Kuala Lumpur narrowly escaped a place on the itinerary for my last South East Asian adventure a few years ago. There was supposed to be a day-long layover for us to explore the city but, as AirAsia would have it, our flights were rearranged at the last minute and the KL experience was axed from our plans. So, you can imagine my excitement when the Asian Medical Student Conference for 2018 was announced as being in the Malaysian capital. Finally, a chance to explore.
For this Malaysian adventure, I had set aside ten days. Seven and a half of those days were taken up by the AMSC conference and its associated sight-seeing, and the other two and a half days were left for me to explore solo. I am hopefully going to get another post sorted with a full breakdown of all the epic experiences I have had in Kuala Lumpur, but I thought I would kick off with a post detailing what can be done here in 48 hours.
As a major hub of South East Asian travel, Kuala Lumpur often ends up being a stopover city for travellers. With almost all AirAsia flights routing through the newly developed KLIA2 terminal, many people like to add a day or overnight stop in the Malaysian capital before flying onto their destination. As this is statistically the most likely way you will be seeing KL, I have decided to summarise the best of the city into 48 hours.
GETTING AROUND KUALA LUMPUR
As you probably know well by now, my preferred method of getting around cities is walking. A bit of exercise, some fresh air, and the added bonus of being able to stumble upon hidden gems, it’s a winner, isn’t it? Many locals said to me in KL that it isn’t a walkable city, and, well… I sort of agree… kind of. Walking around the city is actually quite enjoyable, it’s the heat that gets you. Many attractions and suburbs are about a 45 minute walk from each other (i.e. Petaling Street and Petronas Towers).
I would recommend downloading an offline map app as the streets and alleyways can be quite disorienting at times, and look out for the footpaths which frequently have holes, steps and other trip-ups.
The public transport in Kuala Lumpur is great for getting around the city centre, but if you want to do anything a little further afield, it isn’t the best option. Within the city there are many public transport systems intertwined: KTM Komuter, LRT (light rail), the monorail, and buses. The trains
FROM THE AIRPORT: There are a few different ways to get from KLIA and KLIA 2. There are commuter buses which are only 10RM but take ~2 hours to get to the city and only leave every hour. I would recommend getting one of the trains (KLIA Express/Ekspres or KLIA Transit to KL Sentral Station and then catching public transport train/monorail to your accommodation. KLIA Ekspres tickets will set you back 55RM (around $18AUD) but takes only 30mins to get to Sentral and run every 15 minutes.
TAXIS AND RIDESHARE
Taxis are frequent in Kuala Lumpur and you will frequently hear “taxi, miss?” thrown at you as you walk down the streets. Traffic can get pretty bad in KL so sometimes travel by car and taxi is not the most convenient. Taxi fares are obviously going to cost more than catching the public transport and many locals use the app “Grab” (like Uber) because the prices are more competitive than taxis.
BUDGET AND COST BREAKDOWN
Despite being such a large and relatively modern city, travelling in KL doesn’t set you back too much at all. As with everywhere, your budget will depend on whether you are a budget, mid-range, or high-end traveller.
ACCOMMODATION: dorm room bed 30RM, mid-range hotel double room 200RM, high end hotel 600RM
FOOD: if you eat at local restaurants and hawker stalls a meal will cost 6-10RM, at a mid-range local restaurant a meal will cost 30-40RM, and at a high end restaurant it will be ~100RM
TRANSPORT: trips on public transport cost around 1.70-3.00RM per trip, taxi rates start with a base fare around 3.00RM
SIDE TRIPS FROM KL: really expensive for some reason, a trip to Taman Negara will set you back >$250AUD and to the Cameron Highlands will be >$150AUD
WHERE TO STAY IN KUALA LUMPUR
Kuala Lumpur is a large city and therefore has many different suburbs with their own culture, vibe, and attractions. The kind of experience you want to have in KL will really determine the area you want to stay in. Many travellers stay around the Petronas Towers and Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) which has high-end hotels and unparalleled views over the city’s skyscrapers.
