This pretty much sums up how we feel about Kuala Lumpur – one of Asia’s great cities.
Recently, my wife Dinah counted 42 immigration entry stamps into Malaysia in my current and past passports. That’s 42 times that I have entered Malaysia in the last 15 years, an average of 3 visits per year. The reason? For the past 15 years, working for leading Australian universities as a Professor of Communication, a significant component of my role has been international university partnership development in South East Asia, and specifically in Malaysia.
While these trips were on university business, they also served to introduce me to what has become one of my favourite countries, Malaysia and to what has become one of my favourite cities, Kuala Lumpur, or KL as it is affectionately known. On a number of occasions Dinah was fortunate enough to be able to travel with me – at her own expense of course, so she too was able to experience what the country identifies in its tourism promotion as: “Malaysia. Truly Asia”.
Getting to and around Kuala Lumpur.
Many international airlines fly into Malaysia. Some, such as Singapore Airlines fly via Singapore’s Changi Airport which means a lay-over and change of flights in Singapore. Malaysia Airlines, Malaysia’s national carrier, flies directly to KL from Australia. As usual, flight costs vary greatly depending on when and where you are flying from. Most international airlines and budget carriers offer discounted airfares, so if you are flexible as to when you can travel it is definitely worth checking these out.
International flights land at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). For many countries (such as Australia), no visa is required however we suggest you check how visa requirements apply to your country before you travel. KLIA is approximately 50kms from Kuala Lumpur. Most international flights land at what is called the Satellite Building with its world-famous indoor rainforest. Passengers are then transported to the main arrival terminal by Skytrain (a 5 minute trip) where you’ll pass though Malaysian Immigration then on to collect your baggage. Departing KL is the exact reverse.
There are a number of ways of getting into the city of Kuala Lumpur. You can pre-order a car and the driver will meet you at the Arrival gate. Often, your hotel in KL can arrange this for you. Make sure that you confirm a reasonable price beforehand. You can catch a KLIA ‘Ekspres’ Train. The train is a non-stop airport express with comfortable seats and generous luggage storage. The trip takes about 28 minutes and takes you to KL Sentral Station. You can then catch a local taxi to your hotel. Or, you can get a taxi from the airport directly to your hotel. If the latter is your choice, beware the taxi drivers hawking for your business in the Arrival Terminal. While it is illegal for them to solicit business, they still seem to do so. Look for the land travel desk as you exit the Baggage Collection hall. Tell them your destination and they will sell you a fixed-price taxi ticket from the airport to your hotel. Then leave the Arrival Terminal via the gate designated on your ticket and your cab will be there.
Public transport is the best way to get around KL. The city is famous for its gridlocked traffic during peak hour, not to mention the billion or so mopeds racing in every direction. The KL Monorail is an excellent and economical way to travel, running between the city’s premier transport hub, KL Sentral and Titiwangsa in the heart of KL. It is also a scenic way to see the inner city of Kuala Lumpur.
Pick up a KL TravelPass on arrival. It is the most convenient way to use public transport. It is also valid for use on the KL ‘Ekspres’ train to and from the airport. You can pick up a TravelPass at the airport. Tap on when you embark and tap off when you disembark.
Kuala Lumpur is the capital of Malaysia and is one of the most dynamic cities in the world. It is an eclectic mix of ultra-modern architecture as epitomised by the Petronas Towers (or the Twin Towers as they are known) and British colonial era landmarks such as the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station and the Sultan Abdul Samad Building and the Central Markets.
Divided into numerous districts, the main hub of KL is called the Golden Triangle which comprises Bukit Bintang, KLCC (central KL) and Chinatown. KL is also widely recognised for its numerous landmarks, including the world-famous Petronas Twin Towers (the world’s tallest twin skyscrapers). The Towers are 452 metres or 88 floors tall from ground level. Plus there are 5 floors below ground which accommodate the prestige Suria KL Shopping Centre. Brilliant during the day, these towers are spectacular at night as the thousands of glass and chrome panels come alight. For an unbelievable view of KL (particularly at night), take a skywalk on the Twin Towers Sky Bridge than spans the two towers about 60 levels up. Open every day but Monday, you can purchase a ticket on the Concourse Level of the Twin Towers. Cost for adults is about 80 RM (Ringgit). Visit: www.petronastwintowers.com.my
More than a pastime – an obsession!
Shopping is a national pastime in Malaysia and is very much a family affair. Not surprisingly then there are numerous up-market shopping malls in and around the centre of the city including the Suria KLCC located in the Twin Towers and the KL Pavilion. A little further out of the main centre you’ll find Sunway Pyramid Shopping Mall located in Bandar Sunway in Subang Jaya. If that is not enough, 1 Ultama, Mid Valley Megamall, Subang Paradise, Paradigm Mall and Berjaya Times Square are all excellent shopping destinations worth checking out.
