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Kuala Lumpur (KL) is a cultural, economic, and financial center of Malaysia, as well as one of the fastest-growing metropolitan cities in Southeast Asia. Not only does the city offers tourists modern architecture, but it’s also teemed with a long-standing history and rich culture.
I visited KL for the first time in 2019 and I fell in love with this amazing city. 2 years later, I decided to move to KL as an ex-pat. Little did I know, the more I stay in KL, the more I feel that there are way too many things to discover, and the more I love this city.
In this Kuala Lumpur travel blog, I’m going to share where to stay in Kuala Lumpur, how to get around, the best things to do in Kuala Lumpur, and travel expenses.
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Table of Contents
1. About Kuala Lumpur
- A brief history of Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur was founded in 1857 and was administrated by Selangor State Government. Thanks to tin ore exploitation, KL became a commercial center that attracted many investors to trade tin. However, its development started to bloom when Yap Ah Loy – the 3rd leader of the Chinese community- took over the position of Kapitan Cina (Chinese headman) in the 1860s. He effectively managed KL in all aspects such as the economy, education, social well-being, etc.
In 1874, Sultan Abdul Samad – the 4th Sultan of Selangor – allowed the British to rule the state. In 1880, the British colonial administration chose KL to be the capital of Selangor and moved their seat of administration to KL. In 1882, Frank Swettenham, who was appointed the new British Resident Minister, had a dramatic influence on KL’s growth. He ordered to construct brick and tile buildings replacing the wooden ones, to widen the streets, to build a railway station in KL, etc. All those efforts made KL become a rapid-grown town and be chosen as the capital of Malaysia in 1896.
From 1942 to 1945, KL was occupied by the Japanese. During that time, Malay people were treated much better than Chinese and Indians because they cooperated with the Japanese and let them administrate KL. Not until August 1945, the occupation of the Japanese in KL ended when the surrender of Imperial Japan was announced bringing the end of World War 2.
After that, the British came back to rule KL. In 1957, Malaysia declared itself an independent country at Merdeka Square.
On 13th May 1969, one of the worst racial riots occurred in Malaysia due to Malays’ socio-political status dissatisfaction. After 2 years of being suspended, the Malaysian parliament made major changes in economic policy that prioritise Malay people over other ethnicities.
KL was given city status in 1972. The city was then seceded from Selangor to become a Federal Territory in 1974.
Today, Kuala Lumpur is a hustle and bustle metropolitan with diverse culture. The dominant culture is Malay culture. Demographically, 40.3% of the population in KL is Malay, followed by 36.9% Chinese. The Indians take up 8.62%, and the rest are other ethnicities. Therefore, when coming to Kuala Lumpur, it’s not surprising that you will experience a lot of food or architecture from different cultures.
2. Where to stay in Kuala Lumpur?
Which area to stay in?
There are 3 common areas to stay in Kuala Lumpur for tourists: Bukit Bintang, China Town, and Kuala Lumpur City Center (KLCC).
Here are some places to visit in those areas:
KLCC: Petronas Twin Tower, Lake Symphony and water show, KLCC Park, Aquaria KLCC, Suria KLCC mall.
Bukit Bintang: Bukit Bintang Street Art Alleys, Jalan Alor, Changkat Bukit Bintang.
China Town: Petaling street, Chai Kwai Hong street art, Central market, Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Merdeka Square, Sultan Abdul Samad building, Masjid Jamek.
Regarding expenses, accommodation in KLCC would be more expensive than in China Town or Bukit Bintang.
Tips: Don’t stay too near to Jalan Alor night street, it’s super crowded and hard to take a taxi/grab in the evening, especially during the weekend.
As for my experience, I chose the Ibis Kuala Lumpur City Centre hotel which is located just a 10-minute walk from the Petronas Twin Towers.
My feed-backs about Ibis KLCC hotel:
- Has an infinity pool (which has a view of Petronas Tower), and some rooms have a view of Petronas tower too
- The room is clean and modern.
- Great location, only 5-10 minutes to walk to Twin Towers.
Tips: when you book the room, note on your special request that you want a room with a view of Petronas Tower, they may arrange that room for you. I did it, and…hurrayyy!
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3. How to get around Kuala Lumpur?
From KLIA Airport to Kuala Lumpur
There are 2 ways to travel from the airport to Kuala Lumpur:
By KLIA Ekspres: this is a train operating the route between KLIA Airport to KL Sentral (Kuala Lumpur city center). The ticket can be purchased in Klook (link below) at discounted price.
By car: if you travel in a group (more than 2), so it’s cheaper to go by car. A 4 seater car costs only around 70RM/way.
Getting around Kuala Lumpur
There are 4 ways to get around Kuala Lumpur:
Some places of interest in Kuala Lumpur are pretty near to each other, you can definitely wander around on foot.
Two routes to walk:
Route 1: Petaling street, Chai Kwai Hong street art, Central market, Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Merdeka Square, Sultan Abdul Samad building, Masjid Jamek.
