Planning your first ever trip to Malaysia? There’s a very good chance you’re going to spend at least a few days exploring Kuala Lumpur too. To help you get the most out of your time, I’ve put together this guide of things you absolutely MUST know before you go! If you’ve visited before and think I’ve missed any, please share in the comments below.
1. You’re going to need to haggle
You should definitely aim to explore a few of the amazing local markets in Kuala Lumpur. These places are a haven for picking up well-priced clothing, artwork, cool gadgets you didn’t know you needed and many other weird and wonderful things. When shopping at markets, you’re definitely going to need to haggle with the stall-holder to get yourself a good rate. If you don’t know how to haggle, I wrote a guide about how to haggle like a professional here.
2. English is spoken commonly
If you’re worried about the language barrier in Malaysia, don’t be. You’ll find English is spoken commonly and very well by the locals, who love to have a chat with you to practice their English and help you have a great stay in their beautiful country.
3. Malaysian people are incredibly friendly
I’ve been lucky enough to travel with Malaysian people on a few occasions now and have been blown away by their generous, kind and thoughtful natures. A good example of this is when I was travelling in Boracay, with a group of Malaysian journalists. At each meal, they would bring plates of food from the buffet for all of us to share and would never, ever take the last piece of food from the plate as it just isn’t deemed polite. Every time I’ve met a Malaysian local, they’ve greeted me with a huge smile and been more than happy to share insight on their culture and religion! I absolutely love Malaysian people and they love visitors!
4. The street food is worth trying
As my Malaysian friends have repeatedly told me, the street food in Kuala Lumpur is incredible. If you see something that takes your fancy, it’s worth trying it. You won’t find the best food in Malaysia in a fancy restaurant, you’ll find it prepared on the streets. Look for bustling vendors with a queue.
5. In fact, Malaysian food is all-out incredible!
Food isn’t just a means to ending a hungry stomach, in Malaysia, food is life! Malaysians love to eat and if there’s anything I’ve learned from living in Singapore it’s that Malaysian food is INCREDIBLE. There are plenty of great options for vegetarians and, of course, you’ll find Muslim Malaysians sympathetic to your sincere disdain for anything pork-related. I recommend getting your hands on at least one meal of Roti Chanai and by one, I mean one per day. Try as MUCH local food as you possibly can!
6. Kuala Lumpur is the largest city in Malaysia
Truth! Kuala Lumpur is no joke, it’s a huge city that’s home to some 1.5 million people, which is just short of the 1.6 million who call Manila home. Not only is the city densely populated, it’s the biggest city in Malaysia so expect to see a whole lot of people on the move.
7. It’s easy and cheap to catch the train everywhere
Cabs in K.L tend to have a bit of a bad reputation, but luckily for us, we don’t need to rely on them. Instead, you should use the railway system. The trains in Kuala Lumpur are fantastic, they’ll take you everywhere you need to go and they’re very cheap, which is perfect for the budget-conscious traveller.
8. There’s a trick to booking a great hotel
You can book a hotel online easily and quickly and there are a wealth of great hotels to stay at in Kuala Lumpur, to suit every budget too! A great way to find the perfect hotel for you is by finding a promo hotel in Kuala Lumpur on Traveloka. They offer no booking fees and you can easily compare various hotels, then book.
9. Malaysia is a multicultural wonderland
While the majority of the population are Muslim Malaysians, you’ll find many Chinese and Indian people living in Malaysia too. In fact, you’ll find it home to a huge range of people from all over the world, which is what makes Malaysia so amazing. There are so many people of different cultures and religions in Kuala Lumpur that it has become a melting pot of multiculturalism. This is fantastic because it means there’s so much to see, do, experience and eat.
Watch our Kuala Lumpur for first-timers video!
10. You’ll need to dress appropriately
Do keep in mind that you’ll need to dress appropriately if you plan on visiting certain places, like temples for example. It’s a good idea to throw a few ankle-length cotton skirts in your luggage as well as t-shirts with sleeves and an over-sized scarf or two. When travelling, it’s incredibly important to observe and respect the cultural and religious beliefs of the places you visit – so make sure you have these items on hand and use them as needed when you visit special places in Kuala Lumpur.
11. You should learn a few key phrases
While the locals do speak English, it’s always great to learn a few key phrases. Why? Well, it’s a great way to properly experience another culture, broaden your mind and just be a downright good human. For example, Salamat Datang is welcome, Salamat Pagi is good morning, Tidak is no and Ya is yes, Tolong is please and Terima Kasih is thank you.
12. Don’t expect to eat any bacon
As I mentioned above, most Malaysians are Muslim which means it’s a pork-free zone (WOOHOO!) I had a great time talking about how yucky pork is with some Malaysia friends I made and it was really refreshing. If you find yourself hitting a breakfast buffet at a hotel, don’t expect to sink your teeth into any crispy bacon and don’t ask for any. Not cool, dude!
13. Flash floods can happen
Because of its tropical location and heavy rains during the monsoon seasons, it’s not uncommon for there to be flash flooding in Kuala Lumpur. Don’t let this scare you or deter you, just plan your travel around the wet season and keep your eyes and ears open when you’re on the move. If something goes wrong, don’t be afraid to ask for help and do what the locals do.
14. Being ‘on time’ isn’t really important
Malaysians have their own sense of time and tend to be a very relaxed people. If you’re a time freak, like me, it might seem a bit weird at first but you’ll get used to it. You may find your Malaysian friends use a set meeting time as a rough guide, move through the streets at a nice relaxed pace and tend to live their life in a laid-back way. Embrace it! Let your inner Malaysian local come out to play and slow down the pace while you’re there.
15. PDA’s aren’t okay
It isn’t appropriate to pack on the public displays of affection in Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia in general. So don’t go out drinking and find yourself kissing someone you just met out on the street or carrying on in ways that disrespect the local culture and religion. Remember, you’re a guest in their country and that doesn’t make it your personal playground.
16. The Petronas Towers have a secret
The Petronas Towers were actually built by two different companies, Hazama Corp and Samsung. In the rush to get things completed in time, Hazama Corp made a mistake and Tower One has a 25mm tilt. To correct the problem, they had to slant 16 floors above 20mm! Despite the fact they are the tallest twin towers in the world, it only took 6 years to complete them, slant and all.
Watch our short video from our time in Kuala Lumpur!
Phoebe Lee is a travel writer and award-winning blogger with a love for storytelling. Phoebe creates practical, fun and engaging written content designed to inspire and energise travel-lovers and dreamers. Follow her and Matt’s adventures at home and around the world, right here on Little Grey Box and through Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.