Discover Kuala Lumpur
The Malaysian capital is a dazzling, eclectic metropolis of over 7 million people. Once a sleepy tin mining settlement by Chinese labourers, Kuala Lumpur has grown into the commercial, political, and cultural capital of the federal state of Malaysia, the region’s fastest growing conurbation and one of the world’s most global cities. Whether you are exploring the trendy urban landscape, admiring the mix of faiths and cultures, or just relaxing and eating to your heart’s delight—KL promises to enchant and excite you in ways you were not even contemplating.
Kuala Lumpur was founded during the time of the British suzerainty over the Malay peninsula, known then as Malaya. Local rulers or rajahs, under the stability brought by the Crown, sought to develop the tin mines in the sultanate of Selangor, and brought in Chinese labourers for the task. The extraction of tin caused a boom in the local economy and brought about an even larger influx of Chinese, whose trade skills added to the economic dynamism of the area. By the time of the Japanese invasion during ww2, Kuala Lumpur had become the capital of Selangor and of a nascent federation. The end of the war allowed an independence movement to gain traction, delayed briefly by a communist insurgency. The newly formed federation of Malaysia chose Kuala Lumpur as its capital—all but guaranteeing the continuance of the city’s thriving trajectory.
Islam, specifically the Sunni denomination, is predominant in Malaysia. Although constitutionally there is freedom of religion, there is also a legal requirement that all ethnic Malays be Muslims. Moreover, Islam is the “official religion” of the federation and of every state that was never a formal British colony. There are Islamic courts for family law and matters of religion and Islamic police to enforce them. In Kuala Lumpur as in other urban areas, the population is more multicultural and liberal. Muslims are a minority in KL, with Buddhists, Hindus, and Christians combined surpassing them in numbers.
Kuala Lumpur hosts several museums and is an important centre for performing arts, as well as urban sports. KL-ites are conspicuous consumers, and the city hosts gigantic, modern shopping malls and several spas and spots for relaxation. It is the combination of modern landscape with the history of Malaysia, including that of its post-war development and that of the major ethnic communities (Malays, Chinese, and Indians) that make this city so fascinating and culturally unique—a fact best celebrated by amply sampling Malaysian cuisine.
- PDA frowned-upon, as well as immodest dress (especially on women or visitors to religious sites).
- Besides handshakes, avoid touching people, and never do so with your left hand as it is considered ‘unclean’.
- Do not proselytise or discuss religious matters in public, or even in private with the pious.
- No public raging (even loud speech) or loss of face.
- Pay particular attention around the elderly, the pious, and modestly-dressed women.
Kuala Lumpur is located at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers, which form the Klang Valley, facing the Straits of Malacca. The city is completely surrounded by the state of Selangor, 350km northwest of Singapore, and exhibits a tropical rainforest climate, with near-constant high temperatures and rainfall.
Kuala Lumpur is bordered by the Titiwangsa Mountains in the east, and other minor ranges in its north and south. The city itself hosts a few small hills (bukit), yet its most imposing feature are man-made. The cityscape is dominated by the impressive Petronas Twin Towers, two 450m-tall structures that are the undisputed symbol of KL.
Kuala Lumpur contains several parts and noteworthy natural reserves. From the pretty Lake Gardens and its National Monument to the KL Bird Park, passing through the path of jungle of Bukit Nanas surrounding KL Tower, there is ample room to get in touch with flora and fauna. To top it all, FRIM, a rainforest reserve and forestry institute, offers an unparalleled opportunity to have a back-to-nature experience just a few kilometres outside the city.
Before you go
- Language: Malaysian, or Bahasa Malaysia, a standardised registry of Malay
- Currency: Malaysian ringgit (myr)
- Time Zone: Malaysia Time, utc+8
- Voltage: 240
- Electric Socket: Type G
You can conveniently buy a sim card at the airport, or any transport terminal, shopping mall or even convenience store.
There are 4 major operators in Malaysia. Celcom (Xpas) and Maxis (Hotlink) have the highest coverages (country-wide) but higher prices, while DiGi and U Mobile have more limited coverage but cheaper prices.
Expect to pay around $3.5 for a 7-day, 300-megabyte data credit.
- Banks opening hours are usually from 9.00am to 4.00pm and close on Saturday, Sundays, and Public Holidays (Except in the states of Kelantan and Terengganu where they close on Fridays, Saturdays, and Public Holidays).
- Some bank branches such as KLCC are open seven days a week.
- Moneychanger are very straightforward
- It is almost always better to change your money into ringgit once in Malaysia.
- Credit cards are widely accepted and atms are also conveniently located and work with all major international networks.
- Nasi lemak : Fragrant rice is accompanied with the spicy sauce sambal, fried ikan bilis (anchovies), peanuts, and a boiled egg. Usually eaten for breakfast, a more substantial meal can be attained by adding protein such as ayam goreng (fried chicken) or beef rending.
- Roti canai: Usually sold in Mamak (Indian Muslim) stalls, usually served hot with a dhal (lentil) curry. There are many variations with the fillings folded inside the roti, as well as roti with protein such as kari ayam (chicken curry).
- Mee goreng: Thin yellow fried noodles tossed with onion, shallots, prawns, and other vegetables
- Char kway teow: Fried flat rice noodles. The most famous version comes from Penang, usually cooked in lard with eggs, prawns, cockles, and a hint of Chinese sausage.
