Komuter train just a short walk from the main entrance, and a one-way ticket will cost just two or three ringgit from the city.
The main draw is the Temple Cave, where the first temple was built. Type Batu Caves into any search engine and the first item you’re likely to find is the iconic view of the huge statue of Lord Murugan standing in front of the staircase heading up to the Temple Cave. The statue is the largest of Lord Murugan in the world, incredibly impressive to see, and was only unveiled in 2006. This too was where we headed first, to tackle the 272 steps leading up to the cave. This part of the caves is free to enter, I had read about people being scammed into paying for tickets or tours that aren’t required but we didn’t see anything like this happening. To be honest, we didn’t come across any attempts to scam us throughout our entire trip, so I think a few incidences may have been blown out of proportion on the internet. This is where we discovered the other thing that Batu Caves is famous for, their resident Long-tailed Macaque (also known as Crab-eating Macaque) population. Known as ‘The Mafia’ by the locals, these cute-looking monkeys really can’t be trusted. Luckily I had read about them beforehand and, as they say, forewarned is forearmed, so we had already made sure not to have any food with us or to have any valuables secured in our bags. These monkeys can see food a mile off, and once they do you will have to be very lucky or very brave to keep hold of it. We saw countless unsuspecting victims having shopping bags of food stolen by macaques, even water bottles were prized items for them. This has been partly caused, and continually not helped, by tourists feeding the monkeys. We even saw one woman handing a bottle of Sprite to a macaque just so she could get a cute photo for Instagram, although it was quite pleasing to see the monkey toss it away and then screech at the woman when she tried to tell it off! Now they have become used to this way of finding food, and taken to grabbing whatever they can from tourists rather than getting their nourishment from the surrounding forest. Unfortunately this habit is only likely to get worse as people continue to provide their food, either unsuspectingly or otherwise, so no matter how cute these monkeys may have seemed, we had to be wary of them!
The climb to the top wasn’t too strenuous, just long and seemingly never-ending with the humidity making it seem worse than it should be. My tip is to take short breaks when you need to, the steps are very wide and you won’t be causing an obstruction if you stay to one side, whilst keeping an eye on those cheeky primates! Once at the top, you enter into the Temple Cave. Fully enclosed to begin with, with an extremely high ceiling, this area houses a few shrines and construction of a temple was ongoing when we were there. After walking through here we reached the main attraction, the temple built to worship Lord Murugan. Before leaving the UK, I had formed images in my head of a huge, ornate temple, similar to those that Thailand is famous for, nestled at the bottom of an equally huge cave. I had already learnt in the Cameron Highlands that Hindu temples are not like this at all, yet I still felt a little disappointed when we saw the temple here. Hindu temples, or those that we saw in Malaysia anyway, are small, open, pagoda style buildings, intricately decorated with colourful statues of animals, gods, and characters from Hindu stories. When you look at the detail closely they are incredibly impressive, however when viewed from afar they can be a little underwhelming compared to temples from other religions. The cave itself was similar to what I had been expecting, a large opening in the cave with magnificently high walls leading straight up to an open ceiling. I have to be honest and say that I was more impressed by the cave than the temple, but it is easy to see why this place has become so sacred for Hindus.
As we made our way back down the steps, we decided to stop and have a look at another attraction, the Dark Caves. This is another cave system located quite close to the Temple Cave. This area has been left more or less how nature intended, probably due to them being so much more enclosed and inaccessible without artificial lighting. They were originally discovered and visited by Chinese traders who had found it as an excellent source for guano, a form of bat droppings that make an extremely good natural fertiliser. Nowadays the caves are protected and can no longer be harvested for guano, and the only activities that take place are organised tours of the caves. There are two options; an Adventure Tour which includes some crawling and squeezing through tight spaces but enables you to visit much more of the caves, or the more popular Education Tour which is a guided walk through the more accessible first sections of the cave system.
