Kuala Lumpur, simply called KL by locals, is the federal capital and the largest city in Malaysia. Literally meaningmuddy river confluence in Malay, Kuala Lumpur has grown from a small sleepy Chinese tin-mining village to a bustling metropolis of around 6.5 million (city-proper population of 1.8 million) in just 150 years. Kuala Lumpur is cultural melting pot with some of the world’s cheapest 5-star hotels, impressive shopping districts, even better food and some of nature’s wonders just an hour away, making this a dynamic city with much to offer.
It’s hard to believe Kuala Lumpur didn’t even exist 200 years ago. Kuala Lumpur’s history is surprisingly short – it only came into existence in the late 1850s, when a group of Chinese tin prospectors settled where the Klang and Gombak rivers meet in what was then deep mosquito-ridden jungle. The mines developed into a trading post which evolved into a frontier town.
Its development into modern day ‘KL’ began under British colonial rule, when the scruffy little settlement ridden by inter-gang rivalry was placed under the control of a Chinese Kapitan or headman. His name was Yap Ah Loy, and he was responsible for the layout of the city.
The jungle was cleared, and the construction of more substantial brick and stone buildings commenced. The use of skilled Chinese carpenters meant that many of the buildings that sprang up resembled the distinctive shop houses of southern China.
The construction of a railway line, the establishment of laws, courts, a prison and a school all contributed to the city’s early modernisation. This led to KL being proclaimed capital of the newly formed Federated Malay States at the end of the 19th century.
Different communities settled into distinct areas – the Chinese around Chinatown and the commercial district, Malays and Indians along Java Street, and the British around Padang, now known as Merdeka Square.
KL’s growth continued apace until capture by the Japanese in 1942. But British administration returned post-war, and preparations for Malaysian independence began in earnest, coming to fruition in 1963.
In 1969, race riots kicked off between the Malays and the Chinese. Almost 200 people died during the 13 May Incident, leading to nationwide economic reform to reduce Chinese monopolies.
Since independence, KL has steadily grown, particularly during the boom years of the 1980s and 1990s, into the ultra-modern (in parts) city it is today.
Kuala Lumpur Today
Kuala Lumpur offers a whirlwind tour of Asian cultures, customs and cuisines. Its busy streets are home to Chinese joss-houses, colourful Hindu temples and towering mosques.
Above them all rises one of the most distinctive skylines on the continent – dominated by the twin turrets of the Petronas Towers. The streets form a living map of the cultures and races who gathered here in colonial times. Turn one corner and you could be in Shanghai or Kowloon. Turn the next, and find yourself transported to steamy south India. One moment, you might be standing among shimmering skyscrapers; the next you’re surrounded by traditional tin-roofed Malay houses.
Festivals transcend religious boundaries and an air of tolerance and mutual respect pervades. This ‘stronger together’ approach has allowed KL to achieve great things. Aided by oil wealth, the city has quickly transformed itself from jungle outpost to futuristic cyber-city.
The rapid pace of change is most apparent in the central business district, where pockets of jungle and colonial bungalows still stand amongst the glass and steel towers. Old parts of the city are vanishing fast as KL marches towards the future. The pockets of old that remain in Chinatown, Little India, Brickfields and Chow Kit are still the most atmospheric parts of the city.
For travellers, KL is first and foremost a place to shop and to eat. The fusion of flavours created by KL’s cultures has created one of the most dynamic dining scenes in Asia. Breakfast on nasi goreng (fried rice with eggs), grab a gorgeous banana leaf curry for lunch and hit Jalan Alor ‘Eat Street’ for the best Chinese street food in Malaysia.
KL’s status as a shopping destination grows yearly, with huge malls across the Golden Triangle area of the city playing home to major brands. If you don’t want to trawl for bargains, sights are plentiful and easily reached via monorail.
What To See
- National Mosque Kuala Lumpur (Masjid Negara)
The best features of the mosque are the 73 meters high minarets and its 16 pointed star concrete which is its main roof. There are many meanings to the design of the mosque. The main roof’s design was inspired from the idea of an open umbrella while the minarets were like a folded umbrella. The concrete main roof utilizes the concept of folding plates in order to obtain larger space at the main gathering hall.
