We spent 10 days in Kuala Lumpur and let me start by saying that 10 days in Kuala Lumpur is too long.
We always tack on extra time at each destination we visit because we need to allow for the inevitable work days but realistically a long weekend in KL is long enough.
There is plenty to see and do during your stay but due to the small size of the city and thanks to an incredibly easy to use transport network you can fit a lot into each day without burning out.
Where to stay in Kuala Lumpur
Fahrenheit, a hotel in a great location but it comes at a price!
We found it really difficult to find accommodation in Kuala Lumpur which fit our travel style of luxury backpacking whilst also complimenting our travel budget of £1,000 per month. I suppose this is inevitable when staying in a capital city but there is always a way!
We use a mixture of Agoda, Booking.com and Airbnb to find places to stay and ideally we never want to spend more than £10 per night on long stays (anything over 30 days) or £15 per night on short stays, though we are flexible when we need to be.
Our aim is to travel comfortably and if we need to blow the budget to do that, we will.
Luckily on this occasion we didn’t have to thanks to a surprise last minute deal on Agoda.
We stayed in Hotel Miramar which is located just outside of China Town and ended up being the perfect spot.
Not only were we a 2 minute walk from Monorail station Maharajalela which took us to the two main tourist locations of Bukit Bintang and KL Sentral within 5 minutes apiece, we were also a quick stroll from both China Town and Central Market where a budget traveller can pick up some killer street food for chump change.
Price: £16 per night. This is actually what a good hostel in Kuala Lumpur will cost you too and so we would highly recommend checking out this comfortable hotel first. Luxury on a budget is the best!
Pros: Our room was enormous (the biggest hotel room we’ve ever stayed in), the free breakfast was delicious and very filling, the staff were incredibly helpful, the location was on point and free water was available (which is a big money saver).
Cons: The hotel is on top of a busy road and so the traffic can be noisy, we struggled to find nearby laundry facilities and so hand-washed our clothing and the WiFi was very hit and miss.
If you would rather stay right in the heart of the city we would recommend Fahrenheit for those with a bigger budget (approx £30 per night) or Ali Baba hotel for budget travellers (around £10 per night). For something a bit out there, check out the Container hotel!
Budget Tip: If your hotel gives a complimentary breakfast fill up and skip lunch.
What to do in Kuala Lumpur
Walking around Kuala Lumpur is an activity in itself.
In a city where old literally meets new you will be amazed at how easily the city goes from being a hugely modern playground for the rich where even the locals are wearing miniskirts, to a rundown traditional area where everything is dirty, there are no pavements in sight and the local women are wearing niqabs.
We found KL to truly embody the phrase ‘a tale of two cities’ and we got serious cultural whiplash from the ever-changing scenery as we moved through neighbourhoods.
This is what you are coming to Kuala Lumpur to see and it is really fascinating but can be an assault on the senses.
Once you’ve had your fill of people watching you should be sure to:
- Visit the Islamic Arts Museum (RM12)
- Check out the wildlife at Bird Park in the beautiful Lake Gardens (RM48)
- Learn about Malaysian history in the National Museum (RM5)
- Go on a food crawl in China Town
- Eat an authentic curry in Little India
- Visit the Petronas Towers (if you want to go inside you’ll have to arrive really early)
- Hang around in any of the cool malls
- Go to the aquarium (RM50) Be careful, Glen got bitten by a fish!
- Take a train to the Batu Caves (do not miss!!)
- Take an open top bus around the city
This may look like a lot but you could do it all comfortably in about 3 days.
Budget Tip: Enjoy looking at the malls but do your shopping at the markets to save a fortune.
Where to eat in Kuala Lumpur
So…. not quite Malaysian!
There are two ways to eat in Kuala Lumpur.
You can either stick with the malls and eat at any number of seriously cool and happening restaurants (which will seriously eat at your budget) or you can dine like a King on a peasant’s budget eating street food.
We actually did much more of the former than we had planned to and we definitely took a hit to the wallet… but man, was it worth it!
There were two reasons for our foray into expensive restaurants:
1) We had just spent a month in a quiet town in Thailand where we cooked most of our own meals and didn’t dine out much at all. By the time we reached KL burgers were all we could think of.
2) We were disappointed with the street food in Kuala Lumpur. We had been promised the best curries outside of India and the most incredible chicken satay we would ever taste… but our expectations fell a little short.
If you want to eat cheaply in KL you really will need to eat at hawker stalls and in our experience, China Town, Central Market and Jalan Alor are where the best food can be found. You can eat a hearty meal for little more than £1.50 and it will taste great too.
But don’t over hype it like we did or you’ll be disappointed like we were. Actually we didn’t find great Malaysian food until we arrived in Penang.
How to get around in Kuala Lumpur
The amazing Monorail
Malaysia in general has the best public transportation we’ve ever seen. It’s modern, readily available and very tourist friendly as most of the announcements are in English.
The Monorail will take you everywhere you need to go and costs less than 40p per trip. All tickets have to be bought from machines that only accept cash and only in small denominations so make sure you carry change with you.
The Kommuter trains will take you further afield to the likes of Batu Caves and despite the longer journey, a return ticket is only around £1.
Taxi’s are also everywhere and aren’t overpriced but they’re a bit of a waste of money when the train network is so good. Plus with the 24/7 traffic in KL you’ll probably get where you’re going much quicker by train. It’s a legal requirement for cabbies to use a meter in KL and so if you do find yourself in a cab, make sure the meter is running before you start moving.
Budget Tip: KL is pretty small. You’ll probably find that you can walk to lots of places from your hotel and so skip the train and save some money.
Over 10 days we spent RM2,053 / £377 (including accommodation).
This means that the per day spend was a tiny £18.85 per person which we’re pretty happy with.
Need to knows
Central Market – great for street food
- Make sure you arrive with cash, even if you don’t have the right currency. The ATM’s at Kuala Lumpur Airport are unreliable and became the source of our first travel mistake
- When walking in the more traditional areas the men can be pretty intimidating towards women who are not conservatively dressed. Don’t wear skimpy outfits and try to stay with a male friend if possible. Also don’t let it upset you, it’s not personal.
- There are huge thunderstorms every day. Bring a waterproof cover for your backpack if you’re going to be wandering around with it and an umbrella would be useful too!
- Durian (fruit) are everywhere in KL but they are banned from most hotels / trains as they smell horrendous.
- Alcohol is not banned in Malaysia but it is frowned upon and can be pretty expensive. You’ll often see signs in shops like 7 Eleven stating that alcohol is available but that they will refuse to serve Muslims. Try to be respectful of this and if you do buy booze, keep it hidden.
- Beware of motorbike thieves. This is a huge problem in the area and the government even have their own ‘beware of thieves’ graphic which you’ll see all over the place! You’ll notice that the locals wear side bags that aren’t easily snatched and you should do the same. Leave valuables in your hotel safe if possible.
Overall we enjoyed Kuala Lumpur but would have preferred to have cut our stay to around 5 days which would have been plenty even with work days. We suggest taking a quick trip to KL before heading off to Penang, Malacca, the Cameron Highlands or even Lang Kawi.