We opted for the Education Tour, which was RM35 each (about £6.50) and tours started every 20 minutes. This was a fantastic insight into the natural cave environment, and our guide gave an incredibly interesting and informative commentary on the many geological features of the caves and the various animals that could be found there. We were lucky enough to see a number of these creatures, most notably some of the types of bat that live here. We also saw a long-legged centipede (above) and a cave snail, although I don’t think Ms Lust was too pleased when we saw the cockroaches that have found a home in the guano pits. I’m sure she was also relieved that we didn’t see a trapdoor spider, the rarest spider in the world, as these can only be found in areas visited on the Adventure Tour. Another feature of the cave that we were able to experience was being in total darkness. Once we had walked far enough into the caves and away from any natural light sources, we were told to turn off our torches. With absolutely no natural light being able to penetrate this far into the caves, we then found out how they got their name. It felt like I had gone blind, as there was absolutely no difference between having my eyes open or closed. I could feel that Ms Lust was standing right next to me and I knew there was a rock face just in front, but I could not see anything except complete darkness. It was a very eerie experience, coupled with the bats chirping in the distance, and certainly not one I would want to have without knowing our guide was with us, especially after having seen what the residents of the caves looked like! The final stop of our tour was another opening in the ceiling which allowed a shaft of light to enter the caves and illuminate the area. This was a great place for some photos of the caves before we turned around and made our way back to the entrance. The tour lasted about 45 minutes and I would highly recommend it to everyone, you don’t need to be super fit or athletic to be able to do it and it is a wonderful experience and insight into the caves’ natural beauty.
After the Dark Caves tour we made our way down the rest of the steps, and we were a little relieved to find that the macaques were no longer to be found. We were about to head back to the station when we spotted another cave system housing a Hindu shrine, the Ramayana Cave, with the large statue of Hanuman guarding the entrance. We decided to go in and we were not disappointed, the cave is filled with large colourful dioramas that depict the Ramayana story. The story runs along the walls of the cave until you reach a rock staircase at the end. We went up but I’m still not sure what we were supposed to be seeing, so I can’t really suggest making this effort especially after having been up the steps to the Temple Cave. The story continued on the opposite wall as we walked out of the cave, to its climax at the cave exit. There are small boards with short descriptions of each scene, so it is possible to follow the story with a little imagination. This was more similar to what I had been expecting from the Temple Cave, and it made a wonderful end to our day at Batu Caves and definitely worth the RM5 (£1) entrance fee.
Chinatown and Little India
Chinatown and Little India are situated just west of the modern city centre, in an older part of the city. This area is famed for its markets and temples, but unfortunately I was a little underwhelmed by both. Petaling Street, the main market in Chinatown, was simply a street packed full of market stalls selling nothing but fake clothes and accessories and tacky souvenirs. I had been expecting something much more authentic with local arts and crafts on offer, and I think we both left quite disappointed. The temples were nice, but mostly squeezed in between houses and shops which took a lot of their beauty away. I think it’s hard to make anywhere look nice if the surrounding buildings all look as if they are about to fall down.
The only redeeming factor for me was the Central Market, a huge covered market housed in what appeared to be an old warehouse building. Whilst there were still plenty of tacky souvenirs on offer, there also seemed to be a lot more arts and crafts available, ranging from clothing and accessories through to antiques and collectibles. It also had a large food court with a great variety of dishes available, and it is where we discovered Hokkaido baked cheese tarts (very tasty!).
Masjid Jamek and Sultan Abdul Samad building
Masjid Jamek is a large mosque situated at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers. We were unfortunate on both occasions that we were in the area, in that we arrived during prayers and we weren’t able to visit the inside of the mosque. Nevertheless it is an impressive building from the outside and a fantastic contrast to the skyscrapers in the background. Fountains have also been placed along the banks of the rivers at this point, which come on at certain times of day and flow into the rivers. The first time we visited was at night, when the mosque is lit up and the lights of the city create a wonderful scene. The second visit was during the day, when the Sultan Abdul Samad building can be seen behind to create a completely different style of scene. From the other direction, the Petronas Towers and the KL Tower can be seen in the background, with all of Kuala Lumpur’s icons seemingly coming together for a photo opportunity!