Around the compound are many reflecting pools and also fountains. The National Mosque is situated just a kilometer away from the popular Lake Gardens Kuala Lumpur. The Lake Gardens itself is made up of five different gardens and parks which attract thousands of visitors annually. Among the parks at the Lake Gardens are theKuala Lumpur Bird Park and the Deer Park Kuala Lumpur. The Kuala Lumpur Bird Park is a must to visit as it is the world’s largest free flight aviary. With over 3000 birds from more than 200 species, this is simply a place that you must visit. There are many shows at the bird park. Bird feeding and photo-taking as allowed in the bird park. Feeding and photo-shooting is also allowed at the deer park.
- The Petronas Twin Towers Complex
Soaring to a height of 451.9 meters, the 88-storey twin structure of the Petronas Towers is Kuala Lumpur’s crown jewel. A sky bridge at levels 41 and 42 links the two towers, at 170 meters above street level. The attraction is open to visitors between 9am – 9pm every Tuesday to Sunday. Best to purchase a ticket online to avoid the queue. There’s only a limited number of passes allocated per day.
Directly beneath the Petronas Twin Towers is Suria KLCC, a luxurious shopping mall with over 320 stores, catering for middle class Malaysians and tourists. Items in the glitzy shops feature name brands, and are expensive. However, they’re worth viewing for the sake of window shopping. What appealed to us though, were the huge food courts, such as ‘Signatures’, offering a variety of Asian meals at reasonable prices.
The whole complex is surrounded by a scenic park of lush greenery. This is the best place to view the Petronas Twin Towers, and a relaxing oasis in the city’s heart. The dancing fountains are mesmerizing, but become particularly stunning at night, when synchronized with colored lights and music.
- Chinatown – Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur
Chinatown is the original commercial centre of Kuala Lumpur. Traders first set up here in the 1880’s
Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur is not as large as other major cities in Asia, but it is very lively and busy. During the day, stalls sell clothes, household goods and food to locals and tourists alike. Jalan Petaling is at the centre of the area, the day market turns into a thriving night market with food being the biggest attraction. Locals flock to the area at night to socialize with friends and family.
Chinatown is a maze of alleyways and narrow streets. Old shop houses, temples and kedai kopi (coffee shops) line these narrow streets.
- Taman Tasik Perdana (Lake Garden)
This Lake Garden was made in 1888 but had a major facelift in 1975. The Sprawling Lake Garden Area of the Old City Center of Kuala Lumpur host a number of Major Attractions as this 92 hectare park in the heart of Kuala Lumpur not only is a sight for sore eyes and a nice rest and recreation area to de stress from the hustle and bustle of KL. The Centerpiece is a large manmade lake called Lake Titiwangsa, which offers panoramic shots of the KLCC Skyline.
it also contains large sculpted and manicured gardens and a host of attractions like the Orchid Garden, Butterfly Park Kuala Lumpur, Deer Park Kuala Lumpur, Islamic Art Museum, Planetarium Negara, National Mosque, Taman Bunga Raya, Police Museum, Memorial Tun Abdul Razak and the Bird Park. To Name a Few.
Most attractions are open from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm everyday
- KL Bird Park
This fabulous 21-hectare aviary houses some 3000 birds comprising 200 species of (mostly) Asian birds. The park is divided into four sections: in the first two, birds fly freely beneath an enormous canopy. Section three features the native hornbills (so-called because of their enormous beaks), while section four offers the less-edifying spectacle of caged species.
Feeding times are scattered throughout the day (see the website for times) and there are bird shows at 12.30pm and 3.30pm if you like that sort of thing.
- Islamic Arts Museum
This outstanding museum is home to one of best collections of Islamic decorative arts in the world. Aside from the quality of the exhibits, which include fabulous textiles, carpets, jewellery and calligraphy-inscribed pottery, the building itself is a stunner, with beautifully decorated domes and glazed tile work. There’s a good Middle Eastern restaurant and one of KL’s best museum gift shops stocking beautiful products from around the Islamic world.
- Elephant Orphanage Sanctuary Day Tour
Enjoy a private tour of the Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary (also called the Elephant Orphanage Sanctuary), an elephant conservation center managed by the Malaysian Wildlife Society. Drive by private vehicle to a beautiful tropical rainforest, located just 1.5 hours from Kuala Lumpur, stopping at Deerland Park along the way. With your expert, friendly guide, you’ll discover the important work the elephant sanctuary does in protecting and safeguarding these orphaned elephants. You may even have the opportunity to interact with cute and clever baby elephants – truly a never-to-be forgotten experience!
