Kuala Lumpur Travel Guide


KL's Chinatown is a crowded colourful melange of signs, shops, activity and noise. The central section, Jalan Petaling, is a frantically busy market that is closed to traffic. It is most spectacular at night, when the combination of street stalls, food, haggling and bright lights makes impressions on all five senses. The old buildings - undergoing constant restoration by conservation groups - are interesting in themselves, while bargain-hunters and collectors of kitsch might be in luck as well. Chinatown is about 300m (330 yards) southeast of Merdeka Square.

Golden Triangle
If all of KL's peace, quiet and culture is getting to you, head to the high-rise-heavy Golden Triangle: a small city in itself, dominated by the tallest building in the world, the Petronas Towers. Surrounded on all sides by shopping, commerce and entertainment outlets, you'll feel like you're in another country altogether. This area contains all the expensive hotels and restaurants, with nightlife not for the budget-conscious. Visitors will enjoy the Kuala Lumpur Tower - the fourth-highest telecommunications tower in the world - with superb panoramic views on offer from the observation deck.

Lake Gardens
These 92-hectare manicured gardens lie west of Merdeka Square and were once home to the ranking British official. There's plenty to keep you amused, including a butterfly park, planetarium, insect museum, walk-in aviary, orchid garden and hibiscus garden. You can also hire boats on Tasik Perdana (Premier Lake).

Merdeka Square
Site of the proclamation of independence in 1957, the square - formerly known as Padang - is the centre of National Day celebrations. Surrounding the square are many buildings of historical interest, including the Royal Selangor Club, where KL's elite meet; the Sultan Abdul Samad building, which is a great example of the Victorian-Moorish architecture common to Malaysian cities; the National History Museum and library; and the impressive, modern Dayabumi Complex. The square is in the heart of downtown KL, near the convergence of the Kelang and Gombak rivers.

Off the Beaten Track

Batu Caves
Just 13km (8mi) north of the city, the huge Batu Caves are among KL's best-known tourist attractions. Now used for Hindu festivals and pilgrimages, the caves also form an intense backdrop to the spectacularly masochistic feats performed annually by Thaipusam devotees. The main cave, a vast open space known as the Temple Cave, is reached by a 272-step climb. Beyond the stairs is the main temple. There are several other smaller caves in the same formation, including one with elaborately painted Hindu figures. The caves can be reached by either the 11D bus (from the Central Market) or bus 69 from Jalan Pudu. The trip takes about half an hour.

Petaling Jaya
Originally developed as a dormitory town to Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya - or PJ as it's inevitably called - has quickly established itself as a major industrial centre in its own right. Many engineering industries have their base in PJ, and it is also home to Malaysia's emerging high-tech industries. On the way from KL, the University of Malaya is worth a look. Once in PJ, there is a wealth of shopping and dining options. The biggest attraction for lovers of good times is the Sunway Lagoon, a huge theme park with large waterslides and the world's biggest surf-wave pool. Petaling Jaya is 11km (7mi) southwest of KL and easily accessed by bus from Kelang bus station.

Templer Park
North of the city, Templer Park was established during the colonial period. The 500-hectare (1235-acre) park is a tract of primary jungle featuring marked jungle paths, swimming lagoons and several waterfalls. Just north of the park is a 350m (1150ft) limestone formation known as Bukit Takun. The park is one hour by bus 66 from the Puduraya Bus Station near the centre of Kuala Lumpur.

Other Malaysia Attractions

Cameron Highlands

The Cameron Highlands, in the centre of Peninsular Malaysia, comprise a series of hill stations at altitudes between 1500 and 1800m (4920 and 5904ft). This fertile area is the centre of Malaysia's tea industry and it's the place where locals and visitors come to escape the heat of the plains. Attractions include jungle walks, waterfalls, tours of tea plantations, beautiful gardens and plenty of wild flowers. The cool weather tempts visitors to exertions normally forgotten at sea level - like golf, tennis, and long walks - but this is really Malaysia's R 'n' R capital par excellence for those who don't like the beach and enjoy a bout of colonial nostalgia. Most of the budget hotels are in the village of Tanah Rata. The more expensive options are scattered between Tanah Rata and Brinchang.

