Whether you’re spending time travelling around Malaysia, or just taking a stopover in Kuala Lumpur, there’s plenty to keep you occupied in the capital. Here are a few of my favourite things to do in Kuala Lumpur.
1. Get oriented at the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery
Situated opposite Merdeka Square (Dataran Merdeka) where Malaysia’s Independence from Britain was proclaimed in 1957, the City Gallery is a good way to familiarise yourself with Kuala Lumpur and find out a little about Malaysian culture. You will find everything you could want in the way of maps and brochures, plus they have a large-scale model of the city that lights up. (Fun for the kids.)
While you’re there, check out Merdeka Square and the surrounding buildings, which include the Tudor-style Selangor Club, the giant flagpole, and architectural gems such as the National Music Museum, National Textile Museum, and the Government Office building.
2. Wander the streets of old Chinatown
The first few chapters of The Concubine’s Child are set in this area. If you’ve read the book, you’ll recognise many of the landmarks. Some of the street names remain the same but many have been changed since the 1930s.
Some of the not-to-be-missed sights include:
- Chan See Shue Yuen (The Chan clan house which is featured in the novel)
- Guan Di Temple (also featured in the book)
- Sze Ya Temple
- Sri Mahamariaman Temple (mentioned in the book)
There are lots of other sights here, which you will find out if you visit the City Gallery and get some maps first!
3. Cruise Petaling Street
A section of Petaling Street in Chinatown has been turned into a permanent market, open for business day and night, rain, hail or shine. Lined with stalls selling fresh food, snacks, clothing, accessories, electrical goods etc, it’s a great place to browse or shop. It’s covered with an awning to help with the hot sun or rain and you’ll definitely find some interesting snacks here. Don’t forget to haggle and do watch your handbag.
4. Visit Central Market
Not far from Petaling Street, you will find Central Market, which has been a market site since 1888. Not so much fresh food these days but a great place to shop for arts, crafts and collectibles.
5. Try some Kuih
Do not leave Malaysia without trying the kuih! These are traditional Malay cakes or sweets, often based on coconut and glutinous rice. Other flavourings include pandan, palm sugar, mung bean and peanut. They come in endless colours, flavours and textures and are delicious. You will find a stall selling them at any market or shopping mall and they are quite inexpensive. You may even find them at your hotel breakfast buffet. Load up, you can always pay for your sins when you return home. We usually buy ours at Lulu’s stall at Mid-Valley Megamall. The green and white ones are my favourites.
6. Take a stroll through the National Museum (Muzium Negara)
The museum is a great place to get an overview of the traditional customs and ceremonies of the various ethnic groups of Malaysia and learn a little about Malaysian history. The architecture is a modern interpretation of traditional Malay architecture. Some of the peoples of the island of Borneo were once headhunters and I remember the first time I visited the museum, being fascinated by an exhibition that included shrunken heads. Don’t think they still show them! Maybe just as well.
7. Visit the National Mosque (Masjid Negara)
The National Mosque of Malaysia is a magnificent structure with a stunning folded blue roof. It was built in 1965 and is unlike a typical onion-domed Middle Eastern mosque design. The National Mosque is also surrounded by pretty gardens. Non-Muslim visitors are welcome outside of prayer times (best to google times). Like many places of worship in Asia, you will need to remove your shoes. It’s also important for all visitors to dress modestly and for women to cover their arms, legs and head. If you’ve never visited a mosque, this is a beautiful place to start. And if you’ve visited or worshipped at many mosques, here is a wonderful 20th-century example.
8, Check out the twin towers and KLCC
The Petronas Twin Towers are visible from all over the city, soaring far above the other high-rise buildings. They are well worth a visit. Each year I return to the Kuala Lumpur City Center (KLCC) to admire the towers up close, stroll through the lush park below and do a little (or a lot) of shopping. The towers were briefly the tallest buildings in the world around the millennium. And I believe they are still the tallest twin towers. The design is based on Islamic architectural principles, the floor plate of each level resembles two squares overlapping to form an eight-pointed star. You can purchase tickets for the observation deck on the Concourse level of KLCC shopping mall. Open daily, Tuesday to Sunday.
Down below, sit on the outdoor concourse facing the fountains and park and enjoy a bite to eat or a drink. The cafes are all equipped with outdoor cooling. (Yes, to all you cold climate dwellers, this is a thing. Instead of outdoor heaters, in KL you will find coolers blowing cool misty air upon grateful guests.) Shop to your heart’s content in the enormous shopping plaza inside. I think there about five levels of shopping (maybe six). Many of the brands you know plus lots of local brands. Then take a walk through the park. Don’t forget to crane your head up at the twin towers. And if you have children, take their swimsuits, because there is also a free outdoor waterpark.
9. Visit the bird park
I love the bird park, even though the last time I visited we were caught umbrella-less in the heaviest downpour I’ve know for years. Absolutely soaked through, including our shoes! So many wonderful birds to see. The many varieties of hornbill are my favourites. A hornbill features briefly in The Concubine’s Child. I have seen them in the wild on the island of Langkawi and they are so majestic. You might also see some macaques in the roadside trees outside the park.
10. Do some more shopping!
Why not! I suggest checking out the Mid-Valley Megamall. The name says it all. An enormous indoor complex which is also connected above and below ground to a smaller (but still big) complex called The Gardens. I challenge you not to buy something here.
I would also suggest asking around for the nearest pasar malam, or night market. These small markets spring up in closed off streets all over the suburbs selling clothing, food, videos, food, music, food, accessories and more food. Each venue has a regular night so there’s bound to be one on somewhere during your stay. They’re great fun. And the local snacks are delicious. Try the little pancake thingies with peanuts inside. Yum!
11. Take a day trip to Malacca (Melaka)
Yes, I know I said ten things to do in KL, but Melaka is two hours drive south, so doesn’t count. I love this city and wouldn’t want you to miss out when you’re so close. If you’re a history buff, Melaka was the meeting point of many seafaring nations that traded (and raided) in this region: Malay, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and British to name a few. In 2008 it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its historical significance. Only two hours from KL, you can catch the bus or take a tour, or stay overnight in one of the refurbished Peranakan townhouses, or boutique hotel such as the Majestic (above) if you have the time.
Not to be missed:
- Baba and Nonya Heritage Museum
- Dutch Square, the site of the Stadthuys and Christ Church
- The remains of the Portuguese fortress, Porta di Santiago
- Maritime Museum
- Jonkers Street and Chinatown
- Kampung Kling Mosque
- Cheng Hoon Teng Temple
- Sri Poyatha Hindu Temple
- And much more …