Just a little while back we took a trip from our home In Hua Hin, on Thailand’s Royal Coast, to peninsula Malaysia. It was exceptionally easy to do. We travelled by train stopping off at the following Malaysian point of interest (to us): Penang Island, Taiping, Ipoh and finally Kuala Lumpur (KL). Since our trip, Air Asia has started direct flights from KL to Hua Hin and return. Flights are four times a week bringing KL, and peninsula Malaysia more broadly, so much closer for us Hua Hin residents. So if you’re planning travel to KL, here are some Kuala Lumpur highlights we would like to share with you.
Malaysia’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur boasts gleaming skyscrapers, colonial architecture and history, a myriad of natural attractions, and a multicultural community with Malay, Indian, and Chinese residents, and their delectable and varied cuisines.
KL’s main hub – the Golden Triangle – comprises the districts of Bukit Bintang, KLCC and Chinatown. During our five days in KL, we did not venture out of the Golden Triangle as there is just so much to see and do within this action-packed area – day or night.
Kuala Lumpur’s City Centre (KLCC) is the cities, traditional heart. The former colonial administrative district sits just west of the confluence of the Klang and Gombak River, where Kuala Lumpur was founded. At the heart of the colonial district is Merdeka Square, where Malaysia’s independence was declared. Surrounding the square are many other colonial-era buildings. To the west of the square lies the pretty Lake Gardens while to the south you’ll find the National Mosque, the Moorish-style Kuala Lumpur railway station, and several museums including the Islamic Arts Museum and the National Museum. To the east of the Klang river lies the old commercial district of Kuala Lumpur. You will find the iconic Central Markets and the narrow streets of Chinatown, with traditional Chinese shops, markets, eateries.
Chinatown offers great tasting, inexpensive food in both Street Market or Hawker Stalls with lots of atmosphere. Don’t go past:
A great way to learn about KLCC’s diversity and history is on one of VisitKL’s Walking Tours provided FREE by Kuala Lumpur City Hall. Typically 2.5 hours long and lead by an experienced, professional and exceptionally informative English speaking guide – we highly recommend these tours. And they’re FREE! We chose the ‘Kuala Lumpur Heritage Trail’ tour where we not only got to see many of the historic buildings in the vicinity of Merdeka Square but also were able to go inside these building and learn first hand of the history as well as the context of these as they relate to modern-day independent Malaysia.
Here are several of the ‘must see’ buildings found in KLCC:
Bukit Bintang Street is famous for shopping and entertainment. Malls like Pavilion KL and Starhill Gallery have high-end brands while Low Yat Plaza, Sungei Wang Plaza, Fahrenheit 88, and Berjaya Times Square are perfect for budget fashion and the latest gadgets. Suria KLCC shopping mall – 6 enormous levels of shopping heaven – can be found in the northeast of the Golden Triangle, which is also home to the Petronas Twin Towers (the world’s tallest twin skyscrapers). Fortunately, for us, our KL visit coincided with the lead up to Chinese New Year, with all the shops having sales of up to 50% off. So glad we had some extra space in our bags!
If you want great tasting, inexpensive food in the Bukit Bintang area check out these Street Market and Hawker Stall style options:
Jalan Alor – Image a whole road turned over to food and just 5 minutes walk from the Bukit Bintang MRT or monorail stations. Little plastic stools and tables occupy the streets while an exhaustive choice of Cafes and Food stalls dish out your order. Think Malay, Chinese, Thai and other specialities at great prices and open from 10:00 am till 3:00 am except for Sundays where the street closes at midnight.
Who would have thought that we would list The Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia as a ‘must visit’? On the recommendation of a friend whose advice we respect we did take the time to visit! Situated in the southern corner of KL’s Golden Triangle. This Arts Museum is adjacent to the enormous and visually spectacular National Mosque of Malaysia, and this whole precinct is accessible from the original Kuala Lumpur Railway Station – a Moorish designed masterpiece and one of only two grand British-built railway stations remaining on the Malayan railway network.
We found this Arts Museum to be an educational oasis with some ten thousand artefacts over 12 galleries, as well as an exceptional library of Islamic art books. A display at the entrance was particularly impactful, setting out the disastrous impact of conflicts over recent time on the art, architecture and historical treasures of the middle east. Visually stimulating – the internal architecture includes massive decorative ceiling domes in each of the exhibition and display halls. Mentally stimulating – learning about and seeing first-hand, the diversity of art and design from across the Muslim world, and across the ages. To us, this art museum is a must visit.
Perdana Botanical Garden, formerly known as Taman Tasik Perdana or Lake Gardens, came into being back in 1888 as a recreational park for the residents of colonial Kuala Lumpur. In June 2011 they made the transition from public park to Botanical Gardens. This transition continues though there is plenty to see now across the 226 acres of landscaped and beautifully presented gardens. We spent a good part of an afternoon here wandering and admiring and were especially taken by the Orchid Gardens. When you need to rest, there are great little Cafes to take in a cooling Iced Coffe, ice cream or the like. Entrance to the Gardens is free, though there are specific attractions within the Gardens like the ‘Bird Park’ that have an admission fee.
Malaysia’s electric train system was an exceptionally pleasant and positive surprise. The very well maintained modern trains with clearly set out timetables seemed to run consistently to schedule. Having travelled down from Ipoh, we found arriving at KL Sentral a breeze. Currently, the biggest train station in SE Asia, KL’s modern central station was easy to navigate. Helpful station staff pointed us in the right direction for our exit as well as helping us find the on-station tourist office. KL Sentral is also the hub for KL’s Rapid rail services (LRT, MRT and KL Monorail lines) so access to most anywhere in KL is easy from KL Sentral as long as your destination links to one of the Rapid rail services.
In KL we purchased a ‘KL TravelPass’ which gave us our tickets on KLIA Ekspres (airport transfer) for our return flight to Hua Hin. Not only did it give us non-stop transfer from KL Sentral to KL’s International Airports, but we also received 2-days of unlimited travel on KL’s Rapid rail services (LRT, MRT and KL Monorail lines). At 75 MYR per person (24 AUD on current exchange rates) that’s a fantastic deal. We were also able to top up the card as we had more than two days in KL using the Rapid Rail systems.
Another Public Transport option, especially around the Golden Triangle of central KL is the Go KL City Bus which is a free service for visitors and locals alike. Here’s a link to the four routes these modern light purple coloured buses cover.
This was our first-ever trip to KL (and Malaysia) and given our location in Hua Hin Thailand, getting there and back is so easy via the inter-country trains and now, direct flights from Hua Hin thanks to Air Asia.
Blog posts are coming soon on the other Malaysian points of interest we stopped at. Do keep an eye out for them or add your email to the box on this page and we will notify when the next posts go live. We promise we will only contact for that reason and nothing else.