Malaysia: Urban Culture in Kuala Lumpur

As we planned our time in Southeast Asia, we decided to start in Malaysia because it was the cheapest connection between India and Bangkok. We read good reviews, but didn’t know much about the destination. Luckily, our first stop, Kuala Lumpur, ruled. After our exhausting time in India, “KL”, had just what we needed: delicious (and safe!) food, friendly people, and a culture that is modern and traditional all at the same time. 

Disclaimer: our opinions of Kuala Lumpur were definitely boosted because it was our introduction back into the modern world after India. After talking to lots of other backpackers, many people argue that Singapore is a much better stop. BUT we had a blast in KL and loved the chill the vibe. We got to the know the city by:

Eating Our Way Through the Last Malay Village


The modern and traditional sides of KL make it a really fun city to explore, but the modernization is also negatively affecting the traditional Malay people. Villages full of small houses and markets are being torn down in favor of high rises, hotels, and tourist buildings. For example, an apartment near the area we explored may be torn down to build the world’s tallest ferris wheel. I don’t know about you, but we’d rather be able to try food in a traditional market than ride yet another shiny, tourist ferris wheel. #savetherealKL


To get to know the “real” KL, we went on a food tour with a local through our hostel, BackHome Hostel. This tour took us into the Kampung Baru area where traditional Malay houses are shadowed by the Petronas Towers, neighbors gossip through their kitchen windows, and the freshest meats and produce are sold on the streets. During our tour we got a history lesson of the neighborhood/city and got to try traditional Malay street food. Boy, was it delicious. We had rich beef tongue stew (that we tasted before knowing it was cow tongue!), sweet lychees, weird as hell fried jackfruit, Malaysia’s “special” street burger that’s wrapped in egg, scrumptious beef rendang, the dorian that weirdly kind of tastes like onion and smells god awful, putu bambu rice dessert, and melt in your mouth chicken satay.



Note: This was our first stay in a hostel on this trip – and if you’re in the market, BackHome Hostel was a great choice. Clean rooms, good location, friendly people, and a decent free breakfast (toast, cereal, and fresh fruit) in the mornings!

Walking Our Way Around the City


One of things we loved about KL, is that it is walkable. After living in trains and taxis in Dubai and India, we were ready for the freedom to explore. We spent part of everyday exploring Kuala Lumpur by foot. We stayed near Chinatown, which was a perfect starting point for all of our adventures.


While exploring, we walked the markets of Petaling Street in Chinatown to browse the enormous selection of designer knock-off goods sold for cheap, cheap, cheap. I got some solid “Ray Bans” for $12.50 and they haven’t broken yet! From Petaling Street, we popped into Central Market to check out their clothes, souvenirs, A/C, and restaurants. This is a bit of a touristy stop, but you can quickly walk through as you’re exploring the city.


A hop, skip, and a jump away from Chinatown is a tourist development, which has the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery, Textile Museum, I <3 KL sign, and a large park with what was once the world’s tallest flag pole. We popped into the free Textile Museum to learn about the history of textiles in Malaysia (this one was for me, sorry Johnny!) and had fun taking pictures with I <3 KL sign. The government is clearly investing a lot in tourism so there was a lot of construction in this area. It seems there will be additional tourist spots coming soon and they are in the middle of riverfront development that looks like it will include restaurants with patio seating.


Much like Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, KL has an enormous park complex in the middle of the city. This walk took us through sidewalks lined with jungle-like greenery and lots of lizard sightings. While wandering through this park, we checked out the Bird Park and Orchid Garden. The bird park is the world’s largest free flight bird park in the world. It has gorgeous grounds full of birds like peacocks, flamingos, emus, parrots, and owls. This spot comes with a $12.50 pp entrance fee, but it was a fun way to spend a few hours outside. After checking out the birds, we headed up to the Orchid Garden. This FREE garden is full of orchids of all shapes and sizes and had a great view of downtown KL complete with the TV tower and Petronas Towers. Johnny got interviewed for airport television while we were in the gardens, so if you ever fly through Kuala Lumpur keep your eyes peeled for this budding star!

Feasting on Street Food


KL has an abundance of amazing street food. There are food stands and small, authentic food shops on every corner. So, pick your poison! Our favorites were Restaurant Sai Woo on Jalon Alor and Kedai Kopi Lai Foong in Chinatown. We ate at both of these spots twice. If you ever have the pleasure of eating at Restaurant Sai Woo make sure to order 9,000 orders of the chicken wings, the best wingies we’ve ever had. As for Kedai Kopi Lai Foong, we loved their beef noodles. You could get a full meal about both spots for only a few bucks a person. Can I get a hell yeah?!


Monkeying Around at Batu Caves


Batu Caves is a right of passage in KL. While we thought it was somewhat overrated, it’s worth a stop if you have an extra few hours. People come to Batu Caves as part of a religious pilgrimage, to see a temple inside a cave, and watch the crazy monkeys. The commercialization of this spot puts a damper on the whole religious pilgrimage thing. While it was cool to see Hindus worshiping in traditional clothing, it’s ruined when you turn around and are smacked with obnoxious souvenir stands. That being said, the cave is one of the largest we’ve seen and the monkeys didn’t disappoint. The monkeys around Batu Caves are numerous and crazy. They steal bags from people, get in fights with people who come too close, and run and jump all over the place. We had a blast watching them (from a distance!!).


Reacquainting Ourselves With Alcohol


KL has a super legit bar scene and lots of Tiger beer! After staying dry in Dubai and India, we were ready for some cocktails! While more expensive than the rest of Southeast Asia, KL is known for its happy hour deals. We drank two for one mojitos on the infamous Bukit Bintang Street, which is lined with fun bars. I also got to drink for free as part of ladies night at SkyBar. Speaking of SkyBar, it’s a must-do in KL. This bar is on the 33rd floor of Trader’s Hotel and has an unbelievable view of the Petronas Towers. We went early to catch the sunset, which we highly recommend (check out our time lapse below!). We were able to snag a booth by the window before it got crowded and avoided having to buy bottle service when the bar turns into a club around 9pm. Cheers to you, KL!!


Here are some pictures from our time in KL:











We are now on our bus to Cameron Highlands for some outdoor adventure. As usual, stay tuned!

2 Comments on “Malaysia: Urban Culture in Kuala Lumpur

  1. I wish I could tell you that you didn’t miss a thing by passing on the Cubs game, but I guess you already know that Game VII was the best ever. Everybody in the Midwest is now a Cubs fan. That aside, next best place to be seems to be KL.

    • haha a little bird told us it was one great game! Luckily, our hotel got FOX Sports so we were able to cheer them on from Asia!!

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