The capital of Malaysia has evolved from a modest tin-mining town to a modern metropolis—and the city integrates the old with the new seamlessly. Historic mosques and temples stand beside impressive skyscrapers, five-star hotels and luxury shopping malls. The diversity extends to the city’s cultural composition—scattered pockets of Chinese, Indian and Malay communities make it an exciting place to explore.
Kuala Lumpur is Malaysia’s economic and political hub. It has strong ambitions in the finance sector; foreign banks and insurance companies are increasingly looking to set up their regional offices here. An emerging middle class is giving rise to the retail sector. A large petroleum industry presence also drives the city’s economy.
Getting to and from the airport
Kuala Lumpur International Airport is about 45 kilometers (28 miles) from the city center. The fastest way to travel from the airport to the city center is on the KLIA Ekspres. A one-way journey takes 28 minutes and costs 35 Malaysian Ringits (US$11.12 using the exchange rate US$1 to 3.15 MYR) for adults and 15 MYR (US$4.77) for children. The trains have comfortable seats, digital entertainment and onboard washrooms. Airport taxis operate through a coupon system. You can purchase the coupons at airport limo counters located in the international arrival hall, domestic arrival hall and domestic baggage claim. A trip downtown costs approximately 80 MYR (US$25) and takes 45 minutes.
Getting around Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur has several public transport systems; unfortunately, integration between them is poor and many of the lines don’t interconnect. Tickets are fairly cheap and are based on distance traveled. They can be bought from ticket booths or machines at station entrances. A public transport portal offers train, monorail and light rail information. KL Sentral is the city’s hub station.
Taxis in Kuala Lumpur are plentiful and quite inexpensive. You’ll find taxi stands throughout the city, and most hotels will have no trouble hailing one for you. You may find taxis reluctant to stop if you try to wave one down on the street, but with some patience, it’s possible.
Where to stay
For luxury and upscale accommodation, try the Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur (168 Jalan Imbi, Kuala Lumpur 55100; Ph: +60-3-21428000), Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur (12 Jalan Pinang, Kuala Lumpur 50450; Ph: +60-3-21821234), Grand Millennium Hotel (160 Jalan Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur 55100; Ph: +60-3-21174888), Hilton Kuala Lumpur Hotel (3 Jalan Stensen Sentral, Kuala Lumpur 50470; Ph: +60-3-22642264), Intercontinental Kuala Lumpur (165 Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur 50450; +Ph: 60-3-21611111), Renaissance Kuala Lumpur Hotel (Cnr. Jalan Sultan Ismail & Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur 50450; Ph: +60-3-21622233), or Pullman Kuala Lumpur Bangsar (No. 1 Jalan Pantai Jaya, Kuala Lumpur 59200; Ph: +60-3-22400888).
A midscale option is the Novotel Kuala Lumpur City Centre (2 Jalan Kia Peng, Kuala Lumpur 50450; Ph: +60-3-21470888) and an economy option is the Ibis Styles Kuala Lumpur Fraser Business Park (Jalan Metro Pudu 1, Kuala Lumpur 55200; Ph: +60-3-92210231).
Things to see and do
The shimmering Petronas Twin Towers are the defining feature of the Kuala Lumpur skyline. The rocket-like structures climb 88 stories (452 meters) high. You can zip up to the 42nd-floor Skybridge, which connects the towers. Continue up to the 86th floor for an impressive panoramic view of the surrounding city. Tickets for the towers are issued on a first-come, first-served basis, so plan to show up early. Visiting hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and the towers are closed on Mondays. Admission is 80 MYR (US$25) for adults and 30 MYR (US$9.50) for children.
Just outside of the city lie the Batu Caves. The impressive caverns are only reachable after climbing 272 steps, so prepare to break a sweat. The labyrinth of limestone formations are guarded by a large golden statue of a Hindu god. As you explore the site, you’ll come across several more Hindu shrines. The caves are a 20-minute train ride from KL Sentral. They’re open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., and admission is free.
The National Museum gives you an overview of Malaysian history and culture, and it’s one of the best museums in the city. There are four main galleries: Early History, Malay Kingdoms, Colonial Era and Malaysia Today. A tour through all four will take you on a fascinating journey through Malaysia’s past. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is 5 MYR (US$1.59) for adults and 2 MYR (US$0.64) for children.
Not far from the museum is the Perdana Botanical Garden. The garden provides a quiet escape from the bustling city. A vast array of native and foreign plants and trees fill the lush green space. Entry to the park is free, and it’s open every day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Complimentary guided walks are provided from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sundays.
Where to eat
Finding an authentic Malay meal in Kuala Lumpur isn’t as easy as it sounds. But Bijan provides an excellent option. The chef expertly marries traditional flavors and modern presentation. The opor rusuk is a standout. It consists of tender prime beef ribs stewed in a gravy of spices and coconut milk. Anyone who’s ever smelled the pungent odor of a durian fruit might be taken aback by the idea of a chocolate durian cake. But this treat is one of the most popular items on the menu. Find it at 3 Jalan Ceylon, Ph: +60 3-2031 3575.
Malaysia has a long history of British influence which extends to Kuala Lumpur’s dining options. There’s no better example of this than Albion, a modern British bistro-bar. All the classic British comfort foods are accounted for, from fish and chips to macaroni and cheese. Trendy young professionals keep this restaurant busy. Find it at 31 Jalan Berangan, Changkat Bukit Bintang, Ph: +60 3-2141 9282.
Lafite is a reliable destination for fine dining with friends or colleagues. It’s stood the test of time for over 20 years in the Shangri-La Hotel. Dim lighting, cushioned chairs and a calming water feature set an elegant tone. The delectable Wagyu beef tournedos with sautéed artichokes score high points with dinner guests. Find it at 11 Jalan Sultan Ismail, Ph: +60 3-2074 3900.