The first time I told my friends that I’d be heading to Malaysia, I discovered just how polarizing Kuala Lumpur is as a city. Opinions ranged from “you’ll have more fun riding out a tetanus infection” to “promise me that you’ll spend a month there.” Fortunately, I loved Kuala Lumpur infinitely more than lockjaw — but there’s only one way to find out if you’ll enjoy Kuala Lumpur yourself.
There’s not as much travel buzz for KL as there is for Bangkok, but more than there is for Jakarta at least. To give Malaysia’s capital a fair shot, this is how to spend twenty-four epic hours in Kuala Lumpur.
Planning your day in Kuala Lumpur
Before our day begins, throw on a pair of comfortable walking shoes and pack a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Get a full night of rest as there will be little down time and the combination of Malaysia’s heat and humidity is a concoction for exhaustion.
Morning: Menara Kuala Lumpur Tower and Eco Forest Park
At over 1,300 feet high, Menara Kuala Lumpur tower is the tallest telecommunications tower in Southeast Asia and a prime spot for panoramic views of the city. Venture up to the observation deck that’s located 900 feet above the ground and walk around the platform. This is ideal for orienting yourself within the city using the Petronas Towers as a landmark.
Opt for the full package and purchase the sky deck and sky box package. The sky box is a glass box that juts over the ledge of the sky deck, allowing you to look directly at the sprawling concrete below you.
Once you’re done admiring the city from above, head back down to ground level and walk to the nearby Eco Forest Park. This park is free to enter and is made up of a series of swinging bridges and short trails. It’s an easy walk that takes more more than twenty minutes, and is not very strenuous (so long as you can walk up and down stairs). After looking at thousands of man-made buildings, strolling among Malaysian plant life feels as though you’ve hit a reset button.
Menara Kuala Lumpur: Open 9am-10pm,
Afternoon: Batu Caves
Take Grab, a taxi, or a train to Batu Caves, a Hindu religious site about forty minutes away from Menara Kuala Lumpur Tower. Here, you’ll first see a golden statue of Murugan, a Hindu deity, that stands over 140 ft tall. Behind him are 272 technicolor steps that lead to Batu Cave.
Take your time walking up the steps to Batu Cave (and watch out for the monkeys). Inside, admire the intricate and rainbow-colored shrines dedicated to the Hindu gods. Look up to see limestone stalactites and fruit bats clinging to the cave’s ceiling.
There are a handful of delicious vegetarian cafes nearby to grab lunch before or after your excursion into the caves.
Evening: Petronas Towers
The Petronas Towers are without a doubt the most iconic buildings in Malaysia and are currently the tallest twin towers in the world. They stand as a symbol of capitalism (the towers are packed with luxury boutiques and big-name shops) and Malaysia’s advancement in the modern era. Intentionally, the tower’s architecture nods to Islamic themes and motifs–though this seems to be something only those well-versed in religion can recognize.
At night, the towers are stunning. Nearly ever panel of the building it lit, contrasting the towers against a black sky. It’s worth visiting the park stretching out from the towers in order to view the towers in their entirety (and watching the entertaining evening fountain show). If you haven’t had enough views for the day, you can also go inside the tower and look out through the Petronas Towers observation deck.
Night: Drinks at the SkyBar
For dinner and drinks, make a reservation at the SkyBar inside Traders Hotel, on the 33rd floor of the building. The Traders Hotel is directly across the Petronas Towers, meaning you’ll get an incredible zoomed-out view of the towers that isn’t possible from any other bar in the area–they all have some form of obstruction in the way. While the cocktails could be stronger, it’s worth throwing down the $10 to enjoy a cold drink and nice music while looking at one of the world’s most iconic skylines.
SkyBar: Open 10am-1am Sunday-Thursday, 10am-3am Friday and Saturday.
If You Go
Stay: The Bed KLCC, a luxury hostel in a great location. Both dorm rooms and private rooms available.
Getting around: The public transportation system in Kuala Lumpur is well-connected and affordable. Otherwise, use Grab (Malaysia’s most popular rideshare app).
If you decide you’re in the camp that loves the place, renting an apartment here is surprisingly affordable. Check out this guide to the cost of living in Malaysia.