MALAYSIA’S capital is an arresting convergence of cultures – and fittingly so since Kuala Lumpur means “muddy confluence” that refer to the two rivers that flow together through it.
From a small settlement of tin miners in the 1850s, the city is now a modern and highly urbanized city epitomized by the iconic Petronas Towers and a destination that’s brimming with diversity manifested in its distinctive art forms, architecture and mouthwatering cuisine.
How to get there
There are direct flights from Manila to Kuala Lumpur daily. The flight takes about four hours. From the KL airport, you can take a taxi to the city or ride a bus to KL Sentral, the main railway station. From there, you can hop on the right line to take you to your destination. Tickets for the trains are available at the airport.
What to see, what to do
Kuala Lumpur has three distinct areas made up of the old town, the newer districts and the gardens. If it’s your first time to visit, do take the city tour to know more about Malaysian history and to see the different Moorish architectural marvels.
The Istana Negara or National Palace, for instance, is a 13-acre area that used to be the official residence of the king and boasts of a grand archway flanked by two towers with a dome on top. Also called “The Big House,” it was originally the home of a Chinese tin tycoon named Chan Wing. Witness a bit of pomp and circumstance by catching the changing of the guards every 10 am and 3 pm at the palace’s main entrance.
A few minutes away from the Big House is the National Monument built to commemorate the fallen soldiers who fought for freedom during the first and second World Wars and the country’s struggle against Communist forces. A cenotaph stands at the front while behind it is a beautiful crescent-shaped marble pavilion with three golden domes. Look up to the ceiling to see the emblems of the different regiments that served during the Malayan Emergency. Beyond the pavilion is the world’s largest free-standing bronze sculptures created by Felix de Weldon who was also behind the Iwo Jima monument found in Washington DC.
Another culturally relevant spot is the Masjid Negara or the National Mosque that features an elegant minaret and a star-shaped main dome, designs that were both inspired by the umbrella. The mosque houses a library, offices and a mausoleum, and is open to non-Muslims a few hours during the day (9 am to 12 am and 3 pm to 4:00 pm everyday except Fridays). Visitors must leave their shoes before entering and robes, and headscarves can be borrowed at the entrance.
If you have a keen interest in design and architecture, head to the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery. Here, you’ll see the Spectacular City Model Show and impressive scale models.
There’s a mural of KL’s skyline made of 20 species of wood on display created by the artisans of ARCH, one of the largest model-making companies in Asia with a workshop housed inside the gallery. If you want artsy and tastefully made souvenirs, this is the place to buy them!
One other artsy stop is Jadi Batek Gallery, one of the largest batik and crafts center located at the heart of the city. Watch their artisans create hand-painted pieces and choose from different batik items from plushies to scarves to take home.
Where to stay, what to eat
If you want to be in the middle of KL’s unique energy, choose to stay at one of the hotels in Bukit Bintang where you’ll only be steps away from malls and restaurants offering exotic cuisines. The Grand Millennium, for example, is a five-star hotel that sits right in front of the Fahrenheit 88 mall and walking distance to stores like Sephora, Miu Miu and Michael Kors. Bukit Bintang is also just a short distance away from Jalan Alor where you can have a taste of Chinese and Malay street food for a cheap price. Make sure you get some roasted chicken wings and satay then wash it down with a glass of teh tarik or hot tea. For dessert, look for the guy who sells Turkish ice cream and try out the durian ice cream. A word of warning though: he is quite the trickster!