Five Quick Tips: Kuala Lumpur

Let’s leave Penang for a few days and head to Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, KL for friends. One of the main cities in South East Asia and a busy transport hub, KL is on many travellers’ radar. Continuing our Five Quick Tips series, we would like to introduce you to our Kuala Lumpur favourites; five sights and activities we loved and a great introduction to the city for first-time visitors.

Only this time we haven’t just chosen five random places. We tried to include locations that were representative of Kuala Lumpur, and of Malaysia as a whole. Malaysian cultural and religious diversity is what struck us most about the country; this is why we have decide begin with the symbols of Islam, Hinduism and Chinese faith. As a special treat, we’ve included a little ‘surprise’ at the end.

We can also recommend this Kuala Lumpur in 2 days guide if you’re pressed with time, or if you’re on a short break between flights, check our Kuala Lumpur layover guide!

1. Islamic Arts Museum and National Mosque

Kuala Lumpur Mosque
Masjid Jamek, one of the oldest KL mosques

The Museum is not only an architectural marvel, all gleaming white marble and geometric perspectives; it is also an important cultural and learning centre. The collection houses examples of Islamic craftsmanship, such calligraphy, ceramics, painting and sculpture. Exhibits offer an interesting overview on the history of Islam and its relation to Malaysia. Temporary exhibitions are also held; a Steve McCurry photography show was on display when we visited.

Kuala Lumpur Mosque Prayer
Man in prayer in the National Mosque

The National Mosque next door is nothing short of stunning. Sitting in the middle of a park not far from downtown KL, its curious roof is visible from a distance, looking like a folded paper fan. Inside, it is airy and bright. The atmosphere is peaceful and contemplative, a place to relax and unwind from the hustle and bustle of KL sightseeing.

2. Batu Caves

Lord Murugan Batu Caves
Lord Murugan watching over Batu Caves

This is the centre, the beating heart of Tamil culture and Hinduism in Malaysia. A complex of caves and cave temples snaking through a hill 13 km away from Kuala Lumpur, Batu Caves became in important place of worship in the late 19th century. An Indian trader noticed that the main cave entrance was shaped like a vel, the spear of Hindu deity Murugan. 

Kuala Lumpur Batu Cave Inside
Kuala Lumpur Batu Cave Inside

Nowadays, a giant statue of Murugan, vel in hand, greets visitors at the base of the 272-steps flight of stairs to Cathedral Cave, the biggest shrine in the complex. Visiting Batu Caves is like going to India for the day; we spent hours visiting the main cave temples and the smaller ones around the complex, observing devotees perform puja and posing for pictures with Indian families. Make sure you have a meal at one of the banana-leaf thali restaurants near the entrance.

3. Thean Hou Temple

Kuala Lumpur Thean Hou Temple with Red Lanterns
The Temple with red New Year lanterns

It might not be the most beautiful temple, and certainly not the oldest, having been completed in 1987. I have chosen to include it because, in my mind, it represents not only a single religion, but the whole of Chinese faith and culture. The temple has syncretic elements of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism; we were blessed by monks who gave us some yellow string bracelets, burnt joss sticks and collected water from the Goddess of Mercy fountain. The temple is in a stunning location, high up on a hill with a wonderful view over downtown KL.

Kuala Lumpur Thean Hou Temple with Petronas
View of KL from the Temple

4. Petronas Towers

Kuala Lumpur Petronas Towers
Metropolis, anyone? Petronas Towers at night

This is the symbol of Malaysia’s controversial love affair with modernity. The twin Petronas Towers, looming Metropolis-like in an ensemble of steel cables and glass windows, are KL’s most famous landmark. 451.9 meters high, they were the world’s tallest building until Taipei 101 stole the cap. When we visited, we couldn’t get tickets to the observation deck; advance reservation was impossible and tickets were sold out by 8 am. The system seems to have been simplified now, with online booking and extended opening hours. One adult ticket is 80 RM, check here for more details.

