When visiting a destination, some things you can do without, while others are considered the essence of a place. For instance, missing out on a visit to the Eiffel Tower is a faux pas when visiting Paris and so is neglecting a trip to the Coliseum when you are in Rome. Kuala Lumpur may seem like a small city but visitors often find that they need help exploring this multicultural heaven.
1. Menara KL Tower
Standing atop the Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve, the 421m-high KL Tower is, at present, the world’s fifth tallest structure. Officially known as Menara KL, it has been outshone by the Petronas Twin Towers but remains an important architectural marker and boasts spectacular views of the city. The viewing deck is at least 100 metres higher than the Petronas Tower’s Skybridge – to get free tickets be sure to arrive early.
2. Batu Caves
11 km north of KL, Batu Caves is a 400 million-year old limestone hill (with a 100-year old temple incorporated within it), best known as the focal point of the annual Hindu festival of Thaipusam. The celebration attracts thousands of visitors who come to see the colourful spectacle of devotees who pay homage by carrying ornately-decorated ‘kavadis’ (frameworks) combined with various metal hooks and skewers which are used to pierce the skin, cheeks and tongue.
3. Central Market
The focus for the city’s artistic community, Central Market is a KL cultural landmark, just a short walk away from Petaling Street. Also called Pasar Seni, it was built in 1928 and used to be a simple wet market, until the early 1980s when it was revamped into a handicrafts outlet. In similar vein to New York’s SoHo flea market – the merchandise here is cheap and comprises traditional goods such as batik, embroidery carvings, souvenirs, and sculptures.
4. KL Bird Park
The showpiece of the renowned 600,000sqm Lake Gardens, the 209,000sqm KL Bird Park (also called Taman Burung Kuala Lumpur) is billed as the world’s largest covered bird park. It is home to more than 3,000 birds from 200 species all over the world, most of which are free and accustomed to being around people. Twice the size of neighbouring Singapore’s Jurong Bird Park, the park is divided into several sections, keeping different species of feathered creatures separate but free to fly around their respective enclosures.
5. Sultan Abdul Samad Building
Among Kuala Lumpur’s earliest Moorish-style buildings, the Sultan Abdul Samad Building is a distinguished city landmark that originally served as the secretariat for the colonial British administration. Today it is home to the offices of the Ministry of Information, Communications and Culture of Malaysia. Built in 1897 and designed by AC Norman, it is set to the east of Merdeka Square (Dataran Merdeka) and is frequently the backdrop for Malaysia’s annual Independence Day parades.
6. Aquaria KLCC
On the concourse level of the KL Convention Centre, the 464,515sqm Aquaria KLCC is home to over 150 species of marine life. Some people write it off as a tourist trap, but they’re sorely missing out – beyond the gallons of water filled with necklaces of kelp, coral and sea creatures, is one of KL’s foremost sightseeing attractions with real depth and complexity.
7. Jalan Alor
Called the cultural heart of the city’s local cuisine, Jalan Alor (ocated just behind Jalan Bukit Bintang), is basically a strip of atmospheric air-conditioned Chinese seafood restaurants, with a row of hawker stalls set up on the five-foot walkway on both sides and plastic tables and chairs spilling out onto the road. The variety of food available is amazing with barbecued meats, noodles and desserts recognised as some of the best (and cheapest) in the city.
8. Petronas Towers
Petronas Twin Towers were once the tallest buildings in the world. Now the world’s tallest twin structures, the 88-storey buildings were designed by Cesar Pelli & Associates with both towers joined at the 41st and 42nd floors (175m above street level) by a 58 metre-long, double-decker Sky Bridge.
Standing 452 metres tall, the Petronas Twin Towers retained its world-title claim to fame until 2004 when Taipei’s 101 was built, measuring 508 metres tall. Today, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (opened in 2010) retains the spot as the world’s tallest building. Located in the KL city centre, the Petronas Twin Towers’ architecture is Islamic-inspired and the buildings primarily house the corporate headquarters of the Petronas Company and other offices.
The colourful Chinatown is a well-known bargain hunter’s paradise that seemingly never sleeps. Deeply immersed in Oriental culture, heritage and history, it is undoubtedly one of the most popular tourist spots in Malaysia, and holds its own against its more glamorous neighbours, KLCC & Bukit Bintang. Representing Malaysia’s multihued multicultural background perfectly, you can find all sorts of stuff, from Chinese herbs to imitation goods in this area.
10. Sunway Lagoon Theme Park
Sunway Lagoon Theme Park is located in Petaling Jaya – a thriving satellite town – about 15km southwest of the Kuala Lumpur city centre. With a variety of watery rides on offer and plenty of dry-land activities too, there are few more fun ways to spend a day than cooling down at Sunway. Water slides that whirl and twirl, a manmade ‘river’ ride, a surf beach, a wave pool, a 360° revolving pirate ship… the list of fun attractions at the 80-acre park is extensive. Built on the site of a former tin mine and quarry, when it first opened the highlights of this multi-zone theme park were its water slides and the world’s largest manmade surf beach. These days, it has expanded and encompasses a total of five different zones – the water park, Scream Park, Amusement Park, Extreme Park and Wildlife Park.