Georgetown - Penang Island
The 285-sq-km (177-sq-mi) island of Penang, off Peninsula Malaysia's northwestern coast, is the oldest British settlement in Malaysia and one of the country's premier resort areas. The island's beaches are touted as the major drawcard but they're somewhat overrated. What makes Penang Island really tick is the vibrant and intriguing city of Georgetown on the island's northeastern coast. This city has more Chinese flavour than either Singapore or Hong Kong, and in its older neighbourhoods you could be forgiven for thinking that the clock stopped at least 50 years ago. Georgetown is a compact city and it's a delight to wander around. Set off in any direction and you're certain to see beautiful old Chinese houses, vegetable markets, temple ceremonies, trishaws, mahjong games and all the other to-ings and fro-ings of Asian street life.

You can still see the time-worn walls of Fort Cornwallis in the centre of Georgetown where the first Briton, Captain Light, set foot in 1786 on what was then a virtually uninhabited island. He established a free port here and the stone fort was finished a few decades later. The area within the fort is now a park liberally sprinkled with cannons, many of them retrieved from local pirates. Seri Rambai, the largest and most important cannon, has a chequered history dating back to 1600. It's famed for its procreative powers, and childless women are recommended to place flowers in the barrel of 'the big one' and offer special prayers.

Penang has many kongsis (clan houses that operate partly as temples and partly as meeting halls for Chinese of the same clan or surname), but Khoo Kongsi is easily the finest. The original building was so magnificent and elaborate that no-one was surprised when the roof caught fire on the very night it was completed. This misfortune was taken merely as a sign that the building had been too grandiose, so a marginally less magnificent structure was built. One wonders at the opulence of the original, since the present structure is a dazzling mix of dragons, statues, paintings, lamps, coloured tiles and carvings.

Kuan Yin Teng Temple right in the centre of the old part of Georgetown is nowhere near as impressive, but it's one of the most popular temples in the city and there are often worshippers burning paper money at the furnaces, night-time puppet shows or Chinese theatre performances. For the best view of the city and the island, catch the funicular railway up Penang Hill which rises 830m (2722ft) above Georgetown and provides cool relief from the sticky heat below. There are pleasant gardens, a hotel, a Hindu temple and a mosque at the top. The view is particularly good at dusk when Georgetown, far below, begins to light up.

Most of the popular budget hotels in Georgetown are along Lebuh Chulia; more expensive options line Jalan Penang. There are plenty of Chinese and Indian restaurants, but be adventurous and try the succulent local dishes on offer from the street stalls, which appear at night along the Esplanade behind the Penang Library.

Melaka is an interesting blend of Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and British influences and is considered Malaysia's most historic city. It was once the most important trading port in the region, but is now little more than a sleepy backwater. Ancient-looking junks still sail up the river, imbuing the waterfront with a timeless charm, and the city remains full of intriguing Chinese streets, antique shops, temples and nostalgic reminders of the now-departed European colonial powers.

The most imposing relic of the Dutch period in Melaka is the massive pink town hall, Stadthuys, built between 1641 and 1660. It's believed to be the oldest Dutch building in Asia and displays all the characteristic features of Dutch colonial architecture (read incredibly weighty doors and pleasant louvred windows). The building houses government offices and an excellent Ethnographic Museum, which highlights aspects of local history and culture. The imposing ruins of St Paul's Church, built by the Portuguese over 400 years ago, stand in a beautiful setting atop St Paul's Hill. It was regularly visited by St Francis Xavier, who was buried here for a short period before being transferred to Goa in India. The church fell into disuse when the Dutch arrived, but is still surrounded by old Dutch tombstones. The Brits, with great sensitivity, used the church as a gunpowder store.

For those who prefer their religious architecture to be a little more colourful, the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple in the old part of the city is the oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia. It was founded in 1646, and all of the materials and all of the artisans who built it were imported from China. The old part of Melaka is a fascinating area to wander around, and this is where you'll find many of Melaka's famous antique shops; a stroll along Jalan Hang Jebat will pass the best of them.

