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Insider’s guide to Kuala Lumpur.

This article was first published in South African Airways inflight magazine, Sawubona, in March 2015.

Away from the skyscrapers and shopping malls of Kuala Lumpur, expats Lauren and Vaughan McShane share some of the vibrant city’s lessor known gems.

Nestled in the heart of South East Asia, Malaysia is fast becoming a top destination for divers, shoppers and heritage seekers. With a cultural core consisting of Malays, Indians and Chinese, this is a country you can never quite put your finger on. In Kuala Lumpur alone, you’ll find an intriguing contrast of modern skyscrapers alongside pre-war structures, holy places and old architecture all telling the tale of a rich past. Most visitors don’t make it past the Petronas Twin Towers and the golden triangle of shopping malls, but there is a lot more on offer for the discerning traveller if you’re willing to explore.

Guide to Kuala Lumpur: Getting Creative.
Try your hand at the ancient art of Batik Painting

Batik is an ancient art form on cloth using a wax-resist dyeing technique. Javanese in origin, the word Batik means ‘to dot’ or ‘to write’. This tradition dates back to BC times in Egypt, the Tang Dynasty in China as well as India and Japan. Malaysia brings its own flair to Batik and has incorporated it into the national dress of the country. You can give it go and paint your own piece of batik artwork in what I like to call the “artist’s alley” behind Central Market for only RM20.
If you’re looking to shop Central Market is an indoor market selling everything from Chinese antiques and traditional handcrafted Malay kites to quality batik fabrics and jewelry.

Art Jamming

Thanks to Royal Selangor’s worldwide production of hand-crafted pewter products, Malaysia is world-renowned for its pewter and offers all assortments of tableware, wine accessories, gift items, tea sets and more. Visit the School of Hard Knocks at Royal Selangor Visitor’s Centre to make your own pewter plate or bowl using traditional pewter crafting tools.

Make your own pewter dish

Visit Studio at KL and explore just how far your hidden artistic flair may take you with a blank canvas and paint. This is a fun, relaxed environment where you can paint with friends to the sounds of music and also receive some advice from the experts. Use all the paint you want and go wild, you never know what might develop on your canvas.

City Strolling:
Lake Symphony by night

Every morning, without fail, the Petronas Twin Towers are full of bustling tourists waiting to go up to the top and walk along the sky bridge. I say wait until the evening, grab some coffee and sit beneath the towers outside Suria KLCC and watch the 42 meter fountains dance and shine their myriad of colours to the music. Couples chat on benches, families show the children the lights and delectable smells waft over from nearby restaurant kitchens. The Towers look far more impressive by night than during the often hazy days.

KLCC Park (Taman KLCC)

Amidst the towers and KL’s most luxurious hotels, lies the small green lung of the city; KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Centre) Park. This park boasts over 1900 indigenous trees and over 66 palm species. It offers a quiet green haven where walkers and joggers can enjoy the rubberized footpaths and jogging track, children can splash in the kid’s pool and people can picnic beside the fountains and lake.

KLCC Park: the green lung within the city centre.

Merdeka Square

If you’re in search of grand architecture and a snapshot of Malaysia’s past, then a stroll around Merdeka ( Independence) Square is definitely worthy of your time. Marvel at the copper domes and 41 meter clock tower of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, the 100 meter flag pole and the Victorian Fountain brought over from England which is still in daily use over 100 years later. A Musuem often overlooked is the National Textile musuem, a red and white Moorish-inspired structure giving insight into the origin and progression of Malaysia’s textiles within each culture.

Street Art

Catch a glimpse of Malaysia’s burgeoning street art scene by walking along Jalan Raya Chulan to see the country’s largest street art mural ‘Brave’ by artist Akid_One. Just around the corner outside the Putra LRT station you’ll see a 3D Interactive art mural inviting the community to get involved in the piece and sit on its seats. The dynamic canvas of street murals down beside the Klang River can be seen from Pasar Seni Station. Street Artists keep it fresh by painting over each other’s work every so often, so snap a few shots while you are there as the art probably won’t be around very long.

Mural Artist, Akid_One, spraypainting a mural beside the Klang River in only two hours.

Guide to Kuala Lumpur: Outdoor Adventure.

SUPPing on the lake.

