Kuala Lumpur was one of the last countries I visited this year. I went for two weeks to help at a hostel, which I set up through Workaway.info. After my fast-paced travels through Europe throughout the summer, it’s been nice to slow down in SE Asia and take my time in cities. Somehow the two weeks in Kuala Lumpur still went by too fast.
It’s been awhile since I wrote a post on how to visit a city on a budget. It almost seemed redundant to do so for the dirt-cheap countries of SE Asia, not to mention practically every blogger has beat me too it. But there are some definite tips for visiting Kuala Lumpur which I can pass on.
Kuala Lumpur Transportation
If you fly into Kuala Lumpur, you will arrive at the KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport). The cheapest way from KLIA to the city center is by Skybus. Click on the link here to book ahead and save. Or you can purchase tickets on the 1st floor just before you go outside. For me at the counter, the ticket was 11 Malaysian Ringgit (RM). At the time of this writing, €1 is about 4.70 RM. If you really want to save 15 minutes you can also get the train for
35 RM 55 RM as of January 2016, but that’s not for the budget traveler.
Once you’re in the city, trains and skytrams are your cheapest conveyance. They will get you to almost anywhere in the city. Most tickets are around 2 RM. I was told by several people to never use a taxi for safety and budget reasons. I didn’t so I can’t confirm the validity of the advice, but I can certainly pass it along. I did have some friends in town using Uber which seemed workable, but not as cheap as the trains. The only problem is the trains stop around 11:30 PM, so Uber is your cheapest option after that.
The bus or train from the airport will drop you off at KL Sentral Station (spelled correctly). The train to the Batu Caves leaves from Kuala Lumpur Station. Most of the hostels in KL are around the Pasar Seni Station. When you’re ready to see the Twin Towers (Petronas Towers), take the Red Line to KLCC. You’ll arrive underground, and you can follow the signs to come up inside the towers themselves. It’s a little confusing and you might have to ask for directions, which you can get easily.
There are around 50 hostels in KL for the budget traveler. The cheapest is only €3 (The Original Backpackers Travellers Inn). I stayed there for a day and it’s not bad. You certainly get what you pay for, but as a budget traveler I like simple accommodations. The rest of the time I stayed at the Travel Hub Hostel, which has some really nice studio-style rooms with loft beds. My stay there was free as I designed their website in exchange for my bed, which I set up through Workaway. Otherwise, the rooms are about €10 a night if you pay when you arrive, or you can use the Agoda widget on this page to get a big savings. Most of the hostels are located in the Old Town section of KL, southwest of the new towers, and within walking distance of the Perdana Botanical Gardens, Chinatown and Little India. Some, like the Travel Hub, have rooftop bars with fantastic views of the towers downtown.
From the day I arrived in KL, I was sampling as many different types of local dishes as I could get…and stomach. Some of the street food seemed a little more “crude” than Thailand, and more than once I opted to eat in a cheap restaurant in lieu of a street-side venue.
On the first day, I had rendang ayam with teh tarik. Ayam means chicken, and rendang is a type of sweet curry common in the Malay region. Teh Tarik, the national drink of Malaysia, is tea made with condensed milk. The next meal I had was nasi lemak ayam, which is spicy fried chicken with sambal (spicy curry paste), rice, fried egg, cucumber, peanuts and dried anchovies. For the drink I had iced cham, which is an interesting combination of tea and coffee. Malaysians know how to get the best of both worlds. There were several other meals I had, but many I don’t know the names of. Similar to Thailand, it’s faily simple to just walk down the street and point at food from the street vendors. Chinatown is a perfect place for that.
Other than Malaysian food, I had several other cuisines in town. One local took me to a Moroccan restaurant called Restoran Marakesh, where I had a lamb couscous. Another day I ate lamb curry at Kader Restaurant in Little India. Can you tell I like lamb? Indian food was actually a common meal for me, especially when a big one could be purchased for less than 8 RM (€2). However, it’s hard to find a meal for more than 20 RM, unless you go to the really fancy, tourist restaurants.
However, my favorite restaurant turned out to be right around from my hostel in Chinatown. The Palm Cafe. This Chinese cafe had a lot of Chinese dishes, but also served Malaysian, Western and even Italian food. All of it was surprisingly good, even the Western food. But the best part of the restaurant is that it was really cool inside and the internet was great (and free), which meant I spent a significant amount of time there working on my blog. When you make it, be sure to try the mango or honeydew smoothie. I can honestly say the honeydew one was the best I’ve ever had.
Another blogger just posted an excellent list of all the best attractions in Kuala Lumpur, which you can read here. The best part is my post on the Batu Caves is featured in it! It’s a really complete list. To it I could only add simply exploring the city. Walk around KLCC, Chinatown and Little India. Check out some of the mosques, and hopefully they won’t be under construction like they were when I went. There should also be a free walking tour, although I was unable to find it while I was there. If you don’t mind paying a few ringget, you can take the paid tour from the Travel Hub Hostel, which covers quite a few of the attractions around the city.
Of course, what’s nice about Kuala Lumpur is it’s centrally located. By bus, several other good cities are just a few hours away. Singapore is to the south, Penang to the north and Malacca is only a couple hours away on the coast. Bus tickets can be as cheap as 40 RM one way, and 60 round trip.
Basically, Kuala Lumpur is not the kind of city you can visit in a day or two. Well, you could, but you’d be missing out on a whole lot. When you go, set aside a couple weeks, take a couple tours to other cities in Malaysia and probably plan for some shopping. Oh, and bring sunscreen and your umbrella. In my two weeks there, it rained everyday but one and the temperature never dropped below 25°, even at night. After all, it’s only 3 degrees north of the equator.
A final note on Kuala Lumpur is on safety. This town had the highest number of locals I met who had been the victim of a crime. Between robberies and attacks, the city was not portrayed to be that safe. Nothing happened to me personally which made my stay more adventurous, but I also took special care that I didn’t carry anything on me that could be stolen when I walked around town. Just follow the usual safety rules, like not going through empty parking lots or dark alleys, keep your valuables secured or locked up at the hostel, etc and you should be fine.