I’ve just spent a lovely long weekend in Kuala Lumpur with my Kiwi winemaker friend Natalie Christensen. We’d been looking for a half-way point to meet up, and for both of us this was around 12 hours flying. It’s a great city for short break, and without trying too hard to fill all our time, we ended up doing a lot of fun things. Hopefully our adventures will provide some useful tips for anyone thinking of spending a short break in Kuala Lumpur.
Some general information
- Currency: the Ringit, MYR (5.5 MYR = 1 GBP; 4.3 MYR = 1 USD). With current exchange rates, everything seems pretty cheap. Kuala Lumpur is home to some of the world’s cheapest 5 star hotels, so it’s a great opportunity to splurge on a swanky city centre hotel. We stayed at the 5* G Tower Hotel, right in the centre, and it cost GBP£63 per night.
- Plug sockets: A bonus! No adaptors needed for me: they are English-style with three large rectangular pins.
- Weather: it’s hot and humid all the year round, just like neighbouring Singapore. It can rain heavily with little notice, so pack an umbrella. Be prepared to get sweaty as you wander round – it takes a few days to get used to the humidity. Because it’s on the equator, it gets dark every evening around 6.30 pm.
- Getting around: we used mostly ubers, with some taxis. Uber is pretty good here, but not quite as polished as in some countries. Select the pay by cash option on the app to get a wider take-up from the drivers (this is an option here, and the drivers seem to prefer it). Taxis are a bit more expensive than uber, but metered rates are fine. Before you get in, do check that the driver is using the meter, or you could get stung. There are good public transport options, but cabs and ubers are so cheap it’s not worth the hassle, especially if there is more than one of you. The Uber fare from the airport to Kuala Lumpur centre (c 50 km) is about 80 Ringit, which is very reasonable.
We began in Chinatown, and walked down the bustling Petaling Street, which is a large market area. Nearby, there’s a hawker food area, which is completely local dominated (we stuck out as tourists), where we lunched. Food is delicious and cheap.
Then we wandered over to the central market, which is housed in a building dating to 1880. This is a place to buy handcrafts, if that’s your thing, and it’s quite fun to browse around. Next to it is the Katsuri Walk, a covered market area.
A short walk from Chinatown is one of the famous areas of the city, Merdeka Square. On our visit, this was being prepared for the national day parade: this month, Malaysia is 60 years old. There are lots of interesting, historic buildings around the square, such as the dramatic neo-Moorish Sultan Abdul Samad Building, and the quaint Anglican cathedral.
Then we headed over to the Lake Gardens. This is where the botanic gardens are located, and also the Bird Park. At 50 RMB per head this is expensive by local standards, but it’s quite an experience. It’s the world’s largest enclosed aviary, and there are all sorts of exotic birds here. It was lots of fun. We didn’t explore the botanic gardens or the orchid park, but this is something for next time.
For dinner, we took an Uber over to Jalan Alor. This is quite an experience: it’s a long, wide street with a large concentration of restaurants, and it has plenty of energy. Wander up and down and choose a restaurant that appeals, and sit outside and people watch. You can get beer here, too. Food is tasty and very cheap. Highly recommended.
We left quite early and took an Uber out to the famous limestone Batu Caves (it’s around 20 RMB from the city centre). This is a must visit, as long as you can handle the 272 stairs you need to climb to get to the top. When you do, the huge interior cavern is quite something. There are two main areas of this cave system, one with a roof and the other open to the sky, and it’s a Hindu holy place. Currently there’s quite a bit of construction going on inside the main cave, so it looks a bit messy. But it’s hard to describe the impact of this natural wonder. Free entry, but if you are female and you have uncovered legs, you have to rent a drape to cover them! Men are allowed to show their legs… Prepare to get very sweaty climbing those steps. And there’s an added bonus here: lots of monkeys, who are keen to take your food if you have any.
Afterwards we headed back for lunch in Little India at Chat Masala. Little India, also known as Brickfields, is a characterful area that’s worth exploring. Chat Masala was busy and a bit rough round the edges, but the vegetarian food here is delicious, and cheap. It’s dry, like most of the restaurants round here, so alas no beer to wash it down.
After a break we headed out for dinner at Fuego, part of Troika Sky Dining. Troika is a set of three restaurants and a cocktail bar on floor 23 of a skyscraper, and all have stunning views. Mind you, they would have had even more stunning views a year ago before a new skyscraper popped up rather inconventiently blocking what would have been a perfect view of the Petronas towers. From Fuego you still get to see one of the beautifully lit towers, together with the rest of the KL skyline.
Fuego was a lovely surprise. The outdoor dining area is informal, but the food, with a South American theme, is beautifully presented and really imaginative. There’s a whole page of Guacamole dishes, and likewise for ceviche. Soft shell crab was delicious. There’s also some lovely meat here. The wine list is pretty good considering the challenge of getting wine here, but it’s expensive even by London standards. We drank cocktails, and the cocktails here are just brilliant. We started with a beautifully textural Pisco Sour, followed it up with a Margarita that was really incredible, with a smoked lemon and some intense, edgy flavours. Then we finished with a refreshing Mojito. Thoroughly recommended, but booking is essential and a strict two sittings policy is in operation.
We began by heading over to the KLCC shopping mall, which sits under the Petronas Twin Towers. The towers are Kuala Lumpur’s iconic feature, and for a while after their construction were the tallest buildings in the world. But they are still the tallest pair of towers. The mall is a huge multi-storey affair, and if you like malls, then this is a good one. We wandered back through the KLCC park, which gives a nice viewpoint.
Then we lunched with our new friends Pie and Shairf. They own a winery in Chile, and we were put in touch with them by Matt Wilson, a photographer who lives in Chile and whose wife, Andrea Leon, makes wine at Casa Lapostolle. And Pie is a princess! Her grandfather was the first King of Malaysia and his face appears on all the bank notes. We had lunch at Cantaloupe, which is part of Troika Sky Dining, where we’d been the night before. The lunch, a multicourse tasting menu, was superbly executed and a steal at RMB 140 a head. The wine list is excellent here: we had a bottle of Agrapart’s Mineral 2009, a stunning grower Champagne, and then BK Wines rather funky but delicious red blend from McLaren Vale. This was followed with a beautifully done Whisky Sour, a Negroni and an Espresso Martini, all of which were perfect. Then we headed across to Fuego to have a spot of early dinner, revisiting the brilliant Margaritas that we’d been introduced to the night before.
It was a lovely end to a memorable long weekend. I’m really glad we chose Kuala Lumpur over the other options, and I’d be happy to go back any time.