Our recent trip to Malaysia was our first taste of international travel since moving to Vietnam (thanks to our residency cards finally arriving). With 5 days to start exploring Malaysia we decided to localise our adventure to Malaysia’s capital of Kuala Lumpur, and the nearby UNESCO Heritage city of Melaka. We were like giddy children getting to explore a new country and culture! During our whirlwind 5 day trip we managed to cram so much into these two destinations that we’ve had to split them into separate guides! So first up is our Kuala Lumpur Guide and Budget!
Malaysia was slightly different to what we were expecting as the country is a massive melting pot of different cultures, predominantly Malay, Chinese and Indian. It was beautiful to see how these 3 cultures all live and respect each other harmoniously in Kuala Lumpur, and it was fun to sample each culture within the one city!
We flew direct from Ho Chi Minh City to Kuala Lumpur international Airport (KLIA). This route takes less than 2 hours, but Kuala Lumpur’s location means that you can travel from most SE Asian hubs within a few hours! Its also really popular to travel between KL and Singapore by bus (you can book here). We haven’t taken this bus route ourselves but we have booked through this site and found it reliable.
A bonus of travelling to Malaysia is that UK Citizens don’t require a pre-approved visa and there is no entrance fee. A visa stamp on arrival will entitle you to a 3 month tourist visa, giving you plenty time to explore everything Malaysia has to offer.
KLIA is situated quite far out of the city so you will need to organise transfer into the city. You can take a bus or taxi into the centre of the city, which both take about 1hr 15 minutes and can be booked from stalls in the arrivals lounge. We decided to get the KLIA express train which runs from the airport direct to KL Sentral Station in the heart of the city. The train only takes 30 minutes to get into town but at 100RM (£20) return p/p its pretty expensive! We weren’t really thinking straight at the time (read: sleep deprived) and in hindsight we would save the money and take a bus into town. Unless you’re tight on time its not worth the price compromise.
Once in the city centre, Kuala Lumpur can be explored on foot, but be sure to pack some comfortable shoes as there is some reasonable distance to be covered if you chose to walk everywhere like we did. For those who aren’t keen on lots of walking and for getting into the city centre, the city has an good over ground train service, which is extremely cheap!
Also note that Grab (Asian Uber) is super popular and efficient in Kuala Lumpur. We definitely recommend downloading the app incase you get caught in a monsoon shower with no taxis in sight! It was also pretty cheap (£2-3 per journey).
There are so many cool districts in KL, that it may seem overwhelming as to where to stay. We opted to stay near Chinatown for our first two nights, at Hotel99. It’s your average budget hotel (no window etc.) but with a recent make-over, the rooms were tastefully decorated, clean and the showers had proper hot water which can be very hit and miss in Asia. However the safe in the room was too small for a laptop so something to bare in mind if you’re traveling with one.
Chinatown makes a great base for exploring the city on foot. The area itself is cool to eat, wander and browse markets. It’s only a stones throw from little India and Merdeka Square and a slightly larger stones throw away from the main attractions of Menara Tower and the Patronas Towers. If you’re traveling on a very tight budget then some really cheap accommodation can be found here.
For our final night we moved away from the city centre to the area of Chow Kit, where you can find a plethora of high rises filled with serviced apartments. We picked one through AirBnB to give us a different view point of the city, literally. We were only on the 12th floor but were spoiled by an amazing view of the skyline, both from our room and the 37th floor infinity pool we had access to. We literally didn’t close the curtains all night, falling asleep to the city lights and waking up to a sunrise over the distant skyscrapers. It was a nice change to get a view of the city from further afield (albeit only a 10 minute train ride from the centre!) and for this we would recommend staying in Chow Kit.
If you’re looking at doing one or the other (staying centrally vs getting a view of the city) then we highly recommend going for the stunning views you get outside the city centre. Chow Kit is extremely well serviced by trains – there were 4 different lines within 5 minutes walk from our apartment – and they’re so cheap and frequent that compromising a central location and using the transport really is worth it!
Another popular area to stay is Bukit Bintan which is a shopping district but also seems to be the main backpacker area, with lots of late night eating, touristy shops, bars and masseuses to fix those traveler aches. If you’re looking for an area with lots of energy then this might be where to base yourself (also walking distance to most places).
Unfortunately we don’t feel like we truly captured the best of Malaysia eating during our trip. As mentioned, Malaysian culture has very much become a mixture of Chinese, Malay and Indian so we struggled to find many places that sold what we expected to be typically Malaysian food – most on offer was other cuisines. The most traditionally “Malaysian” foods we think we tried were Mee Gang (egg fried noodle) and a Laska curry, or anyway thats what we were recommended to try. They were nice but eaten in a tourist trap so we potentially didn’t get the real-deal Malaysian taste.
One of our favourite meals was eating in a local hawkers market in little India (we happily stumbled upon one so we’re not sure exactly where it was). I’m sure we were the only tourists there and our vendors got great delight out of taking some pictures with us – the small things in life! We got ourselves some traditional tandoori chicken and butter naan – super tasty and not 100% healthy, but hey! we’re on our holidays! All eaten with hands the traditional way which was a fun and new experience for us!
