By Sundus Rasheed
Kuala Lumpur is the easiest of cities. Easy to get around in, to find food you crave, buy high end brands or cheap knock offs and to fall in love with. Just open your heart to KL and KL will embrace you.
With a population of just 1.6 million people, the capital of Malaysia is a modern city that encapsulates the very spirit of Malaysia. It is home to Malaysians from every state and expats and students from all over the world – creating a melting pot of cultures, religions, languages, food, arts and more.
I have known KL like the back of my hand for the last 8 years but each year, I find something new to experience in KL. The KL experience is never quite complete – and that is the trait of any great city, it keeps reinventing itself.
Here are my top five things to do in KL:
You could go to KL for the food trail alone and you will not be disappointed. From world class restaurants to the greatest variety of street food (hawker fare) in all of Asia – KL is a foodie’s paradise. Malaysian cuisine itself is so richly varied, with influences from Thai, Chinese, Indonesian, Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine. Every mall has it’s own food court and restaurant floor that will leave you floored.
Make your way to Jalan Alor (in the Bukit Bintang area) for first class Chinese road side dining. If you would like to eat in an air-conditioned location, then the best food courts in the KLCC area are at Suria KLCC Mall – Signatures Food Court – and The Pavilion Mall – Food Republic. The mall food courts have an unbelievable variety of cuisines and all at a very affordable price. If you’re looking for something classier and pricier, then head to The KL Tower’s revolving restaurant – Atmosphere 360 – dining at 282 meters above ground level with a view of KL’s magnificent skyline is bound to put you in the mood. Also, check out the Cilantro Restaurant and Wine Bar it’s exquisite Japanese take on French cuisine.
There is no such thing as a week night in the hot spots of KL nightlife – Changkat Bukit Bintang, Jalan P Ramlee(and adjoining areas) and Bangsar. The first two are located in the city center and a lot more accessible for tourists. Whether you prefer live bands or DJs, there are plenty of music choices to choose from – Afro, Bollywood, Pop, Retro, House, Electro, Spanish, Middle Eastern and more!
My favorite spots on Changkat Bukit Bintang are Sutraa (for the retro music), Frangipanni (for the fabulous music) and El Cerdito (for the gorgeous Spanish bartender). In the Jalan P Ramlee area, check out Rum Jungle. If you walk towards Jalan Sultan Ismail/Concorde Hotel you’ll find Hard Rock Café KL. They always have fantastic local bands playing covers. Right around the corner from there, and right across the Pakistani Embassy , is Zouk – home to KL’s best DJs and host to top-notch international DJs including Paul Oakenfold, Paul van Dyk, Tiesto, David Guetta , Steve Aoki and more.
3. Arts and Culture
Theaters, art galleries, performing arts – you will have a hard time deciding where you want to get your dose of local and international art in KL. From street performers on Bukit Bintang to the Petronas Philaharmonic Orchestra, you can indulge in the arts at any budget at all.
Make your way to Istana Budaya (Palace of the Arts) for world class theater, classical music, opera and more by local and international performers. Right next door is the National Visual Arts Gallery – so it’s easy to get your dose of art in one go. However, my favorite art venues in KL are a little informal – KLPAC and The Central Market Annexe. Both venues are manned by hip, trendy young KLites. Also, The Central Market is a great place to buy batik and other types of Malaysian art.
You can choose between the real deal or the cheaper deal. Malls and flagship stores in the KLCC Golden Triangle area are home to the latest and most long standing brands and outlets in the world. The Pavilion, Lot 10, Suria KLCC, Berjaya Times Square and Sungai Wang should be on your must-visit list. If you have time to venture away from the city center then 1 Utama, MidValley Megamall and The Curve offer heavenly shopping and dining experiences. Most of these malls offer tourist discounts at certain outlets. Head straight to the information counter first and get your discount card before you start shopping. If you consider yourself a formidable haggler, then head to Petaling Street (China Town) for knock offs and knick-knacks. There are also three dedicated shopping festivals in a year – The Year End Sale, The 1Malaysia Mega Sale and the 1Malaysia GP Sale (during the Formula 1 Race in March).
Not that I understand architecture, but it’s easy to spot a beautiful building – one you want a view of when you open the curtains of your hotel room. You cannot go to KL and not visit The Petronas Twin Towers. Now not only can you visit the Skybridge connecting the two towers, but also the go all the way up to the 83rd floor.
If you need more of a bird’s eye view, then make a stop at KL Tower as well. Islamic architecture is evident in the mosques of course, but also as a basic motif in the Petronas Twin Towers and KL Tower. There is also plenty of Mughal inspired architecture in the city – built during the British era – the Abdul Samad building and the KL Railway Station are the most obvious ones. I love watching buildings and how they come alive with lights and people as the day progresses – they are plenty of cafes nearby where you can do that.
The easiest connections between Karachi/Lahore and KL are via Bangkok. Thai Airways often has special fares to KL – so make sure you keep up with their offers. The visa fee itself is a mere Rs 600 and is processed within 7 working days (often sooner than that) through a drop box facility. Most travel agents are well versed with the Malaysian visa process too. The Malaysian Consulate in Karachi is very helpful and approachable. Follow them on Twitter – @myconsulkhi
The best time to visit Malaysia is all year round – tropical weather is the same all 12 months. Check out tourism.gov.my for events that you may want to attend. You don’t have to worry too much about what to wear in Malaysia – as long as it’s cool and comfortable, whether its a sun dress, shorts or a shalwar kameez. Walking shoes are a must though!
I have been returning to Malaysia, every single year since I moved back to Karachi – it is my annual holiday destination. I travel twice a year and KL is a fixed appointment on my travel chart. KL never disappoints. Whether you’re looking for a family holiday spot, a single woman looking for a spa and shopping trip or a party animal looking to dance the night away – KL is your kind of cityscape.