Founded in the mid-nineteenth century, Kuala Lumpur – or KL as it's known to residents and visitors alike – has never had a coherent style, a situation only aggravated by the fact that the city has changed almost beyond recognition over the last thirty years. The first grand buildings around Merdeka Square, dating from the 1890s, were eccentric mishmashes themselves, the result of British engineers and architects fusing, or perhaps confusing, influences from around the empire and the world – Moghul, Malay, Moorish and Victorian. Today, those colonial buildings that remain are overshadowed by towering modern buildings – most notably the Petronas Towers – that wouldn't be out of place in Hong Kong or New York, reflecting the fact that this, the youngest of Southeast Asia's capitals, is also the most economically successful after Singapore. A sociable and safe place, KL has a real buzz to it, with good nightlife and enough interesting monuments to keep visitors busy for a few days at least. The ethnic and cultural mix of Malays, Chinese and Indians makes itself felt throughout: in conversations on the street, in the sheer variety of food for sale and in the profusion of mosques, Buddhist temples and Hindu shrines.
A stay of a few days is enough to appreciate the best of KL's attractions, including the colonial core around Merdeka Square and the adjacent enclaves of Chinatown and Little India, plus, to the east, the restaurants, shops and nightlife of the so-called 'Golden Triangle', the modern sector of downtown KL. It can be equally rewarding just strolling and taking in KL's street life, in particular its boisterous markets, ranging from fish and produce markets stuffed into alleyways, to stalls selling cooked food of every shape and description, or inexpensive clothes and accessories.
Kuala Lumpur (KL) is in its totality, peripheral townships and all, a fairly large city of over 7 million people and may seem unwieldy to the unaccustomed eye. KL is the proud home of an amazing array of cultural and historical vestiges from a colorful past. It is also home to large Malay, Chinese, Indian communities, a number of lesser-known tribes, and a multitude of languages, religions, customs and quirks.
Malaysia offers an enticing concoction of some of the world's most interesting cultures - quite a deal for the Internet-age traveler looking to experience it all. At the very core of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur is a kaleidoscope of architecture, lifestyles, tropical flora, percussion, and international cuisines. Step on in and experience its magic!
Kuala Lumpur began as a few square miles of unspectacular landscape that now hosts many of its most important buildings. Once you orient yourself along the lines of modern history, you will never get lost. Look for the Sultan Abdul Samad Building , a Moorish-style, elongated structure dressed in salmon colors and perhaps the most photographed site in town. Its functioning clock tower has witnessed many historical milestones and faithfully provides a backdrop to important national events such as the annual National Day Parade.
Across the street lies the Dataran Merdeka , or Independence Square, which evolved from a British colonial cricket green and is now complemented by a lovely water fountain, colonnades, flower beds and an underground food and entertainment center. You cannot miss the Selangor Club and the Cathedral of Virgin St Mary , both unmistakable ornaments of the once exclusive lifestyles of colonialists.
The progressive spread of Islam since the 15th century has bequeathed Kuala Lumpur some of the greatest mosques this side of Istanbul. Jamek Mosque , the oldest in the country, is located just behind the Sultan Abdul Samad Building and offers a fine start for a day of exploring.
The Central Market , traditionally a fresh market, now hosts painters, sculptors, fortune-tellers and traders hawking a wide range of curios, collectibles and art. For connoisseurs of kitsch, paradise lies at Petaling Street . This 500-meter stretch of century-old shophouses and neighboring blocks of similar offerings are collectively known as Chinatown.
Lake Gardens Area
The greener side of Kuala Lumpur began as a vegetable and tapioca field. Today Lake Gardens and its vicinity still feature numerous parks - such as Orchid Garden , Kuala Lumpur Bird Park , Hibiscus Garden , Butterfly Park and Deer Park - but is also marked by the Parliament House , the commemorative National Monument , and the Tun Abdul Razak Memorial . Explore further and you discover the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia , the National Mosque (Masjid Negara) and at the end of the line, the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station .
Golden Triangle & Kuala Lumpur City Ccenter (KLCC)
For the city's newest gadgets and gizmos, head for one of the many shopping establishments. Which one? To err on the side of caution, choose the tallest among them: the Petronas Twin Towers . These towers are among the tallest in the world. Or, take a stroll in the Suria KLCC at the base of the towers to find a wealth of luxury items.
Certainly shopkeepers and department stores abounded before Suria KLCC , and the most expensive and well-stocked of these lie scattered around the intersection of Jalan Sultan Ismail and Jalan Bukit Bintang. One of the most happening party strips - the Bintang Walk is also found here.
What happened to the tin barons who got rich from the mineral that made Kuala Lumpur? The Ampang enclave hides a precious cache of private residences where the affluent still live. Some of these architectural marvels serve as glimmering veneers of cool and clever enterprises, and conceal several of the city's best-kept secrets, including Sungei Tua Waterfall .