The Sultan Abdul Samad building is truly beautiful, built in the 19th century by the British to house the local government. It was built in a Moorish style of architecture which is evident by the copper domes that adorn the top of the building, complementing the yellow tone of the masonry. A clock tower stands as the centrepiece to the building, flanked by towers housing open spiral staircases. Unfortunately it isn’t possible to visit the inside of the building, with the exception of the tourist information office on the ground floor, but it is possible to walk all around the outside and admire the architecture. Just across the road is Merdeka Square, a large field that looks like a cricket ground but is actually home to a 96-metre flagpole, where the Malaysian flag was first raised following independence.
We had a great few days in Kuala Lumpur, especially with New Year’s Eve having been one of them, and I’m definitely glad that we chose to see the city as more than just a base from which to explore the rest of the country. The sight of such an eclectic mix of cultures intertwining so seamlessly is a welcome one, and the benefits of this are abundant (not just the huge range of delicious food!). Also the mix of ancient and colonial buildings with the modern skyscrapers provides another element of contrast to the city, and ensures that it doesn’t become just another concrete jungle. The only aspect I didn’t like was the pollution from the city traffic combined with the unwavering humidity, which left me feeling like I had been smoking heavily when I woke each morning. But there are places where you can escape this, such as the Batu Caves and the Eco Forest Park, and it is worth enduring to be able to see the best from this wonderful place.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour through Kuala Lumpur, and that I’ve whetted your appetite for more. For our next post we’ll be continuing on our tour of Malaysia, and guiding you through the wonders we discovered during our stay in the Cameron Highlands.
If you have read our previous post, you already knew we were going to talk about Kuala Lumpur today. I guess it is hard to visit Malaysia without staying a few days in KL and, to be honest, you shouldn’t miss it either. On the other hand, Malaysia is so rich and beautiful that I would suggest you don’t spend too much time in the capital either. In a few weeks, we will try and give you a more specific itinerary on how to spend two weeks in Malaysia without making the mistakes we made, but for now let’s go in order.
Due to New Year’s, we went back and forth to KL during our trip, which made us waste a bit of time. We landed on 27 December and spent our first night there, we then went back on 30 December until 2 January to celebrate the new year, and then another night before flying home. If you can, plan three nights there and you will be able to visit enough.
For me it has been a bittersweet experience as I had a fond memory of my first visit in 2012 and it somehow didn’t manage to live up to it. The first night we stayed in a budget accommodation near Ain Arabia in Bukit Bintang, the Orange Pekoe Guest House, that was extremely basic but very clean and easy to travel to and from. The guys at reception are very friendly and helpful, with great suggestions for visits and moving around. So much so that for the last night before flying back we cancelled the place we had booked and stayed here again. Breakfast is included and you have toast with butter and jam, bananas, cereal, tea and coffee: Also basic but definitely nice.
For the rest of the nights we had another place booked, Q Hotel, in Chow Kit, but it was a horrible idea. We booked because it was the same place where I stayed before, although it had changed name. Well, it must have happened for a reason, as the quality was horrible, it still had all the furniture from the previous management, which means old, dirty, damaged carpet and curtains, damaged furniture, and old bathroom appliances. In addition to that, the walls were crumbling and the cleaning was non-existent, hardly hoovered, infested, stained bed linen, all the bad things that you can imagine. We skipped breakfast until the last morning even if we had paid for it and it was not worth to pay the extra for, watered-down jam for the toast and very little choice on the rest. We are talking of a hotel that is still marked as a 3-star, and is below standards for the cheapest hostel!