We loved walking around Petronas Towers at night. The area around the towers was deserted, save for a few guards pacing back and forth. The towers stretched upwards, piercing the sky, lights flickering in rapid motion.

5. Jalan Alor and Jalan Petaling

Kuala Lumpur Batman Cook
Open-air cooking in Jalan Alor

To end our selection, I have chosen an element that has united people since time began: food. I am a big fan of street food. I mean, who isn’t, right? Well, street food lovers in KL will be utterly spoilt for choice, with food courts and hawker stalls pretty much everywhere in town. Ditch the air-con restaurants, I was told. KL’s best food is in Jalan Alor; a Blade Runner-style smoky alleyway filled to the brim with street stalls, hole-in-the wall restaurant and hungry diners.

My Malaysian friend suggested we tried Wong Ah Wah and its famous barbecue chicken wings. It’s not hard to find Wong Ah Wah; dozens of chicken wings on spits roast right next to the entrance, crowds elbow their way to get their hands on them. We sat at one of the steel tables and ordered a dozen wings plus a serving of roast pork noodles and some razor clams. As soon as I bit onto the first wing, I understood the fuss. The marinade had a smoky, caramelised flavour, the meat was plump and juicy, flavours perfectly balanced. The rest of the meal was even better.

However, Jalan Alor does have a touristy reputation. A KL friend called it ‘a cut-throat price trap for tourists’. Jalan Petaling is the real place to be.

If you or any of your travel companions happen to be vegan, check this vegan food guide to Kuala Lumpur!

Bonus Tip: Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM)

Kuala Lumpur Forest Colour Tree
Camouflage tree trunk

For all those in search of nature not far from the city, FRIM is the place to head to. Created in 1929, it is the oldest man made forest in the world, focusing on the conservation of tropical forest ecology and biodiversity. If you’re not heading to Borneo or Taman Negara, pay a visit to get a glimpse of what the whole of Malaysia was like until la few centuries ago. The site is huge; stroll at leisure around the trails to try spotting some birds or monkeys, or make the trek to the canopy walkway, from where you can catch a glimpse of Kuala Lumpur beyond the treetops.

Kuala Lumpur Forest Monitor
FRIM resident: Monitor Lizard


16 thoughts on “Five Quick Tips: Kuala Lumpur”

  1. That’s a nice round up of travel tips for KL and great work on this. As you experienced these from a tourist point of view, they are very acceptable and informative too.

    On the KL’s Best Food at Jalan Alor (you were told by someone), it is not entirely correct. Jalan Alor is a common tourist trap offering a variety of food which is just decent. Many years ago (more than 15 years), there used to be some great food there, especially for locals but they have moved on to other places and been replaced by new restaurants. There are more obscure and interesting places to sample Malaysian local food which are at non touristic places too.

    Food is so subjective that many local Malaysians will bring their tourist friends to well known places like Jalan Alor and Jalan Petaling. Even among Malaysians, there is always debate on the local hawker food subject. While most people will claim that the ‘Hokkian Mee’ in Jalan Petaling is the best around, there are many like me who will differ on that statement as they have lose their flavor and touch over the years. Many other places offer much better quality hokkian mee and it takes a hard core foodie to share this kind of information.

    However, you seem to have done a great job in rounding this up in a simple quick tips posting and again, great job on it. I wish I had met you here in KL too.

    • Thanks for your great tips David. I guess when it comes to food opinions vary on so many accounts. The same thing happens here in Italy. There are places some (even Italians) rave about, that become expensive and hyper touristy after guidebooks start talking about them.
      Next time I’m in KL I’ll send you a message, please do the same if you’re ever in Milan!

  2. Very glad you kicked off with the Islamic Arts Museum – it’s one of the most fascinating and misunderstood cultures for art. I’m sure you enjoyed your visit.

    • Oh Bob, I agree with you on so many accounts. The museum is amazing, and Islam is one of the most fascinating cultures in my opinion. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Thanks! We loved KL, especially the food. I would love to return to explore more and more and add to this list!

    • Thanks! It’s a great place, you should definitely pay a visit. Lots of good activities for kids too!

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