Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, is called KL by locals. Its modern skyline is dominated by the 451m-tall Petronas Twin Towers, a pair of glass-and-steel-clad skyscrapers with Islamic motifs. The towers also offer a public skybridge and observation deck. The city is also home to British colonial-era landmarks such as the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station and the Sultan Abdul Samad Building.
HOW TO GET TO KUALA LUMPUR
Malaysia’s transportation systems are, by regional standards, pretty well functioning. Planes, trains, buses, and taxis are linked in a system conceived and constructed by, if not an order-loving architect, at least a dedicated amateur. The planners’ aims are an ultra-modern, chic, european-style system that are a far cry from the city’s humble beginnings. The reality is a sound B+ with still a long way to go before hitting the top.
A bewildering jumble of initials and acronyms assault any first time journey planner in KL and it will take at least a day to decipher the scheme of things.
Kuala Lumpur International Airport (IATA: KUL) is about 50km south of the city, in the Sepang district of Selangor. The USD2.5 billion glass and steel structure was inaugurated in 1998 and has been ranked as one of the world’s top airports. It superseded the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah International Airport in Subang, which is now only used for charter and turboprop flights
- KLIA Trains link the Main Terminal with the KL Sentral transportation hub in Kuala Lumpur. Non-stop KLIA Ekspres trains (MYR55 one way from May 2014 on) complete the journey in 28min. At the busiest times (05:00-09:00 and 16:00-22:00), there is one train every 15min; otherwise they run every 20min. KLIA Transit trains (also MYR55 one way) get to the airport in 36min and stop at Salak Tinggi, Putrajaya, and Bandar Tasik Selatan en route. Infuriatingly, Transit and Ekspres tickets are not interchangeable and although the trains leave and arrive at the same ERL train station platform of KLIA & klia2 airport, but arrive or leave at different ERL stations at KL Sentral–make sure you don’t get them mixed up.
- From KL Sentral, the first train (a transit) leaves at 04:33; the last (also a transit) is at 01:03. From the airport, the first train (an express) leaves at 05:00; the last (a transit) leaves at 01:03. If taking an early morning or late night ekspres train from the airport, there may be no ticket sales available: buy the ticket when you arrive in KL Sentral.
- The same trains also go to klia2, one stop after KLIA Main Terminal. Transfers between the KLIA Main Terminal and klia2 takes just under 3 minutes and costs MYR2.
- Direct train is expensive for between airport and KL Sentral, the cheap, fast and better solution is to buy a KLIA Transit ticket KLIA/klia2-Putrajaya/Cyberjaya and then Putrajaya/Cyberjaya-KL Sentral ticket at Putrajaya/Cyberjaya station. Total fare is RM15.70 instead of paying RM35.00 one-way for direct train. Journey time is 66 minutes including 30 minutes connection at Putrajaya/Cyberjaya station.
- If flying Malaysia, Emirates, Cathay or Royal Brunei and taking the KLIA Express train to the airport, you can check in your baggage at the Kuala Lumpur City Air Terminal in KL Sentral. See “Get around” section below on how to get to/away from KL Sentral.
- The KTM Komuter station Nilai (1h, MYR5 from KL) has frequent connecting buses to KLIA operated by Airport Coach and Sepang Omnibus (1.5h, MYR3.50). This is the cheapest option to the main terminal but takes much longer than the direct train or bus (allow 3h for the whole journey).
Airport Coach runs an express bus every 30min between KL Sentral and KLIA 05:30-00:30 from Sentral, and 05:00-23:00 from KLIA that takes about 1h and costs MYR11 one way, or MYR18 return. Buses are comfortable with good leg room and air-con but the drivers are often sullen and uncommunicative.
Star Shuttle bus runs from KLIA to Kota Raya and Pudu Raya (both are near the Chinatown), MYR12 one way (Jul 2015). There is also a hotel transfer that bring you from KLIA2 direct to any hotels in KL district. It costs only MYR15 (Jul 2015) – buy the ticket from bus counter on the ground floor in KLIA2 and from the public bus terminal building in KLIA (link to the main terminal building via a pedestrian bridge). The Star Shuttle coach will bring you to Pudu Raya where you will be transfer to small van that will bring you to your hotel door.
