Kuala Lumpur Travel Guide: Tips for First-Time Visitors
Visiting Malaysia’s capital city for the first time? Here’s a quick Kuala Lumpur travel guide to help you get started planning!
I usually like to spend late winter and early spring somewhere in Asia. Late March/early April is for the cherry blossoms in Korea and any time before that I look a new Southeast Asian city to set up shop for a few weeks or more to escape the cold and get my city fix. The first time I did this, I opted to check out the severely underrated Kuala Lumpur. Over two weeks, I explore the city, ate some really good food, made some friends, and fell in love with how cool Malaysia’s capital is!
If you’re planning your own trip to KL, whether it’s on a layover, for a few days, or a few months, here are all my best tips to get you settled in!
For More: check out my list of cool things to do in Kuala Lumpur
A Complete Kuala Lumpur Travel Guide: The Basics
Where is it?
Kuala Lumpur sits around the southwestern coast of Malaysia. While it’s its own area, it does geographically sit within the Selangor state, which borders the Malacca Straits.
What is it?
I mean, it’s KL! It’s the capital of Malaysia in all sense of the word — literal, political, financial, cultural, etc. In Malay, it means “muddy confluence,” and was officially established in 1859.
For travelers, a big thing to note is that it’s the main hub for Air Asia, aka the cheapest budget airline around. Most people come through on long layovers.
When should you go?
I think anytime will be fine as the weather is so constant. If you don’t want to deal with the rain, then I’d avoid November – March. I was there in March, and it was fine (only some rainstorms in the afternoon). However, I read that November is considered the wettest month.
How is the weather?
The weather is hot, sunny, and humid all year round. Its climate is considered a tropical rainforest climate. Seriously, look up the average temperatures, and it’s pretty much the same January – December! Expect to sweat. I will say, because of this, the city is built to be ever so slightly cooler. I’d say it’s much more bearable than Seoul in the dead of summer but I found Singapore to be much breezier.
How Do You Get to Kuala Lumpur?
There are multiple ways to get into KL depending on where you’re coming from!
Everyone coming to KL from abroad most likely will use the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). If you’re flying a budget carrier, you’ll fly to and from Terminal 2 (KLIA2), and all the rest are to Terminal 1 (KLIA). It’s about an hour from the city centre. If you have time, stop half way to Putrajaya!
From KLIA, you can do a few things:
- Book a shuttle or private transfer
- Use Grab
- Take the KLIA Express, which goes to KL Sentral
I booked a shuttle both ways because of my time of arrival, but it’s the most expensive option. I wish I had realized how easy Grab was to use because it’s a fraction of the price to just to use them!
Less common is the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport (SZB) or Subang Airport. Once upon a time it was KL’s main airport, but now it’s used mainly for domestic flights and some to Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore. It’s about 30 minutes from the city centre.
I’m not super familiar with the train system in Malaysia as I didn’t need to use it, and most people I know have just flown or taken the bus.
I used a bus to get to and from the Cameron Highlands from KL, and I’d highly recommend them. They’re spacious, easy to book, and the timetables aren’t too far apart. Use Easybook to help you buy tickets! It’s the same price as buying in the terminals.
How Do You Get Around?
I’m going to admit right now I didn’t use a single thing of public transport in KL. I knew it existed, but it was just so much easier to get a Grab, which is like Uber or Lyft, and still super inexpensive.
If you plan on using public transport exclusively and know you’ll be using it a lot, get the Touch ‘n Go card to preload.
The bus system in KL is called the RapidKL Bus. Like I said above, I have 0 experience with public transport, so I can’t vouch for what they’re like! Make sure to tap when you get on the bus and when you get off.
For the main part of the city center, there’s the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) line that covers the big spots around there, and the Light Rail Transit (LRT) which covers most of the city outside of the center. For Batu Caves, if you don’t want to use Grab, you can use the Komuter trains.
My best advice is to use Google Maps and follow what it tells you to use on your route.
Everywhere I read recommended against taxis because they rip you off. So I didn’t use one at all. Again, I just used Grab.
You can rent a car for KL, but I don’t think it’s the most necessary. I met with friends who had cars there, and, of course, it’s more convenient. However, the roads in KL are, to put it lightly, a hot freaking mess. Even experienced drivers got confused easily. While I waited for my Grab drivers, I would watch them get turned around every single time!
Hop On, Hop Off Bus
And, like most major cities in the world, KL has its own hop-on, hop-off bus. It covers 27 stops and over 60 attractions, and may be a good option if you don’t have a lot of time or are with people who fatigue easily. Check here for more details + rates
Top 5 Things to Do in Kuala Lumpur
1. Go up KL Tower
This is by far the most obviously touristy thing you can do in Kuala Lumpur, but I say it’s worth it just once! As the 7th tallest tower in the world, it’s 1,381 ft (421 m) and has been around since 1996. There are two options. You can just do the Observation Deck or you can by a ticket for both the Observation Deck and the Tower Sky Deck. I say splurge a tiny bit and go up to the top!
