Don’t be fooled by the meaning of the name Kuala Lumpur – kuala being the point where two rivers intersect and lumpur meaning mud. The capital of Malaysia is by no means a muddy piece of land but an incredibly modern, culture rich city full of food adventures, and people often refer to it as “KL”. Since this is a major commercial city, the place enjoys a mix of local cultures and expats, with the majority of citizens being Malays and Chinese (both more than 40%), while Indians and other cultures make up the rest of the population. Because of all that, just one day in Kuala Lumpur will be enough for you to fall head over heels in love.
GUEST POST BY JUDY CHEONG
What’s the best time to visit Kuala Lumpur?
Being a multicultural city, Kuala Lumpur celebrates key national holidays of each culture. Some of these dates change annually, so it’s best to check everything before you go. Chiefly, Chinese New Year is celebrated in late January-early February, which is when most shops and businesses close for at least a week and up to 15 days. If you’re looking for a vibrant experience of Malaysia, this would be the time to avoid Kuala Lumpur because many residents return home to various parts of Malaysia and the city remains fairly quiet.
The Ramadan fasting month lasts from the end of May to the end of June, and Muslims abstain from food and drink for the better part of the day. They break this fast daily during iftar at sunset, usually at home or in groups at restaurants. During this month, night markets called pasar malam pop up all over the country. These night bazaars sell traditional Malay food, but in recent years many experimental dishes have started popping up for crowds to enjoy. The most famous export from these night bazaars over the last few years is the Ramly Burger, a must-try anywhere in Kuala Lumpur. Hari Raya AidilFitri is a two-day event that celebrates the end of the fast.
Around March every year, there is a hot-air balloon festival with plenty of performances, which attracts participants and viewers to Desa Park City, 30 minutes by car from the city center.
For shopping enthusiasts, the 1Malaysia Mega Sale Carnival from the end of June/beginning of July to August (check before you go as months may change) is the country’s biggest shopping event and another great opportunity to spend at least one day in Kuala Lumpur. The carnival is felt prominently in the city as huge sales permeate the city’s numerous shopping malls and is the best time to focus your shopping efforts. The exchange rate of the Malaysian Ringgit also makes shopping here very attractive for getting the best deals from major international brands.
Malaysia celebrates its national day on 31 August with lavish parades and performances at Dataran Merdeka (Merdeka Square) in the city center. August is generally pretty interesting for travelers because during this time there are plenty of celebratory events to check out all around the city. There is no way you won’t know what to do in KL during this period!
Like most Southeast Asian countries, Malaysia is good to visit all year round. Its monsoon season hits during March to April, which means heavy rains. May to July is the best time to visit as it is a dry spell, which means blue skies all day. Temperatures don’t fluctuate too much, and you’ll be expecting at least 32°C during the day and 24°C in the evening all year long. With the heat also comes humidity, so be prepared for that.
A few facts about Kuala Lumpur
- – People of KL are frequently called “KL-ites”.
- – The Twin Towers or Petronas Towers were actually built by two companies: one by Japanese Hazama Corporation and the other by Korean Samsung C&T Corporation.
- – Despite its long history, Kuala Lumpur only became an official city in 1972.
- – KL is the largest city in Malaysia and the most cosmopolitan. This makes KL a huge shopping, party and entertainment hub.
One Day in Kuala Lumpur Itinerary
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Kuala Lumpur.
Start with the breakfast
If you’re up for something local for breakfast, Yut Kee is an old-school kopitiam (coffee shop) which has been selling their famously decadent Roti Babi since 1928. Also famous is their Hainanese pork chop, a must-try. From Friday to Sunday, they will roll out their famous roast pork special which is incredibly rich and delicious. Of course, all of this makes them very crowded, so go there early. They are open from 7.30 AM to 4.30 PM, Tuesday-Sunday.
If Roti Babi doesn’t sound appealing (why wouldn’t it, I wonder!), visit Jalan Alor in the early morning on weekends. There is a pop-up stall there famous for its nasi padang, rice and an assortment of delicious curries and vegetables served on a traditional pandan leaf. It is a little tent opened by the road near a KFC and is takeaway only.
