A sprawling city where huge skyscrapers tower overhead, the glittering lights of the Petronas Towers making them look like Great Gatsby-style antiques. In side streets, vendors selling a huge array of quick bites, entire streets dedicated to food and an incredible, multicultural mix of people. If you haven’t visited before, Kuala Lumpur is a feast for the senses and a wonderland of sights, smells, flavours and experiences just waiting to be unearthed. If you’re planning a trip but aren’t sure where to start, here’s everything you need to know about visiting Kuala Lumpur.
Must-know tips for visiting Kuala Lumpur
If this is your first time visiting Malaysia or Kuala Lumpur, there are a couple of things you need to know before you set off:
- We visited KL in May 2017 and, at the time of our visit, as Australians were not required to purchase a Visa
- If you don’t speak Bahasa or Chinese, no need to worry, English is widely spoken, though it goes a long way to learn a few key phrases
- Malaysian locals are very friendly and welcoming, so feel free to have a chat with those you meet and learn about life in KL
- It can be very hot and muggy, so pack accordingly, stay hydrated and be Sun safe
- If you’re planning on doing some shopping on the streets, you’ll need to haggle (learn how to haggle like a pro, here)
- It’s easy and affordable to catch Uber everywhere, though you’ll have to pay cash (cabs can run scams)
- The traffic in KL is wild, so try to avoid being on the roads during peak hour times – catch the train instead
- Keep in mind, Malaysia is a conservative country, so don’t engage in hot and heavy PDA’s or dress scantily
- You can read all of my ‘things to know before you visit Kuala Lumpur‘ here.
How to get to Kuala Lumpur City Centre from the Airport
First things first, there’s something you really need to know about Kuala Lumpur… traffic is absolutely mad. During peak hour, you’re going to run into a LOT of very bad traffic jams where you find yourself sitting in the taxi or Uber, not moving at all. Anytime from around 4 pm to around 8 pm and 7 am to 10 am, you’re going to run into traffic. If it’s raining, things are going to be even worse. It’s really important, no matter what you do, that you factor this into your plans and allow plenty of time to get to and from the airport. Always err on the side of caution and allow more time than you need.
I’m a thrifty traveller and usually prefer to catch public transport around a city, rather than relying on taxis or Uber. In Kuala Lumpur, Uber is King and I found it to be an easy, affordable way to get around. If you prefer it, you can also use Grab, I just use Uber because I have the app on my phone. We found it useful to buy a sim card, so we could quickly order an Uber while exploring, though there is free wifi at the airport so you can easily use that to order one. Our sim card cost 8RM (with 200MB of data) and we bought an additional 1.5GB for 10RM ($5AU / $4US) – we didn’t purchase ours at the airport.
You won’t be able to pay for your Uber via your account, you’ll need to pay cash, so make sure you have enough on you. A trip into KLCC at 5:30pm cost us 90RM ($28AU / $21US) and the return journey at 4pm cost 140RM ($43AU / $32US) . I didn’t have any run-ins with dodgy drivers asking for more than the price quoted by Uber. You may notice I haven’t recommended Taxis, that’s because Taxis in Kuala Lumpur have a bad reputation and some drivers run scams on tourists. At 5:30 pm on the day we were there, it took a little over an hour to get from KLIA to KLCC. Again, travelling on weekends (Friday – Sunday) is going to alter travel time due to the crazy KL traffic!
If you’re on a layover and trying to figure out just how much you can and see and do while you’re there, you should read this guide, ‘What you can actually do on a Kuala Lumpur layover.’
Best time to visit
So, when is the best time to visit Kuala Lumpur? With its warm weather, Kuala Lumpur is a great destination pretty much all year-round. That said, you’ll find the wetter months to be March to April and September to November. Peak season tends to be May through August and December through February. It’ll be hot and humid during these times, but storms tend to cool things down a bit. Prepare to get hot and sweaty if you’re walking around and always be prepared for a sudden storm (don’t worry, they don’t usually last all day, it’s more of a sudden, crazy storm followed by fine weather).
Where to stay in Kuala Lumpur
Our visit to Kuala Lumpur was our first, so we were keen to find the ideal spot. Lucky for us, we got to stay at Oasia Suites Kuala Lumpur and absolutely loved it. We stayed as a group of three – Matt, me and my mum. Travelling as a group it was essential we found a spacious place to stay, centrally located, with all the creature comforts but still budget friendly. Oasia ticked all of these boxes and then some!
