I was only in Kuala Lumpur for a few days and I definitely went to bed around 6 PM one of those days, but I still felt like I got a lot out of the city. The next time I go to Malaysia, I’ll explore the beaches instead, but KL is not a bad option if you’re looking for a hub to adust to your jetlag for a few days. Here’s what I’d recommend:
My visit to the Batu Caves was the first major thing I did during my first adventure after quitting my job and I picked a good way to kick things off. The caves are huge and beautiful both inside and out, there are monkeys EVERYWHERE, and there is the opportunity to step outside of your comfort zone by putting on a hardhat and walking through complete darkness underneath 200,000 flying (and…erm…guano-producing) bats. For a full post I wrote about this experience, click here.
Food Tour with Food Tour Malaysia
I reviewed my “Off the Eaten Track” evening food tour with Food Tour Malaysia in a full post here. Especially for a solo female traveler, this was the perfect way for me to get out at night in a city I didn’t know and try SO MANY unique dishes that I’d never had before. I wouldn’t have been able to try this much otherwise since my stomach is only so big. It’s also a good way to meet other travelers if you haven’t talked to anyone in a while, but really go for the food.
The National Mosque is a gorgeous, peaceful, geometrically-pleasing building that I’d recommend visiting, especially since you’re in a Muslim country. Check the visiting hours which vary by day – there are certain times where only practicing Muslims may visit. Before entering the mosque, you must cover up and remove your shoes. For women, that means a light purple robe and a black embroidered head covering. I actually felt quite pretty in my outfit, but I also felt extremely hot. It was over 95 degrees that day and my body temperature soars anyway, so it was challenging.
Islamic Arts Museum
Islamic design is incredibly detailed and beautiful, as I learned while visiting La Alhambra in Spain last year. The Islamic Arts Museum is a good way to get out of the extreme August heat in the middle of the day but it’s also an awesome museum. My favorite exhibit was the miniature models of mosques around the world, but there’s so much more – including ancient documents, ceramics, jewelry, textiles, and armor.
KL Bird Park
The majority of the birds in the KL Bird Park are able to roam free, though there is netting at the top to ensure they don’t fly away. I love seeing animals but I feel a little conflicted about zoos. I feel bad that animals are caged and kept there, but I also understand that a lot of these guys wouldn’t be surviving out in the wild due to limited habitat space and predators. If you’re conflicted, maybe skip this one, but if you like walking around and having to ask birds to move so you can cross the path, maybe you’d find this one fun. It is important to note that I taught an owl there how to wink.
I may have visited the Orchid Garden during the wrong season or maybe I didn’t explore enough because the above photo is the only orchid I found, but I did see lots of other flowers. I was the only person there and I appreciate those quiet moments when I’m in a city. If it’s 95 degrees on the day you visit, there’s a fountain you can splash yourself with, especially if also you find yourself alone there.
The Petronas Towers are what make the skyline of KL memorable. You can go up these towers, but then you don’t get a view of them, which kind of negates the experience. I went up KL Tower instead. On the top levels here, you can see all around KL including the Petronas Towers, and you can also test your “fear of falling” by standing on their glass-bottom platform. If you look like a tourist like I did, you may be shuffled through the VIP line and have to pay a little extra, but you do get the star treatment – no lines, no strangers in the background of your pictures, and special access to the outdoor deck.
Eat Nasi Lamek
Don’t go to KL without eating Malaysia’s national dish of Nasi Lemak. I tried some (fiery) Nasi Lemak on my food tour in a food court and also had a less spicy (and perhaps less authentic) version at Madam Kwan’s my final night. Basically, rice + hard boiled egg + peanuts, none of which I’d think to mix, make an awesome combo. Ask for it to be less spicy if you want to be able to finish it without tears running down your face.
Brunch at VCR
You can take the girl out of New York, but she’ll still want brunch. And if she wants brunch in KL, I’d recommend VCR. This cafe belongs in Brooklyn – I mean, just look at that avocado toast, that latte art, and that staircase. I had the pleasure of sitting next to and chatting with someone I knew was from NYC because of his Strand bookmark. He turned out to be a member of the band Tokyo Police Club. I didn’t know the band at the time because I generally just listen to Cat Stevens or Bruce, but now I do, and they are pretty damn good.
If you want to identify yourself as a westerner in Asia, make sure you buy some elephant pants to wear. You can grab some in the Chinatown Market, but be aware that they will rip when you fall off your motorbike in Bagan, Myanmar or when you are playing soccer with a kid in a store on stilts in the middle of Inle Lake. While you’re there, try to find Madam Tang’s small food stall and get some of her cubes covered in crushed peanut dust. According to the interwebs, some people think it’s mochi and some think it’s similar to gnocchi. I have no idea and couldn’t identify the cubes at the time. Whatever they are, this woman has been selling them in her stall for decades and they’re worth a try.
I received a special rate for my tour with Food Tour Malaysia. Opinions are always my own.