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Kuala Lumpur, or simply called KL by locals, is the federal capital and the largest city in Malaysia. Literally meaning muddy river confluence in Malay, Kuala Lumpur has grown from a small sleepy Chinese tin-mining village to a bustling metropolis of around 6.5 million (city-proper population of 1.8 million) in just 150 years. Kuala Lumpur is cultural melting pot with some of the world's cheapest 5-star hotels, impressive shopping districts, even better food and some of nature's wonders just an hour away, making this a dynamic city with much to offer. (less...) (more...)
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Points of Interest in Kuala Lumpur
When people think of Kuala Lumpur the first thing that comes to mind is probably the Petronas Towers, which is located in the Golden Triangle. Whilst they most certainly are an architectural delight (particularly at night), there is much more to be discovered in Kuala Lumpur. Competing with the Petronas Towers is KL Tower (Menara KL), which looks oddly similar to other famous skyscrapers. The real joy of Kuala Lumpur lies in wandering randomly, seeing, shopping and eating your way through it.
Being part of a former British colony, many colonial buildings are scattered throughout, with many lending themes from both British and North African architecture. The grandest colonial buildings lie in the city centre including the old Kuala Lumpur Railway Station, the charming Masjid Jamek at the confluence on the Klang River and the former offices of the Colonial Secretariat (now the Sultan Abdul Samad Building) on Merdeka Square. To top it off on Merdeka Square's west side, you will find the Royal Selangor Club, looking like a rejected transplant straight from Stratford-upon-Avon.
The National Mosque, Masjid Negara, (1965) celebrates the bold ambitions of the newly independent Malaysia. The National Monument in the pretty Lake Gardens is inspired by the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. Also in the lake gardens is Carcosa Seri Negara, the former residence of the British High Commissioner, which now houses an upmarket hotel and colonial-style tea rooms. Within the city centre is also the fascinating narrow streets of Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur's traditional commercial district, with its many Chinese shops and places to eat.
Nature and wildlife
While Kuala Lumpur is more of a concrete jungle compared to other parts of the country, it is still easy enough to delve into nature. The Forestry Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM)  is a great escape from the busy life of Kuala Lumpur. The hikes are easy and you can go up a canopy walkway for RM5 to get a good view of KL on a clear day. There is a nice tea house in the FRIM compound where you can sample various types of local teas and snacks. Get there early as it is more likely to rain later in the day. You can get to FRIM via KTM Komuter. Stop at Kepong and grab a short taxi ride.
For something more centrally located try the Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve (closed until April 2014), located at the base of Menara KL. The forest provides for an easy trek that you can enjoy on your own; but the many specimens are likely more appreciated through guided tours which are free and can be arranged from KL Tower. The massive Lake Gardens, located in the western part of the Old City Centre is another great option and you could literally spend a whole day venturing around the park. Within Lake Gardens are many attractions and various parks including the KL Bird Park , Orchid Garden, Hibiscus Garden, Deer Park, Mouse Deer Park and a butterfly park. An indoor alternative is the Aquaria KLCC, in the Golden Triangle near the KL Convention Centre. The aquarium contains some 5,000 varieties of tropical fish.
About Kuala Lumpur
Founded in 1857 under British rule as a tin mining outpost, Kuala Lumpur is fairly new as far as Malaysian cities go and lacks the rich history of Georgetown or Malacca. Due to the success of tin mining, Kuala Lumpur began to flourish but had problems with gang fighting in the late 1800s. Following this, Kuala Lumpur faced further misfortune after much of the city burnt down in a large fire as most buildings were built from wood and thatch. As a result buildings in Kuala Lumpur were required to be built with brick and tile. After these rough early years, Kuala Lumpur began to prosper and was made capital of the Federated Malay States in 1896.
During World War II, Kuala Lumpur and the Federated Malay States were occupied by the Japanese from 1942 to 1945. During this time the economy was virtually halted. Soon after the British regained power it was declared that the Federated Malay States were to become the Malayan Union and work toward independence began. In 1952, Kuala Lumpur was one of the first cities in the Union to hold elections. Malaysia's independence was declared in 1957 in front of huge crowds at what was later named Stadium Merdeka (Independence Stadium), and Kuala Lumpur continued as the new nation's capital.
