Here's everything you need to know about the beautiful and bustling Malaysian city that's changing its reputation
A sprawling city once known primarily for its pollution, traffic and tangled skyline of skyscrapers, Malaysia’s capital city has experienced a makeover in recent years, with new riverside developments breathing life into lesser-known neighbourhoods and a flurry of new hotels opening courtesy of the world’s most chic hospitality brands.
See and explore
A decade or so ago, the vast majority of tourists made a beeline for KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Centre), but a number of high profile hotel openings outside of this area have persuaded visitors to explore further afield. One such hotel is the Alila Bangsar—the first urban hotel from a brand usually associated with sprawling beach resorts. Years ago, the Bangsar neighbourhood was known for its rubber plantations, but its close proximity to the city centre made it popular with the ex-pats and the city’s elite who started flocking here from the late twentieth century onwards. Today Bangsar has the city’s coolest bars, restaurants, boutiques and cultural spaces, whether it’s the Richard Koh Fine Art gallery, Nala Designs (founded by Dutch entrepreneur Lisette Scheers) or the Bobo KL Piano Bar.
Equally worthy of a visit is Bukit Bintang, home to the Masjid Jamek mosque, which incorporates Moorish, Islam and Mughal architectural styles and was built by British architect Arthur Benison Hubback in 1907. The mosque is open to the public (outside of prayer times) and visitors can borrow robes and headscarves from a kiosk near the main entrance. The building overlooks a section of the River Klang, which is at the heart of the River of Life project, a huge development intended to beautify this once-polluted stretch of the Klang River. Several companies now offer guided bike tours along the newly-created bike lines which hug the riverbanks. One of the best is Bike with Elena.
However, KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Centre) remains the beating heart of the city – it’s the central business district, and an area packed with some of Kuala Lumpur's tallest buildings, including the Petronas Towers – once the world’s tallest building. Gain a new perspective on Malaysia's capital with a visit to the towers’ observation decks—one is on the 86th floor, and the other is on the sky bridge which connects the two towers – before heading over to nearby Petaling Street market, in the city’s Chinatown. You’ll find everything under the sun at this colourful, chaotic shoppers' paradise, which is a great place to bag a souvenir. When you’re all shopped out, enjoy a caffeine fix at the nearby Old China Café—the former headquarters of the Selangor & Federal Territory Laundry Association. This building, one of Kuala Lumpur’s few remaining shop houses, is filled with original features, including the wooden door latches and a beautiful pair of mirrors, placed opposite each other – a nod to the feng shui belief that positioning mirrors in this way will reflect good luck.
Eat and Drink
Kuala Lumpur has some of Asia’s best street food. A great place to chow down is Jalan Alor, close to Bukit Bintang. One of the most famous street food areas in the city (and a former red light district), Jalan Alor is at its liveliest at night, when hawker food stalls fill the street, and locals and tourists perch side by side on plastic chairs, washing down plates of grilled fish and satay-drizzled chicken with chilled bottles of Bintang beer. For truly authentic cuisine, head to nearby Pudu Wai Sek Kai—this is where you’ll find dishes such as char kuay teow (stir-fried pieces of rice cake), rojak (a salad made with fruits and vegetables), and chee cheong (rice noodle rolls). Finally, there’s Kampung Baru, where you’ll find a night market in the heart of a traditional Malay community. This market, on Jalan Raja Muda Musa, has stalls specialising in handicrafts and traditional clothing, but it’s the culinary offerings which attract the biggest crowds. Don’t forget to finish your meal with a cup of teh tarik (meaning “pulled tea”), a strong black tea sweetened with condensed milk.
There's plenty of fine dining in KL, too. One of our favourite restaurants is JP teres at the Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur. The menu is a tribute to the freshest Chinese, Malay and Indian flavours, and you'll be able to watch your food being prepared in the open kitchen, with its satay grills, tandoor ovens, roti hot plates and wok stations. And then there's Yun House at the Four Seasons Kuala Lumpur which opened in late 2018. Head to this beautiful restaurant for innovative twists on Asian specialities. Highlights include the slow-cooked abalone with sea cucumber and roasted duck served with wasabi mayo. The hotel also has one of the city's best watering holes - head to Bar Trigona for delicious bespoke cocktails made with the freshest of ingredients, including honey from the hotel's rooftop beehive.
Travel hints and tips
Kuala Lumpur is a huge city which quickly becomes congested during peak times. For this reason avoid taking taxis between 7.30am and 9.30am and between 4.30pm and 7pm. The city's rapid transit system, known as the LRT, consists of six lines and offers a cheap, easy way to explore the city. We recommend the Touch ‘n Go (TnG) card, which is similar to London's Oyster card.
When it comes to entry requirements, UK citizens don't need a visa unless they're staying for more than three months. Just make sure you've got at least six months left on your passport.
Weather-wise, expect high humidity and soaring temperatures. Kuala Lumpur's proximity to the equator means the mercury generally stays within 25°C to 35°C, with monsoon season (between October and January/February) being slightly cooler. The best time to visit is between March and September.
Tipping isn't generally expected, although a 10 per cent service charge will often be added to bills in restaurants. Don't be afraid to haggle when shopping in markets—a reduction of around 20 to 30 per cent is reasonable.
British Airways, which celebrates its centenary this year, offers returns from London to Kuala Lumpur from £471.
Rooms at the Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur start from £105 per night. Visit hyatt.com for more information.
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