I love to travel in Asia, but Malaysia was under my radar, until I went for a business trip and decided to tack on a few vacation days and explore on my own.
I enjoyed my stay in Kuala Lumpur (KL for short), an exciting, international city with the influences of the three cultures of Malaysia: Malay, Chinese and Indian. I love this blend of cultures and traditions – and amazing food – and there’s lots to see in this nation’s capital:
Petronas Tower – These are now the highest twin towers in the world (it was also the tallest skyscraper in the world from 1998 to 2004, when Taipei 101 was completed) and I loved that I could see the towers from anywhere I was in the city and understand the geography. When I was there, the Skybridge was open for viewing, but not the higher – and more impressive – observation deck. Still, it’s worth it for the wonderful view over the city.
Merdeka Square – This square has many buildings constructed during the period of British rule, including the grand Sultan Abdul Samad Building, inspired by Indian Moghul architecture, and the St. Mary’s Anglican church. Not too far away, just across the river is the wonderful Central Market. You can find everything here – traditional Malaysian crafts (masks, kites, wood carving), clothing, and jewelry. There are also restaurants and a food court with regional specialties.
Little India – There is a sizable Indian minority in Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur’s Little India is a wonderful place for a stroll. There are wonderful shops, spices, stalls, and beautiful Hindu temples. And yes, here you can find lots of good Indian restaurants and street foods. There are strict laws on street food preparation in Malaysia, including access to running water. That means that eating street food in Malaysia is generally safe and a pleasant way to stop for a meal while exploring.
Chinese temples and Petaling Market – Malaysia’s Chinese population is the most sizable group, after the Malay. The area around the Chinese market on Petaling Street has wonderful shops – I came home laden with fragrant tea – as well as restaurants and Buddhist temples. It’s a busy area and the market can become very crowded.
Kuala Lumpur Bird Park- I had a great time wandering around the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park, billed as the world’s largest free-flight walk-in aviary, and was happy to spend some time wandering the lush landscapes and spotting all the colorful birds.
Wandering through the peaceful bird park, you often forget you’re in a bustling city, then you catch a glimpse of the Petronas Tower over the sky nets designed to keep the birds in the park. The park is open daily 9:00 – 19:00. When I return here with my kids, it’s one of the first places I’ll take them.
Islamic Art Museum- Malaysia’s Islamic Art Museum is open daily, 10:00- 18:00. The Museum opened in 1998, as Southeast Asia’s largest museum of Islamic Art. The museum has an emphasis on Islamic art from Asia, with good collections on Malaysian culture and traditions.
Orchid Garden – It pains me to admit it, but I’m a serial killer of orchids. No sooner do I receive the gift of a beautiful, delicate orchid plant, than the colorful petals begin to wilt and die. Luckily, however, these killer tendencies apply only to caring for orchids not for admiring them. And the Kuala Lumpur Orchid Garden, housing about 3000 orchid species from throughout the world – 800 species from Malaysia alone – is the place to admire them. I loved wandering this spectacular garden. But I’m guessing I have absolutely no hopes for a gardening career here.
If you’re visiting KL, keep in mind that it’s extremely humid. Because of that, it’s not always set up as a walking city. You sometimes have to dodge traffic, but I still managed to get lots of walking in and relied only minimally on taxis and the tram system.
I stayed at the wonderful Mandarin Oriental, with a view out to the Petronas Towers and I loved beginning and ending each day doing laps in the hotel’s infinity pool, with its view over the skyline.
As with many cities, you should watch your belongings on busy streets and marketplaces, but I found it an easy city to explore, even as a woman alone. I can’t wait to get back for another visit. It definitely lives up to its exotic name. Enjoy exploring Kuala Lumpur.