There are a zillion lists out there of “what to do in Kuala Lumpur,” all of which I read during my time living there. It was very overwhelming, and really hard to decide what to do to make sure I was getting a full sense of the city, which has a really intense mix of cultures. After testing a lot of the “tourist” attractions, I can honestly say that these are the absolute must-see and do’s, and everything else is superfluous.
The short, short version of the list is: Go to the Batu caves, get a massage, look at the Petronus Towers from afar and eat street food. Here’s exactly what you need to do to get the full KL experience, from someone who lived there for a month. TBH, I’m not an expert, but here’s some stuff I actually liked when I was there, and think you would too.
1. Trek Your A$$ To The Batu Caves
KL is very, very much a city, so it’s nice to GTFO and see something other than massive malls and KFC’s. The Batu caves is an absolute must-see, because it’s the perfect combination of nature and culture. There are also a zillion monkeys, who have no problem posing for photos (or stealing food right out of your hands). The train only takes a half an hour from the center of the city, and you’ll want about an hour and a half at the caves themselves, so you can really do the entire thing in one very ambitious morning.
2. See The World’s Smallest Rainforest
As it turns out, there’s a reason why Kuala Lumpur is so hot, humid, sticky and gross — The city was built smack in the middle of a rainforest. All that’s left over of the OG natural habitat is a teeny, tiny plot of land near the KL Tower called “Pineapple Hill” (which despite its cute name is kind of sad, when you think about how much must have been deforested). If you have 45 minutes to kill, you can walk through and take a really great Instagram photo on a cool bridge in between the trees.
3. Hit Up An Infinity Pool
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KL has one of the most incredible (read: Instagrammable) skylines in the world, and by far the best place to take it in is at a rooftop pool. Book a room at the Regalia Hotel or the Face Suites on Agoda(it costs $40-$50, which you can split among a bunch of people) and spend the day lounging in the pool and drinking cocktails while you look out at the city. Make sure to stick around for sunset.
4. Eat Lots and Lots of Street Food
Personally, I was straight up terrified to try any sort of street food when I got to KL, but if you’re going to visit the city it’s pretty much a rite of passage. Head over to Jalan Alor, where the stalls are accustomed to visitors and tend to be pretty clean. Try local faves like Laksa and, of course, satays (aka random meats on a stick). And give Durian (or “stink fruit”) a try — it actually tastes much, much better than it smells.
5. Check Out The Food Dungeon
Speaking of street food, embrace your inner Anthony Bourdain and check out the “Food Dungeon” (which, I just found out, is actually called “Hutong”) inside of the Lot 10 Mall. There are food stalls with every traditional Malaysian and Chinese dish you can imagine, and it’s a great, clean place to sample local cuisine. I really liked the duck stall (… I don’t know the name, but you can identify it by the crispy ducks hanging all over it), and the Laksa is a must-try. There’s also a great juice bar, La Juiceria, so you can justify the fact that you’re eating a plate of duck, pork and noodles, all of which have been deep fried.
6.Get A Massage
Treat yo’self to a foot, or even better a FULL BODY, massage. Since KL is such a cultural hub, the treatments and massage styles come from all over the world. D’Care and Chang were my personal favorite spots because they were clean and had WiFi (I was the girl blogging while getting her feet rubbed… judge me.). D’Care also does cupping for $40, which is way less expensive than it is in the US and will make you feel like an Olympic Swimmer. For other treatment ideas, here’s a list of the best spas in KL.
7. Hike Broga Hill
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Full disclosure — I did not actually do this, because it required waking up at the absolute crack of dawn, but everyone I know said it was their absolute favorite thing that they did in Malaysia. It’s a 45 minute drive from the city, and the hike itself takes an hour up and an hour down, but it’s the absolute best place to watch the sunrise and get views of the entire countryside. Plus, it’s a lot cooler up there than it is on the ground, which you will definitely appreciate after like, 10 minutes of existing in KL weather.
Here are some things you can definitely skip, no matter what the rest of the Internet says:
1. The Bird Park
The birds, especially the peacocks, are really poorly taken care of and look very, very sick. I actually had to leave because it was too upsetting. Skip it — don’t give these people your money.
2. Going Up In The Petronas Towers/KL Towers
The coolest part of the KL skyline are the Petronas Towers and the KL Tower, which you obviously can’t see if you’re looking at the view from the top of them. Instead of spending $40-$50 to go up, find another view in the city to gaze at their beauty (preferably, one that serves cocktails. Stay tuned for a list of “Best Views in KL,” coming soon)
3. Central Market
As far as Southeast Asian markets go, this one is kind of meh (ok, it’s terrible.). There aren’t really any local goods, and it’s basically all bad knockoffs that you could get on Canal Street without having to fly halfway around the world.