In 1972, Kuala Lumpur was given city status and by 1974 became a Federal Territory of Malaysia in its own right, hence losing the title as capital city of Selangor. The economic boom of the 1990s brought Kuala Lumpur the standard trappings of a modern city, but it was severely hit by the Asian financial crisis of 1997, which stalled the Malaysian economy and led to the abandonment or delay of many construction projects. Today, Kuala Lumpur has become a modern city, bristling with skyscrapers and with a modern transportation system. Despite this, Kuala Lumpur has still kept some of its historical charm.
As Kuala Lumpur is only 3 degrees north of the Equator, you can expect tropical weather year round. Shielded by the Titiwangsa Mountains to the east and Sumatra to the west, temperatures are relatively cooler than other cities within Peninsular Malaysia. Expect sunny days with temperatures above 30°C (86°F) and slightly cooler evenings, particularly when afternoon showers occur and humidity is high. Rainfall can be sporadic and quite torrential at times, but usually does not last very long. During the wet season, around October to March, the northeast monsoon brings heavy rainfall that can occasionally flood some areas of Kuala Lumpur. The months around June and July could be classed as the dry season, but even then it can frequently rain.
Occasionally, due to forest fires from Sumatra around May to October, haze can blanket the city and surrounding regions and it is best to remain indoors if you suffer from asthma.
As the weather can be hot and humid during the day, try to dress lightly if you expect to be outside and, whilst it may seem obvious, don't forget to remain hydrated. Also keep in mind that mosques and some temples have strict dress codes, although many do supply gowns to cover you if you are inadequately dressed. If you do find it too hot to be outside consider going to a shopping mall to relax and work that credit card whilst in air conditioned comfort.
Kuala Lumpur is well known for its wide range of shopping and eating options, which are adequately covered in the Eat and Buy sections of this article and listings within the district articles. Skyscraper Gazing is the obvious option, with glass and steel abound and excellent views available from the Petronas Towers  or the KL Tower (Menara KL)  viewing decks, both located in the Golden Triangle.
Arts & Culture
Like much of Kuala Lumpur, there is an interesting mix of arts and culture to experience, ranging from traditional Malay to Islamic to modern. Several good theatres and performance halls have emerged as part of Malaysia's drive to encourage greater cultural expression. These include the National Theatre (Istana Budaya) and the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre  in the northern part of the city, the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (Dewan Filharmonik)  in the Twin Towers, and the Actors Studio at Lot 10. Leading museums in the Old City Centre are the National Museum , which covers the region's history, and the well-regarded Islamic Arts Museum , which houses a small but captivating collection.
Pampering and spas can be found in several five-star hotels and independent centres in the Golden Triangle. There's also nail parlours and beauty salons, which are generally good value, there's also high-end ones offering similar services for a premium. Reflexology and foot massage places are everywhere, especially in Bukit Bintang in the Golden Triangle and in Chinatown.
For those who are willing to be a bit more adventurous, try hunting down a fish foot spa and relax whilst fish nibble away at your feet. However do be careful which one you go to as some are of low standard and you may get an infection or even a blood borne disease. Try a fish spa in a tourist area as these tend to be better maintained.
Urban sports such as golfing, cycling, running, jogging and horse riding are common in Kuala lumpur. If you’re into rock climbing, the Batu Caves in the Northern suburbs is popular. However given Malaysia's stunning terrain, you’re better off heading to other places for anything more strenuous or challenging.
You can also watch the local football match at the KLFA Stadium in Cheras. Kuala Lumpur FA is a football team based in Kuala Lumpur and currently plays in the top division of football in Malaysia, the Malaysia Super League. Match schedule and fixture can be seen at the KLFA website.
Volunteering is not often the first thing you may considering doing when in Kuala Lumpur, however there are various projects to give your time and help out the community. Regardless of spending one day or even a week or more volunteering for a cause, you will probably find something that you are interested in. Below are some volunteering options available within Kuala Lumpur.
- Nur Salam (Chow Kids), 24A-B Jl Chow Kit, ☎ +60 3 4045 4021. Volunteer with the street kids of Chow Kit (KL) to "help improve the quality of life for the children of Chow Kit whose parents are usually former and current drug addicts & sex workers in Kuala Lumpur". Chow Kids offers training for volunteers who wish to spend any amount of time interacting and helping these deserving children.