It’s actually much cheaper to get online, so I’d book tickets ahead instead of buying it at the door. I paid 99 RM (~$24 USD), and on Klook, they have a package for only $16 – Get tickets here
Also, the KL Eco Forest Park with the series of suspension bridges is in the same area, so you can do both.
2. Visit the Batu Caves
The Batu Caves! They’ve become a bit Instagram famous because of their recently painted staircase. They’re a series of limestone caves and temples and has ben around since 1891. The Tamil shrine is one of the most popular non-Indian ones. There is no entrance fee (at least when we went around 7:30 am). Make sure you take your shoes off where it says and dress appropriately (shoulders and legs covered). Check here for tours that include the Batu Caves
3. Eat and indulge in the mix of Malay, Chinese, and Indian cuisines.
Did you know Malaysia is a mix of cultures and cuisines — Malay, Chinese, and Indian! This means you get three different cultures in one place, and the food options are endless. I’m working on a post to show you guys where I ate, but in general check near Petaling Street (Jalan Petaling) for specific Chinese dishes and Brickfields for Indian.
If you’re unsure where to start, try one of these food tours:
4. See some beautiful architecture near Chinatown
After you’ve gotten some Chinese food and escaped the allure of knock-off goods on Petaling Street, wander around the area. The old colonial buildings mixed with the current shops that inhabit them are fun to observe. If you walk jut a bit, too, you’ll find a few different must-see places like Sri Mariamman Temple, the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, the Textile Museum, and more.
5. See the Petronas Twin Towers
Ahh the famous twin towers. They’re considered the tallest twin towers in the world, and they’re the most iconic site in KL. There’s a mall right near them if you want to go shopping or try their food court. I met up with a girl from my Facebook group for dinner and stopped by to take them in at night before moving on. I think they look cooler at night all lit up than during the day. If you want. you can go up them to the observation deck at level 86. Get tickets here
Where to Stay in Kuala Lumpur
Ok, I did a bunch of research into where to stay in KL because I basically wanted to be as central as possible without paying a lot or staying in a hostel dorm bed. It’s pretty easy to get around, so if you stay near Bukit Bintang or Chinatown, you’ll be golden.
Where I Stayed
For me, I stayed for 2 weeks, so my overall options were a bit limited since I waited to book. I found this place, which was perfect for the price considering I was central and wanted privacy. The only annoying thing was that my card for the elevator didn’t work, and they never actually helped me replace it, so I either had to ask someone to help me go up or just go to the nearest floor and walk down a few flights.
It was right around the corner from a little food court which is where Mansion Tea Stall was, across the street from Jalek Mall, and about a 15-minute walk from Petaling Street.
Check here for rates & availability
If you want to be really fancy, you can stay at the Face Suites, which has an infinity pool that faces the towers, or Kuala Lumpur Journal Hotel, which is very cute and picturesque.
I heard most digital nomads or expats based themselves in Bangsar. It’s close to the city center but out of the main hubbub.
Money, Safety, + Internet Matters
Malaysia uses the ringgit (MYR or RM). It’s roughly $1 USD = ~RM 4. I usually use an ATM to take out money, but for some weird reason it only worked at certain ATMS and others I’d get rejected. So make sure you have a decent amount of ringgits in cash!
I found KL to be quite safe and locals I met were beyond sweet. I wouldn’t say KL feels as easy, breezy safe as Seoul or Singapore, but I definitely didn’t feel like I had to worry about being ripped off or being robbed like I might have felt in Vietnam or Thailand. As always, though, be mindful of your surroundings and never give too much away if someone’s asking about your trip.
And, of course, have some sort of travel insurance in case anything goes too awry. I recommend World Nomads, and you get can get a quote here.
You’ll be fine with data and internet. Normally I get a SIM card when I get to the airport or buy one ahead, but I had T-Mobile and I THOUGHT I’d be able to use it as roaming. More on that some other time, but eff T-Mobile. Anyway, there are plenty of SIM options, but if you want to get yours ahead to just pick up from the airport kiosk, you can get it here.
You should be able to get wifi easily wherever you stay, and I’ve seen signs for it in more popular, touristy places. However, get a SIM card and make your life easier.
Hope this little Kuala Lumpur travel guide helps you with planning. Let me know if I missed anything and you have questions!
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This was all so helpful. I”ve never been to Asia before and wondering about Malaysian places outside of KL but not terribly far away. We only have one week there. Also, do you recommend taking a tour overall and/or a cruise?
Ooh have fun! I’ve only done KL & the Cameron Highlands, so I’m not too familiar. Penang has been on my list for ages though, so if I were to plan a week in Malaysia I’d split between KL & Penang! Cameron is ok but not worth going out of your way for.