Kuala Lumpur is a unique capital city that you should not miss when you are traveling in Southeast Asia. For one, it is cheap for a city this size, not very well known to other backpackers, and the best part, the city is the melting pot of religions where people of many beliefs and races live together in harmony resulting in one of the best places to go out and eat and explore stunning varieties of architectures and cultures in Kuala Lumpur.
I have spent more than 2 weeks in Kuala Lumpur in 2019 visiting friends and I had a chance to see the city from both the tourist and local perspectives so here is a guide on top 10 things to do in Kuala Lumpur for backpackers.
Looking for a complete itinerary for Malaysia? 10 Days Itinerary For Malaysia - A Backpacking Guide.
Kuala Lumpur Things to Do Map
Southeast Asia Travel Video
Where to Stay in Kuala Lumpur
Budget - The Step Inn Guesthouse - 5 USD/Night (Dorm)
The Step Inn Guesthouse is a budget accommodation with basic rooms but extremely friendly atmosphere. From the time you arrive, you will become instant friends with the staff as they greet you with open arms and treat you like a friend. They are also travelers themselves that happen to stop a little longer in KL and work there so you can always ask them what to do. In the evening, they will join you in whatever activities you are doing in the common area. The Step Inn's staff are really the bond that glued everyone together. If you are looking for a place with a friendly atmosphere, the Step Inn Guesthouse is a good option for you.
Note: We were allowed to sleep in the common area when we arrived early in the morning (4AM) so don't worry if you arrive late at the hostel, they will be someone up to greet you no matter what.
Mid-Range - Chaos Hotel Kuala Lumpur - 30 USD / Night (Standard Queen Room)
Very well located in the Bukit Bintang area near the night market street with plenty of restaurants and shops to choose from.
How to Get to Kuala Lumpur
The best way to get here is to fly to into the Kuala Lumpur international airport. I would recommend you browse through Skyscanner or Momondo to find a cheap flight from where you live to Kuala Lumpur so you can pick the best one that fits your itinerary.
You can also take an overnight bus from Singapore or Thailand. There are hundreds of flights going to KL so you will have no problem there.
Getting from the Airport to Kuala Lumpur City Center
There are 2 separate airports (KLIA and KLIA2) in KL so be sure to know which one you are flying in to. No matter which airport you fly into, the same information applies on how to get to the city center from the airport. If you are flying with AirAsia, you will be flying into KLIA2 airport and there are 2 ways to get from the airport to the city center.
The fastest way to the city center and vice versa is via KLIA Express train which leaves for KL Sentral every 15 - 30 minutes and should take no more than 20 minutes. It is a bit pricey though at 50 MYR per person.
For the cheapest way, you can take a direct bus to KL Sentral for only 12 MYR and it will take you around one hour. From the airport terminal, you will have to walk north through the Gateway mall until the end (location shown here) and then you can buy the ticket from the SkyBus Kiosk. The bus leaves every 30 minutes or so. For more information on the schedule, visit SkyBus official website.
Getting to Kuala Lumpur from Singapore
If you are looking for a way from Singapore, you can try booking a bus via BusOnlineBooking.com. We took the Star Qistna Express because their pick up spot was close to Little India, which was where we stayed in Singapore. The bus leaves at 11PM and by 12AM, you will have to go through the immigration yourself and there, the bus will take you to KL and drop you off at the bus terminal at 4 AM.
The coach by Star Qistna Express is equipped with super comfortable reclining sofas. You will have all the space in the world to have a great nap before arriving. Truth be told, it could be one of the most comfortable buses I've been on so far!
How to Get Around Kuala Lumpur
KL has a very extensive train system so getting around is very easy and cheap. You don't even have to bother taking a taxi around KL if you are looking to visit the popular tourist places. The easiest way I found is to punch in the location you wanted to go on Google Maps and it will suggest the best train to take and at what time. You can also download the map here: KL Transit Map
Grab is also a great way to get around the city where there is no access to trains. The app will connect to your phone number so be sure to do this before you are in Malaysia to prevent having to create multiple accounts on a local number. Simply pick a location and the minutes, your grab will pick you up. This also works in Malacca as well as many other towns around Malaysia.
This place is quite cheap compare to all the other countries in the world. If you are planning a trip here, you can expect to pay around 25 - 45 USD per day per person and that should include accommodation and 3 meals.
Keep in mind that this is just a suggested daily budget based on my style of traveling, which is leaning more toward the budget side of things. If you want to stick to this budget, expect to sleep in dorms, eat out only a few times, and be comfortable using the cheapest and most convenient way of transportation, which often times involves walking.
If you are looking for travel insurance to go along with your trip to Malaysia, I would recommend WorldNomads.com, which is what I use to look for a travel insurance that fits my kind of adventure. They have a simple and flexible search system that allowed me to find the right insurance for the right amount of time at an affordable price in seconds. If you need travel insurance, give WorldNomads.com a try.
Top 10 Things to Do in Kuala Lumpur
1. Visit the Petronas Twin Tower
The Twin Tower is one of the most iconic landmark of the city. It is the tallest twin towers in the world standing at 452 m high with 88 floors. At night, the silvery tower is lit up with lights showing its magnificent metal work in its full glory, a sight to behold. The locals also like to hangout around the tower as it is one of the most well-known shopping area in KL so this place is not a bad place to go people watching as well.
