After Singapore it was time to move on to Malaysia. We spent about two weeks exploring the country with our first city being the capital of Kuala Lumpur. KL is a bustling modern metropolis that we both instantly liked. It has the same bright light feel as Singapore, but with a little more of the wild west craziness that most people associate with Southeast Asia. Here are a few tips for two days in the home of the famed Petronas Towers: Kuala Lumpur.
KL is actually located VERY far from the airport with its namesake. KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport) is a solid hour’s drive from the city center. Luckily it’s Southeast Asia so the ride in might be long, but it’s still cheap! There is a train that will take you to KL Sentral (the main train station) for 55 Malaysian Ringgit (about $14 USD) as well as buses and shuttles, however, we elected to take an Uber. The drive took us a little over an hour and cost a WHOPPING $17 USD. Insane.
*TIP* For some reason we had trouble getting an Uber to actually pick us up. Each time we were connected to a driver they would message asking where we were going and where we were located at the airport. They would then wait the five minutes it takes to negate free cancellation before sending a message stating their car wouldn’t start and could we please cancel? This literally happened three times before we finally had a driver actually commit to our drive. We weren’t the only ones at arrivals having this issue, but upon Googling there seemed to be no evidence of this being a popular scam. All of the drivers must wait in a lot close to the airport, and must queue up to accept rides in order. Our best guess is that while waiting some of these drivers accept rides before their turn and then bank on people not complaining to Uber thus keeping the $5 cancellation fee. Of course it is possible that all three of our drivers actually were having car trouble, but it just seems highly unlikely. Be diligent about this and make sure to follow up with Uber if the same thing happens to you.
Where to Stay:
Yet again my brilliant fiance managed to work his travel hacking magic to secure us a free stay at a beautiful hotel. This time our points earned us free nights at the swanky JW Marriott located right in the thick of downtown KL in Bukit Bintang. This property regularly goes for $200+ a night, however, it is classified as a Category 3 property by Marriott meaning it was only 15,000 points a night. To those who have been paying attention to Anthony’s posts, or who are familiar with travel hacking in general, you know this is a great redemption.
Since it was our first time to Malaysia, we were upgraded to a higher floor, and given free breakfast for the duration of our stay. If you have the points or the budget, I highly recommend this property. It is in a great location, the staff is exceptional, and the hotel itself is just stunning.
If you don’t have the points but still want to stay here, send us a message and we’ll sort you out!
There are plenty of hostels and midrange properties to be found in KL, so if the JW is out of your price range don’t despair! Most of the hostels are located near Chinatown, which is an equally cool part of town, and within walking distance to the Central Market which has been open since 1888.
Hostel—Back Home Kuala Lumpur
Midrange—Hilton Garden Inn
Luxury—JW Marriott in Bukit Bintang
Where to Eat:
As usual we made our way to the streets when looking for food! Southeast Asia just has so much amazing street food it really is a crime not to take advantage. Malaysia was no exception. Most of the time we walked to the infamous Jalan Alor to get our fix. It was about a ten minute walk from our hotel so it was easy to get to for both lunch and dinner, although it truly comes alive at night.
As with any city there is fast food, high end restaurants, and everything in between. No foodie will be disappointed in KL. I even splurged on my favorite macarons of all time at Laduree. I basically blew my daily budget in one place, but when it comes to macarons, I have no chill.
What to Do:
One of my favorite things about Southeast Asia is the abundance of cave temples. Whether they’re underground, at the top of steep flights of crumbling stairs, or accessible by boat, I never tire of cave temples.
Batu Caves are located 13 kilometers outside of KL, but are easily accessible by public transportation or Uber. Located within the caves is the most important Hindu temple in Malaysia. Thousands of people make the pilgrimage to Batu Caves every year, particularly during Thaipusam. We missed this massive festival of penance by a few weeks which was both disappointing and a little bit of a relief. While we would have loved the chance to witness such an amazing cultural event, all of the pictures show HUGE crowds which isn’t always our favorite thing to endure. Make sure to research when Thaipusam is taking place in order to either participate or avoid it!
The cave complex is made up of several attractions, however, Anthony and I decided to just do the standard temple. The temple entrance is located at the top of those steep crumbling steps I love so much so it can be a bit of a workout if it’s in the middle of the day. It is not a terribly hard climb (especially compared to Tiger Cave Temple in Krabi, Thailand), however, if you’re traveling with young children or older folks (or if you just don’t feel like melting in the Malaysian heat), I’d recommend going in the morning or late afternoon.
The entrance is marked with a HUGE golden statue of Lord Murugan, a Hindu deity. It is the largest statue of a Hindu deity in Malaysia, and the second largest in the world. As you make your way to the top you’ll be accompanied by the many macaques that live on the temple grounds. They make for great photo opportunities, however, DO NOT FEED THEM! This should always be common sense with monkeys, but every time we’re in their presence there are always tons of people ignoring this rule. Please, don’t feed the monkeys, bother the monkeys, poke the monkeys, or make eye contact with the obvious alpha male monkeys…something Anthony seems to forget on a regular basis.
*TIP* The entrance to the main cave is free, however, if you’re not properly dressed (men and women), you will have to rent a drape from the ladies guarding the entrance. When I searched online prior to visiting I couldn’t find anything that specified a dress code, and unfortunately my dress was too short. I should have known better, but for those planning on visiting, dress as you would for any other temple in Southeast Asia.