Just 40 minutes from the city is lake Tasik Biru in Kudung, Selangor. It really is the perfect place to try Stand-up paddle boarding (SUPPing) for the first time. The instructors from Oxbold Adventures will be there to guide you and demonstrate the correct technique. The boards they provide are as wide as barges so there’s a good chance that you can balance on them without too much trouble. If you enjoy Yoga or Pilates and feel up to giving your core a workout, try a pilates lesson with instructor Karina, who will take you from lunges and squats to the plank position and even headstands all whilst floating on a board. And in the hot sun, falling into the lake is really not a bad thing after all.

Pliates on a SUP ( standup paddle board) with Karina from Oxbow Sports.

Rock Climbing at the Batu Caves

Whilst tourists arrive at the Batu caves in their droves, you’ll find absolute serenity on the opposite side of the mountain at Gua Damai Extreme Park. Kids, beginners and expert rock climbers can scale the walls of this mountain with shoes, ropes and all safety equipment provided. Abseil down from a small cave or climb up as far as your arms will allow. Either way you’ll get a great workout and feel it all through the next day.

Cycling along Seminyak Dam

Looking out over the Seminyak Dam, you can almost be forgiven for imagining that you’ve crossed over into a pristine alpine region. Local fishermen cast their lines into the glassy dam and seasoned cyclists make their way along the winding roads – far away from the city’s traffic and smog. Cycling the overpass to get here should be left to advanced cyclists and even then you should accompany a group who knows this mountain as the bends can be quite treacherous. Those looking for a leisurely morning cycle can simply drive over with their bicycles and cycle alongside the dam. Head out early (before 8am) to escape the heat.

Seminyak Dam at its loveliest.

Skytrex Forest Ziplining

Zip lining through a rainforest is an activity the whole family can enjoy. Kids can choose the beginner routes whilst the adventurous can take it up a notch to intermediate or even the advanced routes. It’s a great chance to get active in a new environment and give your adrenalin a spike.

Watch the Sunrise from Broga Hill

For the early birds and those wishing to feel somewhat cooler in KL’s humidity, drive out to Broga Hill in Seminyah, Selangor. It will take you about an hour to get there and once you do another 40 minute walk to reach the top. Walk up (with torches and good shoes) to arrive at the top of Broga Hill by 6:30am and enjoy watching the sun wash over the city and the lush, green hills that surround you.

Guide to Kuala Lumpur: Dining Out.

With Chinese, Malay and Indian dishes to choose from you’ll have ample culinary delights at your fingertips-From the upmarket Malay restaurant Bijan to the home-cooked Baba Nyonya Delights of Fat Spoon and Limapulo-Baba Can Cook, including cendol and sago desserts. Shanghai’s refined dishes of braise pork belly and dumplings will delight foodies as well as Restaurant Kim Lian Kee’s more affordable and famous Hokkien mee (fried noodles) on Petaling street. For Indian fine dining, Spice of India offers some of the best North Indian cuisine and those keen to try a traditional banana leaf meal should try Sri Nirwana Maju Banana Leaf in Bangsar.

Try These

  • Espresso seekers: Coffee Société, Journal by Plan B, Artisan Roast Coffee, Coffee Stain.
  • Trendy and light: Journal by Plan B, Antipodean, Konscious Café.
  • Restaurants and bars with a view: Sky Bar at the Traders Hotel, Heli Lounge Bar at Menara KH, View Rooftop Bar at the GTower Hotel, Atmosphere 360°, Marini’s on 57 and THIRTY8 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel.

A shopper’s paradise at Central Market.

Getting Around

Choose between the bus, taxis, monorail and Light Rail Transport (LRT). The Hop on Hop Off bus is a great way to get an overview of the city or you can purchase a RapidKL All-Day ticket which will give you unlimited rides for the day.
The Public Transport system in Kuala Lumpur is extremely efficient and offers a variety of affordable options for both residents and tourists alike. The Train network has various components that intersect with each other – the Monorail, the LRT, ERL and the Komuter are different types of trains. Buying tickets and getting from A-B is extremely easy and hassle free.

If you plan to commute around the city often with the trains and buses best buy a Touch ‘n Go Travel Card which is available at most train stations. For day trips out of the city, rent a car or use cabs (Premier or Budget). If you don’t want to haggle, take a coupon fixed-price cab from KL Sentral.
You can rent a taxi by the hour to take you to various city spots. The taxi driver will wait for you at each place. Expect to pay between 15-25MYR per hour. Keep track of the time from which you first entered the cab to the time when you leave so that there is no price dispute.

When travelling to and from the airport, use the KLIA Express which goes non-stop between KL Sentral and Kuala Lumpur International Airport-KLIA1 and KLIA 2. You can also use the buses and taxis.

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