10 FREE THINGS TO DO IN KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital, is a colorful modern international city filled with sky-scrapers, huge inner-city shopping malls, vibrant Chinatown and Indian districts, museums, parks, nightlife, and a variety of architecture.
The Malay, Chinese, Indian and ex-pat residents along with visitors from all over the world fill KL with a genuinely multi-racial flare. Delicious inexpensive foods abound in markets, food courts and streets throughout the city, even in the tall glitzy shopping malls.
The city also proudly boasts the world’s tallest twin towers- the glistening silver Petronas Twin Towers. There’s lots to keep visitors busy in this bustling capital.
Happily budget travelers can still find cheap accommodation, meals and activities. Even better, here are 10 great FREE urban adventures:
1. Get hosted by locals
Many cheap guest houses are available in KL’s Chinatown and Bukit Bintang areas offering dorm beds and rooms for ~20-30RM ( $8-10 US) However, compared to budget accommodation in rural Malaysia and neighboring SE Asia countries, the value for money is quite low. Most rooms are tiny ‘closets’ with flimsy partitioned walls, no windows, and little more than a bed squeezed in. Guest houses are noisy, fairly dirty and packed with travelers.
They are great places to meet other budget travelers, socialize, and even party if you enjoy this type of low-down grubby backpackers’ scene. But if your tastes require a bit more cleanliness, privacy or quiet you’ll quickly be wishing for an alternative. Very conveniently, now there is: couch surfing.
If you’re not yet familiar with couch surfing, go check it out! It’s a world-wide organization of travelers and hosts who offer free accommodation in their homes to travelers. Couch surfing is a great way for travelers to hook up with locals and see the area from the local’s perspective. In turn, hosts are rewarded by meeting travelers from around the world, hearing about their adventures, and showing off their country. Everyone makes new friends and helps each other out.
Kuala Lumpur currently has over 1000 hosts. Many have already hosted dozens of international travelers. Even better, most KL Malaysians speak excellent English, making a hosted visit really easy. With so many eager hosts, you should never have to pay to sleep in KL again, if you so choose.
2. Visit the world’s tallest twin towers: Petronas Towers
Petronas Towers, the tallest twin towers in the world at 452M, are K.L.s most famous landmark. Besides their soaring height the towers are also a really incredible architectural design treat. They look like shiny sterling silver spears pushing up into the sky. Illuminated at night they’re even more awe-inspiring.
The architecture, with its multi-faceted starlike design and multi-tiered structure is truly remarkable. The engineering feats required to construct the towers are even more astounding.
So when visiting K.L. make sure you stop by and take a good look at the beautiful towers. You can learn more about their design, engineering wonders, construction and design statistics at the base of the towers- Concourse level- in the observation deck ticket office.
Until recently a visit up to the 41st floor observation deck was free. Quite unfortunately, they’ve begun charging. The good news is that tickets cost only 3- 10MR ($1-3 US)
If you’d like to go, you must arrive very early in the morning to wait in line, be issued one of a limited number of tickets and assigned a visiting time later that day. Tickets are often sold out by 8.30 am, so arrive between 7-7.30 am. Note that your stay in the observation deck only lasts about 10 minutes. But you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views over the city and up-close views of the silver tower architecture.
For free you can still admire the towers from outside, at all angles, and visit the informative display in the ticket office. You can also get a free panoramic ‘virtual tour from the observation deck’ on the website.
3. Gaze at art work in a world class gallery
While you’re at the twin towers, visit Galeri Petronas, a free art gallery open to the public showcasing mainly Malaysian artists’ work in ever-changing exhibitions. Petronas set up the gallery to promote the development and preservation of art in Malaysia and to encourage the Malaysian public’s appreciation of visual arts.
Located on the 3rd floor of KLCC, the gallery is open Tues- Sun 10am – 8pm, closed on Mondays. Personally, I stop by Galeri Petronas every time I visit KL to marvel at the latest exhibition. The gallery also has a store and an arts resource center with art books, journals and audio-visual material.
4. Engage in some international people watching
KLCC shopping mall and the KLCC Park just outside are the very best places in K.L. to engage in some seriously international multi-ethnic multi-lifestyle people watching.
You’ll observe people from all walks of life and from countries all over the world. You’ll see everyone from top business execs in designer suits to fashionable Malaysian ladies in brightly patterned floor-length silk ensembles to young Malaysian teens and western international-school students to families to traveling backpackers.
During the past few years many visitors from various Middle Eastern countries have been shopping at KLCC, walking through the mall in all sorts of intriguing traditional Muslim clothing, adding an even broader spectrum of ethnicity to KL’s vast melting pot of people.
If you’ve been backpacking around SE Asia visiting islands, beaches, jungles and small towns then arriving at KLCC can be quite a shocker! Suddenly you’ll find yourself splat in the midst of ‘civilized society.’
Hundreds of people are dressed to the hilt in designer suits, dresses and traditional Malaysian clothing, with hair freshly cut and styled, dazzling gold watches, snazzy ties and polished shoes. It’s almost like being transported to a city in Europe or America BUT nearly everyone is Malaysian, Chinese, or Indian. That itself can be a bit of a shocker too. Get a grip and enjoy the change of pace.