Tioman Island
This picture-postcard island lies off the eastern coast of Peninsula Malaysia in the South China Sea. It boasts beautiful beaches, clear, coral-filled water, technicolour marine life, virtually unpopulated jungle highlands, crystal-clear streams, and the dramatic peaks of Batu Sirau and Nenek Semukut. Tioman has been blessed with exotic place names like 'Palm-Frond Hill' and 'Village of Doubt' and is generally quoted as the setting for the mythical Bali Hai in the film South Pacific. The permanent population on Tioman is low, and locals are usually outnumbered by tourists. June and August are the peak tourist months, but during the heavy November to January monsoon the island is almost deserted.

The island's west coast is dotted with villages and is home to a classy resort. Pulau Tioman is the most popular travellers' destination, while Kampung Nipah is the place to go if you really want to get away from it all. You can get to Tioman by boat from Mersing and Singapore. The island's largest village, Kampung Tekek, has an airstrip.

Peninsular Malaysia

Just off the coast of Perlis are the 104 islands of the Langkawi group. The islands are little visited, despite their good beaches, and the main island, Langkawi, has direct boat connections with Thailand.

Low-key Taiping, in Perak, has beautiful lake gardens, well-preserved Anglo-Malay buildings, a good night market and hardly any tourists. Also in Perak is the historic royal town of Kuala Kangsar, which has fine mosques and palaces, and was the birthplace of Malaysia's rubber industry. Ipoh, Perak's capital, has elegant mansions and impressive cave temples.

Although pretty inaccessible, a visit to Tasik Chini in central Pahang state is well worth the effort. It's actually a series of 12 lakes surrounded by beautiful jungle territory, with great treks, and it's rumoured to be the haunt of a cousin of the Loch Ness monster.

Taman Negara National Park, accessible only by boat, offers a rare opportunity to visit one of the most pristine primary rainforests in the world. The park covers 4343 sq km (2693 sq mi), sprawling across Pahang, Kelantan and Terengganu. The wildlife is varied and abundant, but more evident on extended treks or boat trips away from the more frequented areas.

Scenic grandeur and fascinating wildlife are the main attractions in (expensive) Sabah. Just offshore from the capital, Kota Kinabalu, the huge Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park (4929 hectares or 12,174 acres) is made up of the islands of Gaya, Mamutik, Manukan, Sapi and Sulug. The islands have some of the best beaches in Borneo and wildlife varies from monkeys and bearded pigs to corals and tropical marine life.

Not far from the Kalimantan border, Batu Punggul has an adventure-camp resort, jungle walks, canoeing and cave visits. The resort is accessible only by boat, and the area is home to many longhouse-dwelling tribes. North of the capital, Kota Belud is the venue of one of Sabah's largest open-air Sunday markets and get-togethers (called a amu). It attracts all manner of vendors, selling everything from magic pills to cattle.

Inland, Mt Kinabalu is one of Sabah's major attractions. It's one of the easiest mountains in the world to climb and the views from the top are sensational - especially at sunset.

Sarawak offers ever-shrinking areas of untouched jungle, the chance to visit longhouse-dwelling Dayak tribes and a good system of national parks. The area around the capital city, Kuching, has remote coastal villages, such as Pandan and Sematan, and unspoilt tropical rainforest, beaches and walking trails in the Bako National Park. Longhouses are found along the Rejang River and its tributaries - central and southern Sarawak's 'highway'. The areas downriver from Kanowit and Song are generally less frequented. In the northeast, the Niah Caves, accessible only by longboat and a 3km (1.86mi) hike, are unforgettable for their rock paintings, forest wildlife, jungle trails and night walks to see the luminous mushrooms. Visitors to Sarawak cannot fail to notice the extent to which logging is affecting the environment and the habitat of the Dayak tribes. Acquainting yourself with the issues surrounding Malaysia's logging practices is recommended before visiting the province.

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