Route 2: Petronas Twin Tower, Lake Symphony and water show, KLCC Park, Aquaria KLCC, Suria KLCC mall.
Note: Bear in mind that the weather in Kuala Lumpur is hot and sunny all year round, thus, I don’t recommend walking at noon, it’s quite tiring.
KL has a network of buses, light rail commuter trains, KMT trains, Rapid KL buses, etc. All the public means of transport operate from about 6 am till 12 am. To buy the ticket, you can just come to the station, there are ticket counters or ticket machines there, very easy to use. The cost depends on how far you go.
Tips: Remember to bring small changes with you, many ticket machines don’t accept big notes or cards.
Taxi/ Grab car
In Southeast Asia, you may want to download GRAB – it is an app commonly used here that provides a good price for your ride. So you won’t be afraid of scams. However, there is one thing that I don’t quite like is that the price will go double (even triple) than normal when you book at peak hours or at night. The fare per km is about 4RM, however, it will fluctuate during the day.
Taxi might be more or less expensive than Grab, depending on different times of the day. However, the risk of scams is always here or there. Thus, I always prefer to use Grab in all circumstances.
Rent an electric scooter
In Kuala Lumpur, you can also rent electric scooters from Beam company as well. It’s super convenient to travel around Kuala Lumpur to some tourist attractions such as Petronas Twin Tower, Aquaria KLCC, Menara KL Tower, Jalan Alor night street, etc. Furthermore, the pickup or drop-off points are just on the street around Kuala Lumpur city centre, you can track those points on the Beam app’s map.
To rent a scooter, you need to download the Beam app and create an account. After that, you can rent and pay via the app. The rental fee is RM1.5 (to unlock) + RM 0.45/ minute.
However, be careful when driving it around Kuala Lumpur, its speed is quite fast.
4. Best things to do in Kuala Lumpur
There are a plethora of things to do in Kuala Lumpur, however, in this post, I will just shortlist the best things to do in Kuala Lumpur for short-term travellers.
Pray at Thean Hou temple
This is my favorite place to visit in Kuala Lumpur, it’s stunning!!
Thean Hou (Mazu) is the Goddess of the Ocean originally from Phuc Kien, China who protects fishermen on the sea. Chinese people have a great belief in her and build temples to worship her everywhere they migrate, some other countries which also have Thean Hou temples are Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, and of course, Malaysia.
In Kuala Lumpur, Thean Hou temple was built in 1894 by the Hainanese community in Kuala Lumpur. It is one of the oldest and largest temples in Southeast Asia (and the most beautiful one that I’ve visited). Aside from worshipping Thean Hou, there are also Guan Yin (the Goddess of Mercy) and Shui Wei Sheng Niang (the Goddess of the waterfront). Coming here, you will be amazed by the splendid beauty of the temple with the perfect harmonization between modern and traditional architectural styles.
- Opening Hours: Daily: 08:00 – 22:00
- Address: 65 Persiaran Endah, Off Jalan Syed Putra, Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan 50460
Admire the Petronas Twin Towers
Visiting the Petronas Twin Towers is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Kuala Lumpur.
It is the highest twin tower in the world with a height of 451.9 m (1,483 ft), consisting of 88 floors. The towers were designed by an Argentinian architect, Cesar Pelli, with a postmodern architectural style. It took 7 years to complete Petronas construction from 1992 to 1999. Interestingly, the two towers were built by 2 different construction consortia which are Hazama Corporation (from Japan) and Samsung C&T Corporation (from Korea).
Here are what you can visit at Petronas Twin tower:
- KLCC Park: this park is a great check-in point with the Petronas Tower. Besides, there are a variety of things to see here such as Lake Symphony, waterfalls, fountains, etc.
Note: KLCC Lake Symphony Light and Sound Water Fountain showtimes are 8 pm, 9 pm and 10 pm daily. However, KLCC Lake Symphony Water Fountain showtimes (Light only) are 7:30 pm, 8:30 pm, and 9:30 pm daily.
- Suria KLCC: this is a shopping mall nestled at the foot of the Petronas towers. It is one of the biggest shopping malls in Malaysia with nearly 400 retail shops. Woww, time for shopping!!!
- Skybridge (41st floor) and Observation Deck (86th floor): On these 2 floors, you can see an impeccable view over the city. A ticket is required to get inside this area:
Opening hours: 10 am – 6 pm (closed on Monday)
Adults (13-60 years old): 80RM
Kids (3-12 years old): 33RM (free for under 2-year-old kids)
The elderly (over 61 years old): 42RM
(The ticket is valid for only 45 minutes)
Explore Aquaria KLCC
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This aquarium is situated under Kuala Lumpur Conventional Center – just near Petronas Twin Tower, so you can visit them on the same day.
If you travel to Kuala Lumpur with your little ones, Aquaria KLCC is a great place to visit as your kids would be so amazed and excited to see sharks, turtles, jellyfish, etc.
If you are brave enough, try some thrilling experiences such as sleeping with sharks, diving with sharks, etc.