- Air bandung: a cold milk drink, flavoured with rose syrup and pink in colour
Restaurants: it is customary to leave behind any loose change as tip. In high-end restaurants, a service charge of 10% applies. Hawkers and other eateries do not expect to be tipped, but if a place is full, a 5-10 ringgit tip to the hostess helps to reduce your wait.
Hotels: Most hotels charge the mandatory 6% goods and services tax, as well as another 5-10% of service charge to your bill. Porters can be tipped 10-20 ringgit for 1-2 guests. Leaving some tip bellow the pillow for the cleaning staff is also generous, at least on the first day.
- Suggested Vaccinations: Hepatitis A and Typhoid
- Be wary of people offering free help, lottery tickets, inviting you to their homes for poker games or anything suspicious.
- Kuala Lumpur is mostly free from violent muggings or gun crime, there is little risk of being assaulted (except when making someone else ‘lose face’)
- Pickpockets and cutpurses have been for some years making trouble in the tourist areas
- Be aware that Malaysian law makes public drunkenness illegal and requires you carry your passport at all times (Malaysian police and volunteer militias enforce immigration laws zealously).
- Tap water is safe in Malaysia, but the pipes might be untrustworthy, so do buy bottle water
- Drug use and contraband is heavily punished in Malaysia – with trafficking carrying a mandatory death penalty.
- Respect all local laws and stay away from demonstrations.
Fire services: 994.
Gleneagles Kuala Lumput ((private hospital). Address: 282 & 286 Jalan Ampang, 50450 Kuala Lumpur, Tel: (+60) 3 4141 3000
Hospital Kuala Lumpur (public): Jalan Pahang, 50586 Kuala Lumpur, Tel: (+60) 3 2615 5555
Tourism Board: Address 109 Jalan Ampang, Tel: (+60) 3 9235 4800 / 4900
- Hello (in general): Selamat datang
- Excuse me. / Sorry: Ma’af
- Thank you: Terima kasih
- You’re welcome: Sama-sama
- Good morning/evening: Selamat pagi
- Goodbye: Sempai jumpa lagi
- How much is this?: Berapa harganya ini?
- Cheers! (Toasts when drinking): Santi!
- Bon appetit!: Makan makan
- Where’s the toilet?: Di mana tandas?
- Help!: Tolong!
- I understand: Saya faham
- I don’t understand: Saya tidak faham
How to get into this area, and how to get around it!
Kuala Lumpur is served by the Kuala Lumpur International Airport or KLIA, which is located 45km south of the city centre. For budget airlines (AirAsia, Tiger Airways, Manlindo Airlines, and Cebu Pacific) a new terminal klia2 located 2km away from the main terminal building was opened recently. To connect to the city, the fastest way is to take a KLIA Ekspres train (35 ringgit, 28min) to KL Sentral, the city’s transportation hub. Airport coaches (10 ringgit, 1h) are also available. Once at KL Sentral, a dedicated taxi counter can help arrange a prepaid taxi, thus avoiding meter scams. Moreover, a taxi directly from the airport can cost as little as 75 ringgit from the dedicated counter, which is a good option if travelling in a group.
Long-distance buses and executive coaches are a convenient way to travel across Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur is served by several bus terminals. In general, north-bound buses leave from Pudu Sentral and Hentian Putra; south-bound buses from Terminal Bersepadu Selatan and east-bound buses from Hentian Putra and Pekeliling Bus Terminal. The impressive Kuala Lumpur Old Railway Station also handles luxury buses to several major destinations.
Several trains depart a day from KL Sentral and the Kuala Lumpur Old Railway Station, running north to Hat Yai in Thailand and south to Woodlands in Singapore. Both regular and express trains can be bought online at (http://www.ktmb.com.my). There is another line running along the east coast. From Butterworth, Penang can be reached, and the Cameron Highlands from Ipoh. The island of Langkawi can be reached by a ferry from either Penang or Kuala Kedah, which is 15km west of Alor Setar, another stop in the train system.
Despite the fact that there are at least two buses for tourists (KL Hop-on Hop-off for sightseeing with online ticketing; and the circular, free, Go KL for the central business district) and a hard-to-decipher bus service (RapidKL), the most convenient form of transportation across greater KL and during night-time are taxis. If you do not use a taxi-hailing app like MyTeksi (GrabTaxi) or Uber (which is facing some issues with local taxi drivers assaulting their drivers and even passengers), hailing a taxi and getting it to use to the meter can be pretty tough. Taxis are coloured red-and-white and executive taxis, which are more expensive but can travel long-distance, are coloured bright blue. A midnight surcharge of 50% applies for trips between 12:01am and 5:59am.
Although not a very affordable option, roads in Kuala Lumpur and in Malaysia in general are in very good condition. Given the peculiarities of the local road signage and the local language, it is advisable to rent a gps unit as well. Parking on the street in KL in busy districts can be a problem—use covered car parks or park a bit off the beaten path to avoid getting locked in by other vehicles.
The urban train system of Kuala Lumpur has three components: the KMT commuter train, the LRT light train and the Monorail. The first is run by the national train operator while the last two are run by RapidKL, which also runs the urban buses. The system is inexpensive, with most trips costing around 1 ringgit—you may also buy an add-value card (Touch ‘n Go) for 10 ringgit. Connectivity is an issue within the system and particularly in the KMT lines (which go to the suburbs including Batu Caves) there can be an up to 20 minute wait for a train (but usually 10 minutes). Sadly, there is little alternative during rush hour traffic at the city centre but to use the trains to get out of centre, and then switch to a taxi.
Things to see
The top locations to visit in this destination.