The capital city of Malaysia with a population of around 8 million people is a modern international city boasting some iconic skyscrapers intermixed with colonial and Islamic architecture. Known colloquially as KL the name Kuala Lumpur literally translated means "muddy confluence" - Not the most attractive name for a city, is it? The defining characteristic of this city is the diversity it boasts - Malay, Indian and Chinese people proudly call KL home, and the local cuisine is a delicious blend of all three cultures. The country of Malaysia was conquered by British, Dutch and Portuguese, each leaving their mark and although the country's official religion is Islam, you'll see signs of Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity. With only one day and two nights in this city it was time to get out and about to see as much as we could.
Getting around was made easy with use of the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus. The KL Hop-On Hop-Off bus has 2 routes - the red city route and the green garden route and passes through 50 attractions in the city, with 20-30 minutes for every stop. Each route takes about 2 hours to complete if you don't get off the bus and this provided a good introduction to the city. You can manage your time and choose the tourist sites you want to visit the most.
The HOHO bus provides 2 choices of tickets for Kuala Lumpur. The first option is a 24-hour ticket at 55 MYR (approximately 12.82 USD) for adults and 30 MYR (approximately 6.99 USD) for children. The second option is a 48-hour ticket at 95 MYR (approximately 22.14 USD) for adults and 50 MYR (approximately 11.66 USD) for children. Tickets can be purchased online before you go or at any of the booths around the city.
A little bit of history to get us started......
Kuala Lumpur history is surprising short in comparison to other Asian cities. The city began as a tin mining outpost and soon began to flourish. In its early days, brothels, casinos, and saloons were a thriving industrial sector, as miners looked for comfort and relaxation. At that point, the area was under British rule. The city was destroyed two times before 1900, by fire and civil war. As a result of the great fire, buildings in Kuala Lumpur were required to be built with brick and tile. After these rough early years, Kuala Lumpur began to prosper and was made capital of the Federated Malay States in 1896.
During WW2, Kuala Lumpur and the Federated Malay States were occupied by the Japanese from 1942 to 1945. During this time the economy was virtually halted and food rationing was common. After the war, the British regained control of Kuala Lumpur, but Malaysia's independence was soon granted, with the first elections in 1952. In 1957, the Malaysian flag was flown for the first time in Kuala Lumpur's Merdeka Square in front of huge crowds.
Top Things to Do in Kuala Lumpur (and you can do them all in one day!)
Bukit Bintang HOHO stop 1
The KL equivalent of a Central Business District and yet the emphasis is on shopping and entertainment. The name translates to Star Hill and is a retail haven for the shopaholic - From shopping malls like Pavilion KL, Starhill Gallery, Berjaya Times Square through to the rabbit warren markets of Sungei Wang Plaza. You can literally shop till you drop and then find a restaurant or bar to revive yourself and start again!!
Petronas Twin Towers — the capital's iconic skyscrapers HOHO stop 8
Sharing the iconic and instantly identifiable skyline with the KL Tower, these sisters stand at an imposing height of 452 metres and each tower is connected with a 58-metre long sky bridge. They are also on the list of the world's top 20 tallest skyscrapers. Surrounding the towers is the KLCC Park - a green oasis in the concrete jungle.
Kuala Lumpur Tower HOHO stop 10
The 7th tallest freestanding tower in the world, the KL Tower is a monument that every tourist should check out. Standing at 421 metres tall with a revolving restaurant 282 meters high, it also formally functions as a communications tower, Islamic astronomy observatory and a base jump centre. The tower is surrounded by the only remaining tropical rainforest in the heart of the city.
Upside Down House
For a bit of fun and frivolity visit this quirky house standing next to the KL Tower. The main entrance offers unique photo opportunities, as there's a bright yellow (and upside down) antique "Morris 1974" car looming above its visitors. Kuala Lumpur Upside Down House is also surrounded by an upside down garden, housing colourful artificial flowers, grass and trees, as well as gazebos overlooking KL City Centre.
Petaling Street — Chinatown's beating heart HOHO stop 16
Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur is centred on Petaling Street, which itself passes between Jalan Pudu and Jalan Sultan. The area was founded in 1857 and life centres on the daily flea market that sells everything from clothes and electronics to perfumes, CDs and street food.
Sin Sze Si Ya Temple
Just a 3-minute walk from Petaling Street and you come to the oldest Chinese temple in KL. Its entrance is engraved with an acknowledgement that Kapitan Yap Ah Loy had founded the temple in 1864, and it's dedicated to patron deities Sin Sze Ya and Si Sze Ya. The deities guided Kapitan Yap Ah Loy to defeat the enemies and defend Kuala Lumpur during the civil war (1870-1873). Today, people come here to pray for good luck in exams, business deals and love.
Central Market HOHO stop 17
Pasar Seni, or the Art Market area, is a centre for traditional and modern arts, housed in a beautiful blue Art Deco building. The Central Market has over 300 shops selling everything Malaysian, from the old style batik prints and weaves to more modern contemporary art. The area also hosts small theatre outlets and weekly cultural events celebrating the diverse population of Malaysia.
