Brian Crisp recently spent a busy 36 hours in Kuala Lumpur (KL) where he checked off some of the most popular attractions along with a collection of experiences many travellers wouldn't think even existed in Malaysia's capital city.
From resisting temptation to shop outside of his budget in the Golden Triangle, to straining his neck trying to see the top of the Petronas Towers, here are some options for when you next have 36 hours to spare in KL.
We arrived in KL late-morning and checked in to the Sheraton Imperial. The sun was already bouncing off the city’s modern steel skyscrapers. The air was hot and humid.
KL is a mishmash of cultures. If you were asked to sum up this city of about two million people in three words those words would be food, shopping and history.
Our first duty was to refill our stomachs. A friend had recommended Sao Nam in Bukit Bintang, a Vietnamese indoor-outdoor restaurant that’s a little bit hard to find, but well worth the effort.
The cuisine is traditional, authentic and most importantly, tasty.
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Sated, it was time to hit the shops and the best place to start is Pavilion KL located in the Golden Triangle. You will find the world’s most expensive brands here (Burberry, Prada, Bvlgari and Gucci to name just a few); but there’s seven levels of retail therapy so I’m sure you will find something to suit every budget. The good news about Malaysia is that there always seems to be a shopping sale on, so it might be wise to either pack an extra bag or even buy one there.
On the way back to the hotel we did a quick tour of the amazing Islamic Arts Museum and admired the beautiful carpets, decorated pottery and historic textiles.
KL is a city that shines at night and there’s no better place to capture the colours and movements of KL than at the Jalan Alor street food and hawker markets.
The roadside dining options are varied with almost every Malay, Chinese and Thai dish available. The market heaves with people. The food is incredibly cheap, but oh so delicious. The best way to experience the market, I think, is to eat your way down the street. A small plate of frog’s legs here, a small plate of noodles there. And thankfully, eventually you will find someone selling coconut ice-cream. The perfect end to a busy day.
Malaysia’s Independence was declared at Merdeka Square in 1957. The square, which still has a cricket pitch in the centre, is surrounded by colonial-style buildings and is obviously a throw-back to the country’s British past. I loved the tudor-styled Royal Selangor Club. You can hire a bike and ride around the square, or simply find a quiet spot, sit under a banyan tree, and do a bit of people watching as you soak up the history.
You can’t visit KL without spending some time at the Petronas Towers, either to do some more shopping, or to simply gaze in awe at the stunning architecture of the steel-clad headquarters of the Petronas oil and gas company. These towers are the modern symbol of the city.
Opened in 1998 and designed by Argentinian Cesar Pelli, the towers stand 452 metres tall. It’s wise to pre-book tickets if you want to ride the elevator to visit the skybridge or the observation deck toward the top of the towers. Tickets do tend to sell out quickly.
Now KL itself has many fine dining options (Nobu, SkyBar and Celestial Court at the Sheraton), but if you love curry, and are a tad adventurous, head to Brickfields, the Indian part of the city near KL Central. We caught the cheap and easy to use monorail there and thought we had been transported to Bollywood.
Just to be clear, this type of dining is not for everyone. It’s rugged. Authentic. We did find one gem though; The Husen Cafe. We ordered garlic naan and a basic chicken curry which was so tasty that we then ordered another serve of Tandoori. The meal for three of us, including drinks, was about $20. Just a tip though, when eating here, only use your right hand. It’s polite.
We finished the night we a tad more shopping a KL Central. Oh yes, and another ice-cream. Apparently it’s the way to finish all meals in KL.
Images by Luke Wheatley and Alastair Emmett