- SPCA Selangor, Jl Kerja Air Lama, 68000 Ampang, Selangor, ☎ +60 3 4256 5312/+60 3 4253 5179. SPCA Selangor is an animal welfare organisation dedicated to protecting defenseless animals and to alleviate their suffering. Volunteer to help out at the animal shelter, SPCA's marketing and communication department or SPCA's outreach events.
- Zoo Negara, Hulu Kelang, Ampang, Selangor, ☎ +60 3 4108 22219, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Love animals? Volunteer at the National Zoo - Zoo Negara outside the city. Simply fill out the Volunteer Form on the website and show up for a shift at the zoo in a variety of areas. Their volunteer website gives for more information.
Malaysian food is amazing, making Kuala Lumpur an excellent place to eat as it hosts cuisine from all around the country and beyond. Most restaurants close by 10PM, but in the city centre there's always a few 24hr kedai mamak (curry houses) or fast food places if you get stuck.
Delicious food can be very cheap too: just head to the ubiquitous roadside stalls or kedai kopi (literally coffee shop, but these are all about the food). These shops operate like a food court with many stalls selling a variety of food. Some coffee shops have tables and chairs by the roadside. Chinatown (especially Jalan Sultan, Jalan Hang Lekir and Jalan Petaling) in the city centre and Jalan Alor in the Golden Triangle have some of the greatest concentrations of coffeeshops and stalls. They mostly open only at night.
Also extremely common are kedai mamak (curry houses). One famous collection of streetside Mamak stalls is at Jalan Doraisamy near the Heritage Row (Tuanku Abdul Rahman). Along with full-blown curries, these places also serve roti canai (generally RM1 each), a filling snack that is almost half chapati, half pancake but certainly wholly delicious. It is served with dhal and curry sauce.
Shopping malls' food courts provide cheap Malaysian food in more hygienic conditions, although the prices will be a little higher. Lot 10 shopping mall in the Golden Triangle has a collection of 20 street vendors who were invited to relocate in the food court. While there are some international choices, the specialty here is Chinese.
The Golden Triangle, Bangsar and Midvalley, Heritage Row and some areas in Damansara and Hartamas are the usual places for people looking to dine out with a bit of flare.
Ethnic generalizations: Malay food can be found in Jalan Masjid India and Kampung Baru in the Tuanku Abdul Rahman district. Chinatown is the best place for Chinese (especially Cantonese) food, although all kinds of Chinese cuisine, from the simplest to the most sophisticated, can be found all over Kuala Lumpur. Head to Lebuh Ampang in the city centre and Brickfields for Indian food. Bangsar has many high-end restaurants offering Western food. If you are dying for Korean food, head to Ampang Jaya. A lot of Arab and Middle Eastern restaurants have mushroomed in Bukit Bintang, Cyberjaya and Damai.
Kuala Lumpur has quite a vibrant night-life and the Golden Triangle is the epicentre of most of the partying which goes on in the city. Jalan P. Ramlee, just south of KLCC, is Kuala Lumpur's central clubbing area, while the action also spills onto Jalan Sultan Ismail, Jalan Ampang, Jalan Pinang and Jalan Perak. Nearby Bukit Bintang also throbs with action, and its neon-lit nightclubs, many of them with hostesses, certainly have a more Asian feel to them. Heritage Row, in the Tuanku Abdul Rahman district, is fast catching up as a popular nightspot. It occupies a row of refurbished colonial-era shop houses and is now home to one of Kuala Lumpur's swankiest clubs and trendy bars; strictly for well heeled visitors and locals. It is on Jalan Doraisamy just off Jalan Sultan Ismail and Jalan Dang Wangi. Bangsar has long been one of the busiest places in Kuala Lumpur after the sun goes down. The action is around Jalan Telawi and its side streets, and is definitely the place to go for clubbing and deafening music. Sri Hartamas and Mont Kiara in the Damansara and Hartamas district have popular pubs and some clubs as well as nice coffee places. You may be able to find live performances in some of the outlets. After a tiring night out, Malaysians like to head to Mamak stalls - street side stalls or shops operated by Indian Muslims - which offer a range of non-alcoholic beverages like teh tarik (frothed tea) and light food. In fact, these stalls have also become night hangouts in their own right, and many outlets have installed wide-screen projectors and TV where they screen football matches. Most outlets are open 24 hours. They are found all over the city and are a wonderful part of the Malaysian night scene. Another trend that has hit Malaysia is the kopitiam fad, a more upmarket version of the traditional Chinese coffee shop. These mostly open during the day and offer some of the best tea and coffee and light meals and snacks like nasi lemak (coconut flavoured rice with fried anchovies and peanut) and the ever popular toast with kaya (coconut curd, used as a spread). If you prefer Western style coffee, there are many coffee outlets in Kuala Lumpur: most of them are part of international and local chains like Starbucks, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and San Francisco Coffee. Most of them can be found in shopping malls.
