With a Local: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

This With a Local supplies insider tips on things to do and see while visiting Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Kuala Lumpur, or KL to anyone who knows the Malaysian capital, is a relatively young city in global terms. It was founded in the second-half of the 19th century and has grown to become the home of almost two million people.

Simon Willmore, a travel journalist, author and editor, one of KL’s inhabitants. Here he provides an insider’s perspective as to why he thinks it’s a great place to visit.

Disclosure: Some of the links below, marked with a (£), are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Why do you think people should visit Kuala Lumpur?

Because it’s a great mixture of east and west: of ethnicity; of modern lifestyle and traditional heritage. Sure, I know that saying somewhere is ‘a land of contrasts’ is a horrendous cliché but KL has to be one of the most multi-cultural cities on the planet.

There can’t be too many cities in the world where the combination of three major cultures — Chinese, Indian and Malay in this case — is so quintessentially inherent in daily life.

Thinking of travelling to the region? You may find it handy to have a copy of the Lonely Planet Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei guidebook (£):

What is your favourite place in the city?

Am I allowed to say my swimming pool? If not, can I say my friend’s swimming pool?

I live in Bukit Bintang, which is the party and shopping district. So, within five minutes’ walk of my condominium I can get my fill of delicious local food in one building, a pint of something a lot less traditionally Muslim in the next, and then sit poolside in the sunshine in my own back yard. Sometimes, I feel like I’ve already retired!

Where is your favourite place to eat?

I have a couple of favourites: Jalan Alor is always good if a visitor wants the classic tourist trap of Chinese lanterns and street food hawkers trying to get you in to sit at one of their plastic red tables. Chicken satay is a must-have; also try the stingray or swordfish.

Into cooking? You may enjoy Ping Coombe’s Malaysia cookbook (£):

Otherwise, there are a couple of ‘mamak’ restaurants – authentic Indian Muslim street restaurants that I frequent; my favourite is TG’s (3 Tengkat Tong Shin; tel. +60 3 2110 1221). The murtabak — a kind of meat and egg pancake parcel, served with dhal or curry sauce — is to die for.

Malaysia's national flag hangs outside of the Petronas Towers.
Malaysia’s national flag hangs outside of the Petronas Towers.

Which place do you recommend for a drink?

The increasingly popular yet still just about ‘hidden gem’ Heli Lounge Bar (34th floor, Menara KH) has got to be one of the best venues in the whole city, and it’s a five-minute walk from my place. As the name suggests, you sit on an actual rooftop helipad on the 34th floor of a skyscraper. It’s an absolute showstopper.

For a relaxed pint, you can’t go wrong with Healy Mac’s Irish Bar and Restaurant; it was recently voted the best Irish bar in the world outside of Ireland. I’ve got a bit of streak at the weekly pub quiz and I love their signature ‘cocktail’ – a pint of Guinness.

What is your favourite legend or quirky bit of history associated with Kuala Lumpur?

One of the most iconic sights of KL and indeed of Malaysia, the Petronas Twin Towers complex, has an interesting quirk. Tower 1, the west tower, by was built by the Japanese company Hazama Corp and the other tower was built by the Korean manufacturer Samsung. As the story goes, the tower built by Samsung is perfectly straight; however, the tower constructed by Hazama is nearly one inch off vertical.

Want to read more about Malaysia’s heritage? Virginia Matheson Hooker is the author of A Short History of Malaysia: Linking East and West (£):

If guests can stay for an extra day or two, what would you recommend?

Kuala Lumpur Bird Park is definitely worth popping into – it’s the biggest of its type in the world and is great trip for a family or even a young couple or a group of mates. There are shows and a café there so you can really make a day of it. The greenery is a pleasant change from the frenetic buzz of town.

Don't duck it. Food on sale on KL's streets.
Don’t duck it. Food on sale on KL’s streets.

Further information

Find out more about Kuala Lumpur on the VisitKL and Tourism Malaysia websites.

Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography.

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