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. Recommendations in this post for 5 things to do in Kuala Lumpar only scratch the surface of what there is to do and see.
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.
5 things to do in Kuala Lumpar:
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, Feeka Coffee Roasters, Lim Kim Cafe, Urban Daybreak, 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)
Planning my time in KL, I didn’t quite imagine a treetop walk would make it onto my list of 5 things to do in Kuala Lumpar. But, that’s exactly the case.
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.
Additional Recommendation (revised February 2020)-
Gawk at Some Seriously Great Street Art
I don’t know how I missed this epic street art on my first visit to KL, but I’m glad I was able to return and had a chance to check it out, because it’s some of the best I’ve seen in the world.
Butik Bintang is a neighborhood in the city that is home to some pretty stellar street art and colorful murals
The once derelict back alleyways have now been utterly transformed in an ongoing “urban renewal project” by Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) to be completed in December 2018.
Key streets to see: Jalan Alor; Jalan Berangan; Jalan Changkat; Jalan Rembia; Jalan Tengkat Tong Shin
Bonus! 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. A fantastic way to get around to see these five things in Kuala Lumpar.
EXTRA KNOW BEFORE YOU GO INFO
- Language: Malay is the official language, but you’ll also often hear Chinese. Transactional English is common in cities, like KL
- Currency: Malaysian ringgit. I carried cash and mostly paid that way, but also used my card at a few upmarket places (cafes, mostly)
- Getting There: The first time I visited KL, I took the express trail into city centre. Largely because I needed to store luggage in the train station. From there, I hopped in a Grab to my Airbnb. My second time in the city, I just took a Grab directly to my Airbnb (there’s an entire section for rideshare services on the lower level of KL’s airport, near the traditional taxis)
- Getting Around: Grab is the best way to get around outside of the downtown area. They’re affordable, but because of new regulations (October 2019), they’re a bit more expensive than they were previously, and can take much longer to call, so be sure to plan in advance if you’re going to use them
- When to Visit: I visited in April and November and had no issues with the weather. It was hot and humid, but not so much it was a hindrance. And, in November, it rained a bit some days, but cleared up pretty quickly
- Wifi Access: Wifi was easy to find at cafes and upmarket restaurants. You can also grab a SIM at the airport when you arrive, but you’ll need cash to do so
Have you ever been to KL or Malaysia? What would you recommend first time visitors see and do?
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