If you’re planning on taking a trip through Southeast Asia, you should absolutely consider making a stop in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital city. Kuala Lumpur is a city of contrasts and diversity. You’ll find massive, gleaming skyscrapers surrounded by old colonial buildings and a unique blend of cultures that make Kuala Lumpur starkly different from any other place in the world.
The most popular religion in Kuala Lumpur is Islam. However, there are large populations of Buddhists, Hindus, and Christians as well. Due to its economic opportunities and financial prosperity, people from all over Asia come to live and work in Kuala Lumpur, making it one of the most culturally diverse places in the region. Walk through the streets and you’ll find food carts selling fares from all over the world as well as artistic works that represent a range of different cultural traditions.
Kuala Lumpur is the largest city in Malaysia with an estimated population of 1.73 million. The city is divided into several districts, with a central hub called the Golden Triangle which consists of the Bukit Bintang, KLCC, and Chinatown districts. Inside and outside of the Golden Triangle, you’ll find plenty of sights to see and things to do all throughout Kuala Lumpur. If you plan on taking a visit to the city, here are some of the best things to do:
1. Petronas Twin Towers
Undoubtedly the most impressive architectural feat in Kuala Lumpur, you can’t come to the city and not visit the Petronas Twin Towers. These marvels of modern engineering were the tallest towers in the world from 1998 until 2004 when they were surpassed by Taipei 101, and they still remain the tallest twin towers in the world to this day. They were named after Petronas Global, an oil and gas company worth $46 billion that is completely owned by the Malaysian government.
Visitors can buy tickets to the towers and explore the fabulous shopping malls and restaurants that lie within. The crown jewel of the Petronas Twin Towers, however, is the SkyBridge that connects them. Tourists can walk out onto the bridge from the 41st floor and feel the Malaysian breeze as they take in views of the Kuala Lumpur skyline. Want to go even higher? Head up to the 86th floor and take a look at the city from the Observation Deck. The Observation Deck also features augmented reality screens where you can learn about the history of the city while you’re actually looking at it.
2. Batu Caves
The Batu Caves are a natural wonder located just outside the city limits of Kuala Lumpur. The caves are surrounded by one of the most important cultural sites for Hindus in Malaysia, a temple dedicated to Lord Murugan who conquered demons in Hindu folklore. As soon as you approach the stairs leading up to the caves, you’ll be in awe of the joyfulness and vibrancy of the temple architecture.
The 272 multicolored wooden stairs leading to the caves are reason enough to visit the Batu Caves; however, when you climb to the top and enter the caves themselves, you’ll be greeted by breathtaking limestone walls on all sides of you and beams of sunlight shining through the holes of the caves. Make sure to enter Cathedral Cave, the most important of the Batu Caves, and check out the numerous Hindu shrines that sit along its edges.
3. Jalan Alor Food Street
For one of the best examples of an Asian street food market in the world, head over to Jalan Alor Food Street for a bite to eat. Even if you aren’t hungry, this food market is a feast for the eyes as well. It’s fast-paced, chaotic, aromatic, and colorful, and you won’t want to leave without trying something from every single food stall.
Jalan Alor Food Street is located right outside the heart of Kuala Lumpur, and so it’s pretty much packed at all times of the day. You can sit on one of the plastic chairs that spill out into the street, order some top-quality Thai or Chinese street food, drink a Tiger beer, and do a little people-watching. If you’re brave enough to try the infamous stinky fruit, the durian, there are vendors selling fresh fruit all over the street. You’ll probably also be treated to some music or dance from live street performers.
4. Sri Mahamariamman Temple
For an authentic cultural experience and some photo opportunities in front of mesmerizing architecture, head over to Sri Mahamariamman Temple, the oldest Hindu temple in Kuala Lumpur. The entrance to the temple is covered in colorful carvings of Hindu deities, and you could spend all day scanning over the intricacies of the architecture.
The most impressive feature within the temple is the massive five-tiered tower, or gopuram. The tower was built in the South Indian style by artisans from India and stands 75 feet tall, making it the tallest structure in the temple. You should then go over to the main prayer hall, which is an impressive onion dome located on the west end of the temple grounds. Inside you’ll find colorful statues of deities, including a statue of Sri Maha Mariamman, the chief deity of the temple.
5. Central Market
If you’re looking to do some shopping or pick up a souvenir during your time in Kuala Lumpur, the best place to go is Central Market. Unlike many open-air markets in Southeast Asia that are congested, stressful, and disorderly, Central Market is air-conditioned and surprisingly orderly. And while prices are a bit higher in Central Market than in other markets in Southeast Asia, with a bit of negotiating, you can still get a good deal.
Central Market also features craft-making demonstrations, local artists who will draw pictures of you, and there are often festivals and celebrations. If all the shopping and experiences make you hungry, the streets are also lined with delicious restaurants and food stands that are a little more upscale than what you’ll find on Jalan Alor Food Street.
6. KL Forest Eco Park
If you want to experience nature while in the middle of a large city, there’s no better place to do so than KL Forest Eco Park. The reserve is the last remaining piece of rainforest within the city limits of Kuala Lumpur and it comprises 11,000 square meters. Visitors can see natural features like bamboo, trees, natural herbs, and animals. You can also visit man-made attractions such as a playground, campsite, and wooden gazebo.
Perhaps the most fun thing to do within KL Forest Eco Park is to go up to the Canopy Walk, a series of wood-and-steel bridges that you can traverse all through the reserve and enjoy views of the surrounding Menara KL Tower and the Kuala Lumpur skyline.
7. Menara KL Tower
From the KL Forest Eco Park, head over to the Menara KL Tower for one of the best views in the city. You can take an elevator up to the tower’s famous Sky Deck and enjoy a panoramic view of Kuala Lumpur. There are also numerous places to buy food and drinks to enjoy while you soak it all in.
If you’re lucky, they occasionally book live musicians to play at the Sky Deck of the Menara KL Tower. And depending on who else is in the Sky Deck with you, it could turn into a dance party as well as just a sightseeing experience.
8. Jamek Mosque
For an example of beautiful Muslim architecture, take a stroll over to Jamek Mosque, one of the oldest mosques in Malaysia. The design of the mosque is absolutely stunning with its pristine white domes and minarets. You can take a walk around the perfectly kept courtyard and take shade under one of the trees if it’s a particularly hot day. Jamek Mosque is also situated right on a river that blows cool breezes throughout the grounds.
Women visiting the mosque will be provided a garment to cover their entire body and head, and any men wearing shorts will be given a robe to cover their legs. And while donations are appreciated and encouraged, entrance to the mosque is entirely free.