Introducing Kuala Lumpur
Imagine a city, its skyline punctuated by minarets, Mogul domes and skyscrapers, its colourful, food-stall-lined streets shaded by a leafy canopy of banyan and rain trees.
A Modern Country
This is Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia’s sultry capital packed with historic monuments, steel-clad skyscrapers, lush parks, mega-sized shopping malls, bustling street markets and trendy nightspots. Also an essential part of the vibrant mix are incense-wreathed, colourfully adorned mosques and temples of the country’s Malay, Chinese and Indian communities. A reverence for these ancient cultures is balanced with a drive to be plugged into the contemporary world, as evidenced by an exciting contemporary art and design scene and a buzzing digital economy.
Reach for the sky by all means, but also keep a close eye on what’s happening closer to the ground. To fully connect with locals, join them in two of their favourite pastimes: shopping and eating. Malaysian consumer culture achieves its zenith in KL, where you could spend all day browsing glitzy air-conditioned malls such as Pavilion KL and Mid Valley Megamall in search of bargains. Alternatively, explore Central Market for locally made souvenirs, then dive into the culinary melting pots of nearby Chinatown or Masjid India.
It won't take you long to realise, despite the heat, this is a city best explored on foot. Walk and you can catch all the action and save yourself the frustration of becoming entangled in one of KL's all-too-frequent traffic jams. To tackle this problem, a new mass rapid transit (MRT) system is under construction. Soaring property values are also causing characterful old buildings to be torn down and replaced with bland new towers. Such disruptions aside, parts of KL retain the laid-back ambience and jungle lushness of the kampung (village) it once was.
Why I Love Kuala Lumpur, Melaka & Penang
In KL, it's all about the food – this city offers a mouth-watering mix of Asian culinary traditions. Start with a breakfast of fresh popiah and congee at Imbi Market, seguing into a snack of freshly made roti and spicy chicken curry at Jln Belfield's SS Spicy Food stalls. Move onto Chinatown for a must-have bowl of asam laksa on Madras Lane. Save room for afternoon tea somewhere nice (Majestic Hotel fits the bill) and for supper on Jln Alor – the perfect end to a KL dining day.
Today's KLites are separated by barely a handful of generations from the tenacious Chinese and Malay tin prospectors who founded the city, carving it out of virgin jungle. By the time the British made it the capital of Peninsular Malaysia in the late 19th century, erecting the grand colonial buildings that continue to stand proud, KL had only been in existence for a couple of decades.
Since then, the city has been the scene of history-defining moments for Malaysia. Stadium Merdeka was where, in 1957, the country’s first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman punched his fist seven times in the air and declared independence. And the iconic Petronas Towers were officially the tallest buildings in the world when they opened in 1998.
Thaipusam: a guide to Kuala Lumpur's biggest Hindu festival
This is an excerpt from Lonely Planet's A Year of Festivals...
Merdeka Square & Chinatown
You don't have to look too hard to find traces of old KL in Chinatown's shophouse-lined streets, which border the confluence of the Klang and Gombak Rivers. This is where the city was born, reached its teenage years with the development of Chinatown, and celebrated its late 20s with the establishment of the British colonial ensemble around Merdeka Square.