Getting to Kuala Lumpur
I flew from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur (KL) on Malaysian Airlines which takes just under four hours. Once you land in KL, it’s simple to get through immigration. Once I made it to the arrivals hall, I withdrew some money from the ATM and found the taxi counter. There is a train from the airport into the city’s central station; however, taxis are pretty cheap (cost $20) and you actually pay in advance at the taxi counter in the airport and then hand a ticket to the taxi driver. It was very organized.
Travel tip: With it being so hot and humid, spend the $20 to take a taxi in air condition to get to your hotel and avoid the frustration of figuring out the train system with luggage.
- Kuala Lumpur is the capital city of Malaysia.
- The official religion of Malaysia is Islam; however, freedom of religion exists and other major religions represented are Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian.
- Cultural diversity exists amongst the Malay, Malaysian Indian, and Malaysian Chinese ethnicities amongst many other smaller ethnicity groups.
- Driving is on the left.
- Malaysia has an elected King with the Prime Minister being the head of government.
- Official language is Bahasa Melayu; English remains an active second language.
- Member of the Commonwealth of Nations (gained independence from UK in 1957)
- Classified as an emerging economy by the World Bank and IMF
- Located just north of the equator (meaning hot and humid)
An Emerging City
Kuala Lumpur (commonly called KL) is a remarkable city that embraces its history, diversity, and future. I must admit I didn’t know what to expect when I decided to come to KL… I knew the Petronas Towers were there but not much else. It had always been on my radar as an exotic location to visit and it didn’t disappoint.
High rise skyscrapers are being built everywhere as KL is fast becoming an Asia financial center and favorite place for ex-pats to retire due to the low-cost of living. It was quite astonishing to see how much construction was taking place.
The pictures above I took from my hotel’s rooftop deck in a historic neighborhood of KL (rooftop of Hilton Garden Inn).
Travel tip: I enjoyed my stay at the Hilton Garden Inn (HGI) as it was on par with what I expected of a HGI to be and it was very inexpensive at only $29 USD/night. Just make sure you’re up for staying in the “old world” part of town where the local markets still prevail. The area was very safe and it was just a short walk to the Chow Kit monorail stop. The staff at the HGI are very accommodating and it was easy to do my laundry here.
Impressive Petronas Towers
The iconic structure of Kuala Lumpur are the Petronas Towers which opened in 1997 and were the tallest buildings in the world from 1998 to 2004 and has 88 stories. The Petronas Towers remain the tallest twin towers in the world. Surrounding the towers is the KLCC park which is an urban oasis with walking trails, lakes, playgrounds, and swimming areas. In addition, an upscale shopping mall is housed at the base of the towers.
I purchased my ticket to go up the towers before I left home to avoid any lines/wait times. Going up the towers first takes you to the SkyBridge which is the connecting bridge on the 45th floor. After spending 10 minutes there, you get on another elevator to take you to the 85th floor and then another elevator to get to the top at the 88th floor. The views are phenomenal from the top and taking a picture of the opposing tower is something you don’t get to do often to capture the mirror image of where you’re currently standing.
There is a new building being built which will become the highest building in Kuala Lumpur in 2019 called The Exchange 106. See picture with lone tower afar below.
Colorful Batu Caves and Temples
After the Petronas Towers, the second most iconic attraction of KL are the Batu Caves. The Batu Caves are found in a limestone hill and house many Hindu temples. It is one of the most popular Tamil shrines outside of India and is dedicated to Lord Murugan. It is the focal point of the Hindu festival of Thaipusam in Malaysia.
The colors and ornate figurines of the Hindu temples are impressive. Before entering, you must take off your shoes. Luckily, these temples were fairly open so you could see inside. The main “to do” is climbing up the 250+ steps to the Tamil shrine within the cave. The steps are shallow, steep and crowded. Lord Murugan is the gold statue at the entrance to the shrine.
There are also monkeys along the way that will steal your food and drinks. It’s important to put anything you have in a backpack as these monkeys will knock anything you have in your hands out of them and drag it back to their hillsides.
