Eye-catching architecture, lively marketplaces, shopping malls, nature parks, and ornate temples make Malaysia’s largest city a gateway to the splendors of the Far East.
Kuala Lumpur’s diverse multiethnic Malay, Chinese, and Indian population and its vibrant rainforest surroundings bring the city to life in exceptional color. With pristine tropical islands and exotic jungles very close by, even a short stay in Kuala Lumpur can be spent exploring both the urban sights and the natural world waiting just beyond.
The city’s flourishing tourism industry has attracted a growing list of world-class hotels, resorts, and spas. Kuala Lumpur also plays host to a number of international sporting events, such as golf’s Malaysian Open and the exhilarating Formula One World Championships.
In Merdaka Square, the old-style buildings such as the Royal Selangor Club bear evidence of the city’s 19th-century period of British rule. Similarly the Sultan Abdul Samad building, constructed in the neo-Moorish style selected by its British architect, served as a key government building, initially for the colonizers and later for Malaysia’s supreme and high courts.
Contrast this with a tour of the Golden Triangle, the most modern of Kuala Lumpur’s neighborhoods and home to the city’s large cluster of luxury hotels, designer shopping areas, and ultramodern high-rises, including the iconic Petronas Twin Towers, which see hopeful tourists queue up early each morning for the handful of free tickets issued daily. These coveted passes allow you to access the Sky Bridge connecting the two soaring towers at the 41st floor. But take your photos quickly, as visitors must descend after only a few minutes of viewing time.
Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown and Little India neighborhoods are where food stalls, markets, and shops provide windows onto the culture and cuisine of both South and East Asia. These boroughs, with parts of Chinatown established in the 18th century, also testify to the lure this city has long presented to immigrants from across the continent.
At the top of many tourists’ lists is a chance to explore Malaysia’s unparalleled biodiversity and the natural wonders of the tropics. However, this doesn’t have to be a strenuous jungle trek; it can be as simple as an afternoon at Lake Gardens, where rare birds, butterflies, and tropical flowers can be seen at a 92-hectare park in the heart of the city.
A few minutes outside of the city are a number of wildlife reserves where tourism and the drive to preserve rainforest species offer learning experiences and family fun. The Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary welcomes tourists to interact with and explore the world of Asia’s pachyderms, while the Kampung Kuantan Fireflies Park takes evening visitors along the Selangor River to experience the glow of these rare, luminescent insects.
Not many places offer the culinary variety that can be found in Kuala Lumpur thanks to the fusion of spices and styles across Chinese, Indian, and Malay traditions. In addition to classics such as satays, penang, nasi lemak, and curries, be prepared to see some fairly unusual-looking dishes as well.
Food here is generally geared toward a spice-loving palate, so those who prefer milder heat should make sure to put in a special request for less spice when dining out.
Central Kuala Lumpur boasts a number of Western restaurants as well, and many of the city’s most expensive tables can be found in the luxury hotels of the Golden Triangle district.
Located just a few kilometers north of the city, the popular limestone Batu Caves make for a pleasant half-day excursion from Kuala Lumpur. Here, religious temples and ornate sculptures of Hindu deities are visited by pilgrims and tourists alike, and one must be willing to climb the 272 steps leading to the main site. The area is also home to numerous macaque monkeys, who, though intriguing, have been known to steal from and bite the unprepared human.
From Kuala Lumpur, there are numerous options for longer onward explorations. In Malaysia’s west, the archipelago of Langkawi offers peaceful beach resorts and exceptional underwater life for divers and snorkelers. To the east, Malaysian Borneo offers great appeal to the adventurous traveler, including the strenuous climb to the mighty peak of Mount Kinabalu, caving explorations, and multiday jungle treks.