A Whistlestop Tour Of Kuala Lumpur, Asia’s Perfect Compromise

Kuala Lumpur, referred to affectionately as KL by locals, is one of the most exciting cities in the whole of Southeast Asia. Situated in the heart of Malaysia and serving as the seat of government, it offers Western tourists a level of service and excitement that they will struggle to find elsewhere in the region.

Singapore is undoubtedly the city’s primary tourist rival. But that city has its problems. Yes, it’s rich – extremely rich – but it’s also a controlled environment. The government there keeps tabs on everything, and there are cameras everywhere: it’s hard to relax and let go when you feel like you’re being watched.

The other competition is Bangkok in Thailand. Bangkok is a riot of colour and activity, but it too has its downsides. It’s often difficult to get good service when you go off the beaten track, and it has a reputation for being seedy – not something that the majority of visitors want to put up with.

Kuala Lumpur is unique, therefore, among large southeast Asian cities. It has all of the excitement and pizazz of Bangkok and the wholesomeness of Singapore, without any of the hyper-control or blandness. To look at the city at night is to marvel at its beauty.

What’s so interesting about Kuala Lumpur is that it is a city which grew organically, like so many of the greatest cities around the world. It wasn’t even classified as a city until 1972, despite its immense growth throughout the previous two decades. The people who live there are there by choice, not because of some government programme.

The result of organic growth is a sense of controlled chaos, the type that you get in the world’s other most celebrated cities. Buses share roads with moped overflowing with livestock, small electric vans, and luxury cars. It’s a bustling environment, and has a character all of its own, though few people from the West have a sense of what the place is like. It’s glamorous, distinctly Malaysian, and surprisingly wealthy.

Tea In The Orchard

So what’s there to do in a city like this? Why would you visit the Klang Valley, anyway?

One of the most surprising things about the city is just how far it is prepared to go to cater to Western tourists. You would think that the last thing a British (or any European person for that matter) would want to do in an Asian city is indulge in a spot of afternoon tea. But if you find yourself missing Old Blighty, then the Malaysians have you covered. There are several places you can fill up on crumpets, and cucumber sandwiches all washed down with a big pot of tea.

Tea in the Orchard is a highly recommended venue. Here you’ll find afternoon tea served in the traditional manner under the canopy of a beautiful conservatory. The view isn’t particularly British, of course, but the experience is surprisingly convincing.

The Petronas Towers

Once upon a time, before the completion of Taipei 101 in 2006 in Taiwan, the Petronas towers were the tallest in the world, taller to the top of their spires than the Sears Tower in Chicago.

For over a decade, the towers have pierced the city’s skyline, rising high above the surrounding buildings. Over the years, the city grew up around them, but they remain the largest and most iconic of all Kuala Lumpur’s buildings.

Go To The KL Bird Park

If you’re an animal lover, you’ll love the KL Bird Park. Located near the Perdana Botanical Gardens, the bird park sits in over 20 acres of land, right in the heart of the city. Here you can view more than 3,000 different species of bird. Birds are free-roaming and kept in walk-in aviaries.

Birds in the park are divided into four distinct zones. In zone one, you can experience bird life as it exists in a tropical rainforest. Here you’ll find crowned pigeons, yellow-billed storks and doves. Area two is home to some of the rarest birds in the world, including the Nicobar pigeon. Zones three and four are home to the rhinoceros hornbill and the rare parrots. The entire experience is a feast of colour and sounds from the different birds. Although you’re right in the heart of one of the largest cities in southeast Asia, it certainly doesn’t feel like it.

Take A Trip To The Sunway Lagoon Theme Park

It can get hot in Kuala Lumpur. Seriously hot. What you want, therefore, is somewhere you can go to enjoy the feeling of cool water and have fun at the same time. Sunway Lagoon is the perfect place for you. The theme park, founded in 1997, has now grown into the city’s largest, with dozens of attractions, both wet and dry. The park is located a few miles outside the centre in the suburb of Petaling Jaya and is ideal for families with different tolerances for scary rides. The designers of the park split it into four zones, one with mild rides, another with water rides, an area dedicated to animals, and a zone for only the most seasoned thrill-seekers.

Visit The Central Market

If you want to find out what’s for sale in KL, you must visit the Central Market. Though the name might not inspire much curiosity, the market itself is crammed with local sellers showing off the city’s best wares.

Initially, sellers collected in the market to sell fish, fruits and vegetables. But over time the market evolved and is now separated into numerous sections reflecting different ethnic differences. Although the city is majority Muslim, there are significant Indian, Chinese and Thai populations, all with their own unique food heritage. The selection of food available is enormous, meaning that you can prepare practically any meal you like, should you have facilities available to you.

If you get bored perusing the produce, then there’s always entertainment to be found on the upper floor. Music shows and street performers flock to the area because of the high footfall.

Munch Your Way Through Some Street Food

Street food is only just finding its footing in the West. But in the East, it’s been a part of the culture for decades, especially in the cities. What’s more, because there are so many sellers trying to entice you to buy lunch from them, the quality of the food is exceptional – far better than anything you’ll find available on the streets of Europe or the US.

At the centre of the Kuala Lumpur street food scene Hutong. Located in the Lot 10 Mall, it’s a unique place. Although the vendors are all under one roof, they have all been individually selected to be there because the food they sell is authentic and traditional. It means that visitors get access to some of the best street food in the city without having to trudge around the streets looking for the right vendors.

So what food can you find in Hutong? The cuisine includes omelettes, noodle soups, roasted meats and dumplings.

Take A Trip To The Suria KLCC Under The Petronas Towers

If you get bored just staring at the Petronas Towers, take a trip to the KLCC, a complex of shopping malls near their base. The mall stretches over more than seven floors and contains practically every Asian brand imaginable. If you head down to the basement, you can check out rare souvenirs and find arts and crafts vendors selling unique products.

Visit One Of Malaysia’s Oldest Mosques

Malaysia is a mainly Muslim country. But it wasn’t always this way. As a result, the oldest mosques in the region aren’t particularly old. Take the Jamek Mosque near the confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers. Built at the start of the twentieth century, the mosque looks like a new build, despite having many of the architectural features of ancient mosques in the Middle East and Turkey.

Visitors can tour the mosque and enjoy the surrounding rivers.

Take A Trip To Chinatown

Whenever a city has a Chinese population, Chinatowns spring up. They’re all over the world in cities like New York, London, and even Kuala Lumpur. Here you can find many of the things that you’d only usually be able to experience in China proper, including delicious Chinese food, temples, and markets.

Spend Some Time At The Money Museum

KL grew up so quickly partly because of the explosive growth of the banking system in the 1960s and 1970s. Today, it’s one of the region’s premier financial centres with a rich history of banking and money. The Numismatic Museum, run by Maybank, is a financial institution in and of itself, showcasing the region’s monetary history.

You can find out about the various financial crises that have hit the city over the years, view money sculptures, and take a look at the history of notes and coins in the region. The museum is relatively cheap to access and provides at least an afternoon of entertainment. Just don’t get too sidetracked by the real money tree.

2 Responses to “A Whistlestop Tour Of Kuala Lumpur, Asia’s Perfect Compromise”

  1. Beverley Dias says:

    This is still on my bucketlist. Hoping to go here within the next two years. Lovely article, Sandy!!!

Thanks so much for reading, hope to see you again :)

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