The old footpath to the Ampang tin mines evolved into Jalan Ampang, now lavishly adorned with eateries and merry-making stops of a tantalizing variety, seamlessly blending in with the adjacent instruments of commerce: high-rise office blocks, hotels, foreign embassies and political offices. For an unbeatable view of all these and more, head to one of the world's tallest telecommunications towers, the Kuala Lumpur Tower , on Jalan Punchak.
Other Interesting Districts
For those who want a taste of India, check out Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, a mile-long street running north from the Sultan Abdul Samad Building and the adjacent Jalan Masjid India .
Malaysia is a food paradise and Kuala Lumpur offers the country's best selection of foreign and local cuisines. With its many nationalities and different ethnic groups, the country claims such a diverse array of cuisines that some simply visit the country for a food hunt. Such pleasures should certainly be enjoyed while in town.
Eating in Bangsar offers an epicurean delight. With its variety of kopitiams (coffee shops) serving a wide range of international cuisines at steep food prices, this district no doubt serves mainly the upper-class market. This being said, you can be assured of unparalleled food and service.
An all-time favorite here is Alexis , a casual and chic place to dine. For a variety of local favorites, try Champ's . One of the oldest establishments in this area, Bangsar Seafood , is famed for its wide range of fresh and exotic harvest from the water. Or for a choice of Indian, Chinese, or Malaysian food, try Feifei Kopitiam . An entire evening can easily be spent at Bangsar Avenue Bistro where delicious clay pot and traditional Malay dishes are served in a laid back bar-like atmosphere. Enjoy a little bit of Hong Kong ambience and Straits Chinese cuisine at mirror-walled Madame Kwan's . For an exclusively Malay experience of the high life, dress up and head over to Chinois Fusion Palace . Alternatively, if you desire a bit more of a relaxed northern European feel, dip into Finnagan's for a pint of Guiness and some Irish stew.
Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC)
KLCC offers yet another prime spot for good food, and you need not look too far or too hard. Just enter Suria KLCC , the premier shopping complex in this area, and surround yourself with a range of any food you might possibly wish for, foreign and Malaysian, such as the delcacies and Sunday High Tea served in Senja Restaurant .
Check out Cafe Aseana , a quaint spot located within the famed Petronas Twin Towers specializing in Asian cuisine. It sits within Aseana Gallery , a shop selling ethnic Asian products ranging from rattan mats to designer clothes. For delicious Thai, try Chakri Palace where any meal can be had with pineapple rice. The Emporium Grande Cafe stands as one of KL's hottest landmarks for hanging out, dining and partying. Everything here spells sophistication, elegance and the good life. For incredible home style Italian food in an elegant setting, dip into Ciao for signature dishes that include squid ink fettuccine. If you are craving Latin American cuisine, head to the Westin to patronise Qba , which doubles as a wine and cigar bar as well. Whether you are looking for a place to start your evening or for a night cap, the aptly-named Skybar offers incredible views from the 33rd floor along with its cocktails.
Who could miss gastronomic indulgence in the Golden Triangle, where food outlets abound? Carmen's is the place with everything under one roof, bestowing on you an array of activities for an evening of fun and entertainment. Taking up half the basement in one of KL's classy shopping centers, Shook! proves popular with the sophisticated crowd with assorted Western and Eastern cuisines. Prices seem rather steep, but the ambiance, food and live jazz make up for it. For a different Western dining treat, try Chalet where Swiss specialties and decor evoke all the charms of Switzerland. For the ultimate dining experience go to Seri Angkasa , a delightful revolving restaurant offering a panoramic city view. Dress smartly and brace yourself for the glorious selection of Western and local delicacies.
For a more authentic local experience, try Seri Melayu with cultural dance shows daily. Or, if you prefer Chinese fare, Toh Lee might satisfy you. Exuding a friendly, classy and almost romantic mood, this high-end restaurant is particularly proud of its dim sum. Or for rooftop views, head for Hakka Republic Wine Bar & Bistro .
Outskirts of Kuala Lumpur
Specializing in authentic Penang Nonya fare on KL's outskirts, the Little Penang Kafe is located at Mid Valley Megamall . The blend of Penang, Chinese and Malay cuisines delivers the usual favourites like Asam Laksa and Nasi Lemak Penang. Janbo has years of experience satisfying customers with fresh Chinese style seafood. Bon appetit!
Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC)
As Malaysia's biggest city, Kuala Lumpur has some of the country's greatest landmarks of modernity. Touring the city center gives visitors a greater sense of why KL has become one of the largest shopping and touring destinations in Asia. Start out in front of the majestic Petronas Twin Towers . At 88-stories high, they were the tallest buildings in the world until Taipei 101 was built. These towers house the upscale mega-mall Suria KLCC , a concert hall and so much more. Within Suria you can find specialty shops ranging from the 130 year old Boutique Piaget , run by a family of jewellers, to the high-quality outdoor gear shop Tearproof . After exploring the center, make sure to stop in at Aseana Cafe . The cafe is set within a gallery dedicated to traditional Malay handicrafts. Enjoy a meal of pan-Asian cuisine with an English twist or even a full English high tea. After lunch it is a short walk to Kuala Lumpur Tower . Among the tallest of its kind in the world, the telecommunications tower hovers at 421 meters. The observation deck is a great place to get a bird's eye view of downtown, especially in the late afternoon or early evening. The rotating restaurant serves incredible meals in a romatic setting, but after a day of shopping and walking, the cocktail lounge within the tower may be equally welcome.
