Famed for its skyscrapers and shopping malls, Kuala Lumpar (KL) is the capital of Malaysia. It’s a melting pot of culture with a vibrant mix of Malay, Indian, Thai and Chinese. The food is fantastic and there’s no shortage of things to do.
When beginning to map out my trip to SE Asia, I envisioned my first time in Malaysia being a few weeks long- time to visit KL, the Cameron Highlands and possibly the coast.
In actuality, my first jaunt was 48 hours in KL. When I needed to adjust travel plans, I decided to hit Malaysia on my way to Thailand to get a quick intro to the country in case I didn’t have time to make my way through later in my trip.
Safe to say I’d be quick to go back to KL- the city charmed me in two days, and I only saw a small bit of what Malaysia has to offer.
If you’re short on time as I was, don’t miss out on these five great things to do in KL.
Climb to the Top of Batu Caves (free)
Batu Caves are one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside of India. The towering 50 metre gold statue of Hindu God, Lord Murugan at the entrance to the cave is the tallest in the world.
Admittedly, I first became interested in visiting Batu after seeing the caves on Instagram- rainbow stairs, can you blame me?!
If you want shots of the stairs without people on them, you need to come before sunrise and wait for the crack of dawn.
I arrived at 7:45 am and there were already a dozen or so people milling about on the stairs- some for tourism, others for morning prayer. I didn’t mind these people on the stairs, but it’s worth noting by the time I left around 9 am, there were well over a hundred people swarming the stairs.
Don’t miss out on climbing to the top of the stairs, there’s a temple inside the cave.
To climb the stairs, you need to be dressed conservatively (shoulders/knees covered). You can rent sarongs at the base of the stairs or just wear a midi dress and bring a scarf to cover your shoulders as I did.
Once I reached the top of the stairs, I heard chants echoing from within and realised morning prayer was still happening. I hurried inside the cave, and spent ~10 minutes observing the final moments of offering. A really special experience.
If you want to make your own offering, there are vendors at the entrance to the temple.
Oh, and don’t forget your mosquito repellent. The temple’s cave setting means there are plenty of them flying around. Some people warn of the monkeys crawling around the outside of the cave, and advise you secure your belongings, but I didn’t see any on my visit.
Visit a Mosque (free)
The architecture of the Wilayah Mosque, also known as the Federal Territory Mosque, is inspired by the Blue Mosque of Istanbul in Turkey.
Besides being a beautiful building, the mosque welcomes visitors every day for free tours.
If you’re a woman, you can head to the visitor centre for a robe and burka to wear during your tour- they’re free to borrow. I arrived right before afternoon prayer and was invited to watch from the back of the mosque.
Such a beautiful experience.
After prayer was finished, a kind woman led me around the mosque, telling me about the history of Islam, answering questions I had, and introducing me to a few other people so I could meet more of the mosque’s community. The people I met spent a little over an hour chatting with me- keen to answer my questions, and tell me about the great programs their mosque puts on to help the larger KL community.
The tour ended up being one of my favourite parts of my visit to KL and my travels in SE Asia thus far.
Sip Some Seriously Great Coffee
Many of the cafes in KL are “kopitiam” meaning coffee shops, which serve local dishes, and hot and cold beverages like Teh Tarik, coffee, and juices.
I couldn’t believe how great the cold brew was at every cafe I visited- some were even dedicated to perfecting cold brew.
The coffee scene was so good, I’m considering another quick trip to KL with the intent of re-visiting some of my favourite spots- VCR, Merchant’s Lane, PULP by Papa Palheta and Breakfast Thieves.
Admire a Beautiful Temple (free)
Thean Hou Temple is one of the oldest temples in SE Asia. A Chinese temple, it’s located on top of a hill overlooking the city.
In short, the temple is breathtaking.
The vibrant colours and decorations are so beautiful, it’s hard not to photograph each and every one.
I visited mid-morning around 10:30 am and was worried it’d be crowded. While there were lots of people around the temple, the complex is so large, it never felt like there were too many people around.
Still dreaming of the red lanterns strung around the temple and details etched in gold.
Trek the Jungle From Above (free)
Don’t miss the forest walk, it’s several km of bridges strung together high atop the trees. Great because one, it’s part of a larger city conservation effort; two, cool to see KL from another perspective; and three, free to wander.
Go to this map point to enter the forest walk- entry points can be tricky to find from the ground.
Bonnus! Swim in a Rooftop Pool
When I booked my Airbnb for KL, the only requirement was a rooftop pool with a great view. I’d done enough research about KL to know there’s no shortage of them, many of which are popular on Airbnb.
I stayed at Regalia and loved it- in addition to the rooftop pool, there was coin laundry, a mini mart, relaxing garden, smaller (more serene) pool, and the complex was a five minute walk to a major mall (e.g. big grocery store, plenty of things to eat and drink, and easy shopping).
Getting Around KL
If you’re short on time like I was and/or not quite acclimated to the weather in SE Asia, Grab is a lifesaver. I didn’t have cell service in KL (was waiting for my phone to unlock), so I relied on wifi to help me call Grabs in between stops.
The good news is wifi is plentiful- at malls, at cafes, at restaurants.
There were only a few times (temples, Batu caves, the mosque), I needed to use roaming data to call a Grab. To help save $$$, once I called the Grab and noted my driver’s license plate number, I switched my phone back on Airplane mode.
The best part? Using Grab in KL is seriously cheap- I never paid more than $2.50 for a ride, averaging $1.50.
Have you ever been to KL or Malaysia? What would you recommend first time visitors see and do?