Kuala Lumpur: Why You Shouldn’t Overlook Malaysia’s Capital

The astute among you will notice that I’ve missed quite a few stops from my travel itinerary if I’m launching straight into sharing my experiences in Malaysia. You might know that in fact I’ve spent about a month in between Singapore and Malaysia travelling around Australia and Indonesia, but I just feel like I want to write about Malaysia right now. I’m still buzzing from my time there and given its proximity I thought it made sense to lead straight on from my posts about Singapore. Don’t worry though – I will definitely be sharing my experiences in Australia and Indonesia in due course!

I started my two weeks in Malaysia with two days in Kuala Lumpur where I landed from Indonesia in the evening. Now for some reason KL seems to get a bad rep among backpackers. I met so many people traveling in Malaysia who told me they didn’t like the city or that there wasn’t much to do, but I have to disagree. I think any town or city or village has something to offer you, some nugget of it’s identity or something to pique your interest, you just have to be open to finding it. If you compare KL to the likes of Tokyo and Singapore then you might be disappointed, but every city is different and I was keen to see what stood KL apart. I will say that I’m glad I was able to meet friends in the evening and that I was rarely on my own after dark, as I have to say I wouldn’t have felt completely comfortable walking around alone in the evenings, but KL had plenty to offer so here are my highlights from 48 hours in the city.

On my first day I was keen to visit the Batu Caves to see the Hindu temple located a short train ride out of the city. I had seen photographs of the steps leading into the caves painted in a rainbow of colour and couldn’t miss seeing them in real life. The temple itself burst with colour and beautiful carvings and the caves themselves were a spectacle in their sheer size. I had been warned about the monkeys and to be careful of my belongings, although they didn’t seem to be up to much mischief while I was there. There were two tiny baby monkeys being carried which can’t have been more than a few days old.

After getting back into the centre from the Batu Caves I had a look around Central Market. Most of it is indoors with air conditioning which was a huge plus in the middle of the sticky Malaysian heat. There were plenty of knick knack and souvenir shops and I wandered around not being approached or pressured to buy anything which was a nice change.

For the rest of the afternoon it felt like a good opportunity to rest and cool off in one of Kuala Lumpur’s rooftop pool bars before heading to Brickfields or “Little India” for dinner. I ate with some friends at Ghandi’s Vegetarian Restaurant which has a huge menu of totally veggie dishes including chicken and prawn soya alternatives. The hero dish for me was the brinjal mix, an aubergine curry with plenty of spice, and a side of chapati.

On day two I had a walk around and saw the Masjid Jamek which was the primary mosque in the city presumably until the much bigger National Mosque was built. The best view is from the River of Life viewing platform where you can also see the light show in the evening. From the mosque I walked across the footbridge to the impressive Sultan Abdul Samad building, once the centre of the British colonial administration and now a Malaysian government building. I’m fascinated by the architecture of this building with its copper domes, spiral staircases, arches and clock tower.

Just down the road from the Sultan Abdul Samad building it the National Textile Museum. I spent a long time reading about the role and evolution of techniques like batik and embroidery in Malaysian traditional dresses and the differences between a lot of the different communities within Malaysia. Textiles have always interested me and so this is the kind of place I can spend hours soaking up all of the exhibits. Just as I was finishing up the heavens opened so I was glad to find their tea room and boutique. I sat at a table with a beautiful batik tablecloth and had a gorgeous and fluffy piece of banana cake and a peppermint tea while I read my book and waited for the rain to stop. The boutique had a lot of really lovely scarves and clothes and I treated myself to a batik top.

Once the rain had stopped I carried on my walk up to the National Mosque which is a huge modern building and quite spectacular. I continued on to the Botanical Gardens where I was keen to see the Planetarium building even though it was closed. It’s blue and white mosque-inspired design and long staircase were worth the walk even though I didn’t get to go in, although it looks like a cool place to go especially if you have kids. Unfortunately I picked a bit of a crappy time to visit the Botanical Gardens generally as the orchid garden was also closed and a lot of the gardens seemed to be walled off. I did visit the butterfly park which was really cool – a butterfly landed on my face at one point, but I didn’t get a picture.

An absolute highlight of my time in Kuala Lumpur was visiting the Sky Bar on the 33rd floor of the Traders Hotel with a swimming pool and the best view over the Petronas Twin Towers. I met a couple of friends and sat with a cocktail watching the sun go down and the lights slowly appear. The cocktails were delicious as well – we tried the Pandan Sour and the East & Zest.

I rounded off my time in KL by going back to the River of Life after dark to see the Sultan Abdul Samad building lit up and to enjoy the daily light show. The view from the platform and down along the river is actually amazing because you can see the Petronas Towers as well as the mosque lit up while watching jumping fountains and listening to a wide range of songs from local and traditional music to Star Wars!

Im glad I was able to spend a couple of days in KL and that I didn’t rush off to another part without seeing the city as people might be tempted to do. There’s plenty to see and do if you’re looking for it and it was actually really nice to be in a big city for a change after three weeks travelling around Indonesian islands and villages. Don’t overlook Kuala Lumpur if you’re visiting Malaysia!

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