Petronas Tower during the day is also worth visiting by walking through the iconic tower and access the quiet park behind it. You can sit, relax and enjoy the beautiful greenery of the park in the middle of stunningly tall skyscrapers.
2. Climb up the Hindu temple in Batu Cave
Only an hour train ride away from the city center is a sacred Hindu temple located magnificently inside a limestone mountain. In front of the Cathedral cave is the 43m high golden statue of Lord Murugan. You can climb the 272 steps up to the top where you will find hindu shrines built perfectly under the sun ray coming through the cavern. It is one of the most religious structure in KL and an interesting one to witness.
Getting there is pretty simple. Simply get yourself to KL Sentral station and take a train that is going to the Batu Cave and you are done.
3. Check out the Merdeka Square
Merdeka Square or Independence Square is a place of national significance as it was here that the Union Flag was lowered and the Malayan flag hoisted for the first time in 1957. If you are looking for a break from the concrete wall of the city, this is the place to be. With its spacious area and lush green field, visiting here in the morning can be a very peaceful experience. While you relax in the square, you can indulge yourself in the impressive Islamic + European style architecture surrounding the square such as the Sultan Abdul Samad Building.
4. Become a Bird-Nerd at the KL Bird Park
At the heart of this busy city is the "World's Largest Free-flight Walk-in Aviary" which offers 20.9 acres of verdant valley terrain filled with beautiful birds for you to explore. I was caught by surprise when I was walking around the city as I did not expect the city to be full-on nature like this. I found out that they reserve parts of the city to create a park and part of that was the bird park. Take note Bangkok because KL is certainly greener than you! If you love nature as much as I do, KL offers a way for you to escape the city with little effort.
5. Pay respect at the National Monument
As you walk to the bird park, don't forget to pay your respect at the national monument. The monument is a sculpture built in rememberance of the brave soldiers who died fighting for the independence of the country. This historic sculpture has also marked its place in the book of records for being the tallest freestanding group of bronze sculptures.
The walk from the city up here offer you a great chance to observe the locals while at the monument rewarding you with the view of the city from afar. Definitely worth a walk.. if it's not too hot outside. We were melting when we decided to walk here during mid-day!
6. Stroll around the Perdana Botanical Gardens in the Evening
While you are at the National Monument, walk south towards the main road and you will find the Perdana Botanical Garden, a green, quiet and peaceful space for you to relax in, away from all the city noises. The place is big with plenty of space for you to walk around. You will often find many locals exercising, jogging and enjoying the nature in the evening.
If you are looking for a quiet place to sit around in nature rather than in malls, this is the place to be. I'd recommend you come in the evening around 6 PM while the sun is about to set. The weather will be perfect for a little stroll and a sit under a tree, reading your favorite books.
7. Learn about Malaysia History at the National Museum
When I visited Malaysia for the third time, I was extra curious about the country, how it came to be, and I decided to visit the National Museum (Muzium Negara) just to the south of the Perdana Botanical Gardens, and boy was I blown away by the exhibition.
The Museum is divided into 4 rooms consisting of the prehistoric era, Malay kingdoms era, Colonial era, and Modern era, all of which are easily followed with excellent explanation of how to country went through each era. The Malay kingdoms and Colonial era are the highlights of the museum if you are interested in history (which I believe every travel should!).
The museum is openning hours is 7 AM to 6 PM and the entrance fee for foreigners is 5 MYR.
8. Devour your way through Jalan Alor Street
Photo by IQRemix
The food is one of the highlight for visiting KL and the Jalan Alor street will not disappoint you. KL is a multi cultural city so you can expect to find a variety of food her. From Chinese food to Thai food, the possibilities are endless! I found a really good Thai restaurant here where you can ask for a real "Thai" spice. You know it's a real Thai spice when your lower back starts sweating on your third spoon!
9. Enjoy Nightlife at the Changkat Avenue
With almost all Asian metropolitans with expats community, there are bound to be a place to enjoy a pint of beer with friends at night, and Malaysia is no exception. One of the most popular street to go out at night is Changkat Avenue, a street sandwiched by countless bars and restaurants for you to indulge yourself in. I personally prefer a quieter place with a good atmosphere to talk to people and I often go to Havana Bar & Grill at the end of the street instead of the loud clubs along the main Changkat Avenue.
10. Explore the Local Coffee Culture of KL
One of the most memorable things in KL for me was the cafe and breakfast culture they have here with all the Chinese-owned cafes that serves kaya toasts and dim sum together with a variety of coffee and tea such as kopi-c (coffee + condense milk), teh tarik (tea + milk) or Kopi-Cham (a mix of both tea and coffee). I often wake up every morning in KL, anticipating for a good breakfast together with their delicious coffee and tea.
My favorites local cafes for breakfast are Sin Hoy How and Yut Kee Restaurant or if you are looking for a more modern take on the local coffee culture, be sure to check out LOKL Coffee Co or any of the popular local chain cafe like Old Town White Coffee and PapaRich which can be found in almost any major malls in Kuala Lumpur.
Looking for a complete guide to cafes and restaurants in Kuala Lumpur? 8 Best Cafes and Restaurants in Kuala Lumpur.
Updated in 2019 with new information.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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