If you are looking for a little more adventurous shopping then Petaling Street Market is definitely for you. Close to the centre of Kuala Lumpur and adjacent to the Central Markets, it is open every day, but definitely more fun in the evenings. Petaling Street is famous for its ‘knock-off’ brands. Fancy a Rolex watch or a Gucci handbag at a bargain price? You’ll find these and thousands more knock-off branded products here. But you’ll need to bargain. It’s expected. As a rule of thumb, I start at about half the asking price and go from there. You’ll soon know if the seller is serious about selling you the product. If they are, you’ll get it at the price you want to pay. If they are not, they’ll walk away.
The other main pastime for Malaysians is eating. The food here is outstanding and it’s inexpensive. There are any number of ethnicities represented, but the focus tends to be on traditional Malay and Chinese, or a combination of both. Indian is also very popular here, particularly in the area they call Little India. Our favourite eating district is a short walk from our hotel, the Alor Street Food Night Market, or what we call ‘food street’. Here you’ll find dozens of small, medium and large restaurants offering excellent street food and local beers. Prices are very competitive when compared to hotel restaurant prices and the food is excellent. You’ll discover these food markets all over KL. So grab a rickety red plastic chair around a rickety white plastic table, rip the top of a large Tiger beer, relax and watch the world stroll by.
Find your Shangri-La.
There are hundreds of hotels in Kuala Lumpur, from 2 star to 5 star – and probably some with no stars at all! Generally, we find quality hotel prices in KL reasonable when compared with other major Asian cities such as Singapore and Hong Kong. Our absolute favourite hotel is the Shangri-La Hotel on Jalan Sultan Ismail. It is located in the centre of KLCC and is an easy walk to everything, including the Twin Towers and the Suria KLCC Shopping Centre, the KL Convention Centre, as well as the night club district on Jalan P Ramlee Twin Towers. It is also in easy walking distance to a monorail station. The Shangri-La is a true 5 star hotel, beautifully presented and offering excellent accommodation, hotel dining and recreational facilities, all with impeccable service. The views from the rooms are very impressive with many of the rooms looking directly out onto the Twin Towers. Fantastic in the evening. The breakfast in the Lemon Garden Restaurant is out of this world and has to be seen to be believed! I have never seen such a large offering of breakfast food choices in one place. I always look forward to returning to the “Shang”. They greet Dinah and I like old friends. So, if you are looking for outstanding accommodation at a reasonable price in KL, the Shangri-La is your hotel. To check out the hotel and book, visit: www.shangri-la.com/
Tips for the Trip
Malaysia Airlines flies directly to KL from the east coast of Australia, so no stop-overs to make a long flight (about 8 hours) any longer. We have found Malaysia excellent to fly with. If you join their Enrich Frequent Flyers Club you’ll enjoy additional benefits.
Make sure you do your homework for your arrival in KL. As we have noted here, there are a number of options when it comes to getting to your hotel from the airport. Often from Australia, the flights get into KL in the evening so, after a full day’s flying, we opt for a taxi rather than public transport.
There are a number of ways to get around KL. Trains and monorails are very efficient and popular. Taxis too are relatively inexpensive in KL. Hail a common red and white taxi and make sure that you agree a price before you start your journey. And then, of course, there’s walking – the best way to see any city. So pack comfortable shoes.
These days there are myriad online hotel booking sites offering the ‘best deals’. Our suggestion is that you always check directly with the hotel first. We have found that often the hotel is more than happy to match or beat the online price, or offer an added incentive such as free or discounted breakfast or even a room upgrade.
If you do decide to stay at the Shangri-La, join their Golden Circle Club. You can do this when you check in. This may mean deals on breakfasts or even discounts on room upgrades. It is also invaluable when you rebook as the hotel then has all your details, including room preferences.
Street food is generally safe to consume in KL. But as always, be careful what you eat. We tend to shy away from uncooked foods as they wash salads in the local water. And, to be on the safe side, drink bottled water.
Main picture: The famous ‘I Love KL’ sign in KLCC. For us, it says it all
- The Shangri-La in KL is our favourite hotel in all the world
- Its like coming home after a busy day working in Kuala Lumpur
- The rooms are beautiful, and beautifully spacious
- The view of the Petronas Twin Towers from our hotel room
- Really impressive in the light of day
- The Post Office Tower at night
- We call it ‘Food Street’ – wall-to-wall restaurants
- Tiger Beer – mandatory with the evening meal
- A massive Ninja Turtles display in the Pavilion Shopping Centre
- Which one is made from Lego?
- A great way to get around KL and get a view at the same time