You don’t realize how burnt out you actually are when continuously traveling from one place to the next. Always hopping on and off buses, in and out of dorm rooms. My mind’s eye was constantly ready to get the next adventure started that I never took a step back to just chill out. The body soon fell victim as it was inevitable.
The detour to the jungle island was just what the backpacking doctor ordered. I left Borneo feeling renewed in both body and spirit, the equilibrium centered. My eagerness to finish the last leg of my trip was exponential, rivaling only that of the beginning. Nature is all one needs to regain some balance in life.
During my last day diving in SempornaI met a few Malays who based themselves out of KL. They were more than happy to give me tips and advice on what to do, but especially where to eat. I marked down each suggestion on my Google map, worried I might them if I didn’t. My next stop was towards mainland Malaysia to get things back on track.
Aside from what the locals told me I knew next to nothing of KL. The only three things I knew for fact was that MotoGP races at the Sepang International Circuit (which was 3 miles from the airport!), its’ home to the Petronas Twin Towers, and a haven for foodies, yes! I boarded the KLIA Ekspres from KL International to Mingle Hostel Kuala Lumpur with smiles ear to ear.
A new city was just beckoning to be explored, but what do you do with 48 hours in KL during Ramadan?!
Walking Tour of Chinatown
Stepping out from my hostel I was already in the hotbed of KL’s Chinatown. Bustling with people going about their every day lives, outdoor vendors selling discounted linen shirts with matching pants, aromatic soups reining me in every few steps. It’s important to get a good and early start to the day because it can get extremely warm in the afternoon.
I made my rounds traversing up and down Chinatown’s streets, getting a feel for it. But I was really trying to find the best noodle joints. If you’re going to start off on the right foot spending all day exploring then you need a good bowl of noodles. I’m happy to report back that the mission was a success not to mention a few cool things to check out before moving on.
Places to look out for:
- Sri Maha Mariamman Temple
- Central Market Kuala Lumpur (for all your souvenir needs)
- Petaling Street Market (remember the haggling skills I taught you)
- Jalan Alor Night Food Court
- Menara Kuala Lumpur (lights it up at night)
- Westlake Restaurant
- Soong Kee’s Beef Ball Noodles (realllllllly good)
Visit Batu Caves
Of course, no visit to KL is complete without a stop at Batu Caves, walk its colorful steps, and ogle at the local residents, tailed macaques. Batu Cave is one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside of India and is dedicated to Lord Murugan. Located on the outskirts of busy downtown getting there is made easy with their on-point train system. Even easier the fact that only one train makes the trip, getting lost is damn near impossible.
Note: Take the KMUTER 2628 Batu Caves (RM $7.10) line and depending on where you are in the city it’s about 30-45 minutes. Just in case.
There are no entrance fees, which is a nice thing, but the crowds can become immense towards late morning-rest of the day. Get here early if you want to enjoy it all to yourself, or the very least with just the monkeys for company. Speaking of which do not tempt or play with them. They WILL take all your things if you aren’t holding on to them so be alert. Also, rabies aren’t fun at home let alone on vacation so don’t be one of those people trying to get them to sit on your head.
Contrary to online photos from social media Batu Caves is more than just their steps. Yes, they are colorful and an attraction in their own right, but once you get to the top is there anything else? YES!
When you reach the top and regain your breath, which you will, you are greeted with the breeze coming off an enormous, cool, and damp cavern. 300-foot high limestone ceilings surround you while an opening at the end lets in natural light. The cavern is used a lot for ceremonies large and small so it can be a hotspot for religious activities. Locals do come here to pay their respects and offerings so please be respectful.
Hawker Center Food Tour
For me the simplest pleasures in life are often the most memorable: a cold beer on the beach with friends, a morning stroll up a mountain, or stuffing my face at hawker stands. The beauty of SE Asia culinary adventures are cheap eats and none come cheaper than these joints. Wonderful little cafeteria halls lined stall to stall with flavors ranging from Hindu, to Chinese, from savory to burn your face off, they got it here.