But enough of the bad things, let’s move on to the fun. Transport in KL is pretty good, just a bit chaotic at times. You have a metro service, a monorail, and many buses, including some free ones that take you around all the touristy places. In some cases it might be a bit of a challenge to catch a free bus, but the service is pretty good. You have a map of the trains here and one of the free buses here.
The trains, the metro, and the Monorel (you will love how Malaysian language kept English words with a phonetically simplified writing) work with a system of tokens that is extremely easy, although they sometimes roll out of your pocket or your hand, on the platform and down onto the tracks (it happened in front of us but the lady caught it before it fell, although she must have hurt her knees pretty badly!). The tokens are valid for single trips and you can buy them at the machines in every station. Always try to have small notes if you are in a rush, but remember that if you ask at the windows they will have change ready for you although they don’t sell tickets. As I said, it is a pretty simple system, you scan your token when you go in and drop it in the machine to get out of the station.
From the airport (KLIA) you have a few options depending on budget and time:
KLIA Express, the fastest way from both terminals is the most expensive, 55RM one way, 100RM return (valid one month) with 10% off if you buy the tickets at the ticket machines or 15% off for using a contactless card at the gates. It takes about 30 minutes to KL Sentral;
KLIA Transit costs the same and takes about ten minutes longer as it stops in several stations but it may work better if you are not going to the city centre;
Bus is definitely the cheapest option and it takes about one hour depending on the station. Easybook is your website in general to book bus rides in Malaysia. You then have taxis and shuttle buses for a more specific service.
If, like us, you stay near Bukit Bintang, you must know that the buses will always get stuck just before arriving, as they go along the Pavilion Shopping centre and the traffic there is horrible, it is a lot easier to get off and walk from there. If you do, don’t miss out on the Pavilion Crystal Fountain, a beautiful fountain in front of the shopping centre. I have the most bizarre memory of this place: One of the days I was on the bus and a gentleman gestured for me to sit on the empty seat next to him as I was the only woman around and they were priority seats. It was nice enough and I felt a bit bad when I almost fell on him because I am too clumsy. I apologised and I thought that was all as he fell asleep again. Instead, as it was obvious that we were tourists, he woke up a couple of times to point at things and tell us what they were, starting with the shopping centre. People are just amazingly nice in Malaysia and I loved having my personal tour guide for a few stops!
What to visit in KL is a big question. You have the big financial district with the main buildings, but you also have a few escapes. Let’s start with the most obvious stops.
PLACES TO VISIT
Petronas Towers / KLCC Suria. The most iconic building in the city, the Petronas Towers were the tallest building in the world for a while. One of the towers hosts a shopping centre while the other is mainly offices. You can visit the tower and the Skybridge but remember that this is closed on Mondays, see more details on the first of the two links in this paragraph. I visited them in my previous trip and we kind of badly planned the days so Mr Wander missed this visit, but I have already explained how I feel about this kind of place: The best thing is actually the building from outside more than the view of the city from it. If you can fit it in your schedule, do it, otherwise don’t sweat it. You have two entrances to the shopping centre, one from the park where the music fountains and the light show is, and one coming from Jalan Ampang where you have a small set of jet fountains as well. If you go for NYE as we did, you have to consider what you want to do and see: If you want to see the fireworks through the gap in between the towers, stay around Jalan Ampang; if you prefer to see the concert and enjoy the fountain show laying on the grass while you wait for count down, stay on KLCC Park and you will find yourself between the towers and the fireworks.
About our New Year’s Eve celebration, we went out at around 10 p.m. and we got the metro to KLCC. It was packed but we got on the first one, which was pretty easy. On the way back, on the other side, we thought that we would have been trapped in the metro for ages while the walk back was just 45 minutes top, so we chose that option with a stop for dinner. Nasi Kandar Sayeed is open 24 hours and serves a mix of cuisines in different stands all run together as a restaurant. It is extremely messy as everyone does everything, so your chef might be around cleaning tables when you want to order or your waiter somewhere making drinks or preparing food, but it is an interesting experience, especially at 2 a.m. when you barely understand the language. If you prefer to eat and drink during the show, to enjoy it in the park is not the best option, most of the stands are on the other side.