If brunch and really good cappuccinos are your thing, head down to Bangsar for cafés like Antipodean, Yeast or Wondermama.
Visit Batu Caves
After breakfast, head on down to the Batu Caves to walk off everything you just ate. The Batu Caves are a 30 minutes’ car ride from the city center and one of the culturally most important things to see in Kuala Lumpur. You can’t miss it thanks to the world’s tallest Lord Murugan statue, at 42.7m high, which can be seen from a distance.
This impressively popular Hindu temple dedicated to him is accessible by walking up 272 steps. These caves feature limestone that is approximately 400 million years old. There are three main caves, a few smaller ones, and a two-kilometer network of untouched caverns that form the Dark Caves. For preservation purposes, access here is only through the Malaysian Nature Society. Total time: 2-3 hours
Grab a tasty lunch
Don’t know what to do in Kuala Lumpur for lunch? Here’s a tip: head to Publika Mall in the upscale district of Solaris Dutamas, Sri Hartamas. This mall serves the nearby residential complexes, so they’re not much to enjoy, but the real gem is the food court inside it. Here, all of KL’s best and most iconic hawker eats have opened a stall. Imagine all the deliciousness at one place! The absolute must tries are the Kin Kin Pan Mee (dry chilli noodles with minced pork), the Ampang yong tau foo or the yam rice.
Spend your afternoon in Little India and/or Chinatown
Your Kuala Lumpur itinerary should definitely have some room for the city’s cultural hubs: Little India or Chinatown. Little India for the best curries, sari shopping, and everything Bollywood. In Chinatown, bargain for everything from handbags to shoes to fabrics. Petaling Street is something you don’t want to miss! Total time: 2-3 hours
Visit Petronas Twin Towers
Take an obligatory shot of the 88-story high Petronas Twin Towers, an iconic landmark and the most famous of all places to visit in Kuala Lumpur. If you want the view of the city from above, the tour takes you through the building’s history from idea to completion to its 86th floor for a breathtaking view. Total time: 1-2 hours
Experience KL shopping
Shop the city’s main shopping malls near the Twin Towers as they are all linked closely to each other in the Bukit Bintang area, THE place to visit for shopping, food and drink. Pavilion is one of the hippest malls with plenty of international brand names as well as an al fresco area filled with bars and restaurants. Total time: 2-3 hours
Spend some time at Bangar Village
Enjoy pre-dinner snacks and drinks at Bangar Village, one of the hippest enclaves of restaurants and pubs near the Bangsar Village 2 shopping mall. There’s a little bit of everything here from minimalist pubs to Spanish Gin & Tonic specialties. Bangsar is also home to plenty of small labels in the shop-houses here, so spend some time exploring the second floor in this area.
Enjoy a great dinner
If you’d like to have dinner here, there are some fantastic choices. Rils is the best for steaks. One of the most affordable little pieces of luxury you can have! Their sides are equally delicious and their cocktails strong, just the way it should be. If you want something more local, Devi’s Corner is an institution for Indian food, one of the best cheap eats in the city. Nearby Sri Nirwana Maju is not too bad either and if you can try both, I say go for it.
If you’d like a bit more choice, head down to Jalan Alor. This place comes alive at night with street food of all kinds. Chinese restaurants serve up everything from live seafood to stir fried wonders you can’t miss.
Explore nightlife in Kuala Lumpur
Nightlife in Kuala Lumpur is absolutely enchanting as there are plenty of things to do and see once the sun sets. You have a little bit of everything from the skyline at your fingertips on rooftop bars, clubs, and pubs. Heritage row is the best place to visit in Kuala Lumpur if you’re looking for hip pubs and music (near Jalan Alor). Butter Factory or Zouk KL are great clubs to visit for music in Bukit Bintang. There are dozens of rooftop bars to take advantage of the incredible city skyline and views but my favourites are Luna Bar and The Roof @ First Avenue.
Where to stay in Kuala Lumpur?
