A Budget Traveler's Guide to Kuala Lumpur

Kuala lumpur skyline, Malaysia
Kuala lumpur skyline, Malaysia | © Patrick Foto / Shutterstock
Sarah Anne Lee

Despite the glitz and glamour of Kuala Lumpur (KL) as an Asian shopping haven, there is much to do without the need of a huge wad of money for lavish spending. With some advice and guidance, have fun exploring the city of KL without the burden of overspending too much.

The food

A budget traveler’s biggest bill. Luckily for both tourists and Malaysians, Malaysia is full of affordable dishes prepared by the abundant hawker stalls. Literally found everywhere, these national treasures serve up unique styles and variations of food for all types of diets at the cheapest prices. You will be spoilt for choice trying to figure out what to have for lunch. One thing that must be kept in mind, however, is that cheaper isn’t necessarily better and prices might be a little more outrageous in popular tourist spots. A neat tip is to people-watch; also a crowd is usually a good sign of great food.

Street restaurant Jalan Alor in heart of Kuala Lumpur

Getting around

You’re in luck! Urban development in major city areas has been booming for the past few years, connecting long stretches of suburbs to the inner city through elevated train systems. The Light Rail Transit connects Kuala Lumpur extensively; all you need to do is remember street names. Prices are still reasonable for a few days trip, but if you really want to save every penny, walking is another good option for exploring the city.

Most attractions are pretty much clumped in the same vicinity, such as Bukit Bintang and Central Market, and there is the option of hopping onto the purple MyRapid buses for free rides, so organising the sightseeing will be a breeze. Warning—the weather can get pretty hot so be sure to stay hydrated or escape into the many air-conditioned shopping malls around.

Kuala Lumpur metro consists of 6 metro lines operated by 4 operators

Shopping malls

Apart from the air-conditioning which will help combat urban tropical humid heat, a shopping mall contains mainly repetitive franchizes you’ve probably seen much of already. With the exception of viewing the festival decorations which celebrate the many cultural holidays of Malaysia, it is recommended that your day would be better spent exploring local areas such as Jalan Pudu, Petaling Street and Pasar Seni (Central Market) where you can find all kinds of interesting dirt cheap goodies with a stronger Malaysian touch.

Suria KLCC Shopping mall

Malaysian nightlife

Forget the upscale bars and pubs—head to a mamak instead. These commonly found Malay-Muslim restaurants are often open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and have their own range of delicacies to feast upon. Locals use the term lepak for hanging out into the wee hours of the night drinking lime tea and eating roti canai—a RM 1.50 (US$ 0.30) griddle-fried flattened oiled dough served with curry. Since the premises are Muslim-owned, alcohol is prohibited. If you still need an alcohol fix however, try heading to a Chinese coffee shop instead, such as Wong Ah Wah, where beers like Tiger and Carlsberg are openly sold for RM 15 (US$ 3) a bottle.

Roti Canai

Additional tips

Have some change ready all the time so you wouldn’t have to worry about spending extra just to break notes. Also, it doesn’t hurt to do a little bit of online research to get the best deals in town for quality affordable places to eat, shop or visit. The people are also generally friendly enough to respond to inquiries about local preference, thus most possibly saving you a wandering trip and some dollars at the usual tourist pit stops.

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