Being the retail and fashion hub of Malaysia it is no surprise that shopping is one of Kuala Lumpur’s greatest pleasures. From the local pasar pagi (day market) and pasar malam (night market) to top end shopping malls and everything in between, you will be sure to find something to suit you budget and style. Many shopping options also exist beyond the city proper in the adjacent satellite cities of Petaling Jaya and Subang Jaya. For more information on shopping in these areas please refer to the buy section of these articles.
Suria KLCC is one of Malaysia's premier shopping destinations due to its location beneath the Petronas Twin Towers. Kuala Lumpur's premier shopping district, the Bukit Bintang area in the Golden Triangle, resembles Tokyo's Ginza, New York's Fifth Avenue and Singapore's Orchard Road and has the highest concentration of shopping outlets in Kuala Lumpur, which cater to varying budgets. Bukit Bintang, which is part of the Kuala Lumpur's Golden Triangle, spans over 3 roads, namely Jalan Bukit Bintang, Jalan Imbi and Jalan Sultan Ismail. It houses various cafes, alfresco (open air) dining outlets and shopping complexes such as Berjaya Plaza, Berjaya Times Square, Bukit Bintang Plaza, Imbi Plaza, Kuala Lumpur Plaza, Lot 10, Low Yat Plaza, Pavilion KL, Starhill Plaza and Sungei Wang Plaza. Pavilion Kuala Lumpur is a recent addition to the cluster of shopping malls in this area and houses a wide range of international retail brands in an ultra-modern complex. Fans of electronic gadgets would delight in the multitude of choices at Low Yat Plaza, whilst shoppers hunting for the latest in affordable Asian style should definitely check out Berjaya Times Square and Bukit Bintang / Sungei Wang Plaza. It is also the location of the largest single department store in Malaysia, SOGO Kuala Lumpur which is located at a landmark site on Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, one of the best known shopping streets for locals in Kuala Lumpur. Several popular malls lie outside the Golden Triangle. The Bangsar and Midvalley areas are home to some of the best shopping malls in Kuala Lumpur, namely the MidValley Megamall and the adjacent upmarket The Gardens, the more cozy Bangsar Village and Bangsar Shopping Centre in Bangsar.
Despite the onslaught of malls, Kuala Lumpur still offers some Asian tradition with traditional shopping streets and markets. The best area for such shopping is Chinatown in the City Centre. This district is also the best place to hunt for souvenirs, especially in Central Market, a former produce market which has been converted into an art and craft market. It is also known as Pasar Seni in Malay. The Little India near Jalan Masjid India offers various fabric for use. Most of the fabrics are imported from countries like Indonesia, India and China while some are locally produced. Indonesian traditional batik and songket are traditional fabric commonly found in Central Market. For greater satisfaction choose the hand made ones. You may be interested to buy ready made baju kurung or baju kebaya (the traditional Malay blouse). For peace of mind, buy from the bigger stores. Some Thai handicrafts are also sold here, alongside handmade Malaysian wooden souvenirs. Since 2000, the Ministry of Tourism of Malaysia has kick-started the mega sale event for all shopping in Malaysia. The mega sale event is held thrice in a year—in March, May and December—where all shopping malls are encouraged to participate to boost Kuala Lumpur as a leading shopping destination.
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Kuala Lumpur on Wikivoyage.