To avoid feeling like a bum when visiting KLCC, you might want to snaz up your attire for the day. However, casual backpacker style is just as acceptable, too, so don’t sweat it. You will want to avoid bikini tops, scruffy micro-mini- shorts and attire suited only to far-flung beaches though.
5. Meet Malaysian artists and watch them make batik, carvings & paintings
The little-known K.L. Craft Complex on Conley Rd is a hidden gem just around the corner from Petronas Twin Towers and bustling Bukit Bintang. The main building, a beautiful traditional Malay wooden structure, houses a modest museum, retail shops and a restaurant. Out back, the artists’ workshops consist of cute wood bungalows set around a lush tropical garden.
Each workshop is filled to the brim with beautiful arts and handicrafts: batik, clothing, wood carvings, paintings. You’ll find the artists there working away, waiting to show visitors their craft. They’re eager to chat, make new friends and talk about K.L. and Malaysia. Not only will you get to learn the fascinating processes of various crafts, you get to interact with locals artists.
6. Take a historical walking tour of colonial British buildings
Merdeka Square, just 5 minutes’ walk from Chinatown and Pasar Seni, is lined with magnificent stone buildings from the British colonial era pf the late 1800s. These buildings creatively combine colonial and Moorish architectural elements including graceful arched doorways, columned hallways, layered red and white stones, a clock tower and miniarets to produce some very unique architecture.
These beautiful buildings line the square itself, which is simply a big rectangular grassy field originally used for cricket. Nowadays the square is the venue for national ceremonies and events.
Just one block behind the buildings, the lovely mosque Masjid Jamek is nestled under palm trees, tucked behind Masjid Jamed overhead rail station. Wander around to gaze at these beautiful buildings.
7. Sip imported Chinese teas in traditional tea shops in Chinatown
In all honesty, KL’s Chinatown has become a massive crowd-packed heaving shopping thoroughfare, packed with incessant touts pushing the latest in counterfeit dvds, watches, sunglasses, brand-name clothes and handbags. Fresh fruits, Malaysian sweets and food courts are also dotted around the hectic streets.
Centered on Jalan Petaling, there’s nothing really Chinese about KL’s ‘Chinatown’ except maybe the trendy Chinese Malaysian youth hawking the latest wares. you’ve been warned.
However, on the streets bordering this crazed thoroughfare you’ll find a few shops selling traditional Chinese imports. Tea shops are among the most authentic.
Step into a Chinese tea shop where you’ll find traditional Chinese furniture, tea utensils, paintings and decor. Browse the astounding variety of imported teas and you’ll soon be invited to sample some!
The staff will sit at the tea table, prepare a tiny cup of tea and offer it to you. The whole process is really intriguing and you’ll get to sample delicious tea direct from China. No obligation to buy, of course.
|Lake Garden Park, KL|
8. Surround yourself in nature at KL’s huge tropical Lake Garden Park
Taman Tasik Perdana, just 10 minutes’ walk from Chinatown and Merdeka Square is a beautiful, sprawling landscaped city park set around a placid lake. In SE Asia, this is personally my 2nd favorite city park, in close competition with Bangkok’s Lumpini Park.
Whenever I’m in KL I cycle there nearly every morning, pedaling around the lake then up over a big hill then past the outdoor bird park, observatory, National Mosque and Islamic Museum in a big loop, repeat.
This park is full of giant tropical trees, fragrant flowering bushes, waterfalls, landscaped gardens, a small deer park and several other ‘attractions.’ There’s a massive children’s playground, exercise equipment. walking paths, benches and even an inexpensive outdoor food market for lunch-goers.
The outdoor bird park and museums charge rather high entry fees, but walking, sitting, cycling and enjoying the tropical paradise are all free. Spend an hour, a morning, a whole day there to unwind.
(*note- This park is always crowded on weekends. If you prefer solitude and quiet, visit the park on weekdays)
9. Check out Pasar Seni, KL’s original Central Market
Also located beside Chinatown, Pasar Seni is a historical art deco style blue building housing a huge variety of Malaysian clothing, arts, handicrafts, souvenirs, restaurants and a food court. Gone upscale in recent years, most of the merchandise is fairly expensive but window shopping is free. Gaze at the beautiful traditional arts and clothing of Malaysia in this ‘refrigerated’ a/c market. Bring long sleeves.
10. Join temple-goers at Chinese and Indian Temples or Malaysian Mosques
Dotted around the edges of Chinatown are several colorful Chinese and Indian temples. Visitors are very much welcomed to enter, look around, take pictures and observe locals at prayer.
Bright red and gold Chinese Buddhist temples are generally filled with the smoke and aroma of Chinese incense. Temple-goers buy bundles of incense, pray then plunk their bundles into huge brass vessels.
Indian Hindu temples, on the other hand, display hundreds of vibrant images of various Hindu gods in colorful tiered carved roofs. Inside are several small shrine rooms where devotees beg favors of their favorite gods.
Finally, just two blocks from Pasar Seni the lovely mosque Masjid Jamek sits nestled under palm trees, tucked behind Masjid Jamed overhead rail station. Visitors can enter at appropriate times, women and men at different hours, as long as they’re properly attired in long sleeves and pants/skirts.
I hope these interesting free diversions enhance your visit to Kuala Lumpur. They include many of my favorite activities in K.L.
For even more ideas on free activities in Kuala Lumpur, read the next post in this series here
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