Kuala Lumpur (known as KL by locals) started in 1857 as a mining town. It apparently means “muddy river confluence” in Malay. It was made capital of the Federated Malay States in 1896 and then became capital of modern Malaysia in 1957. It is now a massive sprawling city of 243 km² (94 sq miles) with an estimated population of 1.6 million. The greater KL area has eight million people. I have been to KL a few times now but not reviewed it before. Like all cities, I visit, I rate key aspects of the city and provide my top recommendations as a visitor.
Kuala Lumpur is considered to be a green city with parks, inner city walkways and palm tree lined roads. In its rush to modernise, sadly, KL demolished many of its beautiful historic buildings but there are still an impressive number of colonial-era buildings in a landscaped environment. The new office towers are putting the city on the global stage. My tip is to explore wider than the main roads and tourist areas. There are lots of interetsing pockets behind the gleaming towers and motorways.
A richly multi cultural city- albeit with some tensions between races. The food is amazing. Shopping is a popular option with a wide range of options. There is a great art scene.
In June 2013, 10awesome.com stated Kuala Lumpur was the sixth most dangerous city in the world titled ‘10 Dangerous Cities In The World’, with a 70 percent increase in crime over the last three years. The violent crime seems to be coming from gangs and is focussed on internal disputes rather than directed at visitors and tourists. I have never felt unsafe in KL. I take usual precautions, of course.
Kuala Lumpur listed as the second most livable city in Southeast Asia after Singapore by the Economic Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) Global Liveability Survey in 2012. Overall, it is considered to be the 77th most liveable city in the world.
Kuala Lumpur has a tropical rainforest climate (warm and sunny with lots of rain!). Monsoon season is October to March. Maximum temperatures sit at 33 °C ( 91 °F) while minimums sit at 22 °C (72°F).
- two Light Rail lines
- three rail lines
- a monorail line -which I found to be a disappointingly bumpy ride!
- the airport rail link to Kuala Lumpur International Airport which takes 28minutes to complete the journey. Its a dream to use.
- a bewildering network of buses -mostly run by RAPID- see map
- taxis – insist on them using their meters
The major frustration with the system is that because it was built by different companies, connecting from one mode to another is not as smooth as it could be. Up to two years ago, they all used different ticketing systems but thankfully they are standardising with My rapid card system. Tourists can easily buy a card which lasts a week (but can be extended). Transport info is available here.
KL is a fun city with a good buzz. Worth a couple of days.
Overall Verdict: 69%
Kuala Lumpur sits at 121 out of my top 200 cities!
My Top Twelve List for Kuala Lumpur
Overlooked by many visitors to Kuala Lumpur, this is one of the best museums, I have visited. They have more than seven thousand Islamic artefacts including rare exhibits as well as a library of Islamic art books. The permanent collection, traveling exhibitions and gift shop are all excellent.
I , like, most tourists to KL, headed straight to the famous 452 metre (1 482 foot) tall twin towers. From 1996 to 2003, they were the tallest towers in the world. You can visit the observatory level at floor 86 or the skybridge 170 metres up. The only way to get a ticket is to line up at the Concourse Level and get one in person on a first come, first served basis. I recommend getting there early to get tickets or organise to get a ticket ahead as advance purchase is available. Do not buy from scalpers or any on line site. Sometimes, they are fake and you won’t get up the tower. There is a shopping mall at the foot of the towers, as well as the Petrosains museum, and the Aquaria oceanarium.
3. Menara Kuala Lumpur – KL Tower
This 421 metre tall telecommunications and broadcasting tower is built on top of a small hill so its height above sea level is 515m. It is less visited than some other places but you can get some great views of the city from its observation level and revolving restaurant. At the foot of the Tower is a small area of rainforest called Bukit Nanas. This is open to explore.
4. Merdeka Square (Independence Square)
The beautiful copper-domed Sultan Abdul Samad Building on Merdeka Square is well worth a look at, together with St Mary’s Anglican Cathedral. It is a great insight into the history of the city.
5. Kuala Lumpur Lake Gardens
This green lung in the heart of the city contains many attractions such as the popular KL Bird Park (see below), the Orchid & Hibiscus Gardens and the nearby Kuala Lumpur Butterfly Park.
6. Petaling Street and Central Market
The Petaling Street street market, together with temples, restaurants etc is great along with nearby Central Market, an old art deco “wet market” heritage building now full of shops selling Malaysian handicrafts, wood carvings, batik, pewterware, art works and other souvenir items. I didnt buy anytjing but its well worth the time. Heaps of street artists are to be found on the ground floor.
7. Thean Hou Temple
Large and elaborately decorated Chinese temple is dedicated to the Goddess Tian Hou. It is very busy during religious festivals.
Not many cities have an amazing network of caves to explore. These limestone caves are a Hindu sacred site and well worth visiting. Be warned to get into them means climbing 272 steps. Once there, they do smell of bat droppings but are really fascinating. Watch out for the long tailed-macaque monkeys! There are people selling food to give to the monkeys but I was told that visitors should not support the practice. Don’t bother with a tour or a taxi to get there as trains from KL Sentral take you close by. The caves are free to enter but a tour of the Dark Cave costs extra- spend the money! There are vegetarian food stalls at the caves.
This place is very touristy but I loved my time here. The birds were highly entertaining and very beautiful. It is located in the lovely Lake Gardens (see above). They claim to be the “largest walk-in free-flight aviary in the world” .
10. Little India
I like Little India in KL more than the one in Singapore. Its very visually interesting and quite fun. Its a great way to feel immersed in real KL life and culture. Check out the Saturday markets!
11. Bintang Walk (Star Hill)
This video (not mine) gives you a good sense of this very touristy area. Its full of shopping, food, massages, noise, colour, locals and tourists. Quite fun to walk through and explore.
If you are a train nut (like me), check out the old Kuala Lumpur Railway Station (built in 1910) which contains a railway museum.
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