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Skyscrapers, street food and shopping: discover vibrant Kuala Lumpur
As a city with a name that translates directly from Malay to ‘muddy confluence’, Kuala Lumpur’s growth into one of the most vibrant, advanced metropolis in the world is impressive. In this contemporary sprawl, iconic skyscrapers stand proudly alongside traditional architecture, markets spring to life at night, and historic temples and mosques find their place amongst banyan trees – not to mention some of the best street food on the planet can be found here. Kuala Lumpur is spread over almost 250 square kilometres, but most visitors tend to stick to the city centre, where hotels, attractions and transport hubs can be found.
History in the Old Centre
Kuala Lumpur, or KL as the locals call it, was founded by Chinese and Malay tin prospectors, and has seen a rather colourful history in its relatively short lifetime. In the late 1800s Britain named KL the capital of the Peninsula Malaysia, changing the architectural landscape of the city that had so far been created. The Old City counts many colonial buildings within its postcode, though Merdeka Square is perhaps the most notable historic feature of the area. It was there that Malaya – as it was called at the time – declared independence from the British in 1957, and it is now therefore one of the most prominent tourist attractions in the country.
The Malaysian population is diverse with Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Buddhists all making up the numbers, though the majority follow Islam. Some of the biggest festivals in the country are therefore religion-based, with Eid, Deepavali (or Diwali) – the festival of lights, and Wesak (or Vesak), along with Chinese New Year, celebrated annually in Kuala Lumpur. Hotels in the city fill up when crowds arrive for the festivals, but the city is well adapted for visitors with world-class Kuala Lumpur International Airport serving as one of the core transport hubs in Asia.
Old Town and the many districts of KL
The population of Greater Kuala Lumpur is approximately 6.5 million, with an estimated 1.8 million in the city proper. Many districts and satellite cities combine to create Greater Kuala Lumpur, or Klang Valley. Each district has something special to offer – for instance the Old Town/Old City Centre, where Chinatown, Merdeka Square and the Sultan Abdul Samad Building can be found. Most of Kuala Lumpur’s best five-star hotels and biggest shopping centres are in the Central Business District, which in KL is named the ‘Golden Triangle’. The Golden Triangle is home to the Petronas Twin Towers, the iconic 452-metre skyscrapers that were the tallest buildings in the world upon their construction in 1998. Those looking for more budget-conscious accommodation can head to Chow Kit, where lively shopping, fresh produce markets and welcoming hotels await. Directly adjacent to Chow Kit is Kampung Baru, where you will find a completely different world from the fast-paced urban jungle that makes up most of the bustling city. Kampung Baru was originally created to attract rural Malays to Kuala Lumpur, and now stands as a reminder of village life in the midst of an energetic metropolis. Not only does Kampung Baru operate at a relaxed pace, but here you will see more traditional architecture and have the opportunity to taste some delicious local street food.
A taste of Malay village life
Amongst the wooden houses upright on stilts, and the frangipani and banana trees that flourish in backyards in Kampung Baru, the weekly night market – or pasar malam – takes place. The market is dominated by food, with snacks like deep fried tofu, chicken balls and satay served alongside Dragonfruit smoothies and desserts such as Tapai ubi, made of fermented cassava wrapped in banana leaves. There are also restaurants where sit-down meals can be enjoyed, and stalls selling all sorts of non-consumables, from clothes to home garden supplies.
KL’s numerous night markets
Kampung Baru’s market is just one of many like it in the city, and there are countless others to visit depending what takes your fancy. The longest market, Pasar Malam Taman Connaught, spans over two kilometres in length and takes at least an hour to walk – but there are plenty of tasty snacks en route to keep you going. One of the best night markets for food, Pasam Malam Sri Petaling, offers a large variety of stalls spread over several streets – but first try Pasar Malam SS2. Pasar Malam SS2 is located in a food court and offers eclectic stalls selling anything and everything you could want, including hot dishes and snacks, at reasonable prices that make this perhaps the most budget-friendly market.
Museums, mosques and temples: KL’s cultural attractions
Malaysia’s unique cultural history to visit museums, architectural monuments and aged temples. The Islamic Arts Museum is one of the highest-rated visitor attractions in Kuala Lumpur, with a stunning collection in glimmering galleries, children’s activities, and special temporary exhibitions that never fail to draw a crowd. Families might prefer to visit Petrosains Science Discovery Centre, a labyrinth of educational activities and games guaranteed to keep the kids occupied for several hours. For something more unique try the National Textile Museum, which offers a fascinating insight into local culture.