Bright Lights, Big City

Kuala Lumpur, like many of the world’s rapidly modernizing cities, is a paradox. Western stores and brands bump up against observant Islam. Gleeming skyscrapers loom over bustling street markets. You can get a 5-star meal or some noodles from a hawker stall. Explore two of the world’s largest buildings, or Hindu shrines ensconced in limestone caves swarming with monkeys. So what’s a traveler to make of this Dubai-meets-India metropolis? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. Four days here wasn’t nearly enough to understand all of the flavors of this place, and I’m not even sure four years is enough. But I can recommend some fun things to do if you happen to be passing through:

 

-Petronas Towers

Take the obligatory selfie in front of them. Hey, they’re really really tall–and actually interesting buildings as well. While I wouldn’t go as far as to call them beautiful, they’re architecturally intriguing, perhaps even more so than some of the mega-skyscrapers at home. Sears and Empire State, I’m looking at you, as well as anything with the name “Trump” on it.  I’m a Chicago girl, I know big buildings, and these are pretty cool. One sad thing: You can’t go to the top! You can go to a viewing platform on the 40th floor, but there are only a limited number of tickets and the view, allegedly, isn’t that great.

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-Chinatown

The historic heart of KL, this is the place to go for cheap goodies and herbal medicine. Be prepared to haggle. Wander up Jalan Petaling and see what you can find.

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-Masjid Jamek

A lovely mosque that dates back to 1909. It’s a peaceful place to wander among the marble columns and reflect away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Be warned, women will have to borrow full-length purple cloaks, hood and all.

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-Batu Caves

Although the majority of Kuala Lumpur residents are Muslims, there’s a thriving Hindu population here as well. Many Hindus come from even further afield to see the Batu Caves, a series of Hindu shrines buried in limestone caves. Be prepared for sore legs as the walk up to the caves is a thigh-burning 272 steep steps.

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-Jalan Alor

Hawker food galore! A street in the busy Bukit Bintang neighborhood filled with every kind of Malaysian food imaginable. Be warned, the food isn’t as good as it is in Penang and it smells a bit like durian (the stinkiest fruit in the universe), but it’s still a fun experience.

-Food Courts

I’ve never seen such elaborate and fancy food courts before my time in Kuala Lumpur. These food courts serve relatively high-end and authentic cuisine. Visit the one at Lot 10 off the Bukit Bitang monorail station.


Overall, I’d say KL is worth a visit for a few days. While I wouldn’t recommend you spend your entire time here, it’s worth a stop on an extended Southeast Asia itinerary.

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