Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur – A Backpacking Must-see?

Bright lights, big city, the draw of the Petronas Towers, hawker-stalls galore, this should be a natural destination for backpackers, but before I even stepped foot into Malaysia’s capital, I was hearing mixed reviews.

The Key – Planning Your Visit to Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur City

Arriving in the dead of night, hurled off a bus street side, I also wondered whether this city had more to offer than the obligatory snapshot of the Petronas Towers. Like any major capital, the sheer size of this city can be daunting. And this is why it is important to do a little bit of planning. Yes, 'planning' – the antithesis of backpacking, but, for Kuala Lumpur, or KL as it is affectionately known to the locals, it can make all the difference to your stay.

First, get your hostel location right. Petaling Street is a good bet. The original China Town, buzzing at night with food stalls and street vendors selling more bags and t-shirts than you could ever need, you can quickly get a feel for the fun of Kuala Lumpur. It is also located just round the corner from 'Central Market', crammed with local arts and crafts. This really feels like the heart of KL.

Next, grab a good map and figure out the transport system – confusingly, there are four options – LRT, Monorail, KTM Komuter and KLIA Express. You should mainly get by on the LRT and Monorail.

The Iconic Petronas Towers of KL

Kuala Lumpur Petronas Towers

Let’s face it, this is one of the main reasons you’re here, a chance to stare up the 88 storeys of the world’s largest twin tower structure. As I turned the corner and they came into view my neck craned naturally to take in the full effect. I lingered for longer than the obligatory photos required, so in awe of this masterpiece of engineering. Finally, defeated by the ever-present humidity, I headed into the Petronas Towers to delight in the supermall and, wonderfully powerful air conditioning. The towers include a skywalk, which gives fantastic views over the city, but you’ll need to be early to secure a ticket, which are limited each day.

Alternatively, you can head to Kuala Lumpur Tower across town. A free minibus will ferry you up the hill to the entrance. From the tower, which is the second tallest freestanding tower in the world, you get a good feel for the lay of the land and can see some of the top sights in miniature.

Kuala Lumpur’s Culture – Taking In the Temples and Mosques

Many backpackers follow their visit to the towers with a trip to Puduraya, the long distance bus station (also conveniently close to Petaling Street). But Kuala Lumpur has so much more to offer – including an eclectic mix of cultures, which a visit to Kuala Lumpur’s temples and mosques will demonstrate.

The two best mosques to see are the Jamek Mosque and the National Mosque. Okay, two mosques might seem excessive to the average sightseeing backpacker, but it is worth visiting both to contrast the city’s oldest mosque (Jamek Mosque – built 1907) with the more modern National Mosque. The latter’s design is based on the Grand Mosque in Mecca and dons a vivid blue domed roof with 18 points, intended to represent the 13 states of Malaysia and the 5 pillars of Islam.

If you only see one temple, make it the Thean Hou Temple which is worthy of a visit for its beautiful Chinese pagoda style.

Kuala Lumpur’s Colonial Past

Kuala Lumpur is also a good introduction to the colonial past which is evident throughout much of Malaysia. Take a trip to Merdeka Square and pause for a moment as you consider this significant landmark where, in 1957, Malaysia’s independence was marked with the lowering of the Union Jack flag and the raising of the Malaysian flag.

Beyond the City – The Batu Caves

Kuala Lumpur Central Market

When you start to get itchy feet and hanker for something beyond city life, take the 13-kilometre journey from Kuala Lumpur to the Batu Caves. This series of limestone caves has been adopted as a significant site for Hindu worship and is adorned with Hindu shrines and statues. The Batu Caves comprise three main caves and a series of smaller caves.

The main cave, Cathedral Cave (or Temple Cave) is 180 metres long and 100 metres high. Inside, the darkness of the cave is contrasted with the majestic sight of light filtering in through openings in the chamber ceiling, an image which gave Cathedral Cave its name.

But before you enter the caves, you will be confronted by the 42-metre-high statue of Lord Murugan (a Hindu deity) at the site entrance. After 3 years construction, the gold painted statue was revealed in 2006 and is currently the world’s tallest Lord Murugan statue. It is an impressive sight and worth the trip on its own.

If you are lucky enough, you might visit the Batu Caves at the time of the Thaipusum festival. Each year more than one million worshippers, tourists and backpackers flock to the Batu Caves for this event. The celebration includes a procession, religious offerings and body piercing with skewers – a sight that is not for the faint-hearted.

Taking In Kuala Lumpur’s Nightlife

Kuala Lumpur Festival Lanterns

Back in the city, check out the nightlife at Bukit Bintang. A shopping area by day, this ever-trendy area with its swanky bars keeps Kuala Lumpur buzzing after dark. But if the high-priced drinks are threatening your backpacker budget (and they will), head back to China Town to the popular backpacker hangout, 'Reggae Bar.' Near Petaling Street, this bar knows your needs with cheap beer (especially with the regular promotions), a varied menu and free Wi-Fi for that all-important gloating email back home.

In a sprawling metropolis like Kuala Lumpur, this is also a good place guaranteed for meeting new friends and swapping tales of where you’ve been and where you’re going next on the South-East Asia backpacker trail. Just make sure you don’t get back on the trail before giving Kuala Lumpur the attention it deserves.