Kuala Lumpur's Chinatown holds some of the city's oldest buildings, including traditional two-storied terrace shophouses, small streets and lots of fun discoveries. Start at Peter Hoe Evolution to look at high quality crafts and traditional home accessories mainly imported from China. From Jala Hang Lekir turn north onto Jalan Tun HS Lee until you arrive at Sze Ya Temple , the oldest Buddhist temple in KL. From here take a left on Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lok and walk one block to Petaling Street , try your hand at bargaining in some of the small shops to pick up knick knacks, curios and more but be aware that "branded goods" may not be genuine. Halfway down the street is the KL Big Bookshop filled with towering bookshelves and plenty of titles in a variety of languages. Cuisine options along Petaling Street are plenty, but of particular note is the Amata Vegetarian Restaurant on Jalan Sultan, where mouth watering Asian-style vegetarian food, complete with fake meat menu items, is found. Or, one block further down is the Old China Cafe where classic Chinese cuisine is served. Also along Jalan Sultan is the Chan See Shu Yuen with its 18th century courtyards, pavillions and serenity. Make a loop from Jalan Sultan and turn onto Jalan Tun HS Lee to walk to Sri Mahamariamman Temple , and see why it is called Malaysia's most impressive Hindu temple.
The district surrounding the elegant Lake Gardens encompasses many of the cultural centerpoints of Kuala Lumpur. Start out at the National Museum to enjoy highlights from Mayalsian history and arts, including reconstructed sections of ancient palaces. Next take a stroll through Lake Gardens to the Mahsuri Dining Room where you can enjoy an incredible lunch of traditional Malay cuisine. Take your time to enjoy the many sites in the gardens, including the National Planetarium , before heading down the scenic Jalan Perdana, which pases some of KL's many museums, including the Royal Malaysian Police Museum , to the Islamic Arts Museum . The Malay-designed building has five domes, but the fifth can only be seen from the museum's interior. Enjoy the exhibits on Islamic art traditions before heading over to the National Mosque to appreciate the detailed motifs and tilework.
Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin's Colonial Architecture
Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin is a main artery that connects many of Kuala Lumpur's Colonial era museums and buildings. The architecture is a blend of British and Moorish details with some Gothic accents that make old KL structures really stand out. Start at National History Museum , housed in a former bank dating from 1910. Head north and across the street you will see Sultan Abdul Samad Building - the Big Ben of KL. In the same vicinity lies the old Selangor Club, a mock Tudor style cricket club. Continue northwards, appreciating the colonial buildings with their captivating Moorish designs, until you reach the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station with its enchanting design incorporating Islamic, Gothic, Moorish and several other eclectic styles. Just opposite the station is the hard-to-miss Malayan Railway Building , designed in the early 20th century. Turn onto Jalan Raja to visit Merdeka Square where the Malayan flag was first raised after independence. Continue up Jalan Raja to Plaza Putra where you will find the Gothic Cathedral Virgin St Mary , built in 1895. Finally, if you have the energy, cross the canal and walk the three blocks to Jalan Hang Katsuri and Ginger Restaurant , where you can reward yourself with delicious Nonya cuisine in a comfortable dark green setting with traditional wooden chairs and tables.
Enjoy the center of Kuala Lumpur's arts, entertainment and shopping. Start your exploration of the center of Kuala Lumpur at Asia Heritage Row , a walking street of refurbished older buildings and homes that has a festive atmosphere with fun shops and restaurants. Next, take a short cab ride to Ampang Plaza , formerly known as Yow Chuan Plaza, to sample some of the best shopping in KL, from the Middle East Handicraft Gallery to the House of Leather , everyone is likely to find something of interest here. Finally head down to Bintang Walk , a lively walking street full of live entertainment and a happening night market where everything from tasty Nonya snacks to imperial-style dining can be found. The Lot 10 complex is open late for shopping and entertainment, or head over to Emporio Grand Cafe for dinner. If you do, be prepared to to choose from an overwhelming selection of excellent restaurants.
Kuala Lumpur is the launching point to many other places in Malaysia. There are plenty of ways to see highlights of the city and surrounding area.
Motorsports Adventure (+60 3 469 2665)
Outdoor Recreation Consultant and Instruction ( +60 3 451 2548)
Utan Bara Adventure Team (UBAT) ( +60 3 4022 5124)
Global Scuba Adventures (+60 3 2142 5206 http://www.globalscuba.com.my/)
Association of Backpackers Malaysia (+60 3 7875 6249)