If you have the time, there is another cave called the Dark Cave that is located to the left of the steps as you go up to the cave and costs $8 USD for a 45 minute tour. I had never been on a cave tour that was not lit up so this was a bit different. You will get a small flashlight to light your path as you follow your guide. There is a smell from the bat guano but it passes. Also remember there are bats in the caves, about 200,000… as you walk through, you will hear them and not see them. The guide was good and pointed out different formations and animals found in the caves. On the way back, we were lucky to witness the sunlight coming through a cave skylight which made for a great photo.
Travel tip: Unless you time it right, I would recommend taking a taxi to get to Batu Caves rather than going down to KL Central to take the commuter train that does not run regularly (taxi cost $7 one way). I did time it right to take the commuter train back to the city. The train station is located to the far left of the pedestrian area when looking at the steps.
Islamic Arts and Mosque
No matter what religion, it is always interesting to learn about the common religion of a country. Because Malaysia’s official religion is Islam, the National Mosque can be found in KL and there is an Islamic Arts Museum here too. Each morning, I was able to hear the Call to Worship which I’ve only experienced before in Istanbul.
Getting to the National Mosque was not the easiest task as there was a lot of construction and signs were not the best. I would recommend walking there directly from Merdeka Square as it is a direct path. Much of the area around the mosque and the mosque itself was under major maintenance. Non-muslims are allowed to enter the mosque area at the tourist entrance. You must take off your shoes and there’s a place for them. The mosque was beautiful, both inside and outside, and everyone was very welcoming.
After a short visit to the National Mosque, I ventured over to the Islamic Arts Museum which houses Islamic arts. It was an extraordinary museum and housed Islamic artifacts from clothing, historical Qurans, metalwork and ceramics from different regions of the world. I found most fascinating the models of different mosques throughout the world of significance to Islam. If you have a couple of hours, I’d recommend the visit.
The heart of the city is Merdeka Square where independence was declared in 1957. The square is surrounded by colonial influenced architecture and a large flag pole with the Malaysia flag hoisted. Also in this area is the Sri Mahamariamman Temple with its ornate figurines and colors. The mosque at the confluence of the Gombak and Klang rivers is called Masjid Jamek.
I had been very lucky with the weather this day as thunderstorms had been called for most of the day. My weather karma was still with me and I lucked out until the evening when the skies opened up with large rain drops. It was welcomed as the humidity was so high and the rain felt good.
Travel tip: Visit the Central Market for a variety of souvenirs and handicrafts. I was able to find some Malaysia handicrafts at Tenmoku Trading which sold Tenmoku Pottery, which is Malaysian made.
After a couple of days in Kuala Lumpur, it was time to head to Singapore. The staff at the HGI were so accommodating to let me obtain some cash from them and add it to my bill so I had enough to pay the taxi driver. I guess there are certain ATMs that require a 6-digit PIN number and only those types of ATMs were near the hotel without traveling 15 minutes or so. The taxi ride was cheaper than coming into the city (only $17).
There are two airports in KL, KLIA and KLIA2. KLIA2 only serves AirAsia flights so be sure to pay attention to this when going to the airport. As I was flying AirAsia, I headed to KLIA2. AirAsia is discount airline and extremely cheap with a bunch of add-ons; however, I chose the Premium Flex fare which allowed me priority boarding and checking in one bag. It’s worth it. The one-hour flight from KL to Singapore cost me $66. KLIA2 is a bit more chaotic but I still moved through it smoothly. Immigration and security went smoothly.
Visiting Kuala Lumpur was a great experience and one I would highly recommend. It is a diverse country and the people were extremely nice and welcoming. I read it was the 8th most visited city in the world but I doubt many Americans are coming here and they should. It’s inexpensive and no language barrier.
If you like shopping, luxury hotels, history and architecture, you will love what you can do for the price. Just be prepared for the heat and humidity… I have never sweat so much. I know there is so much more to Malaysia than KL and I hope to come back and visit the other regions of KL for its beaches, wilderness, and smaller cities. Until next time…