Most people have definitely heard of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s bustling capital city, but it has come to my attention that not many people would consider it as much of a tourist destination. They claim it doesn’t compare to the likes of Bangkok, Hong Kong or Singapore and mainly see it as a stopover point or gateway to other parts of Malaysia such as Penang and Langkawi, but I think Kuala Lumpur deserves a bit of attention! I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been to KL, perhaps five or six, but the last two as an adult have definitely been my favourite!
When I was younger we’d just swing by and visit friends and family but in the last couple of trips, I’ve really had a chance to explore the city from another point of view… one of a proper tourist and I definitely think it’s a gem of a city! Ideally, you’d have a few days to visit all the main sights such as the city’s three towers, the Islamic Arts Museum, Merdeka Square, and still get in all your shopping as well as all the food. However, if you must insist on a whistle stop visit… let’s focus on the food with some touristy stuff thrown in for good measure and you’re still guaranteed a good time!
Breakfast – Chow Kit Market
Those brave souls looking for a punchy start to their day should head over to Chow Kit Market, Kuala Lumpur’s oldest surviving wet market, for a glimpse into local life with their breakfast. We jostled with the locals through rows of fresh fruits and vegetables, held our breaths and stomachs a little in the fish and meat section, and even checked out the random assortment of pots, pans and baking trays, before settling down to a bite to eat. There aren’t a huge number of food stalls and most of them are tucked away in various nooks and crannies of the market, but finding them was all part of the fun.
We passed the murtabak stand a couple of times so a certain someone couldn’t resist grabbing one of the meat-filled roti parcels, while I had spotted a nasi lemak vendor in another side alley. After he had carefully put together my little plastic-lined newspaper parcel (proper old school style) we found a table at the nearest kopitiam, ordered some drinks and ate our breakfast – it’s the perfect set up for all involved! Chow Kit Market is a little out of the way, but worth a visit if you’re after an authentic local experience and a complete sensory overload!
First Lunch – Madras Lane in Chinatown
While Petaling Street is still the place to go for all your knock-off designer goods, the whole Chinatown area is having a bit of a resurgence with trendy little cafes and restaurants popping up and reinvigorating certain pockets. It’s great to see some new life in the area but equally, some of the old parts are still as busy as ever. We made our way to the small row of hawker stalls in Madras Lane for our first lunch – fishball noodle soup for me and a seafood laksa for a certain someone, both served in those distinctive, brightly coloured melamine bowls!
Second Lunch – Din Tai Fung
No visit to Kuala Lumpur is complete without a spot of shopping. The city has a huge number of shopping malls, but some of the best are condensed within the Bukit Bintang area – my favourite being Pavilion. It’s got a great range of mid to high range shops and impeccable air conditioning so even if you’re not a shopaholic, it’s not a bad place to take a breather and cool down after some morning sightseeing! We stopped in to pick up some extra holiday supplies and decided to have lunch at Din Tai Fung to see what all the fuss was about.
Founded in Taiwan and famed for its xiao long bao, steamed soup dumplings, this restaurant has several branches in over ten countries with the most well-known undoubtedly being the Michelin starred one in Hong Kong. With so many other dim sum restaurants in the city, I was surprised to see how busy and popular Din Tai Fung is in Kuala Lumpur. Ordering a portion of the classic xiao long bao was a no brainer, but we also tried their century eggs, dumplings and shumai. The xiao long bao are pretty good, but honestly I don’t really get the hype – perhaps I have to visit the one in Hong Kong!
Drinks at Sunset – Heli Lounge Bar
After exploring the Petronas Twin Towers, the fantastic Aquarium and the luscious KLCC Park, you’ll want to cool off and relax with a drink. Visiting the inside of the Twin Towers is all very interesting, but personally I think the best part is looking at them from the outside – I love how you can basically spot them from every angle in the centre of the city! There are several bars with exceptional views of the Towers but I’d highly recommend Helipad Bar which is actually a working helipad and one of the quirkiest places I’ve ever had a drink.
We arrived just after it opened at 6pm (it did take us a good few minutes to locate exactly which ordinary-looking office building it is in as there’s no signage) so we could order our drinks, get access to the helipad and nab a table in time for the sunset! The tables filled out really quickly so it is definitely worth while getting in early if you want a leisurely sit-down experience with your cocktails, snacks, and the incredible views!
Dinner – Jalan Alor
If you stumble across Jalan Alor during the day, you definitely wouldn’t think to come back… it’s completely deserted and unwelcoming, but all that changes in the evening when it comes alive with stalls and diners. Over the years, it’s become quite popular with tourists which has resulted in more menus with photos, more cajoling you to get you into their restaurants, and generally more people so it can be a little overwhelming. However, if you just take your time to scope out the options then go with your gut, you’re almost guaranteed a decent meal.
Some of the restaurants will serve larger dishes to be shared family style amongst your group, whilst others will house a collection of stalls; generally if you’re dining solo or in a couple it might be easier to order individual dishes. Either way, once you’ve selected your restaurant, wait for someone to direct you to a table and take your food and drinks orders, and pay people as they come with your food. There’s something for everyone, but perhaps while you’re still deciding you could grab a couple of the famous BBQ chicken wings from Wong Ah Wah!
Sleep – The KL Journal
This modern boutique hotel situated in the heart of Bukit Bintang is the perfect place to rest your head for one or more nights in the city! We took the KLIA Express train to KL Sentral, then walked over to the monorail station and headed for Bukit Bintang; as soon as we got out of the station, we immediately saw The KL Journal perched among the other buildings. We loved the sleek, minimalist vibe of the hotel which was clean and comfortable, but the location was its main selling-point. It’s such an easy distance to all the malls, Jalan Alor, and the monorail when you need to go a little further – everything you need!
Have you explored Kuala Lumpur before? What did you enjoy best?
After visiting Kuala Lumpur a number of times before, I definitely think it’s a hidden gem of a destination for a short break – if you’re interested in other hidden gems, check out this month’s Travel Linkup over on Emma, Angie, Polly, and Tiffany’s blogs!