I chose to stay in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown district which centres around the Petaling Street markets. The faded pastel-coloured buildings, thriving marketplaces and enviable street market vibe appealed to me as it seemed more unique to Kuala Lumpur than regular chain hotels. I splurged a little bit and deviated from my usual hostel dorm room, electing to stay at Tian Jing hotel, a beautifully restored boutique hotel on Jalan Sultan, only a stone’s throw from Petaling Street. Check out the photos and book your stay here Tian Jing Hotel. And if the beautiful rooms, location and private outdoor showers weren’t enough, you even get a free coffee every day at the café downstairs… guess they knew the easy way to my heart.
There is a great traveller vibe in Chinatown with several nice backpacker hostels and wonderfully restored guest houses. If you want to try an area other than KLCC and Chinatown, around Masjid India, Bukit Bintang and the Brickfields have several hotels, hostels, and guest houses to choose from.
EATING IN KUALA LUMPUR
My fondest memories in Kuala Lumpur all surround the central theme of eating. Eating in Malaysia is a social occasion: time to spend with friends new and old over a shared love of flavoursome feeds and atmospheric eateries. Although there are undoubtedly quality high-end restaurants, every time it rolled around to lunch or dinnertime, the street-side eateries called my name. Over the course of the afternoon, hawker stalls would begin setting up, and the smell of roasting meat and steaming broth started to saturate the air.
I liked to just stroll through the eateries and garner an idea for which ones were popular with the locals. The setup is generally the same at all the eateries: charming plastic stools and metal tabletops with communal pots of chopsticks and condiments. If an eatery is popular, it is heaving with people and you are ushered into any remaining stool at any remaining table. Soon enough, a member of staff will come around with a menu and ask if you want drinks. You are expected to make your mind up pretty quick in these places. The meals are plonked down rather unceremoniously in front of you and it’s time to begin the feast. Most noodle dishes will only set you back around RM10 or less and, trust me, they are freakin’ delicious.
FOOD I LOVED
- Hokkien Mee at Kim Lian Kee Restaurant, Chinatown
- Wantan Mee and Noodle Soup at Koon Kee Wan Tan Mee Restaurant, Chinatown
- Beef Noodle Soup at Sin Kiew Yee Shin, Chinatown
A NOTE ON THE CAFÉ SCENE
Kuala Lumpur is full of local kopitiam which serve local coffee and these are a really cool experience! The city is also home to some great cafés serving Western-style coffee. There are your chains like Starbucks and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, like everywhere, but I urge you to stay away from them and head for better value coffee at more local joints. In Chinatown there were some beautiful cafés set up in
CAFÉS I LOVED
- Merchant Lane Café, Chinatown
- Lim Kee Café, Chinatown
- Munch and Mingle, Chinatown
A NOTE ON DRINKING
As a predominantly Muslim country, there are high taxes on alcohol in Malaysia so it is not as cheap as other South East Asian nations. That being said, it is still far cheaper than in Australia. There are bars with not-the-best drinks but epic views, like Heli Lounge Bar, and then there are cool speakeasies which contribute to KL’s burgeoning bar scene, like PS150. And of course, there is always room for a refreshing beer over dinner.
I always like to hit the big-ticket items in the first day of exploring a place, that way you know they’re done and you can move onto finding hidden gems. The days in KL can be long and humid, so if you want to see the best of the city in only a couple of days, you’re going to have to buckle up and prepare for it.
Today is a good day to head to Batu Caves, one of KL’s most famous attractions. The Caves are only a 15min drive from the city centre or a ~20min train trip from KL Sentral. The limestone caves are over 400 million years and houses a series of Hindu temples. Probably the part of Batu Caves you are must familiar with is golden statue marking the entrance, right? This statue is dedicated to Lord Murugan and stands 100m tall in front of the 272 steps to the main cave.