Struggling to find something to eat later at night? Head to Jolan Alor street in Bukit Bintan for easy food. Prepare to pay tourist rates and be heckled on your way past restaurants. Most Asian cuisines are catered for here so your bound to find something to eat.
There’s a lot to see and do in Kuala Lumpur and luckily most of it is super cheap! Here’s a round up of what we got up to and what we recommend.
Climb upto Batu Caves
The religious site of the Batu Caves were up there as one of our trip highlights. Towards the outskirts of the city are these amazing natural caves, the size of cathedrals! There are three you can explore. The first one is pretty tacky, filled with cartoon-like sculptures, and subsequently you pay to enter it, but at 5RM p/p it only knocks you back £1. Head further round the site and you reach the main attraction – two caves at the top of 272 steep steps. The main cave is free to enter and the other cave – known as the dark cave because it is not lit – costs to explore due to the need for a guide.
Tip: Wear comfortable shoes and girls, make sure you’ve got your knees covered or pack a sarong to tie around yourself! Bring a bottle of water, you’ll thank us when you reach the top. Hide any food or bottles in a bag, the monkeys are a little too familiar and happy to grab things from hands and try to rummage through bags. Also, maybe do some leg stretches before you climb the many steps – it really took us by surprise and we we’re walking like robots for the next few days!
Grab some bargains at Petaling Street market in Chinatown
This is your typical tourist market, with stalls flogging knock of designer goods. This market is huge, so definitely the place to head if you’re into bargain hunting, and we found it much cheaper than in similar markets in Vietnam!
Eat in little India
Okay, so this is maybe not so interesting for anyone who’s been to India but we enjoyed the different vibe that little India emitted. The food here was really good with lots of different things that we’ve never seen or tried at home in the UK. Definitely something to try if you have an interest or lots of time in the city!
Take in Menara square and the oldest mosque in Malaysia
Unfortunately the mosque is currently under repair but it was still beautiful to catch a glimpse of.
Get a 360 view of the skyline from the cities highest building at the Menara KL’s Skydeck.
We were kind of unsure wether to go up the tower or not after hearing the price, but we’re so glad we did in the end! The view is amazing! Definitely be sure to go up to the Skydeck and not just the observation deck. It is open air, much quieter and offers completely unobstructed views. They also have two glass boxes where you can hang over the 300m drop which was thrilling, but also quite scary! And, most importantly, definitely photo worthy. We bought our tickets there as it costs the same as booking in advance but if you want to be prepared you can buy them here.
If you need some travelling/holiday retail therapy then KL is the place to treat yourself. Jump from mall to mall in Bukit Bintan and pick up some high street treats (they even have an H&M which was far to exciting for us).
See the Patronas Towers Light up at night
..and take that perfect tourist picture, obviously. The towers were really quite mesmerising close up, and oh my they are taller than you expect. Unfortunately my camera lenses struggled with their height (hoping to add a wide-angle lens soon) so we had to use our iPhones to capture some memories. Its fun to sit at the fountains near the base of the towers and people watch as people lie on the ground to get the perfect angle.
Tip: prop your phone against a step, set the self-timer and put it on selfie mode to get a shot of you with the full towers!
Do your souvenir shopping at Central Market, near little India
This funky art-deco market is worth taking a walk past if you’re in the neighbourhood, but even better – it houses a range of beautiful souvenir shops. These sell more than your average tat (though they do offer that too). Pick up some beautiful wooden incense holders, antique relics and some more modern souvenirs like sunglasses with wooden legs, carved phone cases and some cute totes. Worth a wander if you like shopping and taking home something more than tourist tat.
Walk (or jog if you’re keen) the track in the park behind the Patronas Towers
Okay, so we didn’t actually get to walk around the whole track, but it looked like a great activity! We went to see the Patronas Towers during the day and headed to the park behind to see an alternative view. There is a beautiful pond with a fountain, a kiddies swimming pool and a running track which loops the park, as well as tiered seating and shelters to relax under. It reminded us of the paths in Central Park NY, with lots of locals exercising here and made us wish we had more time to join them for a morning run.
Watch the Sunset from a Rooftop Bar
This is one of our favourite past times, regardless of the city, and with KL’s iconic skyline we were not going to surpass trying a new rooftop bar. We went to Elysium which wasn’t quite as glam as we were hoping (could do with a facelift) and our cocktails were definitely overpriced. We were however treated to a nice view of both the Menara Tower and both Patronas towers (and a dose of alcohol) so we shouldn’t really be complaining.
Check out this go-to guide and pick a rooftop establishment to enjoy the sunset from!
Travelled November 2016 | Cost for 2 people for 3 nights and 3 days in Kuala Lumpur
Prices are in both Malaysian Ringgit and British Pound, conversions are estimates based upon the current exchange rate.
|Total trip cost:||2,013 RM||£366|
|Return flights from HCM||488 RM||£89|
|KLIA return||200 RM||£36|
|Transport around Kuala Lumpur (incl. to Batu Caves)||46.40 RM||£8.40|
|Accommodation (2 nights at Hotel99 and 1 night in an Airbnb)||220 RM|
|Food and Drink||346.70 RM||£63|
|Activities (includes 2x foot massages and the Skydeck)||280 RM||£51|
|Miscellaneous (SIM card x1, shopping)||40 RM |