Menara KL Tower. Again, nothing special about the building, but you can visit it. It is slightly better in this case as you see the Petronas Towers from its windows. We went up but the sky deck was closed due to the weather. In this case, though, the surroundings are more interesting as the tower is near the KL Forest Eco Park, the city’s green lung, a nice break from the city’s fumes with the canopy walk (not if you are acrophobic) and the paths around the forest.
Pasar Seni/Central Market. It is worth spending a few hours here both if you are planning to buy some souvenirs or not. You have an open area along the Kasturi Walk that is the entrance, but you also have plenty of stands inside and you can find the usual tacky souvenirs but also some nice handmade objects and a food court on the first floor. The area itself is pretty busy and you can easily reach Chinatown and Little India on one side and Masjid Jamek on the other.
Masjid Jamek. One of the main mosques in Kuala Lumpur, this building is impressive for both its structure and its surroundings. The mosque is on the river and is a beautiful sight even if you just decide to walk around and enjoy the light and water show that is on at night. All illuminated with blue lights, the fountains push water up in the air and out towards the river. During the day, when the fountains are off, the sights are no less impressive and if you cross over the other side of the bridge you can even see the domes together with the distant Petronas and KL Towers.
Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad. This building was once used as offices for the British colonial administration and it now houses several national offices and the tourist information point. It is just across the river from Masjid Jamek and it is another beautiful sight not to be missed.
Batu Caves. A short train ride from the city (26 minutes from Sentral), this place must be on your list. The station itself is called Batu Caves, you can go from Sentral via Komuter train, and the line is Perlabuhan Klang-Batu Caves. We boarded in Bank Negara and at the moment only one of the two platforms was working both ways, therefore the traffic is a bit slowed down. Although the trains are fairly often, be careful as if they are delayed their name disappears from the screen when the scheduled time is gone, so don’t trust the screen so much and read the name on the front and side of the train itself. Also remember that the two middle carriages are women only and try to respect them (we have seen too many men not caring and staying in these carriages and we would have liked it to work as well as in Dubai!).
The place is a series of caves and a Hindu place of worship that will take your breath away, metaphorically but also literally, as the main caves are reached after climbing 272 steps. When you head out of the station, you have a few kiosks with food and drinks and then you reach the esplanade where the monkeys are. Right on your left you have Ramayana Cave, which is not free but the entrance costs only RM5. Here, as the name suggests, the cave hosts a reconstruction of the Ramayana, an Indian epic poem in which Rama’s wife is kidnapped by a god and Rama goes to her rescue. The cave has huge statues along the walls telling the whole story and at the far end from the entrance you have a very steep staircase to the top of the cave. There is nothing there but you can admire part of the statues from above. A tip: You can skip this last climb and just admire the statues from the floor of the cave, we climbed after visiting the rest and we were exhausted but it really is not worth anyway.
If you keep walking ahead outside the station, you find the first temple towering over a few steps. Here is also where you start seeing the first macaques. Many articles tell you to be very careful with them and not to have anything in your hands and to close your backpack as they would steal from you. It is true, but they are more disciplined than most tourists. We saw them stealing a bag of food from a girl’s hand but in general people were teasing them, including a woman handing a monkey her bottle of soda to take a picture and then slapping the animal for dropping it twice as it was not interesting! So, yes, be careful, do not hold your phone in your hands if possible, close your bag, and do not have your water in the outside pockets of your backpack, but the monkeys are not all aiming at you, common sense is enough not to be bothered. Also, remember that they are territorial and they interpret a smile as a threat because you show your teeth.