Le Meridien Kuala Lumpur
2 Jalan Stesen Sentral, Kuala Lumpur Sentral
Le Meridien Kuala Lumpur is the ultimate 5 star luxury experience located at the heart of Kuala Lumpur Sentral. The hotel features an outdoor swimming pool, Le Méridien Club Lounge and 4 in-house dining options. The rooms provide the enriching comfort, with plenty of natural lightning, and offer panoramic views of the city and lake garden.
Hotel 1000 Miles
17 & 19 Jalan Tun H S Lee
Hotel 1000 Miles is a stylish hotel with minimalist designs located very central. The hotel is walking distance to popular sights and attractions such as Petaling Street, Masjid Jamek, Merdeka Square and Central Market, so it’s a great choice if you want to see Kuala Lumpur in one day. It also has an outdoor patio at the penthouse where you can enjoy the stunning view of the KL Tower.
Paper Plane Hostel
No.15, Jalan Sin Chew Kee, Bukit Bintang
Paper Plane Hostel is a uniquely designed hostel located in the famous Bukit Bintang area. Offering budget and comfortable stay, the hostel is a great pick for young travelers and backpackers. The hostel features dormitory rooms as well as the private rooms, glasshouse lobby and rooftop garden.
Day trips from Kuala Lumpur
Have a lot of free time on your hands in this magnificent city? Then why not book a day trip from Kuala Lumpur? Oh, there are some fascinating destinations nearby all right, so here are some of the most popular choices.
Malacca is an incredibly picturesque city with loads of very charming streets and colorful buildings. More importantly, however, the whole city is regarded by UNESCO to be a World Heritage Site. The Portuguese have left quite a mark here, including St. Paul’s Church, the oldest church in Southeast Asia. Apart from that, the fortress known as A Famossa is also worth a visit, as are many signs of Chinese culture in the city.
Genting Highlands is a fascinating hill resort north of KL with magnificent nature all around it. It has a very fast cable car which can take you to the highest point of the highlands, but it also has loads of restaurants and shops where you can thoroughly enjoy. Because of that, this great day trip from Kuala Lumpur is the perfect combination of fresh air, nature and all the good things a big city has to offer.
Now, this trip is not a day trip from Kuala Lumpur per se because what you want to see in Kuala Selangor happens by night. You see, all along Selangor River thousands of fireflies light up the trees, and the sight is truly awe-inspiring. You can witness this firsthand as you get on a boat that will take you down the river for an unforgettable experience. Oh, and the local villages can offer you excellent seafood!
Extra tips for visiting Kuala Lumpur
– Robbery and snatch theft are commonly heard of problems even in the city center. It is never advisable to be carrying tote bags that are open or bags you can’t hold close to your body. Women who are driving alone should be extremely careful when parking their cars in large underground carparks. While the city is generally quite safe, don’t take that for granted and stay vigilant.
– From the airport, the best way to enter the city is to take the KLIA Ekspres, a fuss free, easy 30 minute train ride that takes you directly to KL Sentral from where you can take a cab to your destination within the city. A return ticket costs only RM55 (USD12.50), so taking a cab from the airport is likely to be more expensive.
– Since it’s extremely affordable to own a car, most people in Kuala Lumpur drive. Public transport within the city isn’t very commonly used by locals. The monorail stops at 11 major points with the city center and the LRT runs two major routes, the Kelana Jaya LRT line and Ampang LRT line, which takes you around the outskirts of the city center like Bangsar and Batu Caves. Taxis are very cheap and therefore a great means of transportation during your KL one day trip. This is especially true at night when some public transport stops running at midnight.
– Check if you have your visa with you when entering the country. There are several types of those you can get, so the best thing to do is to get your Malaysia visa. They are authorized to help you get your papers and will do so quickly and efficiently.
– Visitors of Indian and Chinese nationality are eligible for an eNTRI visa. This Visa will last you 15 days and can get approved in a matter of hours, not to mention that you can get all the fees back if you get it through Blinkvisa. Malaysia Visa for Indians is also fairly affordable, so if you’re from India you’re in luck when it comes to visiting this country.
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NineTwoBySix by Judy Cheong is all about managing a full time career as well as a fulfilling travel lifestyle within a tight schedule. When she’s not helping businesses navigate the social and digital space with content as a business lead, she’s busy planning her next trip or writing about her travels and motivating others to do the same.