So, you’re facing a 24-hour stopover in Kuala Lumpur and images of uncomfortable airport napping, overpriced terminal food and missing connections are haunting your weary wanderer’s mind.
But, guess what? You’ve got it all wrong. With shopping for days and street food for miles, soft pillows to suit every budget and a passion for air-conditioning rivalled only by a passion for fried chicken, Kuala Lumpur (or KL as the locals like to call it) has a heap to offer the discerning layover traveller – so long as you know how to navigate the monorail.
Whether you’re treating Malaysia’s city of lights as a continental entry port, are journeying between adventures or en route back to the homestead, here’s a step-by-step guide to perfecting the KL stopover.
Once you’ve thumbed your way through immigration (literally, they have those fingerprint scanners now), your biggest priority will undoubtedly be getting your human self into the city. Well, that and finding a change of t-shirt, nothing says ‘Welcome to Malaysia’ quite like a cloud of humidity and a detailed patch of back sweat in the shape of your Osprey 65L.
Enter the KLIA Ekspres. A relatively new godsend for the layover traveller, this airport-city railway is making the commute downtown a) super efficient, b) super handy and c) super cheap. Just follow the purple signs.
Taking 40 minutes door-to-door, alight at KL Sentral Station and you’ll find yourself smack dab in the middle of town. With the city’s train, bus and monorail networks at your fingertips, now would be the perfect time to start embracing the top-notch public transport system. It’s inexpensive, easy to use and the monorail rides like a rollercoaster. Plus, there just aren’t any tuk tuks. We ain’t in Bangkok anymore, Todo.
You’re fresh off a flight, spent an hour getting into town and have traversed the city to your resting place of choice – it’s no wonder you’re starving.
Lucky for you, oh ravenous one, KL is a foodies delight. Sporting a super interesting mix of Malay, Indian and Chinese culinary influences, the menus across this city are so diverse it’s overwhelming. Like, seriously, do I want hot pot or satay? Char kway teo or murtabak? Hokkien mee or char siu? Important life decisions.
For a breakfast of steaming oyster and egg congee (a savoury rice porridge) and fresh popiah (paper-thin rice paper rolls) head to Imbi Market. Set in the courtyard of a traditional walled marketplace, this thriving morning hawker get-up is just a short walk from both Bukit Bintang and Imbi monorail stations. It’s also the perfect wake-up venue as it serves the local breaky drink of choice, a coffee and tea mixer. Yep, that’s a thing. Coffee and tea – hello caffeine.
Between daily adventures, tide yourself over with a quick roti canai. Available almost anywhere, these flaky dough pancakes, hot off the griddle are the king of all snack foods. Pair the roti with a classic chicken curry or mild lentil dal and be sure to eat with your hands. It’s just more satisfying that way.
Come evening hit up the Jalan Alor market. Running parallel to Bukit Bintang and in the heart of the Golden Triangle, this lively street is crammed with food stalls as soon as the sun sets. Sit down to a steaming bowl of asam laksa and enjoy a night of people watching or eat dinner on your feet, venturing from one stall to the next. FYI my nightly banquet goes chilli crab then nasi lemak then food coma.
Stop, Shop & Roll
If there is anything Malaysians love more than food, it’s shopping. Shopping and air-conditioning. And they love both these things to such a point of passion that recently the council constructed a walkway between two of the city’s most popular shopping destinations – Pavilion and Suria KLCC Mall.
For those who haven’t quite grasped the immensity of this walkway, it literally crosses THE WHOLE CITY. That’s right, you can go from mall to mall without ever really leaving, well, a mall. Who needs fresh air anyway?
For cheap as chips local designers and knock-off goods, Sungei Wang plaza is the place to be. For those wanting to splash a little bit more cash on high-end labels head to the upscale Pavilion, where a haircut will set you back $80AUD. And finally, for those wanting to combine shopping with rollercoasters, the Berjaya Time Square has you sorted with a theme park inside the centre itself. Instagram-worthy.
And what would a trip to Malaysia’s most cosmopolitan city be without a journey to the iconic Petronas Towers? 88-stories high, full of stores, surrounded by parklands and designed to reflect the countries tech ambitions, you could easily spend your whole stopover here. I especially recommend seeing a movie as a $3AUD ticket can get you into either a highly entertaining local blockbuster or a Hollywood film of questionable origin.
For those who’d like to fit a little cultural exploration into their 24 hours, there are sights a’plenty within arms reach of the city. And by ‘arms reach’ I mean they are accessible on a half-day tour.
First up, a must-see on your KL agenda is the Batu Caves. These awe-inspiring limestone caverns are over 400 million years old and remain one of the most popular Hindu sites outside of India. Reached only by climbing 272 stairs to a height of almost 100m above ground, you can easily lose yourself in exploring the immense caverns – just beware the bats and monkeys who call the caves home. Besides being a religious tribute to Lord Murugan, Rama and Hanuman, the Batu Caves are also used by the Malaysian Nature Society for field trips (for ecology studies) and boasts some of Malaysia’s best rock-climbing, with more than 160 routes scattered around the limestone faces.
If the hustle and bustle of KL isn’t your thing, then another half-day trip worth checking out is the Taman Negara National Park. Go hunting for waterfalls, hike through verdant rainforest, brave that fear of heights by crossing the canopy suspension bridge and (if you’re so inclined) watch some birds.
As previously mentioned, if you make use of KL’s excellent public transport system then everything you could ever need, want, or desire, is easily accessible. So your choice of hostel or hotel doesn’t necessarily need to be dependent on neighbourhood. Just make sure you’re near a monorail station and you should be sweet as, bro. Though it is worth noting that if your flight is departing super early morning or very late at night, accommodation close to KL Sentral (where you will be getting back on the KLIA Ekspres) would be forward thinking.
As for price range, you could find yourself reclining in luxury, donning a bathrobe and watching American Idol on pay TV for as little as $50AUD, or you could find a cheap hostel with decent Wi-Fi for as little $15AUD.
Happy camping and happy KL’ing.
(Lead image: IQRemix/Flickr)