Visit Sri Mahamariamman Temple
Sri Mahamariamman Temple is the main Hindu temple in Kuala Lumpur situated at the edge of China Town. It was a private family shrine founded by K. Thamboosamy Pillai in 1873. Not until the late 1920s, it was opened to the public and managed by the board of trustees. Sri Mahamariamman temple worships Mariamman – the main Tamil mother goddess in South India who helps to bring rain for the growth of crops, thus bringing prosperity to people (as her name “Mari” means “rain”).
Nowadays, the temple is considered one of the most important Hindu temples as well as the oldest one in Kuala Lumpur.
- Opening Hours: 06:00 – 21:00
- Address: 163, Jalan Tun H. S. Lee, Kuala Lumpur.
Go shopping at Kuala Lumpur Central Market
Kuala Lumpur Central Market is founded in 1888 by the British and originally used as a wet market for KL citizens and tin miners. After multiple efforts of renovation and expansion, the market changed to a new look – vibrant and colorful as today. The architecture of KL Central Market represents the traditional market in Kuala Lumpur since the 1800s with a stall concept.
- Opening Hours: 10:00 – 18:00
- Address: Lot 3.04-3.06, 06, Jalan Hang Kasturi, Kuala Lumpur
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Wandering around Petaling Street
Located close to Kuala Lumpur Central Market, is China Town (also known as Petaling Street). The area is usually chock-full of locals as well as tourists. In Chinatown, you can find souvenirs, clothes, watches, etc at good prices. And don’t forget to haggle on the prices. In addition, there are a vast array of restaurants and food stalls, serving local treats such as Ikan Bakar, Hokkien mee, curry noodles, etc.
Ah, and remember to drop by Kwai Chai Hong street (also known as Ghost street, or Red Light street). This street has some mural art that depicts the local life in the past. The area is very instagrammable.
Roaming around Independence Square and Sultan Abdul Samad building
The Independence Square (or Dataran Merdeka) is one of the historical sites in Malaysia where the Prime Minister announced the independence of the country in 1957 after many years of being occupied.
In the vicinity, there are a lot of historical spots for tourists to explore. In front of Merdeka Square is the Sultan Abdul Samad building which was built in 1897 with a majestic South Indian architectural style. It housed the center of British administration in the 19th century. Besides, you can also visit the Royal Selangor Club and St. Mary’s Church to the north of it which is one of the oldest Anglican churches in Malaysia.
Have a feast in Jalan Alor Night Food Street
Out of many things to do in Kuala Lumpur, exploring Jalan Alor food street is a foodie’s must-do. This is a heaven of foods with a myriad of spectacular dishes.
There is nothing much in Jalan Alor in the daytime. But when the sun is set, the street changes its outfit very quickly and becomes hustle and bustle. In Jalan Alor, there are a lot of local food stalls offering reasonably-priced foods.
Nearby Jalan Alor, there is a bar street which is full of bars. You can have some fun there also.
Admire Batu Caves
This is an amazing place to visit in Kuala Lumpur where you can learn about Hindu religious culture and take instagrammable pictures with the colorful staircase.
In front of the cave is a huge Murugan statue – a God in Hindu – also known as the biggest Murugan statue in Malaysia. Inside the cave is a small Hindu shrine. If you want to get inside, don’t forget to take off your shoes.
To get to Batu Caves, the cheapest and most convenient way for tourists is to take a KTM train. You can take the train from KL Sentral station and Batu Caves is the last station. The whole journey takes 30 minutes and costs around RM13/2 ways.
Above are the 9 best things to do in Kuala Lumpur if you have less than 5 days to visit this amazing city. Most of them are located in the centre areas (KLCC, Bukit Bintang, and China Town), except for Batu Caves and Thean Hou temple.
5. How much to spend when traveling to Kuala Lumpur?
As Kuala Lumpur is one of the fastest-growing cities in South East Asia, you might think that it’s expensive to travel to Kuala Lumpur, but nahhhh. In fact, KL can fit all travel budgets. It has a wide range of accommodation options from hostels (40RM/night) to luxury hotels, foods are various from street foods to fine dining restaurants, and many tourist attractions are free entrance. Thus, there is no doubt to say that you definitely can visit KL without worrying about your budget.
Talking about my trip, I traveled to KL for 4 days 3 nights from Hanoi, Vietnam. During my vacation, I stayed at a 4-star hotel, ate mostly street foods, and traveled around by grab car. In total, it cost me only about RM250/day (not including flight tickets). That’s impressive, right?
Below is the cost breakdown for my trip:
- Airport transfer 2 ways: ~RM 140/ 2 people
- Transportation: ~RM 40 -80/ person
- 4start hotel (3 nights): RM 700/ room/ 3 nights
- Food: ~RM 250 – 400/person
- Sim card: ~RM 25/2 people
- Attractions: ~RM 55 – RM 120/person
Alright, above is my Kuala Lumpur travel blog sharing things to do in Kuala Lumpur, where to stay? how to get around? and travel expenses. Do you have any other tips for travelers in Kuala Lumpur? Share your tips below.