Bangkok and Singapore may have made it to the 10 Asian cities that should be on your bucket list (as appeared in USA Today), but neighboring Kuala Lumpur blends the best of Asia. This multi-cultural city of Malaysia has a wealth of architectural treasures, exciting cuisines and cocktails, rich history and bargain shopping without the chaos of Bangkok and the high prices of Singapore.
For those seeking an affordable Asian destination with first world accommodation and welcoming locals, Kuala Lumpur remains by far the best option available. But that’s not all. Here are 7 delightful hidden treasures of Kuala Lumpur:
Kuala Lumpur is an ideal city for those eager to try a variety of Asian foods. Home to ethnic Malays, Chinese, Indians and a large group of expats from all over the world, this cultural melting pot has no shortage of foods to try there. The choice of dining spots is vast in Kuala Lumpur – from fancy world-class restaurants in hotels and mega malls to street foods in Jalan Alor or Pudu’s Wai Sek Kai.
Some of my favorites are nasi lemak, satay, roti canai and curry noodles. Nasi lemak is a national rice dish that comes with sliced cucumber, fried peanuts, sambal ikan bilis (anchovies in hot sauce), slices of hard-boiled eggs and chili sauce (sambal). The cheapest nasi lemak is typically accompanied by fried peanuts, sambal, and sliced cucumber. Elaborate versions which are more expensive may have squid and fried chicken.
For lovers of cocktail and nightlife spots, Kuala Lumpur’s bars and lounges will not disappoint. Be sure to check out Heli Lounge Bar, a unique open space lounge bar on top of an office building offering views of the iconic Petronas Towers and Menara Kuala Lumpur (KL Tower). Grab a cocktail and watch the sunset on this helicopter pad. Drinks start at just US$5.
Those who like history and an original cocktail concocted during the British colonial times in Kuala Lumpur, head over to the Smokehouse at The Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur. Get the famous gin pahit (bitter gin), a combination of gin, bitters, and beer.
From Mughal-style architecture like the old Kuala Lumpur Railway Station and the colonial-style architecture of the Merdeka Square to the iconic skyscrapers of Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur’s rich history and varied traditions show up in their buildings throughout the city.
Expect to stumble upon Tudor, Grecian-Spanish and Malay traditional style homes amongst the high-rise apartments and row houses as well. I recommend visiting Kampung Baru for a taste of the Malay kampong (village) lifestyle, or the Indian shops in Little India Brickfields and Chinese food stalls in Chinatown on Petaling Street.
Kuala Lumpur is also one of the best golf destinations in Asia. Located 5 miles from the heart of the city is TPC Kuala Lumpur ( TPCKL), the former Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club. This world-class facility has a golf academy with certified instructors, restaurants and a lounge for high tea and cocktail.
Another golf course to check out is the Royal Selangor Golf Club, a course established by the British in 1893. It’s open to members only and to visiting members of a reciprocal club. It’s one of the oldest golf courses in Asia.
Kuala Lumpur is one of the rare cities in Asia where English is widely spoken. Besides that, the warm and welcoming people make it easy for tourists to get around and enjoy the sprawling city. Another bonus is gray days are rare, and there is ample sunshine in Kuala Lumpur throughout the year. So, you can visit the city any time of year.
Coffee lovers will want to add Kuala Lumpur to their list of cities to visit in Asia. Good coffee can be had at the local mom and pop coffee shops in Chinatown and specialty coffee shops in the upscale neighborhood of Bangsar and megamalls across the city. Check out the following:
1. PULP by Papa Palheta in Bangsar
2. Antipodean in Mid Valley Mall
3. Breakfast Thieves APW Bangsar in Bangsar
4. Kedai Kopi Lai Foong on Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock (near Chinatown), a 100-year-old coffee shop
5. Eight Ounce Coffee Company in Suria KLCC Mall
It’s best to combine a visit to Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia with a visit to Langkawi (beaches), Penang (beaches and history), Malacca (history and culture) or Taman Negara National Park (tropical rainforest).
Photos and article by Claudia Looi