As the capital city of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur offers a myriad of exciting cultural and gastronomical pursuits. It is tempting as tourists to stick to taking the Hop-on Hop-off bus and familiar sights like the National Park and Petronas Twin Towers. For those wanting something different, here are a few options.
Catch a play at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPAC)
KLPac is the place to go to watch theatre in Kuala Lumpur. All the best talent in performing arts are concentrated in that glass building in Sentul. Whether an old favourite from the Bard, or something locally inspired, KLPAC will have something interesting to show.
Changkat Bukit Bintang is home to the hippest drinking haunts in the city, which explains its popularity with tourists, expats, and locals alike. Alcohol prices may run a bit higher there than anywhere else in the city. Similarly, nowhere else in the city will you find establishments boasting excellent cocktails lined up side-by-side, coupled with a vibe of giddy excitement in the night air, contributed by those intent on having a good time.
The Ramly burger is the burger to try when in Kuala Lumpur. Only available at roadside vendors, and deliciously cheap to boot, Ramly burgers are the city’s favourite drunk snack. They are delicious all day round, but especially so when those street vendors are the only things still open at 3 am when the bar’s kitchen closed hours before.
Chill out at a mamak till all hours
A mamak is essentially a streetside hawker centre you can find throughout the city. The mamak is where to find most Malaysians chilling out, cracking a cold Milo with the boys, and watching the football match projected on the screen if it’s football season.
Join the bubble tea craze
One of the biggest scandals in the food industry in Malaysia involves a legal battle about the ChaTime bubble tea franchise. The fact that it blew up to the extent it did, should give a vague idea of how seriously Malaysians take their bubble tea. There are three big chains to try while in Kuala Lumpur: the aforementioned ChaTime; its successor TeaLive; and the golden child, GongCha.
Take an ATMOS seat in the cinema
The ATMOSpheric seats in the Golden Screen Cinemas (GSC) boast smells and movement that will add a jolt of excitement to your cinema-going adventure. Chase scenes will shake your seats. Flight scenes will tilt them back. It’s a new level of immersion that’s well worth a shot just to see whether or not it’s your cup of tea.
Eat durian (if it’s in season)
This is a challenge for the bold. Durian is known as the King of Fruits and is definitely a popular Malaysian favourite. When it’s in season, vendors will stand by the road selling their best wares. Pull up, take a seat, and choose the fruit that looks best. The vendor will crack it open and reveal its golden insides. Durian has been referred to as a cross between a custard and a toilet. And it is absolutely delicious. Nothing else in the world really comes close to the durian.
While Pasar Seni (Art Market) is the tourist-favourite for local Malaysian wares, the bulk of Malaysians avoid that tourist trap. They are often found at the weekend arts fairs at Publika Shopping Gallery instead. Vendors at these fairs are usually young entrepreneurs, churning out handmade jewellery, knick-knacks, literature and the like.
There is always a crazy food trend to jump onto in Malaysia. These trends are easy to spot because they pop up, ubiquitously, as stalls in the populated areas. The more recent trends include Hokkaido Cheese Tarts and Bingsu (a Korean ice dessert). Dig into one and find out what Malaysian tastebuds enjoy.
Walk the length of Bukit Bintang
Bukit Bintang is the epicentre of the city, the centre-point of major shopping malls as well as home to some impressive lights at night. Everything is there; from retails to karaoke bars, from churches to massage parlours. All within a 20-minute walking distance. Shopaholics will want to dedicate a day here.
Plaza Low Yat has seven floors. Each and every one of them is dedicated to tech of some kind. Whether it be mobile accessories or desktops, nearly everything at Plaza Low Yat has a decent price tag. A word of advice: bring cash as not all vendors accept cards.
Inside the heart of every Malaysian is someone who dreams of auditioning for Simon Cowell in the shower. No, really. That has to explain why there are so many karaoke centres in Kuala Lumpur and why so many of them are packed to capacity. Bring a friend and belt out a song in a cramped two-man booth, or invite a whole party and get a room complete with a disco ball and mic stands.
Look at art at Galeri Petronas
Nestled on the third floor of the Suria Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) shopping mall is an art gallery displaying local Malaysian talent on the wall. Perfect for an art aficionado or for those who just want a bit of rest from shopping. The Galeri Petronas is a bit of aesthetic, introspective relief with its quiet corridors and carefully curated art exhibits. Best of all, it’s free.
Malaysia celebrates festivities all-year round. Make no mistake, the malls never miss out on a chance to throw up an impressive installation to welcome the crowd and get people into the mood. When these installations first go up, plenty of locals crowd with family to capture memories for the album. These installations are often accompanied by festivity-appropriate vendors so it’s a great place to get souvenirs. At this time of year, expect the malls to be decked in red to welcome the Chinese New Year.
Go book shopping
There is a cafe called BookXcess in Starling Mall where books are sold at a third of their retail price. Starling Mall isn’t strictly in Kuala Lumpur, but Petaling Jaya (Kuala Lumpur’s satellite town) is a quick ride away. To get an even greater deal, visit the Big Bad Wolf sale. Held once a year over the course of a week, the sale is like Black Friday for books. Families are known to attend in the dead of night with toddlers in order to stock up on books which could go as cheaply as one seventh of retail prices. Rolling suitcases are welcome. It’d be difficult to carry all those books back to the car otherwise.