Kuala Lumpur is not a city I fell in love with on first sight, yet I found myself coming back regularly. It is a modern city in the heart of South East Asia and has become a low-cost carrier hub, making Kuala Lumpur a springboard to explore the region. Enjoy the food, sights and shopping while you are there – and plan your next destination!
I first visited Kuala Lumpur in 2000, a few years after the Asian financial crash of 1997. Skeletons of skyscrapers were littering the cityscape, traffic was crazy and public transport poor, the historic sights were not well presented – making Bangkok, the City of Angels, or Singapore, Asia for Beginners, a much more interesting destination. But Kuala Lumpur has come along way since: The airport train is better than anything you’ll find in the US. Trains are criss-crossing the city, making it easy to get around. Traffic is a breeze compared to Bangkok, Jakarta or Manila. And prices have remained very affordable, with 5-star hotels often available for under $100/night. But what really makes Kuala Lumpur a great base to explore Asia is the reach and affordability to fly on AirAsia and other low-cost carriers all around Asia. I’ve used the AirAsia ASEAN Pass to make 11 flights for $250, I’ve flown to Kuching, Sarawak, and Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, in Borneo for under $20. There are non-stop flights to the beaches in Malaysia and Thailand and all the capital cities of the region. You can visit the temples of Angkor Wat, Bagan or Yogyakarta – and you can even fly long-distance to Australia, Japan and soon Europe on a budget. While Manila, Singapore and Bangkok also have low-cost carriers, none are as inexpensive overall and convenient as Kuala Lumpur.
And there is plenty of reason to enjoy your time in Kuala Lumpur: The dual Petronas Towers, with the KLCC at the base, are one of the most iconic buildings in Asia and have featured and a number of movies. The views from the top are astonishing and the walk across the skybridge high up is unique – if a little scary! The KL Tower is another tall tower with great views – of the building and from the building. Kuala Lumpur has managed to preserve some of its history and you can see it around Merdaka Square and the old city. The National Mosque is not far and one of the most impressive mosques I’ve seen in South East Asia. Despite being a vast metropolis, you can still enjoy some natural sights as well. My favorite one in Kuala Lumpur are the Batu Caves. They are easy to reach and an unusual experience worth the trip out of town!
When you are exploring a foreign city, the public places food and shopping are a great way to get a peek at how different the city is. That is true for Kuala Lumpur as well. In Bukit Bintang, you have a great place to see it side by side: From the shiny modern malls like Pavilion to the local markets of old, from global brands to local designers, from fine dining in peaceful ambiance to alleys full of people eating tasty local food outside in simple street restaurants – you get to serve a mix of Malay culture with Islamic and Western influences, all adding up to something unique worth visiting.