After the temple you have a little bird park that we skipped and then the main attraction, the Cathedral Cave at the top of the staircase. This is famous for the majestic statue of Lord Murugan. Women are not allowed shorts and you have security officers stopping you if you do, but you can easily buy pashminas at the bottom of the staircase and wear them as sarongs if you forget to wear something long. The Cathedral Cave is the main one and includes several shrines, some of them still in progress, although my favourite part was the wall where all the macaques were climbing and hiding, and from which they were throwing the occasional coconut to crack it open.
A few steps down on your right is what I consider the best part of the visit, the Dark Cave. This is a natural formation that was initially used to collect guano as fertiliser and is now a protected ecosystem. You have two types of tours, the Educational Tour which we did, and the Adventure Tour, also called Crawling Tour, which gets you even closer to the inhabitants of the cave, namely centipedes and spiders. The Educational tour costs RM35 and the groups are of 15 people maximum. They provide a helmet and torch and you will learn a lot about bats (I wouldn’t have minded getting closer to those cute inhabitants) and the rest of animals that strive in this cave thanks to the guano, including the rarest spider in the world which takes its name from the caves (the Liphistius batuensis, a species of trapdoor spider). The cave is formed in limestone and the tour takes you around part of it to also learn about several types of rock formations such as stalactites and stalagmites, rock flow, and rock curtains, and then takes you to a spot where there is no light at all and you can experience complete darkness.
The whole visit is quite demanding, especially the climb, so have plenty of water, and consider if you are fine visiting the dark cave, animals won’t crawl on you but you will see more insects that you would like to, sometimes from not too much of a distance. I am pretty scared and yet I was glad I visited, I hope you will too.
As I love Asian food in general, I fell in love with Malaysian cuisine and I could talk of it for hours, and I thought I should write a separate page about it. You can find our supplementary about Malaysian food here and learn all about these discoveries and our most loved dishes.
In this post is just a short list of a few places to go and eat. Shopping centres are usually easy if you want to eat different things, but the experience is less authentic. Nonetheless, I will tell you what we tried: You have a pretty varied food court in the Petronas Towers and also some restaurants just outside in the park. The Japanese stand in the lower floor next to the supermarket is not bad. For a more sophisticated place, Duddha is just outside with an open terrace overlooking the lake and extremely friendly staff. We just had a drink to celebrate Mr Wander’s birthday (a bit late) but the food seemed nice.
Sogo is a shopping centre in Chow Kit and has the usually big American chains but outside also what seems to be different stands of local food, although in the end it just seemed all the same restaurant as our food came from the opposite corner. You have plenty of pictures and the guys at the till speak English or at least tried to explain to us the dishes we were ordering, although by that time I had pretty clear in my mind that Bihun Goreng (fried rice noodles) was my new favourite.
Lot 10 is another shopping centre and is near Bukit Bintang. We went there because we saw the ad for Soong Kee’s place while on the KLIA Ekspres but in the end I couldn’t force myself to eat beef, their specialty, and we went to other stalls. Penang Corner deserves a 6/10, good luck if you don’t like spicy but the food was not bad; Thai Corner deserves a 3/10, low quality ingredients.
If you are in Bukit Bintang, you will have plenty of stalls around serving Arab-inspired food and you just have to choose, but you really should not miss is a trip to Jalan Alor, a whole street taken over by restaurants and food stalls offering a mix of Chinese, Thai, and local food. You will find it hard to choose and to resist everyone offering you their menus. Walk to the end if you want some satay and banana fritters or stop anywhere if you prefer noodles and rice. You also have several stalls with ice cream and various sweets. I hope rats don’t scare you because you will see them running overhead in the metal covers of the stalls, I can’t deny that. It is open until 2 a.m. so you can have a bite even if you arrive to KL pretty late. Here everyone seems to speak English, which is not the case in Nasi Kandar Sayeed where we went on NYE.
Two of my food discoveries in KL: Roti canai and murukku, they were so good and I was so hungry that I didn’t take pictures, learn more about them in the food supplementary! Let me now go and make myself a tea while I plan our post about the Cameron Highlands and the tea plantations. Stay tuned,