Kuala Lumpur may be most known for its famous Petronas Twin Towers, but I can assure you that this city has much more to offer than its skyline. With an estimated population of 1.7 million, this bustling metropolitan city is a melting pot of predominantly Malays, Chinese, and Indians that have all contributed to the vibrant, multi-cultural nature of this city.
I’ve put together a comprehensive guide of what to do, where to stay, and how to get around so you can enjoy your time in Kuala Lumpur to the fullest! I’ve also included costs to help you budget your stay. I wandered around Kuala Lumpur for 3 days and found that to be a good amount of time to see and experience the city at a leisurely pace.
What To Do:
Take a dip in the Regalia Residence infinity pool
I should start by saying, this is a luxury property with access to the pool meant for guests only. Since I’m a backpacker and one night at this hotel is double my daily budget, I opted to put a big smile on and kindly ask the security guard if I could just have a peak. He seemed a tiny bit peeved, but he let me through without too much reluctance. About 10 minutes later, the guards changed, so I changed into my swimsuit and was able to enjoy the refreshing pool and the divine view of the city skyline! This was one of my favorite experiences in Kuala Lumpur. ($0)
Getting Here: Take the Seremban Line (blue line) towards Batu Caves, get off at the Putra stop. Regalia is less than a 5 minute walk from the station.
Eat authentic Indian food in Little India
This was a really cool experience for me, as I’ve never been to India or been exposed to Indian culture. I’ve been to Chinatowns and Little Italy’s before, but never to a Little India! This extremely colorful section of town is lined with shops selling all types of goods like Indian clothing, ornate fabrics, Indian flower garlands, and of course – authentic Indian food.
I stopped off at what seemed to be a mini food court and experienced banana leaf cuisine for the first time! After laying out a banana leaf on the table in front of me, a staff member piled on a heaping portion of rice, then came by and ladled on 5 different vegetarian sides and finished me off with some papadam (a thin crispy chip-like food that is extremely addictive).
Being my first time ever eating a proper Indian meal, I looked to my neighbors for advice. They had a chuckle and instructed me to ladle on the different curries and to only eat using my right hand. I left with a happy belly and a new experience all for only RM6 ($1.35)!
Getting Here: Take the blue, red or pink lines to KL Sentral (this is the main station where most train lines pass through). Little India is only about a 10 minute walk from the station.
Get a booty workout climbing the steps of the Batu Caves
35 minutes outside of the city center, a massive limestone hill home to the Batu Caves welcomes locals and visitors alike, with the iconic 42.7 meter high statue of Hindu God of War, Lord Murugan, there to greet you. It is the tallest statue of a lord in the world! Now for the fun part…in order to see the actual caves and temples inside, you’ll need to climb 272 first. But don’t worry, you’ll have friendly monkeys along the way to guide you.
I had just missed Thaipusam, the biggest Hindu festivals of the year where over a million devotees move in procession towards the Batu Caves, (many pierce skewers through their tongues and cheeks and put hooks in their skin to show their devotion) but was able to catch a few last minute worshippers carrying containers holding milk as an offering to Lord Murugan.
It is said that Murugan is the embodiment of Shiva’s light and wisdom and devotees pray to him to overcome the obstacles they face, as He is the divine vanquisher of evil. I’m sad to have missed such an important festival with such foreign rituals, but hopefully I can make it in the future! (90 cents for roundtrip train ticket to Batu Caves)
Getting Here: Take the Seremban Line (blue line) towards Batu Caves, and you guessed it, ride it all the way to the last stop!
Watch the sun go down behind the Petronas Twin Towers
Although I said Kuala Lumpur has more to offer than these colossal towers, I think it’s still a must to see them up close and personal while visiting! The iconic twin towers certainly don’t disappoint, and with KLCC park right below, it’s a pleasant place to watch the sky change from day to night. ($0)
Getting Here: Take the Kelana Jaya Line towards Tanjung Malim, get off at the KLCC stop. You can’t miss the Petronas towers from here!
Wander and shop your way through Chinatown
At the heart of Kuala Lumpur you will find Chinatown, a vibrant, energetic, and culture-packed part of the city. Petaling Street is the main attraction, selling everything from imitation goods (Nikes EVERYWHERE) to Chinese herbs to electronics.
There are endless food stalls, and trying hokkien mee (a delicious egg noodle and pork dish saturated in a dark fragrant soy sauce) is an absolute must. It’s most fun to just wander around the streets and alleys of this area of town to see what you can come across! I didn’t really have a plan, I just took in the sights and smells and tried a bunch of street food along the way. (under $2 for street food finds)
Getting Here: Jump on the KJL (red line) from KL Sentral and get off just one stop away at the Pasar Seni stop. From here, it’s just a two minute walk into Chinatown.
