Holidays to Kuala Lumpur offer up the best of old and new, with skyscrapers and shopping malls brushing shoulders with traditional market places and century-old temples.
A modern and classic mash-up
In Kuala Lumpur, affectionately known as KL, you’re as likely to see a colourful colonial-style building as you are a skyscraper. The city is best known for the twin Petronas Towers, but boasts an old town with architecture inspired by the Mughal Empire, Tudor England and China’s Hainan Province.
Shopping malls around every corner
If you’re craving a bit of retail therapy, Kuala Lumpur delivers in spades. Bukit Bintang is the main shopping district, where you’ll find ultra-modern malls like Pavilion KL, Starhill Gallery and Berjaya Times Square. It’s a fashionista’s paradise, and you can splash out at the likes of Saint Laurent, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana.
Food you can’t get enough of
Ikan bakar, nasi lemak and roti canai might mean little to you, but you’ll come home raving about all three. In simpler terms, they’re Kuala Lumpur’s most iconic dishes - charred fish, coconut milk rice and a chapatti-style pancake. Once you’ve sampled a few Malaysian favourites, head to the Brickfields neighbourhood for Indian cuisine, Ampang for Korean dishes, or Chinatown for tasty Oriental fare.
Day trips beyond the city limits
Away from the bright lights and busy malls, Kuala Lumpur has its fair share of nature and history-inspired days out. You can explore hidden-away temples in the Batu Caves, or stroll along an elevated walkway at a rainforest reserve. Both are just half-an-hour’s drive from the city centre.
Things to See and Do in Kuala Lumpur
Weekend beach breaks
When you bed down in this urban metropolis, the nearest beaches are a 90-minute drive away in Port Dickson. This place has a handful of sandy stretches under its belt, making it popular with Kuala Lumpur residents, who flock here at the weekends for a break from the bright lights of the city. For more choice, you’ll need to hop on a plane.
One of the most sought-after strips of shoreline in Port Dickson is called the Blue Lagoon Beach. As the name suggests, the waters here are calm and shallow. And its golden sands are backed by thick jungle, giving it an out-of-the-way feel. That said, there are still all the facilities you could need, including a couple of restaurants, a shop and a centre that hires out kayaks.
An hour’s flight – or a three-and-a-half-hour drive – from Kuala Lumpur, the pocket-sized island of Penang is an expert when it comes to beautiful beaches. Here, you’ve got your more developed swathes, like Batu Feringghi, which are lined by hotels, restaurants and markets. Or more secluded options, like Monkey Beach, which you have to board a ferry to get to. What they all have in common, though, is fine, white sand and clear, turquoise waters.
For top dollar shopping, Pavilion KL is the be-all and end-all. It’s all about big names and luxury labels, with the likes of Kate Spade, Moschino and Hugo Boss dotted around the mall. There’s also Suria KLCC, at the foot of the Petronas Towers, where you can shop at Gucci and Prada.
Sunway Pyramid, an Egyptian-themed mall, is right beside a theme park and comes with its own indoor ice rink. You can shop at High Street stores like Timberland and Mango, here. The Berjaya Times Square has a lot of strings to its bow, too, with a cinema, an arcade and 10 floors-worth of shops.
To work on your haggling technique, make a beeline for Petaling Street. You can get everything from handbags to handicrafts at this market-like set-up, and there’s a buzz which you won’t find in the modern strip malls. You can also browse one of Kuala Lumpur’s oldest shopping centres, Sungei Wang Plaza, which is still going strong after nearly 40 years.
Head to the suburb of Bangsar for a more low-key night out. It’s still got its fair share of bars and restaurants, but things aren’t as intense as the city centre scene.
The Golden Triangle is the heartbeat of Kuala Lumpur’s party scene. Here you’ll find the Jalan P. Ramlee area, which is packed with exotic cocktail bars and lively clubs, and has a reputation for being the most off-the-wall area of town.
Burned fish might not sound the most appetising, but this seafood staple crops up on almost every menu. Whole fish are marinated with soy sauce and coconut oil, then wrapped in banana leaves and chargrilled until they get a blackened finish. Once unwrapped, the tender fish is served with sambal belacan, a shrimp and chilli paste.
This traditional rice dish is pretty basic, but it certainly hits the spot taste-wise. It’s one of Malaysia’s national dishes, and consists of big pans of rice cooked in coconut oil and pandan leaves. The result – a rich plate of food which can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
You’ll find the best Hokkien Mee being dished out by street vendors around the city, especially around the bustling Petaling Street area. Thick noodles are tossed in a wok with soy sauce, a few cubes of lard and a handful of fresh pork, prawns or squid.
A mixture of chapatti and pancakes, you’ve got carte blanche when it comes to customising this quick-and-easy snack. You can get them at almost every open-fronted mamak stall, with a choice of dipping sauces, fruit and ice cream toppings, or a savoury minced meat stuffing.
This spicy noodle soup is to Malaysia what paella is to Spain. There are all sorts of tweaks and twists to the classic fiery recipe, so you can never say you’ve tried the lot. From fish-inspired versions, to sweet pineapple creations, street vendors all try to put their own stamp on this warming dish.