Last summer, I was lucky enough to take a break between finishing university and graduating to travel with my best friend. We were torn for ages, what with there being so many amazing places we could’ve gone, but as we set our time limit as 3 weeks, we decided Malaysia and Bali were the ones for us!
We booked a flight into Kuala Lumpur, our first hostel there for a few nights, and our flight home from Denpasar, and that was it. It was the first time I had ever travelled in such a free and unplanned way, and I can tell you now I will not be going back! Being able to decide where we wanted to go next and when on the whim of the moment, or by listening to advice from other travellers around us, made our trip more exciting and memorable than many trips I have done before.
The Malaysia series will be a three part series, then followed by the Bali series, another three parter!
So, let’s kick off with Kuala Lumpur, our first stop!
* all the photos in this blog post were taken by me 🙂
We decided to go on recommendations from a friend with this, and given it was only for a few nights and the first place we’d be going to, we wanted somewhere with lots of character, the opportunity to meet people, and nice facilities. We opted for Reggae Mansion in central KL. In terms of location, Reggae Mansion was great. Right in the centre and only a walk away from most of the parts we wanted to hit, or a really short taxi ride. Facilities were all quite new and worked well, hot water for showers, private cubicles for washing facilities, water fountains everywhere (which was much needed given how hot it was), your own divided bunks with under bed storage you could padlock, individual lights and charging points in your bunks, toast and cereals on offer for breakfast, and a rooftop bar with pool! Unfortunately, we went in low season, so our hope of meeting lots of people and getting recommendations wasn’t fully full-filled. Have heard from others it is a major party hostel in high season (but might be a bit loud if that’s not your thing).
We basically walked everywhere in KL. Getting around isn’t hard, and we both bought Malaysian SIM cards when we entered the country, so we always had access to Google maps! Walking around was really easy; we always felt very safe, and even when we did get lost (which was a fair bit) there was always a landmark to tip us off to where we were. There are a couple places that are too far out to walk to (e.g. Batu Caves which I will mention later), and in these situations we got a Grab. Grab is basically the Malaysian equivalent of Uber, except WAY cheaper. You can link it to your card (we had Monzo cards which made paying for stuff really easy out there) or pay by cash. The aircon in a Grab was also a much appreciated relief from the humidity outside at times!
Places to Visit
There is SO much to see in KL but here’s a run down of what we did, and we did it all in about 4 days!
- Petronas Towers – twin towers that were the tallest buildings in the world from 1998-2004. An absolute landmark is KL and really astounding to view from the bottom. I would advise not paying to go up them, as, to be honest, you can get the same view from SO many places around KL for much cheaper (I’ll recommend some places to go below). It’s also a bit of a tourist trap so just be weary of people trying to sell you things, but definitely worth a trip.
- KL Tower – again, we didn’t bother going up it, although it is the highest viewpoint in KL. We viewed this landmark from the very bottom, and at lots of different rooftop bars. Like the Petronas Towers, it is very beautiful at night when lit up. However, if you have cash to splash, there is a revolving restaurant at the top!
- Batu Caves – everyone has a friend who has a picture with the iconic multicoloured stairs and huge golden statue at the Batu Caves, but it is so worth the visit! The walk up is beautiful, with monkeys running about around you and mini waterfalls to view from the stairs, but be aware, you will be sweaty. At the top you can view the temple and there are a few little shop stalls. The caves themselves are super beautiful, and the way the light trickles in is great. We wondered about for ages looking at different parts of the caves and temple within and then slowly wandered down again. So many great photo opportunities too!
- Eco Forest Walk – when we visited it was free to enter and I would highly recommend it as a place to wonder about for an afternoon. It seems bizarre that in the hustle and bustle of the city that is Kuala Lumpur there is this natural rainforest. The canopy climb is absolutely beautiful and really gives you a peaceful moment away from it all. There were hardly and other people there when we went and we had a really lovely relaxed walk at our own pace. You can also view the bottom of the KL Tower from within the park which is a awesome sight from the bottom.
- Thean Hou Temple – again, this is a taxi ride away from KL but it is more than worth it because it is SO beautiful. We tied it in with the day we went to the Batu Caves, as it got all the landmarks that were far away done and dusted. This temple was incredible, from the outside it looks massive and is one of the most majestic buildings I’ve ever seen. It is one of the oldest and largest temples in South East Asia and it very much lives up to this reputation. The vivid colours and intricate decoration have you exploring for hours, and you can also get great views of the city as it is set upon a high hill! Remember, as with all sacred buildings in Malaysia, it is very important to be respectful of the culture. Wearing long trousers and bringing a shall to wrap around yourself when actually inside the building (especially in temples which require head coverings for women) is a very easy way to do this, but also taking time to read and learn about the history of that specific building is a way to show respect. Thean Hou is a wonderful place to do this as it has so many different shrines, and structural elements to learn about.