Admire the mosques and temples in this city of multiple faiths
With people from so many different ethnic and religious backgrounds calling Malaysia home, the diversity of this city can be seen in its array of religious sites. Although Malaysia identifies as a Muslim country, all other religions are widely received. From the beautifully ornate Hindu temples of Sri Kandaswamy Kovil (Brickfields near KL Sentral) and Sri Mahamariamman (Chinatown), to the colorful Guan Di Chinese temple (Chinatown, to the equally as beautiful Masjid Negara and Masjid Jamek, this place is home to so many beautiful religious buildings!
On Fridays, The Malay Prayer Baazar is open from 12-3pm near Masjid Jamek where you can try local fare and people-watch as the men gather at Masjid Jamek mosque for prayer.
Just across the bridge you can pass through Merdeka Square (KL’s main square) on your way to Masjid Negara which is the National Mosque.
This mosque can hold 15,000 people, and is esteemed for its bold, modern design. Nearby are Perdana Lake and the Botanical Gardens which are worth taking a walk through. ($0)
Getting Here: From Chinatown, all of the above is accessible by foot! I’d highly recommend walking so you can really take in all of the sites.
Where To Stay
I recommend staying near the Chinatown area of the city, as it is very centralized and is also easily accessible via train or bus from the airport.
Back Home Hostel
This was the most expensive hostel I stayed in while traveling Malaysia, at $13USD for a mixed dorm, but I was impressed by the superior amenities that if offered: high speed free wifi, helpful staff, comfy beds with international plugs and usb ports, beautiful open air common spaces, rainfall style showers, spacious dorm rooms with a sink and mirror, perfect location, and complimentary breakfast that offered fresh fruit and local coffee (most hostels that advertise free breakfast offer bread with jam and instant coffee, but when you’re a backpacker, you take what you can get!)
To book your stay with Backhome Hostel, click here!
If you’re looking for an even more budget friendly alternative, I would also recommend Agosto Guesthouse. At just $5 per night in a 4 bed dorm room, this hostel offered free wifi, a stellar location directly in the heart of Chinatown, a decently spacious room with plugs and a fan for each bed, and friendly staff. The only downside was that the bathrooms were a tad smelly, but that kind of just comes with the territory of being a budget backpacker! Other than that, I had a pleasant stay.
To book your stay with Agosto Guesthouse, click here!
How To Get Around
Public transportation in KL is extremely easy and can be used to get just about anywhere. There are both local buses and trains, but I found myself using trains and Uber the most as it was the easiest and most convenient way to get around.
KL Rapid Transit
Prices depend on where you’re traveling to, but range from 2-4 myr (50cents – $1) and transit employees are typically friendly and happy to help you get to where you’re trying to go. The trains are modern and extremely clean, and there’s even “ladies only” coaches. Some men tried to get on the ladies only car and some local women told them to get off! The cars are air conditioned and very comfortable.
When I was feeling lazy, or wasn’t entirely sure how to get to my desired destination, (and had a bit of wiggle room in my budget) I’d “splurge” on an Uber ride. Although Uber is easy and cheap in KL, I’d still urge you to try public transportation, as you get a better feel of the city that way. Of the 3 10-15 minute Uber rides I took, they each cost about $1USD.
Getting to and from the Airport by bus
The cheapest way to get to Chinatown (where you will most likely be staying) is via bus which costs RM11($2.50) The bus ride is about an hour and stops right next to Chinatown. In order to buy the ticket, you must follow the signs within the airport pointing to trains/buses (go figure). When you get down to the lower level where the buses are, find ticket counter #1 and make sure you specify you want a ticket to Chinatown.
Getting to and from the Airport by train
The train is much more expensive, costing RM80 ($18) but will get you KL Sentral in exactly 28 minutes. This is an express train, called KLIA, that is specifically made to get to and from the airport and only has 3 stops (the 2 airport terminals and KL Sentral). If you’re staying in Chinatown, you’ll need to jump on the KJL (red line) once you reach KL Sentral and get off just one stop away at the Pasar Seni stop. From here, it’s just a two minute walk into Chinatown.
Getting to TBS from Chinatown (the main bus terminal)
If you plan on heading to Malacca, the Cameron Highlands or Penang by bus, you’ll need to catch your bus from TBS (Terminal Bersepadu Selatan). From Chinatown walk 10-15 minutes to the Masjid Jamek train station. Jump on the Sri Petaling (mustard colored line) towards Putra Heights and get off at the TBS stop. This ride is about 25 minutes.
Getting to TBS from Chinatown (the main bus terminal)
If you need to get to the bus terminal straight from the airport, there is a bus that will take you directly there! Follow the airport signs to the buses/trains and ask an employee to point you in the direction of which ticket window you can buy a ticket to TBS. This will cost you RM11 ($2.50)
Have you been to Kuala Lumpur? What was your favorite thing you did? Comment below!