Where To Eat
Most of Kuala Lumpur’s Muslim-friendly restaurants are found in Bangsar, which is easily accessible via LRT train, but there are a few stylish yet affordable eateries situated within KL city centre as well. Perfect for halal foodies who are on holiday in Kuala Lumpur, our comprehensive list of KL’s most popular halal restaurants is a mixture of local favourites, Middle Eastern, and pork-free western delicacies.
- Restoran Sri Nirwana Maju
estoran Sri Nirwana Maju is a highly recommended, air-conditioned Indian banana leaf restaurant. Located opposite Bangsar Village 2, along the upmarket Jalan Telawi stretch, it is a halal establishment that also offers thosai, puree, and roti canai.
Located amongst some of Bangsar’s higher-end establishments, it is a simple and humble setup with an interior featuring comfortable chairs and tables, hanging artificial flowers and warm, yellow lighting. Though service is not stellar and parking can be difficult (especially on weekends), the reasonably priced and tasty food makes a trip here well worth the effort.
- Melur and Thyme Restaurant
There aren’t many non-Chinese restaurants in Kuala Lumpur that serve duck. Actually, there are almost none, so when we heard a duck-specialty halal restaurant popping up in KLCC, our interest was piqued. Melur and Thyme is a rebranded restaurant, formerly known as Duck & Such, and while duck is still the main ingredient on the menu, there are also non-duck dishes for those who aren’t inclined that way.
Situated on the ground floor of Suria KLCC, Melur and Thyme can be found right across from Harrods Cafe and the Ralph Lauren boutique: inside it is quieter than the rest of the mall, lending the place a refined, elegant ambiance. Decor is understated yet maintains a classy vibe: expect an East-meets-West interior with kopitiam marble-top tables, low-hanging bulbs, white brick walls and intricate wired art, all spelling ‘elegant’ without having too much glamour, enticing both casual mall strollers and working executives.
- Arabesque Kuala Lumpur
Arabesque Kuala Lumpur is a cosy Middle Eastern restaurant that’s been gaining a steady following of locals and tourists in KL city centre since opening for business in September 2014.The food here is fantastic and the service is warm and friendly, as you would expect from a family run operation. This eatery is easily distinguished by its black and white archway, maroon-hued walls, and a kebab station by the entrance while its air-conditioned interior is a simple layout of black furnishings, tiled floors, with several framed Arabic-themed artwork on the otherwise bare walls. Its food menu is an expansive mix of traditional Turkish, Egyptian and Syrian delicacies while beverages range from fresh fruit juices such as the fresh lemon mint (RM10) to traditionally-prepared Turkish coffee with baklava (RM9) and Arabian tea (RM5). Arabesque Kuala Lumpur also serves unique sweets of the day for dessert, where you can enjoy nutty halva ice-cream (RM5), which is made with Middle Eastern sweet sesame paste and studded with cashews, pistachios, and almonds.
- The Ganga Cafe
The Ganga Cafe, situated within a quiet neighbourhood in Bangsar, is a great place for hearty and well-balanced South Indian vegetarian fare. The humble-looking eatery prides itself in serving banana leaf rice, curries, nasi lemak, dhals and various Indian breads that are healthier than most Indian restaurants in Kuala Lumpur. Highly recommended are the Ganga nasi lemak (RM3.50), Ganga burger (RM7.50), and Uppuma (RM3.50), which is a thick porridge made with dry roasted semolina or coarse rice flour. For drinks, Ganga Cafe’s signature Pranic Juice is a unique blend of spices, herbs, and leaves including coriander, celery and honey which is said to have healing and detoxifying properties.
- Straits Food Company
Straits Food Company is an authentic yet halal Nyonya eatery that’s set just minutes away from the towering condominiums and office buildings in BangsarUtama. This traditional-looking coffeehouse has an al fresco dining section while the open-air indoor area is spacious with massive windows overlooking the quiet neighbourhood. Nyonya delicacies such as pongteh chicken, nyonya laksa, and ikan Gerang asam (sour and spicy fish curry) cost RM7 while appetisers such as popiah (spring rolls) and otak-otak (fish steamed in pandan leaves) cost between RM3 to RM7. Straits Food Company also serves cendol (RM4.50), a Malaccan dessert of shaved ice, coconut milk, pandan-flavoured starch jelly, and palm sugar.