- Little India/Chinatown – Kuala Lumpur is a really diverse city, with many multicultural communities. One way to experience this is by visiting Little India and Chinatown. Little India in the Brickfields district is full of amazing sites, sounds, tastes and smells. There are shops selling aromatic spices, traditional clothes, henna tattoos and a multitude of restaurants. There is a three story Indian Bazaar that’s definitely worth a visit too. Beautiful both in the night and day so visit at any time! Chinatown, which also never sleeps, is also colourful and bustling. It is a hugely popular tourist spot starting on Petaling street, and a great place to find a bargain! The market stalls sell everything under the sun and it’s definitely a place to haggle, so get your souvenirs and other goodies cheaply.
- Central Market – I can say with confidence that I ate here at least three times in the four days I was in KL. It’s hard to miss in a huge, blue, art deco, building (and was only a 5 minute walk from our hostel). This is where the more artistic community of sellers are based, and again another great place to get souvenirs. We got some great silk shirts and beautiful flowing trousers here. But, for us, the food court was the highlight; with a wide range of traditional cuisine, you could safely eat different things here most days on a short trip and never get bored.
- Perdana Botanical Gardens – overall, a great place to go to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city. We walked here although it is a bit out of the centre and it was for sure worth a visit. This green oasis has a plethora of different dedicated areas to different types of flowers and natural life. There is free entry to most of it and a gorgeous place to walk around and have some tranquility. You’d have to spend DAYS if you wanted to see all of it, but even for a few hours it’s definitely worth it.
- Butterfly Park – this is an extension of the previously mentioned botanical gardens, and home to not only incredibly beautiful butterflies, but also turtles, koi carp, insects and a museum. Unfortunately it was raining during our visit, meaning there weren’t a huge amount of butterflies fluttering around. However we really enjoyed the respite and there’s shelter to sit and watch the natural life. There is a charge to enter, but it is very little and definitely worth it if you’re interested. Try to go when it is not busy as this definitely made the trip for us.
- National Mosque – this is a site to be seen as it is massive, given its capacity for 15000 people and the 13 acres of gardens and you can see the minaret from miles away. We opted not to go in as we arrived at the wrong time (they have very specific opening hours for tourists/the public as it is a place of worship). The geometric design and abstract shapes that compromise this mosque however mean it is worth visiting even from the outside. If you arrive at the correct time, and are willing to pay, I would definitely recommend going inside as there is even more beautiful design to be seen, but remember to be respectful of the Islamic religion and cover your body appropriately.
Places to eat/drink
If you’ve read my About Me page, you’ll know that food can be a bit of an issue for me as I am gluten and dairy intolerant. Luckily, being in Malaysia, I was spoilt for choice and we ate at so many amazing places.
As I’ve already mentioned, the food hall at Central Market was a god send, being only a few minutes away from our hostel, and having such a variety of local cuisine. I especially enjoyed the spring rolls as they were different to what you imagine as usual spring rolls, not filled with vegetables, but rather with an egg type mixture: super delicious. The rice and rice noodle dishes were also wonderful, and the wide variety of curries meant I was never stuck for choice.
There are some amazing rooftop bars in KL that overlook the city. We visited a couple of these (especially as we were treating ourselves because we found out we had achieved our degrees whilst in KL). The Banyan Tree Hotel is a very classy hotel that has a rooftop bar where you can see all the beautiful parts of KL at night, lit up and that makes beautiful views. There’s also the Helipad Bar, which by day is a helicopter landing site and by night a gorgeous rooftop bar. The sites are incomparable and was a great place to celebrate. Neither of these places are a great drinking spot if you’re on a super tight budget, but good places for splashing out and treating yourself.
Beyond that there are more places to eat and drink scattered around the city. We went to the Changkat strip, which has bars such as Opium, Rockerfellers and Zion. The prices are cheaper and it’s a very large nightlife area. The streets surrounding do great local food too and we ate their one night.
Overall, we really enjoyed our four days in Kuala Lumpur. One of my old music teachers now lives there, and he very kindly took us out for dinner, recommended places, and took us to a great gay bar (Blue Boy) for a drag night! I would definitely go back to KL, especially as it connects you to the rest of Malaysia and the flights were not that expensive.
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed the run down of my time in KL. I have two more posts on the way about Malaysia so please join in for more advice about what to see and where to go!
Amy @thisgingertravels x