Modern, lively and multi-cultural, Kuala Lumpur (or KL as it’s more often known) has much to offer. KL grew out of a nineteenth century tin mining settlement and today’s cultural mix of Indian, Chinese and Malay is a direct reflection of its history. The fusion is most obviously reflected in KL’s food and languages. No visit would be complete without sampling a range of local Indian curries, Chinese dim sum, or traditional Malay nasi lemak (literally ‘fat rice’) which is essentially the national dish. English is widely spoken but often with its own local twist as ‘Manglish’, a shorthand English/Malay/Chinese slang unique to the country.
KL is an up-and-coming capital. Over the last few years the number of bars, restaurants, shops and spas has multiplied, with new venues appearing seemingly daily. Prices are still comparatively cheap for Western pockets, although the main tourist areas are gradually cottoning on to this. The national pastime is hanging out at the mall (it’s for the air conditioning!). KL’s malls offer something for everyone from high-end bars and restaurants to food courts serving cheap, local fare. For those travelers wanting to sample the street food or a choice of venues outside of a mall, Changkat and Bukit Bintang are the central tourist traps where drinks can be had at all hours of day and night. For the more discerning, try the quieter side streets off Changkat where beers can be swapped for selections of wine, and burgers for tapas. Further out of town – but easily accessible by taxi – are areas like Bangsar which offer a range of classier bars, restaurants and cafes. Speakeasies are big right now in KL and, if you are prepared to pay a little more for the experience, they are definitely worth it.
The arts and heritage scene is small but there are some gems. Definitely worth a look is the program for the KL Performing Arts Centre (KLPAC) in Sentul, or check the Time Out listings for the regular range of art exhibitions held at pop-up locations around town. Most of KL seems in a permanent state of development but some of the original buildings and traditional shop-houses are preserved around the Chinatown area.
The climate is hot, hot, hot all year round. Be prepared for high humidity and heavy rain, especially November to January.
local business etiquette and customs
There are no taboos against women having a drink in a bar on their own, but at some of the rowdier bars at Changkat/Bukit Bintang you might attract the wrong attention. With regard to tipping, a service charge is usually added to your bill automatically, so no need to leave extra unless you want to.
TRAVEL AND TRANSPORT
It is not a walk-able city – partly because of the heat – but largely because of the heavy traffic and lack of decent pavements. Most people take a taxi – which are frequent and affordable. Make sure you ask for a metered ride however-despite crackdowns, some drivers still try to take advantage of tourists. Public transport is available but limited. The main site for countrywide info is: http://www.myrapid.com.my or a map for the city trains is: http://mediaenclave.s3.amazonaws.com/enclavelabs/klcityguide/Kuala-Lumpur-Train-Map-2016.pdf However, if you are staying and working in the city centre, a taxi is probably the easiest and safest way to get around. Hotels will get you a cab at the door. Most locals use Uber or Grab Taxi. Just download the app.
Dining and bars
Food remains relatively cheap, though alcohol is not. At the top-end are Nobu Japanese restaurant at KLCC: http://www.noburestaurants.com/kuala-lumpur/experience-3/ or Fuego or Cantaloupe at the Troika: http://www.troikaskydining.com. Drift is a modern Australian restaurant with a good reputation: www.driftdining.com.
For more mid-range budgets, Pinchos Tapas Bar off Changkat is a lively place with bands on some evenings. Rils at Bangsar is a quieter, more salubrious experience with jazz upstairs after 9pm at the weekends: http://www.rils.com.my. Babe is a journey into modern Japanese tapas and well worth a look: www.babe.com.my. An interesting Spanish-yakitori fusion can be had at Palillos Bar at Changkat. For local flavours try Chocha Foodstore @ Petaling Street in Chinatown.
For speakeasies, try the out-of-town Hyde at 53m: http://eatdrinkkl.blogspot.sg/2014/08/hyde-at-53m-damansara-uptown.html; Mr Brooks at Bangsar Shopping Centre (BSC) or Omakase and Appreciate: http://www.timeout.com/kuala-lumpur/music-and-nightlife/omakase-appreciate#tab_panel_2 Jalan Telawi 2 and 3 in Bangsar are good streets for a bar-crawl away from the hassle of the city centre. No trip to KL would be complete without a trip to the Helibar, a bar situated on a working helipad. Not for people scared of heights.
For coffee shops, go to ACME Bar and Coffee at the Troika, RGB & the Beanhive: www.rathergoodbeans.com; or Nutmeg at Bangsar Shopping Centre.
Honestly, the list is absolutely huge, so check out the online listings at TimeOut KL, or EatDrinkKL http://eatdrinkkl.blogspot.sg for listings near to you.
WOMEN’S NETWORKS AND EVENTS
Internations host a women’s group event at least once a month. Check the local timings at http://www.internations.org
BEAUTY AND FITNESS
Most decent hotels provide gym and pool facilities. If you prefer to walk or run, KLCC has a small park in the centre of the city. Most of the walking/running spots are out of the city centre. Try Bukit Kiara/TTDI Hills https://email@example.com,101.6260932,15z. Always go during daylight hours (7am-7pm).
Massage is a big thing in KL and there are hundreds of local outlets of varying quality. If you have time to squeeze in a manicure, try The Nail Parlour in KLCC or Boudoir in Bangsar.
SAFETy and emergency services
Whilst there are no restrictions on dress or behaviour for tourists, it is well to remember that Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country. Walking around town in hot pants and a bikini top would not be very clever. It is well to exercise common sense if you are out in the evening on your own; always get a taxi after dark. Don’t walk home on your own at night. It’s just not safe. Get a cab back to your hotel. Whilst violent crimes are not common, they are not unknown. Bag and phone thefts are very common, so always keep your bag close. Don’t leave your bag on the back of your chair, or your phone out of reach.
ABOUT Fiona Williamson
A British expat enjoying living and working in Asia. I travel extensively across the region for work, an excellent way of visiting every country on my bucket list! I lived in KL for five years and enjoyed the experience immensely. I’m an active person and saw a great deal of Malaysia by signing up for running/cycling events in different areas. I moved to Singapore in 2016.
If you have questions about your trip to KL you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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