Kuala Lumpur’s Vast, Fast, Affordable Metro Is a Dream Ticket To the City
With more than 100 stations, Kuala Lumpur has the second most extensive metro system in Southeast Asia. The international airport has two dedicated lines that connect to KL Sentral, which is the largest train station in the region. The KTM Komuter and airport lines run on strict timetables while the LRT, MRT, and Monorail services run every five to 10 minutes, depending on the time of day. Operations generally start at 6:00 AM and end before midnight. While the system has come a long way since its inception in 1995, you still have to do a bit of research to decide which rail pass is right for you. The city’s transit department offers a comprehensive breakdown of the different Rapid KL packages available. The good news is that the system is hyper-efficient and very affordable, and there is no need for a car during a trip to the city.
Here are 10 major Kuala Lumpur attractions, which you can easily access via the metro.
1. National Museum of Malaysia
If you don’t know much about Malaysian culture and history, the National Museum of Malaysia is an ideal place to start. With four exhibits spread out between two floors, the museum traces local history back to prehistoric times and up to the present. Objects of interest include a replica of a 500,000-year-old Java Man skull, as well as a Bronze Age drum from the Malaysian beach town of Batu Buruk. There’s also a small keris (Indonesian dagger) collection and some coins dating back to the 15th century. The upstairs galleries focus on modern history, including the lesser-known records of the Malayan Communist Party. Artifacts in this area also include paper notes and other items on display from the Japanese occupation period during World War II. There are free guided tours in six different languages, but if you speak English or Malay, you don’t need to plan your visit around a tour as the signage is easy to navigate.
There’s an underground walkway to the museum from KL Sentral. If you’re using the MRT green line, the museum has its own stop.
Nearest Station: Muzium Negara
2. Central Market
With more than 350 mostly small cafes and shops spread out between two floors, Pasar Seni, or Central Market, is KL’s oldest market. It’s been cleaned up nicely since it was a wet market, and today, you’ll see a lot of tourists here as it’s an ideal place to visit during your first few days in the city. On the ground floor, there are separate sections representing Malaysia’s three main ethnic groups: Malay Street, Little India, and Straits China. In these sections, you’ll find mostly arts and crafts stemming from each, like the ancient Southeast Asian art forms of batik and kaftan. If you want to eat inside the market, go to the second floor where there’s a food court and some full-service restaurants. East of the building, there’s a bustling outdoor market where you can find an impressive variety of food stalls with quirky names like Mr. Lassi, Pasta Box, and Satay City.
Nearest station: Pasar Seni
3. Dataran Merdeka
Also known as Independence Square, this is where the first flag of Malaya was raised to symbolize independence from Great Britain in 1957. For a better understanding of how Kuala Lumpur grew from a tin-mining village to one of Southeast Asia’s megacities, check out the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery on the south end of the square. Here, you’ll find replicas of KL’s iconic buildings. It’s about $2.29 to enter, but they give you a voucher for half of that, which you can spend in the quirky museum shop and cafe. Use it to try one of the artfully crafted durian cakes, which you’ll see on display behind the counter.
Like Chinatown, the Dataran Merdeka area undergoes a transformation after dark. Masjid Jamek (one of the oldest Mosques in KL) lights up, as does the area along the Gombak and Klang Rivers. Both locals and tourists unwind around the River of Life walking trail into the early hours of the morning. It’s easily one of the most romantic spots in KL. Guided tours are available, but there are enough information boards to make a guide unnecessary unless you are one of the more hardcore history buffs.
Nearest Station: Masjid Jamek
4. Petronas Towers
The Petronas Towers may not be the world’s tallest buildings anymore, but they are still the highest twin towers by nearly 100 meters. The nearest metro station is named after the 1.5-million-square-foot shopping center at the feet of the towers. In addition to 300 stores, KLCC also hosts an art gallery, science center, underwater aquarium, and the Petronas Philharmonic Hall. For about $18, you can visit the observation decks. One is on the 86th floor, and the other is the world’s highest two-story sky bridge, which connects the two towers. While the observation decks of KL’s most recognizable landmark can be a bucket list item for many, you can also watch the sunset over the towers from one of the nearby rooftop lounges. The Traders Hotel is located on the other side of KLCC Park, and from the 33rd-floor Sky Bar, you can sit poolside and watch the sunset over the park and the towers. You’ll need to book a table in advance.
Nearest station: KLCC
5. Kampung Baru
KL still houses remnants of the old tin-mining village if you know where to look. Kampung Baru (meaning “new village”) is the best-maintained traditional Malay village in what is now a city of nearly two million. Here, north of the trendy Bukit Bintang neighborhood, you’ll find the streets lined with wooden homes built on stilts, small cafes, and street food vendors under the shade of coconut and banana trees. To fully experience the village, you should visit once during the day and again on a Saturday night. The Kampung Baru night market dates back to 1899 and is open Saturday nights into early Sunday morning. No matter when you visit, Kampung Baru is an ideal street food spot from morning until night. The restaurant, Nasi Lemak Wanjo, is a popular stop for both tourists and locals. Here, you pay a dollar for the rice dish nasi lemak, which many consider Malaysia’s national dish.
Nearest station: Kampung Baru
Shaped like an imperfect diamond, KL’s Chinatown sprawls out from the eastern shore of the Klang River and changes character throughout the day. This is the kind of area you can visit for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and get a different vibe each time. It is also home to the oldest Hindu and Taoist temples in KL. There’s the famous Petaling Street Market, where buyers haggle with vendors over everything from handbags and clothing to arts and crafts, as well as electronics of questionable authenticity. But the real attractions here are the local food and drink vendors, many of whom specialize in a handful of items handed down from previous generations.
