When it was time for me to leave Australia for a while to satisfy immigration requirements, KL seemed a good stop-off point. From here I then had access to the whole Air Asia network of affordable fares around Asia and I’d get to spend a few days in KL too.
I don’t think too many people would pick KL as one of their favourite places. It’s ok; it’s a big city with a lot of traffic and a pretty consistent year-round temperature of a muggy 30-32 degrees.
There are two wet seasons in KL, one in March/April and the other in Oct/Nov, and the city is liable to flood in those times. In reality, rainfall is always high though. I arrived in November on the cusp of December and it rained every afternoon, although it wasn’t too problematic. If you know to expect it you can plan your day accordingly.
KL is somewhere I have often changed planes over the years, although I rarely leave the airport. The last time I was in the city itself was 2001, just after the planes had flown into the World Trade Centre in New York.
“Look, we still have our twin towers”, the taxi driver said as he dumped me at my hotel near to Petronas towers.
Beyond that I don’t remember too much about the time I spent here in 2001. Travelling was very different back then; the Internet was in its infancy, social media was a thing of the future and there were no iPhones with camera and Google maps.
If I carried a camera with me the photos have long since disappeared but maybe I didn’t even bother. Without photos to look back on I really can’t remember what I did on a trip I took 17 years ago, so this was (almost) brand new to me.
1-day airport stopovers
A lot of the places in KL are doable in a few hours if you are on an airport layover. This is something I always suggest to other people but rarely do myself. It always seems a lot of trouble to clear immigration, find somewhere to stash your bag and then find the transport into a city, knowing that you have to go through the whole process again in reverse just a few hours later. However if you have more than a few hours to wait at the airport you could easily visit Batu caves or the shopping district of Bukit Bintang, depending what your interest is.
If you enjoy staying in luxury hotels, then KL is a very affordable place to do that. When I looked to book somewhere around two weeks before travelling, the Mandarin Oriental had a double room for less than US$200, and others like the Shangri La, Hilton or Hyatt were even cheaper.
Actually I’m not a big fan of luxury hotels; I find that level of – for want of a better word – subservience a little hard to take. I want to deal with people who are polite but friendly and helpful; that is really my main requirements of hotel staff. I don’t need to be called ma’am and have someone come in and ‘turn down’ my bed for me in the evening, bowing at me whilst they do it.
In the end I picked a three star hotel, which came in at around US$25 a night. This was perfectly fine for me but do remember that three stars in Malaysia isn’t the same as three stars in Australia/US/UK.
I stayed in Little India; it was an interesting place to walk around and also convenient for Sentral station for direct trains to and from the airport.
A lot of visitors stay around Bukit Bintang, but I enjoyed little India. There’s an efficient and cheap public transport system in the city, so no need to stay right in the central hub with all the bars and shops unless you enjoy that kind of thing.
What to see and do
I visited a few of the main tourist places; I went up to the sky deck of Petronas towers, I visited Batu caves and I went up the KL tower as well. However these places were swarming with tourists and you couldn’t move for people tutting at you for getting in the way of their 20th identical photo.
Personally I enjoyed it far more just wandering around Little India and Chinatown.
Just walking around chinatown and looking at the shophouses was interesting. Reminiscent of Singapore these building date from British colonial times.
There was really cheap, good food in both Little India and Chinatown. I took a food tour with Urban Adventures, which was a good introduction. If you want to do this (or any other day tour with Urban Adventures), you can follow this link and claim a US$10 discount (disclaimer: I also receive a tour credit if you book something using this code). Their tours are consistently good (I have taken them in Turkey, Madrid and the US). They are never the absolute cheapest option but always good. Great for people who really don’t do tours.
Getting around the city
There is an efficient public transport system. It isn’t too complicated; you punch in where you want to go, the machine tells you how much, you feed in the cash and it gives you a token. You may think you can walk to nearby places but you need to bear in mind that the weather is extremely humid. If you want to get a taxi you can download the Grab app on your phone (Asian version of Uber).