Sepang Omnibus runs local bus services directly to Seremban in Negeri Sembilan, Banting in Selangor and Sepang town where you can get connecting buses to/from Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan. The buses may be a little basic and uncomfortable, and do not follow a timetable (at least, not one that is publicly known).
Free shuttle bus service is available for transferring between KLIA Main Terminal and klia2.
WHAT TO SEE AND WHAT TO DO IN KUALA LUMPUR
Kuala Lumpur is short on must-see attractions: beyond the Petronas Twin Towers, the real joy lies in wandering randomly, seeing, shopping and eating your way through it.
KL hosts an amazing variety of architectural delights. The grandest old British colonial buildings lie in the city centre and include the former offices of the Colonial Secretariat (now the Sultan Abdul Samad Building) on Merdeka Square and the old Kuala Lumpur Railway station. They blend themes from the architecture of Britain and North Africa. On Merdeka Square’s west side, looking like a rejected transplant straight from Stratford-upon-Avon is the Royal Selangor Club. Near Merdeka Square is Masjid Jamek, a charming Moorish-style mosque set at a confluence on the Klang River. The National Mosque, Masjid Negara, (1965) celebrates the bold ambitions of the newly independent Malaysia. The National Monument in the pretty Lake Gardens is inspired by the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. The ASEAN sculpture garden is nearby. Also in the lake gardens is Carcosa Seri Negara, the former residence of the British High Commissioner, which now houses an upmarket hotel and colonial-style tea rooms. While some buildings in the high-rise Golden Triangle, such as the KL Tower, are uninspired copies of other famous structures, the Petronas Twin Towers are truly marvelous.
Within the city centre is also the fascinating narrow streets of Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur’s traditional commercial district, with its many Chinese shops and places to eat.
KL is hot, humid and sometimes crowded, so schedule some cooling off in air-conditioned shopping malls or restaurants. You may find that most attractions are only crowded on weekends and holidays and are otherwise deserted on weekdays.
ACCOMMODATION IN KUALA LUMPUR
Budget accommodation can be found everywhere; dormitory beds can cost as little as MYR12 per night, though MYR20 and higher is common. Find the cheap ones online if cost is an issue. Increasingly, newer & better ones are opening in the Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman/Chow Kit and Jalan Ipoh areas, the so-called growth areas in the city centre. An example is the Tune Hotel – Downtown KL on Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman (Chow Kit area). If you are willing to take the 10 minute LRT to the main attractions, then hotels can be found for as little as USD16 per night with free Wi-Fi, air-con, and breakfast often included. If you are arriving on the overnight buses (arriving at 04:00) from the east coast islands, buses will stop at Hentian Putra in the Chow Kit area. Mid-range hotels are comparatively poor value in Kuala Lumpur, and it is worth it to spend a little extra (or look a little harder) for a true luxury hotel on the cheap. Kuala Lumpur is similar in price to Bangkok for 5 star luxury hotels, with rooms available for as little as MYR400 or even less (internet rate for single occupancy in the luxury 5 star “Traders Hotel” is around USD100. Other luxury hotels include The Hilton, Le Meridien Kuala Lumpur, Shangrila and JW Marriot. Prices will vary seasonally.
Please see the individual Kuala Lumpur district pages for a list of places to stay.
Crime is not rampant in Kuala Lumpur. The perception of crime is high, but in recent years the Malaysian police have managed to reduce crime significantly in and around urban Kuala Lumpur. Reports of violent crime against foreigners are uncommon but instances of pick pocketing and bag snatching have risen in recent years. Police presence, particularly around tourist areas and at night has increased in recent years. Kuala Lumpur is generally safe for travellers (it is locals who are often the targets of crime).
Refusing to use meters. Taxis are generally safe, but they often refuse to use the meter and a few cabbies will gouge tourists mercilessly. If they refuse to use the meter, then take another taxi, as by law they are required to use the meter. However, if you are desperate to use that taxi, always agree on the fare in advance, and try to get an estimate of the cost from a local before you climb on board.