Winter can be great and all, but there’s only so much cold and darkness one can endure. In need of a break, I headed to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to recharge my batteries with a weekend of tropical warmth. Of course, two days are not enough to experience everything this bustling city has to offer, so I didn’t try. Instead, I explored a few of KL’s must-see attractions, sought out some great restaurants, and spent the rest of my time soaking up sun and cocktails by the hotel pool. It was a vacation after all! Below is my relaxing two-day itinerary for Kuala Lumpur – should you be in need of your own winter escape.
My weekend in Kuala Lumpur coincided with Chinese New Year so it seemed only fitting to begin my visit in Chinatown. This neighborhood is crammed with interesting things to do and it’s easy to spend an entire day exploring it. Petaling Street Flea Market is a short seven-minute walk from the Pansar Seni metro station. I found this normally bustling shopping street eerily deserted. Most of the Chinese had closed up shop and returned home to celebrate the holiday with their families! I quickly moved on to historic Central Market, a collection of shops and stalls selling all manner of souvenirs. I appreciated the separate areas showcasing the fabrics and handicrafts of Malaysia’s three main ethnic groups: Malay, Straits Chinese, and Indian.
The surrounding area is a colorful mishmash of these three cultures. Towering and fantastically embellished Sri Mahamariamman Hindu Temple sits one block away from the Taoist Guan Di Temple, which was so packed with worshipers I couldn’t get near. Instead, I wandered the quiet backstreets admiring the unique Baba-Nyonya, or Peranakan, architecture. Chinatown is also home to some of KL’s best street art.
Many hawker stands and restaurants were closed for the holiday, but Ali, Muthu & Ah Hock Kopitiam continued to welcome diners with open arms. This quaint coffee shop, which was supposedly designed to evoke nostalgia for a bygone era, continues the multicultural celebration with a selection of Malay, Chinese, and Indian dishes. I opted for a savory plate of Hainan chicken rice while my companion enjoyed a zesty bowl of assam laksa.
After lunch, I crossed the Klang River and took shelter from the mid-day sun inside the National Textile Museum. The distinctive Mughal-style building contains Malaysia’s premier collection of ethnic textiles and traditional costumes. Many beautiful examples are on display along with some impressive pieces of jewelry. Exhibits take visitors on a journey through all stages of the fabric-making process, from dying silk to weaving patterns.
It was too hot to wait in line for a photo with the “I Love KL” sign outside the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery, so I contented myself with a cup of coconut gelato from the Jersey Jack cart parked across the street. Sufficiently refreshed, I wandered around Merdeka Square and admired the architecture. Don’t miss the Sultan Abdul Samad government building with its iconic copper-domed clock tower!
From there I took the train to the KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Center) to pay my respects to the world famous Petronas Towers. Completed in 1998, these 88-story twin beauties were the tallest buildings in the world until the Taipei 101 edged them out in 2004. (They’ve since been bumped down to number 15 on the list.) Lovely during the day, Petronas Towers are best appreciated at night.
Hungry for Indian food, I walked over to Delhi Royale for dinner. The extensive menu was a little overwhelming so I stuck with my favorites: lamb biriyani, chicken tikka masala, and palak paneer, with fresh naan and cucumber raita on the side. A few dishes were a little heavy on the ghee, but the vibrant spices and creamy yogurt overpowered the richness. I was glad for the walk back after that feast!
The rest of the evening was spent watching the impressive fountain show in KLCC Park. A string of fountains dance and change colors in time with music for a nightly event known as the “Lake Symphony.” There are three showtimes every night making it easy for everyone to enjoy the free show.
For my second day in KL, I wanted to take a day trip to Batu Caves, one of the area’s preeminent attractions. Conventional wisdom says to arrive at 8am to enjoy the site before the crowds and temperature increase. But I didn’t do that. I first jumped in my hotel’s infinity pool for a sunrise swim and then indulged in a heaping plate of mango French toast for breakfast. I have zero regrets. (Thank you, off season hotel discounts!)
Batu Caves is a series of caverns inside a steep limestone formation. Hindu shrines have been built inside the caverns and attract thousands of worshipers each year. Even visiting on a non-holy day, bare-footed pilgrims climbed the 272 steps to pray before Murugan, the Hindu god of War. A colossal 140-foot golden statue with his likeness also guards the entrance to the caves. Marauding monkeys scamper along the cliffs, violently grabbing food and water bottles from hapless tourists.
A separate cave depicts Ramayana, or Rama’s Journey – the epic poem of ancient India. In it, the hero Prince Rama succeeds in rescuing his wife from the clutches of an evil king. Rama is aided in his quest by the king of monkeys, who is also honored at the site. The story is illustrated with wonderfully detailed dioramas, each scene more fantastic than the next!
Snacks and beverages – including fresh coconut juice – are available on site. Batu Caves can be reached by an easy 30-minute train ride from Kuala Lumpur. I recommend buying return tickets in advance as the Batu Caves station is small and can get very crowded.
Tired and sweaty from hiking around the caves, I spent the rest of the afternoon recovering in a poolside lounge chair. Sometimes even the most intrepid travelers need a break!
For dinner I ventured to Tamarind Hill, an elegant restaurant that felt worlds away from its downtown locale. Traditional Thai dishes like green curry and spicy basil chicken remain true to their roots, while succulent roast lamb chops with tangy chutney hearken to even more exotic regions of the world. Mango sticky rice was the perfect ending to my weekend.
Tell me: How would YOU spend two days in Kuala Lumpur?
*In the spirit of full honesty, I must admit that there was an aspect of my time in Kuala Lumpur that I did not enjoy: leering men. Even though I was traveling with a male companion and dressed modestly in t-shirts and long pants, I was openly stared at in a suggestive way. I noticed it most near Petronas Towers and the Masjid Jamek Lookout Point. Perhaps I was simply unlucky in the tourists I crossed paths with, but I wasn’t expecting this behavior in Southeast Asia. Thus I am sharing my experience here. That being said, please don’t let a few creeps discourage you from visiting the city. It’s a vibrant and diverse place that is definitely worth exploring! Everyone else I encountered on the trip was gracious and kind.