Getting There—You can get to Batu Caves via train, bus, or Uber/Taxi. We took an Uber there and planned on taking the KTM Komuter train back to the city, however, we didn’t check the time tables first and would have had to wait well over an hour for a train. Since neither of us had a Malaysian SIM card we couldn’t call an Uber and ended up taking a taxi back into the city. The Uber there was 17 MYR (about $4 USD) and the ride back was double that at 35 MYR (about $9 USD). If you decided to take the train simply catch the KTM Komuter to Batu Caves from KL Sentral. You can also take the KL metro to Titiwangsa Station where you will catch the U6 bus to Batu Caves.
Islamic Arts Museum and the National Mosque
We’re not usually big museum people, however, if you find yourself in KL, do yourself a favor and spend a few hours at the Islamic Arts Museum. Aside from Istanbul, our travels haven’t taken us to a country where Islam is the dominant religion (yet), so the IAMM was a great place to start in Malaysia.
The museum itself is located in a quiet part of the city, just a cheap Uber ride from any of the major touristy neighborhoods. There is no dress code, however, it is important to remember that showing respect for the Malay culture is always polite while traveling the country. No one will kick you out for wearing spaghetti straps, but it doesn’t hurt to keep a scarf handy to cover your shoulders. Plus the museum is very well air conditioned. A nice break from the heat, but very chilly!
Entry to the museum costs just 14 MYR (about $3.50 USD), and includes the permanent exhibitions as well as any temporary galleries. When we visited there was a wonderful exhibition about Muslim Women’s Fashion in Australia, and a heartbreaking photography exhibit portraying war torn Middle Eastern countries. These alone would have been worth the entrance fee, in my opinion. The permanent exhibits detail the origins of Islam, and its spread throughout the world, accompanied by stunning works of art, jewelry, clothes, and other artifacts. I could have easily spent all day wandering the museum, but I’m a huge ancient history nerd. Even if you’re not, it’s still worth a visit, and a good place to start to familiarize yourself with the culture.
*TIP* The ceilings are BEAUTIFUL, and make for excellent photo ops! Don’t forget to look up!
After a visit to the museum, take a quick walk down the road to the National Mosque. Entrance is free, and while it’s not the most ornate mosque, it’s an important attraction and easy to do in conjunction with the museum. The mosque is closed to the public from noon to 3 pm so plan your visit accordingly. There IS a dress code, however, robes and head scarves can be borrowed free of charge.
Petronas Towers and Light Show
The Petronas Towers are beautiful all by themselves, but pair that with an absolutely epic light and water show at the fountain in front of them and you have a mind blowing combination.
The fountain itself is referred to as Lake Symphony, and the show takes place at 8pm, 9pm, and 9:45pm daily. The show is also completely free! Just show up, claim your place on the steps in front of the fountain, and allow yourself to be mesmerized!
It is also possible to visit the observation deck at the Petronas Towers, however, we decided to skip this attraction since the real draw of the KL skyline is the towers themselves. At least for us. If you decide to visit the observation deck, tickets can be purchased online in advance here.
The Central Market in KL has been in existence since 1888 when it originated as a wet market. Today it is inside an air conditioned building, and has certainly come a long way since its humble beginnings. While it is certainly more upscale and modern than most Asian markets, it is still worth a visit. There are lots of local artisan shops as well as food, and it’s a great place to buy souvenirs.
*TIP* Merdeka Square (where Malaysia declared its independence from Great Britain), The Central Market, and Chinatown are all within walking distance of one another. Take the metro to Masjid Jamek station and walk to Merdeka Square. From there walk the few blocks to The Central Market and enjoy the air conditioning while having a snack. Finally, make your way to Chinatown and wander the streets lined with stalls selling everything from chickens to luggage. A quick loop that covers three of the major tourist attractions in KL.
As was the case in Singapore, we decided our splurge in KL would be fancy cocktails! The 33rd floor bar at Trader’s boasts the best view of the Petronas Towers in the city, so naturally we decided to check it out. Alcohol is still fairly expensive in Malaysia compared to the rest of Southeast Asia (although it’s definitely cheaper than Singapore). Malaysia is a Muslim country, so the import tax on things like alcohol and cigarettes is high, however, this means you get a little break from the rowdy young gap year backpackers chugging buckets and slinging shots (not that we haven’t been those people a few times more than we like to admit). There are still plenty of backpackers, but everyone is on a little bit better behavior in Malaysia than in, say, Thailand or Vietnam.
That being said, booze is still cheaper than home, so even a night at a hotel bar complete with a pool, DJ, and THE view won’t hurt your wallet. Trader’s was fairly quiet the night we went, but that was perfectly fine with us. It’s definitely the type of place that could easily turn into a sweaty mess, but luckily we avoided that. The DJ actually played some pretty good music, and since it wasn’t crowded we had a great view of the towers. There are little cushioned alcoves located against the windows, but they have a spending minimum attached. Since we weren’t looking to get crazy we snagged a high top, however, if we’d been with a group it definitely would have been worth it. The minimum is only 700 Malaysian Ringgit, or 180 USD. Cheapest table with a view I’ve ever heard of!
Trader’s didn’t have the class of Atlas, but it’s still definitely worth a visit for a few drinks, if only for the amazing view! They offer daily specials so check their Facebook before going. There’s no cover or drink minimum which means you could probably get away with going up and just hang out if you’re not in the mood for drinks.
*TIP* Go before 11 pm so the towers will still be lit up, and the light show will still be happening. We didn’t get there until after 11, but the view was spectacular nonetheless.
I could have spent weeks in KL, but unfortunately we just didn’t have that much time this trip. It is a city that I will definitely return to in the future due to its amazing culture, fantastic shopping, delicious local food, and interesting history. There is very much an “east meets west” vibe in KL that I loved, and overall it is a very welcoming city that is easy to navigate. I found it to have a little more charm than Singapore, but I’m still not sure which one I like better. What is your favorite city in Southeast Asia? Let us know!