We stayed in a two bedroom premier suite which was incredibly spacious. Complete with its own lounge, dining area, fully equipped kitchenette and washer/dryer, the suite had everything we needed for our stay. As I travel more, I’m realising I love self-contained units like this, because it gives you more freedom and space. The bedrooms were both a great size, one with en-suite, the other without. The beds were huge and incredibly comfortable, with big, squishy pillows you just kind of melt into.
In addition to the great rooms, Oasia has a fantastic on-site restaurant serving up a great breakfast as well as healthy, hearty lunches and dinners aimed at filling you up with nutritious, delicious meals. There’s also a 24-hour gym and a fantastic rooftop pool which is not only a great spot to cool down on hot days, but offers stunning views of KL!
Oasia was perfectly located, short walking distance to the Petronas Towers and Bukit Bintang shopping district. It was easy for us to grab an Uber and head out to where we wanted, visit the KL Tower located very close by and get on the hop-on-hop-off bus to do some sightseeing. Situated in the heart of KL’s famous Golden Triangle, it really did provide the perfect base for our adventures – convenient, comfortable and cost-effective.
If it sounds like it could be a good fit for you, read my full review of Oasia Suites Kuala Lumpur here. It includes more detail and loads more photos too!
Best things to see and do in Kuala Lumpur
Need some inspiration on what to see and do in Kuala Lumpur? Here are a few tips…
- We went full tourist and joined the KL Hop-on Hop-off Bus tour and really liked it! It was a great way to see all the major tourist sites in one hit, gauge where you want to go back to and do so later. It also made us feel like we’d made the most of our time and not missed out on seeing any of the big spots.
- For the best views of Kuala Lumpur and the Petronas Towers, I’d recommend you visit KL Tower. There are absolutely stunning views from the Sky Deck, which is open-air, so you can really get a really great birds-eye view of KLCC.
- If you have the time, you can plan a visit to the Batu Caves, you should only need a half day and you can either catch the train or Uber there
- Visit the stunning Petronas Towers during the day and evening, they’re stunning at both times
- Wander the streets of Little India, checking out bright textiles, jewellery, fresh flowers and yummy eateries
- Explore the Petaling Street Market and Central Market to scoop up a bargain on knock-off goods and souvenirs
- Shop up a storm in Bukit Bintang, home to high-end boutiques and hidden bargain spots, like a shop called Brands Outlet on the bottom of Fahrenheit 88.
- Explore the Lake Garden or take little ones to visit the Bird Park and/or Aquarium (the bird park has the world’s largest free-flight aviary!)
Where to eat and must-try food
I love food. Like, really really love food! Based on that information, here are my picks on where to get some great grub in Kuala Lumpur:
- Grab a bite to eat in Chinatown at spots like Restoran Kim Lian Kee, Lai Foong Restaurant, Coffee Amo and Merchant’s Lane
- There’s an amazing Brownie Bar in Bukit Bintang at the bottom of Pavilion
- For a cheap and delicious lunch, visit Saravana Bhavan in Brickfields
- If you like to eat where the locals eat, check out Kampung Baru. This is the spot to get the most authentic Nasi Lemak!
- I’d strongly recommend you visit Jalan Alor, which is basically just a Hawker-style food street. It’s a touristy spot, yes, but the food is delicious so it’s worth it. Be sure to dine (inside) at Restoran Wong Ah Wah or W.A.W Restaurant.
What to pack
Packing can be tough and Kuala Lumpur is no exception, here are my tips on a few things you definitely need to pack:
- It was really hot and humid when we were there, so you’re probably going to need a fresh outfit for each day you’re there (or access to a washing machine)
- Pack plenty of breathable shirts, shorts, skirts and summer dresses
- It’s important to be culturally respectful, so super high-cut booty shorts, low-cut tops and midriff-bearing outfits aren’t good options
- You’ll need a couple of pairs of very comfortable shoes as you’ll likely do a fair amount of walking
- Be sure to pack sun safe gear, like hats and sunscreen
- Our hotel had a great pool, most do, so throw your swimmers in
- Don’t overpack as you’ll likely do a bit of shopping and need space for all your goodies
- Wet weather gear is a great idea, just a small umbrella or waterproof coat tucked into your day bag
- If you have fancy camera gear, be sure to have a waterproof bag you can slip it into if the rain starts to bucket down
Phoebe is a travel writer and photographer with a love for storytelling and making people laugh. Matt is a videographer and photographer with a passion for the great outdoors and big adventures. Together we inspire big adventures through our guides, videos, vlogs and photographs. Find out more about us here.