While more than eight million international visitors came to Kuala Lumpur in 2012 (MasterCard Global Destinations City Index), many of them were on all too brief stopovers. This is somewhat of a shame, as KL is an engaging place with plenty of enjoyable things to see and do. Here’s a selection of ten of the city’s highlights, if you only have 48 hours.
Break your fast Malaysian style
There can be few better ways to start the day than with a roti canai (fluffy flat bread with curry sauce) and teh tarik (strong, sweet tea), at a Mamak shop (open air cafes run by ethnic Indian Muslims). These places also make great refreshment pit stops while sightseeing. The menus change from shop to shop, but the food is almost universally cheap, tasty and filling.
Where it all began
KL was founded by a band of Chinese tin miners back in 1857, at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers. The site is home to the city’s most attractive Mosque, Masjid Jamek, which was officially opened in 1909. You can get a great view of meeting of the rivers from the bridge on Leboh Pasar Besar, and then visit Masjid Jamek itself.
Step back in time
A short walk away from Masjid Jamek is Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square), which despite its name, holds the largest concentration of buildings which date back to British rule. One of these grand structures is now the KL City Gallery, an excellent introduction to KL’s history.
Stroll through Chinatown
For much of its history, KL was a Chinese-majority settlement, and the best area to experience this - not surprisingly - is Chinatown. The district is filled with characterful shophouses, art deco architecture, traditional Chinese eateries known as kedai kopi, and atmospheric temples. Avoid Petaling Street Market, which is a horrible, tacky tourist trap.
A drink with a view
KL is at its most attractive after sunset, when it twinkles with millions of lights. Probably the best way to appreciate this is with a drink at a rooftop bar. Whether its Sky Bar, with its unrivaled views of the Petronas Twin Towers; the new kid on the high-rise block, Marini’s on 57; or the chilled out vibe at Luna Bar; you will not be disappointed.
Get acquainted with an icon
The city’s most recognisable sight is the Petronas Twin Towers; once the tallest structure in the world. Photo opportunities abound, some up close and personal, and others much further afield, such as from Titiwangsa Lake Gardens. The greatest contrast though comes from Kampung Baru, a traditional Malay community, right in the centre of KL.
A tour up to the Petronas Twin Towers’ skybridge was once on virtually every tourist’s KL itinerary, but is not recommended now, because of how expensive it is (80 ringgit for foreigners, 25 for Malaysians). A cheaper (although by no means cheap) alternative is the observation deck at KL Tower.
Back to nature
Right next to KL Tower is the city’s most extraordinary chunk of greenery, an ancient piece of rainforest, known as KL Forest Eco Park. Despite its small size, the park is filled with flora and fauna, including two types of monkey and lots of birds. Free nature walks are available, or you can follow the well-marked trails.
A class apart
KL has a reasonable selection of art galleries and museums, but there is only one which could be termed world class, and that is the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia. As well as superb permanent collection - everything from scale models of famous mosques to intricate miniature paintings - IAMM also hosts regular special exhibitions.
Food glorious food
An undoubted highlight of any visit to KL is all the wonderful eating opportunities. So what better way to round off your visit, than with a tasty meal at Jalan Alor, the city’s leading food street? If the choice seems a bit bewildering, a reliably good performer is Wong Ah Wah (1-9 Jalan Alor). After food, you are a short walk away from Changkat Bukit Bintang, KL’s most happening nightlife area.