I love Kuala Lumpur. I’ve been twice now and will go again. And probably again after that. There is something so vibrant about this city. I love the mix of skyscrapers, street food temples and modern shopping malls. Most of all, being the tight arse that I am, I love how utterly affordable everything is. There is something so liberating about going away somewhere and being to eat and drink and sightsee and buy countless colourful scarves without ever having to worry about how much things are costing.
Kuala Lumpur is city well worth visiting either as a stand alone destination or as part of an South East Asia tour or cruise. Here’s my very rough guide to KL.
Oh lord, the food. The food in Kuala Lumpur is the best I have had anywhere. Every curry I have eaten since I first had curry in KL, no matter how flavourful and delicious, has been a disappointment of sorts. Malaysians really know how to do food. There are heavy Indian and Chinese influences in the food and vegetarians are extremely well catered for with countless vegetarian restaurants catering to the large Hindu, Muslim Buddhist populations.
I mostly stuck to street food and low-budget restaurants in Little India and Chinatown, where local shopkeepers and office workers could be found having their lunch. I love having my food served to me on a banana leaf, a little bit of everything, all to be scooped up in your hand with some chapati and eaten.
Eating with my hands is an experience usually reserved for pizza, sandwiches and the occasional block of cheese that gets devoured when I come in drunk and haven’t had the sense to buy myself some chips on the way home.
In Kuala Lumpur though, I was more than happy to eat curry with my hands, once I got the hang of it. I watched the locals to see who the hell they managed to eat the messiest food and not get themselves covered head to toe in rice and sauce. I can rarely go to my local curry house for a meal without creating a large stain on the tablecloth which I try and cover with my napkin every time the waiter goes by.
I still haven’t completely sussed it out but after watching the pros in action, my top tips are:
- Wash your hands first. I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but I will, just in case. There is usually a sink in the corner of the restaurant for washing your hands before your food. If there is no sink, there will be a large jug of water to use.
- Right hand only. Not going to go into details of why – we are discussing food afterall.
- Mix your food together. It’s easier to eat your rice if its stuck together with some sauce and vegetables or meat.
- Use your chapati or naan or roti or any kind of bread you have as a sort of spoon to scoop the food.
I felt very self-conscious at first. I felt like an overgrown toddler trying to shovel food into my mouth but once I realised that everyone is eating with their hand and that it’s ok to make a little bit of a mess, I got on board. I wasn’t happy that none of my travelling companions bothered to tell me that I had curry sauce on my boob for several hours, but I’m over that embarrassment now. Mostly.
Restaurants do have knives and forks available if you’d prefer so just ask. Yes, you’ll look like a complete tourist, but you are a tourist. It’s ok to be a tourist. Just don’t expect an After Eight mint served after your meal.
Kuala Lumpur is hot and humid so I’d always recommend having a bottle of water or something to drink with you. Stalls selling a variety of fruit juices can be found in abundance in Kuala Lumpur so you’ll always be able to quench your first. Soft drinks and teas are also a popular choice. I found myself becoming quite partial to iced tea. When I first ordered one with my meal, I was expecting iced tea similar to the Liptons kind you can get in the UK. What I actually got was essentially a hot cup of tea with milk and lots of sugar with a load of ice cubes thrown in. Bizarre and oddly refreshing. Kuala Lumpur is hot and humid so I’d always recommend having a bottle of water with you.
Malaysia is a Muslim majority country but you can still buy alcohol. It’s one of the few things that isn’t ridiculously cheap in Kuala Lumpur but it’s not hideously expensive either. I enjoyed spending my evenings with a couple of beers on one of many roof top bars or else sat at a table outside a restaurant in the midst of Chinatown and people watching.
Kuala Lumpur has so much within the city and nearby to see. Here are a few of my favourites:
- Petronas Towers – These twin towers dominate the Kuala Lumpur skyline. They are a piece of architectural beauty influenced by Islamic art. For 6 years, between 1998 and 2004, they were the tallest buildings in the world. Standing at the bottom of them and looking up gives you a sense of how tiny you are and how huge the ambition it took to create such structures must’ve been. You can pay to go up and stand on the skybridge that connects the 2 buildings. I haven’t been up so can only imagine the breathtaking view that you get.
- KLCC Park – Kuala Lumpur City Centre Park is an area of lush greenery found next to the Petronas Towers. The man-made lake has 2 fountains which are used in in water, light and musical shows each evening. There are also gardens to explore, a wading pool and plenty of secluded areas with benches to relax on and escape from the urban sprawl of KL. At night, after the fountain show, I was absolutely chuffed to spot some raccoons rifling in bins. I realise that raccoons rummaging in rubbish don’t really count as an attraction, but I’m telling you about it nonetheless!
- Get spiritual. Visit a temple or 2 or 3. Kuala Lumpur is full of places of worship. Mosques, Hindu and Buddhist temples are dotted around the city. I have a photo of myself outside a small Hindu temple, in a street full of shops and hostels and hotels. When I got home, I discovered there is a picture of my Dad outside the same temple, taken 20 years earlier which I think is pretty cool. On my second visit to KL, I stumbled upon a Buddhist parade celebrating Vesak Day – Buddha’s Birthday. I followed the neon, exuberantly decorated floats along the streets of Kuala Lumpur for a couple of miles. Worshippers on the floats would gently splash water over people lining the streets to as a symbolic cleansing of bad karma. It was a wonderful impromptu experience and probably one of the best unplanned holiday activities I’ve done.
- Batu Caves – Hop on a train and in 30 minutes, find yourself at the Batu Caves. Climb up the 272 steps and explore the Hindu temple with the caves at the top. As well as the temple you’ll see more monkeys than you ever wished to see in your life. They are the very definition of cheeky but should cause you no trouble. For the love of God, don’t buy food to feed them. You’ll find yourself surrounded. Monkey wrestling probably isn’t covered by your travel insurance so if you get a black eye or lose a couple of teeth, you’re on your own pal. Honestly, monkeys are a lot cuter at a distance. Entrance to the caves is free. If you want to explore further you can take a guided tour into the deepest, darkest areas on the caves. I highly recommend it, provided you’re ok with bats and bugs. The guides leading the tour are complete experts and managed to make even the most disgusting insects seem fascinating. Reward yourself after your epic climb and monkey evading activities with a meal at one of the many restaurants located nearby.
I am not really a shopping fan. I find it a chore mostly. I do however, love the night markets of Chinatown. I say night markets, they are there during the day too, I just prefer wandering around them at night. If you’ve ever met me, you know I love scarves. If you haven’t met me, you now know that I love scarves. I love haggling over the price of colourful scarves and shawls. You have to haggle, Not aggressively or ridiculously but you have to haggle. It’s part of the experience. At the end of the negotiation, you and the stall holder should both feel like you’ve won.I sometimes need to remind myself that I’m haggling over 20p. Even if you have no interest in scarves or knock off handbags, shoes or sunglasses, the markets are well worth a stroll through. Stop for some food and just soak up the atmosphere, the hustle and bustle, the salesmen shouting ‘Cheap, cheap!’ at everyone who goes past.
I could write endlessly about how much I enjoyed Kuala Lumpur but my hands are sick of typing and my brain is turning into mush. I have been watching Louis Theroux documentaries while I work and feel that my current watch warrants my undivided attention. I just want to add that if Kuala Lumpur isn’t on your to do list, it should be.
Please enjoy this picture of me close (but not to close) to a monkey.