Time in Kuala Lumpur: Garden City of Lights

Whether you are traveling alone, with friends or with family, few destinations can cater to your needs like Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.  Last year, I went to visit KL (as Kuala Lumpur is more commonly known), with a good friend of mine for several days.  We were quite excited and curious about visiting this former British protectorate which is not only a major tourist destination but also known for its distinct Islamic character, and so it was, with few expectations, we embarked on a new adventure.  

To begin with, we decided to meet in Dubai.  Emirates Airlines flies several direct flights a day to KL and besides, I was coming from Doha and he was coming from South Africa.  The seven-hour flight was relatively smooth and we soon found ourselves flying over the western coast of Malaysia and Selangor towards the metropolis.  Once we landed, we were quickly taken by the efficiency and friendliness of the Malaysian authorities who quickly processed our visas. 

Several things will immediately strike the new comer.  The first is the humidity.  Sitting just above the Equator, you’ll be in the heart of the tropics.  KL stays a balmy 32˚ C (90˚ F) on average throughout the year and you could also expect some heavy rain, especially during the rainy season which falls between October and December.  Luckily, we were arriving in August but still found ourselves drenched a few times during our stay (so bring an umbrella).  

The second thing one quickly realizes is how cosmopolitan the city is.  Several cultures play a prominent role in KL including the Malays (who are Muslim), the Chinese, who founded the city (the majority being Buddhist) and the Indians (who are mostly Hindu but with a sizable Muslim community).  Added to this are other communities from throughout Southeast Asia, Europe and the Middle East and not to mention some of the nearly 9 million tourists who visit each year.  Because of this, almost everyone speaks English.  You should have little trouble navigating around, shopping or ordering food during your stay.

Once on the road, our drive into the city took about 30 minutes from the airport and with windows down, you could smell the tropics; from the steamy jungles, right down to the several rivers and streams which wind their way around the city.  As the scenery changed from jungles to high rises, the site of women in colorful hijabs mixed with smart business suits and tourists in khaki shorts and wide brimmed sun hats.   

We headed for KCLL, the city center and home to one of the most iconic buildings in KL, the Petronas Twin Towers.  Housing several upscale malls as well as the Skybridge, where you can get amazing panoramic views of the city, you can literally shop till you drop here but be prepared to pay top dollar.  With over 400 stores, you’ll be able to find all the major designer brands as well as local favorites.  On top of that, you can satisfy your appetite with a huge range of restaurants and dining options.

Staying on the topic of food, going out to eat in KL is very easy and many places stay open until late.  You can find reasonable prices at local Malay restaurants and although Malaysia is a Muslim majority nation, you do have to be wary about non-halal foods.  Our friends advised us to eat at halal certified restaurants only.  These places are clearly marked with certificates on windows or marked with signs.  We wanted to try some of the local dishes which combines curries, coconut milk, chilies, fish, rice and sauces into amazing flavors with each community’s touch added to the cuisine.  I for one couldn’t get enough of the local fried chicken while my companion enjoyed every manner of seafood.  

With so many tropical fruits available, fresh juices were in high demand but one drink had us going back for seconds.  Karot Susu is a drink combining carrot and milk.  Served ice cold, it’s the perfect drink to cool off with on those humid days.  If that doesn’t sound appetizing, go for fresh coconut water or mango juice.  For fresh fruits try some mangosteen and rambutan.  If you’re still feeling adventurous then you must try Durian Fruit.  Known locally as the “king of fruits” this much loved and at the same time greatly abhorred fruit has the flavor and texture of a creamy custard yet the pungent smell of rotten eggs!  A walk through the Chinese Night Markets on Petaling Street and you’ll find numerous stalls selling different variations of the fruit with experts giving advice on selecting the right Durian for you.               

Getting around KL is very easy.  Not only is the city very pedestrian friendly, the public transportation system allows for a number of easy to access options including buses, taxis and a very efficient LRT train system.  I suggest taking the train simply to get an above ground view of KL as the line makes its way around the city and its parks.  One should also note that the LRT has a direct line to KL International Airport making coming and going a breeze.  Uber and Grabcar make a visible presence here and drivers are not only friendly but also excited to meet visitors with some even offering to become a personal tour guide.  

No matter what time of year you visit, Fajr conveniently starts at around 6 am and is quickly followed by the rest of the work day so by the time youre finished praying, the day has started.  KL has many large and well known masjids throughout the city like the famous Jamek Mosque which is over one hundred years old.  Masjids are clean and beautifully constructed in an open space design with unique Mughal style domes, Moorish arches and soaring minarets.  Keep in mind that mosques and prayer rooms are less visible in the commercial center and in many malls so prepare yourself by knowing where the closest masjid or musallah is.   

While you’re in KL, don’t forget to visit the Batu Caves.  These limestone caves are nestled in the lush highlands and is also home to a huge gold statue of Murugan, a Hindu deity and its adjoining temple.  You should also take a stroll around Lake Gardens, a huge botanical garden in the heart of the city.  A great time to go is between Asr and Maghrib.  KL is also home to the main terminal for Air Asia.  This award-winning budget airlines has frequent and affordable flights to numerous places throughout the region allowing you to easily explore other parts of Malaysia or neighboring countries. 

KL is quickly becoming a leading center for Islamic thought, fashion, trends and innovation.  As the most recent venue for the Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS) conference and home to one of the most recognized Islamic academic institutions, the International Islamic University Malaysia or IIUM; KL is now more than ever sought out as a Muslim tourist destination.  One major industry which boasts of tremendous growth is women’s Islamic fashion and KL features many boutiques carrying creations inspired by up and coming Malaysian designers often meshing traditional Malay and Middle Eastern fashions with the latest trends off the runways of London and Paris.

Final words of advice; if you’re looking for a vibrant, innovative and exotic city with friendly people and great food, then Kuala Lumpur is your next destination.