Sri Mahamariamman — South Indian style temple HOHO stop 17
Close by the Central Market, about a 3 minute walk, Sri Maha Mariamman Temple is surprisingly located on the western edge of Chinatown and yet is a South Indian style temple. It is the largest and oldest Hindu temple in Kuala Lumpur. Entry is free and it is open from 0900 - 1800 daily.
Kuala Lumpur Railway station HOHO stop 18
The Kuala Lumpur Railway Station is a gracefully designed colonial building that combines Eastern and Western architectural influences, including Moorish and Indian. It was built in 1910 and still retains the grandeur of times past.
Little India HOHO stop 19
The area is the biggest Little India in Malaysia, and its streets are filled with Indian shops that sell Indian clothing, provisions and food. Also known as Brickfields - its name came from the earlier days when the area was a clay pit and many bricks were made from the clay. Brickfields began as the centre of brick-making in the late 19th century, after a huge fire and flood swept through Kuala Lumpur in 1881. The double disasters took turns destroying the town's wooden and thatched structures. Sir Frank Swettenham, British resident at that time, responded by ordering the use of brick and tile in the construction of buildings, thus summoning the town's purpose into being. Today, It is known as Kuala Lumpur's Little India due to the high percentage of Indian residents and businesses. it is also tagged as a "Divine Location" as many religious structures, some over 100 years old, are concentrated in the area, particularly Jalan Berhala.
National Museum HOHO stop 21
The National Museum (Muzium Negara) was built in 1963 and narrates the history of Malaysia from prehistoric times, through the rise of the Islamic kingdoms, colonialism, and into the modern era. A mixture of dioramas and historical artifacts bring the past to life. The surprisingly compact and well-laid out museum includes an outdoor section containing traditional houses, ancient burial poles, a steam train engine, and more. The museum complex also encompasses ethnology and craft museums, both of which deserve a visit.
National Palace HOHO stop 22
Completed in 2011, this brand new palace serves as the official residence of the Malaysian head of state. Even though the palace is not open to the public, you can still catch a glimpse of the majestic building from the entrance gate. You can also snap some picture of the guards as the HOHO bus has a 15 minute break here..
National Monument (Tugu Negara) HOHO stop 23
The National Monument is a historical sculpture dedicated to the Malaysians who fought for Malaya's independence against the Japanese occupation during World War II and the Malayan Emergency, which lasted from 1948 until 1960. It is also one of the tallest freestanding bronze statues in Asia. The sculpture depicts a group of soldiers, with two slumped at the base and one holding the Malaysian national flag aloft. Each of the bronze figures symbolises leadership, suffering, unity, vigilance, strength, courage and sacrifice.
National Mosque. HOHO stop 25
The National Mosque, also known as Masjid Negara, is a stunning modern structure decked out in blue and gold. It has the capacity to hold 15,000 people and it is seen as a monument to Malaysian independence. The highlights are the 73 meters high minarets and its 16 pointed star concrete which is its main roof.
Merdeka Square - Independence Square HOHO stop 26
A 95-metre flagpole, one of the tallest in the world, is located at the southern end of the square with a flat, round black marble plaque that marks the location where the Malayan flag was raised for the first time in 1957 signifying the independence of the coutry.
Near the flagpole at the corner of the Padang is a fountain, the Cop's Fountain, built in 1897 as a memorial to Steve Harper, a popular police inspector.
Opposite this is the Old Chartered Bank building built in 1919 and expressing Moghul architecture. It was also once the National History Museum.
The Sultan Abdul Samah Building is whereMalaya declared itself independent from colonial forces in 1957, becoming Malaysia. Constructed entirely of brick this well preserved building (built 1894) features strong neo-Mughal and Moorish Revival influences. Although the building is formally used for government offices (as is the building next door), the graceful arches and copper cupolas make a beautiful backdrop for pictures.
While here you should also admire the distinctive architecture of the National Textile Museum showcasing the Mughal-Islamic architectural style.
Opposite the square is the Royal Selangor Club which was first founded in 1884 as a meeting place for high-ranking members of the British colonial society. It is difficult to get a clear view of the club at the moment due to the amount of construction work being undertaken in the area.
Kuala Lumpur City Gallery HOHO stop 26
This great little one-stop tourist centre and gallery will tell you everything there is to know about KL, from its formation to its current glory. History unfolds through miniature models and a spectacular city light model show - only takes about 10 minutes and is well worth a look. Also take note of the re-purposed heritage site in which the gallery is housed; the structure itself dates back to 19th century, when neo-Renaissance architecture was favoured by the British administration.
Outside the gallery is the 12 foot high I "heart" KL sign. Built in 2012 it has become an icon and one of the most photographed structures in KL. Especially popular with Asian youth we watched as various iterations of the "peace" sign were posed by groups .
I know that I have barely scratched the surface of KL but I hope my brief view provides you with the incentive to explore this city for yourself. There are so many areas I wish to explore in-depth and the opportunity to try more restaurants.....and did I mention the opportunity for shopping??? I think that KL needs to go onto my future travel list for further adventures......