Kuala Lumpur was my first stop in Malaysia. I didn’t know much about KL before visiting, but the city pleasantly surprised me.
KL might not have as many attractions as other large cities, but diversity is a big part of what makes it appealing. The population largely consists of Malays, Chinese, and Indians. Add in expats and travelers, and you have plenty of opportunities for people watching. The diversity extends to clothing, and attire ranges from crop tops and shorts to niqabs.
With a diverse population comes delicious food. My favorite breakfast was roti canai, a flatbread that can have savory or sweet filling. Roti can be eaten with hands and dipped in curry. Banana roti and curry make a weirdly good combination. I usually had roti with teh tarik, or sweet “pulled” tea.
I admit that I hit up a couple of chain restaurants in KL. If it helps, I went to chains that aren’t in New York. I visited Din Tai Fung for their soup dumplings (xiao long bao). I also fondly remembered Nando’s from my semester abroad in Australia, so I had to try their chicken in KL. A Londoner who was a Nando’s aficionado claimed the restaurants in KL weren’t as good as the ones in the UK. I have no idea if he was biased, but the peri-peri sauce was as good as I remembered.
The Petronas Towers are iconic and for good reason. The rest of the KL skyline isn’t very distinctive, so the towers stand out. They were gorgeous in both the day and night.
Instead of going up the Petronas Towers, I visited the nearby KL Tower based on an expat’s recommendation. It was expensive (admission was 105 MYR or about $24.50), but it was fun to take photos on the sky deck and admire the Petronas Towers.
If you want to restock on products from your favorite stores while traveling, you won’t have a problem finding them in KL. I stayed in an area called Bukit Bintang, where there were at least eight malls within a five-minute walk of each other. Stores ranged from luxury to budget-friendly. I didn’t buy anything, but I moonlighted as a mall walker in KL; it was an excuse to remain in an air-conditioned space while still upping my step count. My favorite malls were the Pavilion, located in Bukit Bintang, and Suria KLCC, located by the Petronas Towers. As a bonus, a covered walkway stretched from the Pavilion to Suria KLCC. The walkway was partly air-conditioned and provided shelter from both the sun and KL traffic.
At night, there’s a fountain show called “Symphony Lake” next to Suria KLCC. I was expecting to roll my eyes during the show, but I thought it was charming. It was undeniably cheesy, but it was fun to watch kids – and adults – shriek when they were sprayed by water from the fountain. (I swear I’m normally a nice person.) The show changes nightly, so you can visit the fountain multiple times during your stay in KL.
One day, I escaped the city for a jungle and waterfall trekking tour with Open Sky Unlimited. At 6:10 AM, Ben, the guide, picked up our group in an SUV. After driving for an hour, Ben took us to a local “mamak” (a 24-hour restaurant serving Indian food), to have rotis and coffee.
Once we finished breakfast, Ben drove us to the start of our hike. Three adorable dogs eagerly awaited the SUV, and I was happy when they joined us.
The hike to the waterfall took about an hour. There were three uphill sections toward the end of the hike, but they weren’t particularly challenging. The jungle was considerably cooler than the city center, so temperatures remained comfortable during the hike. Ben noted there were no mosquitoes in the jungle, a definite plus.
When we reached the waterfalls, the dogs dozed off while we took photos.
The water was frigid but refreshing. We also got to take advantage of a free spa treatment: the pounding water did a great job of massaging our backs. It was a challenge to keep our eyes open in the deluge.
For lunch, Ben took us to a Chinese restaurant that served the best chicken fried rice. The rice was smoky from the charcoal used to cook it. We also had excellent honey chicken, sweet and sour pork, and Singapore noodles. It was a lot of food, but we managed to wolf it all down.
I highly recommend Open Sky Unlimited. Ben was a stellar guide, and he made sure we navigated both the hike and waterfalls safely. He supplied us with snacks at the waterfalls and took great photos that he sent our group a couple of hours after he dropped us off. Since I only had a large tote bag, Ben provided me with a daypack that was easy to sling on my back.
Ben worked in investment banking for about nine years before quitting to start Open Sky Unlimited with his friend Amos. I didn’t get to meet Amos in person, but I did email him to book the tour. He was prompt in answering my questions and seemed just as professional and friendly as Ben.
Below are other notes about KL:
- I used KL as a base for my travels in Malaysia, so I was in the city on a few separate occasions. My first visit at the end of June coincided with Eid, the end of Ramadan. Attractions and restaurants in KL were packed during this time. When I went to KL for my second visit in mid-July, everything was noticeably less crowded.
- It rained almost every evening I was in KL, but it didn’t affect me much. The rain usually lasted for a couple of hours during my break between sightseeing and dinner.
- Crossing streets in KL is harder than in Vietnam. Cars outnumber motorbikes in KL, and the traffic moves quickly. It can take forever for the stoplights to change at busy intersections, so people often jaywalk. This is scarier than in Vietnam because cars can’t swerve around you as easily as motorbikes can. I was grateful for the underground and elevated walkways that allowed pedestrians to avoid traffic.
- A couple of travelers asked me for directions in KL. One was a guy from Dubai, while the other was a guy from Africa (he didn’t get more specific than that). Surprisingly, I was able to provide them directions since I had been in KL for a few days at that point. Once a Cornell tour guide, always a tour guide.
- I met another Cornellian in KL, bringing my total Cornellian count to three for this trip. He was a rising senior doing a summer internship in Jakarta. Current Cornellians are clearly smarter than I was when I was in college. They’re doing things right by doing programs and internships that allow them to travel.
- KL is very friendly to women looking for cheap drinks. On multiple days per week, a number of bars give free drinks to women for “ladies’ night” specials. Apologies, men.
- [NB: if it’s any consolation, men should go to Hoi An in Vietnam. It’s the only place I’ve visited where men get drink specials, while women get nothing.]
- I finally saw Wonder Woman in KL. The movie was fun, and it was nice to do something so “normal” after traveling for a couple of months. The screen showed Malay and Chinese subtitles, which distracted me at first since I’m used to turning on subtitles when I watch movies at home. Later, it became a fun exercise to try to see which Malay words corresponded to the English dialogue.