Although the area is easily walkable, you should have a game plan before exploring. Talk to a local before visiting, lest you end up missing the hole-in-the-wall type places that you are likely to plan a future trip around. In KL’s Chinatown, the best places are not the most aesthetically pleasing from the outside. Note that the more reputable vendors often close when they sell out as opposed to at a set time.
There are different kopitiams (traditional coffee shops) that you can check out in the area. Ho Kow is among the most popular, in part because it sells a traditional Hainanese breakfast of Kaya toast, toasted bread with kaya coconut jam, and boiled eggs. You can find some of the best dishes in Chinatown for under $3 in one of the many inconspicuous looking food courts like Lai Foong (for beef noodle or clam soup) and Tang City (for wonton or dry noodles in black sauce). If you’re looking for something a bit more post-2000-Brooklyn, check out Da Bao or one of the other cafes on the stretch of Petaling Street between Sultan and Balai Polis.
Nearest station: Pasar Seni
7. KL Forest Eco Park
Known locally as Taman Eko Rimba, KL Forest Eco Park is a rainforest situated in the heart of an urban jungle. There are 10 different trails, most of which are lined with strategically placed seating areas. The trails vary in terms of terrain and width. Some are more like paved sidewalks while others look to be barely maintained. The park is large enough for you to experience some solitude with nature but small enough that you may run into some of the same people if you do more than a few of the trails. Wear comfortable shoes and try to get there early as the heat gets more intense as the day goes on. You’ll need water — if you don’t have a water bottle, you can buy one at the main entrance.
The entrance is off of Jalan P Ramlee, so you’ll have to head east on Sultan Ismael after you exit Bukit Nanas station. From there, turn right onto Ramlee, and the entrance will be on your right. You have to walk past KL Tower and the Upside Down House to get to the park’s main (and only) entrance, all located on a hilltop. There’s a shuttle available on Jalan Puncak, at the bottom of the hill. It costs about $9 to enter, cash only.
Nearest station: Bukit Nanas
8. Bazaar Baru Chow Kit
Bazaar Baru Chow Kit is the polar opposite of the climate-controlled, well-organized Central Market. Known for its narrow lanes and pungent scents, this is KL beyond the megamalls, skyscrapers, and endless Starbucks locations. The market is divided into two sections, so if you have a weak stomach, skip the fish and meat (wet) section and head to the fruit and vegetable (dry) market. As you stroll the narrow lanes, voices will become indistinguishable as you bump elbows with (mostly) locals negotiating prices with their favorite vendors. To truly experience the market, you need to walk around the fish and meat sections and hear the seemingly endless sounds of butcher knives chopping up ayam (chicken) and ikan (fish). Unless you plan to avoid the meat and fish sections, don’t wear nice shoes. The market is closed Sundays.
Nearest station: Chow Kit
9. Little India
This shoe-shaped Indian enclave is home to Christain churches, Buddhist and Hindu temples, and dozens of shops and restaurants. The street Jalan Tun Sambanthan is lined with small, family-run textile shops, grocery stores, jewelry shops, video stores, and cafes. The road is separated from the sidewalk by colorful arches, which hover over concrete flower beds, with Little India Brickfields inscribed in them. Of all the streets in Little India, Sambanthan represents the greatest assault on the senses. The smell of fresh fruits and vegetables mixes with exhaust fumes to the soundtrack of honking horns and Indian music blaring out of the different shops.
If you’re looking to get off the main road, head to Moneys Corner, which is in a well-hidden alleyway between Sambanthan and Vivekananda. This is a no-frills Indian-Malay version of the food courts that are omnipresent in Chinatown. If you haven’t eaten from a banana leaf or tried the national dish of nasi kandar, this is an ideal place to try both with the locals. If you’re exiting from the KL Sentral Monorail station, just walk south on Sambanthan.
Nearest station: Bangsar
10. Batu Caves
Named after a nearby village, this 400-million-year-old limestone hill is home to one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside of India. Get here early, especially if you want to climb the 272 rainbow-colored steps, which lead up to the main Hindu temple. Because of the crowds and intense heat, it’s best to visit before 10:00 AM or after 7:00 PM. While most visitors day trip here from KL, there are enough activities to make it worth spending at least one night. There are more than 160 rock-climbing routes in the area, and you can also catch daily Indian cultural shows. If you don’t mind crowds, try to plan your visit to coincide with the annual Thaipusam festival when Hindus from around the world descend on the complex.
While there’s no cost to walk around and snap Instagram photos, there are fees involved if you want to fully experience Batu Caves. You have to pay just over $1 to enter the art gallery or museum caves, the latter of which depicts the story of the Hindu deity Rama through artfully detailed sculptures. These caves are worth the entrance fee, just for the fact that limestone absorbs heat, resulting in a more constant temperature.
The streets to the east of the train station are lined with vendors selling local fruits like durian and jackfruit, as well as local arts and crafts. You’ll see plenty of visitors drinking fresh coconut juice to stay hydrated. Just be careful of the monkeys, which tend to congregate around food stalls.
From KL Sentral, a one-way ticket on the commuter rail costs less than a dollar. The ride takes 40 minutes, and unlike the other metro lines, commuter trains run on strict schedules, which are on display at all stations. Trains to and from Batu Caves leave roughly every 30 minutes.
Nearest station: Batu Caves
Practical tips for using the KL Metro:
- Service starts around 6:00 AM and ends around midnight.
- KL Komuter trains (including the airport lines) are not included with most day passes.
- Some lines have women-only cars.
- Service is more frequent during rush hour.
- Make sure you know which exit to take as crossing many streets in KL can be a challenge.