Finding the best places though can be tricky if not impossible without the help of locals. Notice how I didn’t say Google reviews or Yelp, who really goes off those anyhow? I had always enlisted the help of word of mouth advertising and long lines to settle on a place to feed the belly. The hostel I stayed at held a weekly hawker center tour with one of the local residents.
Not being able to remember everything that you ate is one great sign that the food was the main attraction, nothing else. I have had plenty of great meals in many parts of the world, but experiences like these are hard to come by on every trip. Soaking it up along with a few Carlsberg to quench the thirst was a great way to spend an evening.
One thing I didn’t count on while running through KL at night was discovering some of the coolest speakeasies, ever. To give you a crash course on speakeasies they are an illicit establishment that sells alcoholic beverages. These were made popular in the US during prohibition and you can guess why. They have evolved over the decades to now include hidden boutiques behind sliding Snapple doors in a bodega to upscale restaurants behind salon mirros. Here in the heart of KL’s Chinatown were some of the most interesting speakeasies I have been to.
NOTE: I won’t divulge the location because half the fun is finding the places, but I will say the hostel I stayed at runs a night time speakeasy tour. Check them out.
From a women’s underwear closest, to an action figure toy storefront, hell there was a gate with a fake lock and a doorbell you have to ring to enter. That lock got me. Chinatown’s wide range of ‘what the fuck‘ moments before entering had me going. I think the US speakeasy game needs a step to up these chaps.
The best part of these places is how little people actually were there. You get a sense of having the joint to yourself to just enjoy. From green spaces with an emphasis on nature to art decor and music videos playing on that backdrops the range was greatly appreciated. One even housed an award-winning bartender who made a damn good old fashioned. He wasn’t part of the decoration though, ha.
Get Educated at the National Museum of Malaysia
A definite favorite of mine has always been visiting national museums in the capitals of the nations I visit. Swing by the National Museum of Malaysia and educate yourself on its indigenous people of the past all the way up to its melting pot culture of today. It’s located nearby to a few other attractions making it a place to spend a couple of hours, also to get out of the Malay heat!
Take a Break Have Some Cake
OK you can definitely skip by this part, but honestly, why would you? After trekking all day in the hot heat I think it befitting to relax in a cafe with some cake and a cold drink. Do a quick stop by at leaf & co. for some of the best cakes while in KL! The decor is very floral centric and modern chic so you can kick back in style and snap a couple of those long abated IG photos.
They also had these CRAZY cold drinks topped with a freaking doughnut. I kid you not! I had the matcha green tea one and thought myself a full-on pig after indulging in it, but no regrets! As if you needed one more reason to check the joint out!
Grab Drinks at the Heli Bar
The infamous heli bar was brought up when I asked friends from home what I should do in KL. Of course who wouldn’t recommend such a place where you can have drinks on a helipad? On this particular occasion I was fortunate enough to meet up with a friend from home who was also out here backpacking around. What are the chances?
To get there is quite easy on foot or by Grab, but note that once upstairs you will have to place a drink order to be able to go to the seating area. No lollygaggers here please. The outside bar provided amazing 360-degree views of the city center where you can see the Petronas to the Menara Kuala Lumpur unobstructed. Let me tell you, it was worth it. A couple of drinks, some good conversations, and the afternoon turned to night which provided an even better view.
Definitely add it to the list of places to hang for a few cold ones.
Pose under the Petronas Towers
The last place to see during my 48-hour blitz tour of Kuala Lumpur would have to be the Petronas Towers. When you think of the KL skyline this immense architecture rises high above the rest, literally and figuratively. Day or night is a great time to visit and just garner at a man-made wonder, but definitely go at night! A mall is at the base of the towers and there is a water-light show that happens when the sun goes down. In case you needed more reasons to visit at night.
Even though there were many more things I wanted to do and see while I was in KL, not to mention the plethora of recommendations I received from locals I met in Sabah, sometimes you just don’t have enough time. A little taste teaser is better than nothing when it comes to travel, it leaves you salivating at the mouth for more.
I thought it fitting to hang out with Ram and Drew here for a bit before we talked about where we were headed off to next. The cool thing about making a new friend and seeing an old one is that while traveling we all have the same goal: see the world for ourselves.