There are six caves in the network and the main cave is free to enter. The cave is astonishing in size and the monkeys are sure to keep things entertaining. Allocate around an hour for the walk up and to explore Batu Caves, and remember that there are more caves than the main one! For an entrance fee you can enter other areas of the cavernous network, too.
Cost Free | Opening Hours 06:00 – 21:00 | Address Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia | Website Batu Caves By Hotels.com
KL ECO PARK AND MENARA KL TOWER
You can unwind from the day’s adventures at the KL Eco Forest Park. The park is only a short distance from KLCC and is a beautifully dense forest with perfectly designed walks to enjoy. The crowd favourite is the canopy walk where a wooden walkway is suspended above the ground making you feel completely absorbed by the forest surrounds. The walk itself is only around 10 minutes long and completely free. If you enjoy nature, I would also recommend doing one of the other short walks in the park where there are fewer people.
At the end of the canopy walk, you end up at the base of KL tower. The views from Menara KL tower are panoramic over the whole city, including the Petronas towers, so if you are willing to pay the price, it is a worthwhile place to soak up the skyline.
Cost Free | Opening Hours 07:00 – 18:00 | Address 8 Jalan Raja Chulan, Bukit Kewangan, 50250 Kuala Lumpur | Website Visit KL Eco Park
PETRONAS TOWERS AND KLCC
Petronas Towers are the obvious place to start. These towers are the most iconic part of Kuala Lumpur and, up until 2004, were the tallest buildings in the world. The Petronas Towers seem to anchor the city and almost everywhere you look you can see them in the distance. Surrounding the towers is KLCC which has a mega mall (Suria) and the KLCC Park. I loved the views from KLCC Park where you can spread out and find a spot all to yourself. Unless you’re going up the towers, you only need around 30 minutes to enjoy the views from the park and take some compulsory snaps.
THE OBSERVATION DECK: most people want to head up the towers and see the vast skyline of KL from above. The views are spectacular, and of course, everyone wants to do this, so the tickets are limited. You can book online (and I would recommend doing this in advance), or you can line up around 7:30AM on the day you want to go up and ~hope~ you get one of the remaining tickets. Alternatively, you can head to Menara KL Tower and get a different, arguably better, view over the skyline which includes the towers within it.
Cost Free for the park, observation deck RM80 | Opening Hours 09:00 – 21:00 | Address Kuala Lumpur City Centre, 50450 Kuala Lumpur | Website Petronas Towers Website
JALAN ALOR NIGHT MARKET
f you are seeking an interesting place for dinner to sample KL’s famous hawker food, look no further than Jalan Alor in Bukit Bintang. This is KL’s most famous place for street food and the atmosphere is unparalleled, with tables spilling out onto the street in all directions. Jalan Alor is a 10-15min drive (or 25min train or walk) from KLCC and the Petronas Towers, and doesn’t really get good until after dark. The street food scene is busiest after 8:00pm and I would recommend visiting at this time to make the most of the atmosphere.
Jalan Alor has all the cuisines you can imagine: Malaysian, Chinese, Thai, Indian, Western… you name it. Despite being a relatively popular area, the price of food is not unreasonable and you don’t have to look too hard to find a deal. Because there are so many delicious dishes to choose from, if you only have one night to explore Jalan Alor, then pick a few smaller sized pieces and sample a few. We tried some delicious satay skewers, chicken wings, and cendol, which are all highly recommended, as well as durian which, although you have to try, I can’t recommend as much (sorry). Then it’s time to head back to your accommodation and recharge for the next day’s adventures.
Cost Free (except for all the amazing food you’ll eat) | Opening Hours begins around 17:00 | Address Jalan Alor, Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur | Website Jalan Alor Lonely Planet
For your second day in Kuala Lumpur, I would recommend heading away from the major attractions in the main city centre and going to some of the suburban sites. Temples and cultural hubs will be your mainstay today.
THEAN HOU TEMPLE
Thean Hou Temple, also known as the Temple of the Goddess of Heaven, is an old and stunningly large temple in Kuala Lumpur’s South-West. The six-tiered, lantern-adorned temple sits atop a hill overlooking the meandering alleyways of Kuala Lumpur’s inner suburbs. The sense of spirituality here is powerful and well worth experiencing.
Cost Free | Opening Hours 09:00 – 18:00 | Address 65 Persiaran Endah, Off Jalan Syed Putra, Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan 50460 | Website Thean Hou Temple Hotels.com
Not necessarily an attraction per se, Brickfields is Kuala Lumpur’s Little India. This suburb is a riot of colour and personality and is best soaked up by wandering through the streets. Malaysia’s cultural variety is truly on display in this suburb, and within Brickfields’ streets you will find religious structures for many denominations from colourful Hindu temples to colonial churches. Only a short 20min walk from Thean Hou, I would recommend walking down to Brickfields and around the alleyways and adorned roads before hopping on a train at KL Sentral and heading to Merdeka Square.
Cost Free | Opening Hours Always | Address Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur
Merdeka Square is one of Kuala Lumpur’s most well-known attractions. The square is surrounded by the Royal Selangor Club and the Sultan Abdul Samad Building. The square was the site of the lowering of the British Flag and replacement with the Malaysian Flag in the push for independence in 1957. Hence, the flagpole is one of the most poignant symbols here, standing 95m tall. It is here where the Merdeka Parade, celebrated on independence day, occurs each year.
Merdeka Square is a thought-provoking place to visit. Not only is it home to some iconic architecture but it is where I found KL’s colonial history felt most pertinent. Spend a while here looking at all the sites and invest some time in understanding KL and Malaysia’s recent history.
Cost Free | Opening Hours All day | Address Jalan Raja, Kuala Lumpur City Centre, 50050 Kuala Lumpur | Website Merdeka Square on Attractions in Malaysia
Central Market is only a short walk from Merdeka Square and within the iconic blue walls lie exotic stores. This indoor market used to be a wet market but has morphed into the home base of Kuala Lumpur’s artistic community. Within the World Heritage art-deco inspired building you will find all manner of Malaysian wares, from tasty food and drink, to clothing, paintings, and jewellery.
Cost Free | Opening Hours 10:00 – 22:00 | Address 10, 1st-3rd floor, Jalan Hang Kasturi, Kuala Lumpur| Website Central Market by Hotels.com
SRI MAHAMARIAMMAN TEMPLE
Because you are now so close to Chinatown now, it’d be rude not to go and check it out, right? Right. Continue your walk into the faded streets and lantern lined alleyways. Despite it being easy to find yourself wandering aimlessly and soaking up the Chinatown atmosphere, you should try and make it to Sri Mahamariamman Temple. First construction began in 1873, and the intricately decorated temple is Kuala Lumpur’s largest Hindu temple.
Cost Free | Opening Hours 06:00 – 21:00 | Address 163, Jalan Tun H. S. Lee, Kuala Lumpur| Website Sri Mahamariamman Temple at Hotels.com
PETALING STREET AND CHINATOWN
Ok, now you can go wild in Chinatown. The main attraction is undeniably Petaling Street because of its night markets and bright red lanterns. Petaling Street is most atmospheric at nighttime with smoke from roasting chestnuts and a thick, bustling crowd.
Chinatown is also famous for food. Cheap, good food. Basically a winning combination. Wander around the streets and see where the locals are eating. Sit down and order yourself a beef ball noodle soup, hokkien mee or BBQ pork noodles and do a spot of people watching.
If architecture is more your style, there are beautiful old houses on the street called ‘Lorong Panggung’. And Chinatown has its fair share of street art as well, my personal favourite was the mural of a school bus seen in the carpark on Jalan Sultan.