Kuala Lumpur is perhaps the most diverse city in South East Asia. It is far from short on monuments, from brightly coloured temples and towering golden Gods to the sprawling Jamek Mosque, and its mix of Chinese, Malay and Indian cultures means it is a great city for anyone who enjoys good food – which is plentiful. For a girls getaway it has all the right ingredients of delicious food, great value shopping and a selection of bars that serve seriously good cocktails.
Exploring KL’s diverse culinary heritage is one of the city’s great adventures and we start with breakfast. It’s hard not to smile at the brilliantly-painted archways that greet us the second we arrive in Little India where Chat Masala (259 Jalan Tun Sambanthan, Brickfields) is highly recommended. The soft and flaky roti canai or a classic masala dhosa feast of bread and spicy sauces fire us up for some serious bargain hunting (and the Indian sweets are good here too).
Next door Mangala Theebam is the Indian superstore to end all Indian superstores. I could spend hours browsing their spectacular sari collection which spans the gamut from richly jewelled affairs in shades of emerald and turquoise to simpler, lighter hues. From here, it’s an easy amble across Little India shopping for kohl, perfume, costume jewellery – whatever takes your fancy! – ending at Jalan Scott.
The Wei-Ling Gallery (8 Jalan Scott, Brickfields), with its antique-filled ground floor and modern art above, makes a fab quick culture stop while the vast and colourful Sri Kandaswamy Kovil temple down the road (3 Lorong Scott, Brickfields) is a must for the Instagram feed. By this time, we’re craving lunch and a local classic is Vishal Food & Catering (22 Jalan Scott), an unfussy street-style eatery that serves up Chettinad Tamil curries, from gentle dhal to fiery lamb and tangy tamarind-okra, dolloped around a mound of steaming rice on a banana leaf.
Staying with the Indian theme, we jump an Uber to the Batu Caves, less than 30 minutes out of town at Selangor, probably KL’s most spectacular sight. The golden statues and brilliant temples at this limestone complex are magnificent in scale and worthy of more Instagram snaps before heading back to base to get ready for the night ahead.
In the central Ampang district we find more upscale Indian Chettinad cooking at Betel Leaf (77 Leboh Ampang, Ampang) where we feast on quail and crab before hitting one of Asia’s very best bars. At the well-hidden speakeasy Omakase & Appreciate (Ampang Bangunan Ming Annexe, Jalan Ampang, Ampang) the door says “no entry” in five languages! As well as their own creations they serve up favourites such as the Jungle Bird, a tropical cocktail created in KL in the 1970s.
It’s easy to spend the night in this little place but the strip of buzzing bars and clubs that line hectic, friendly Jalan Changkat Bukit Bintang offers a change of pace. For night owls the Teochew Chinese restaurants at the top of Jalan Changkat Thambi Dollah serve until 4 or 5am; Fong Wah Teochew Porridge (61 Jalan Changkat Thambi Dollah, Pudu) is one that dishes up delicious roast duck and razor clams into the wee hours.
Today’s the day to explore Kuala Lumpur’s Chinese side, starting with breakfast at Chocha Foodstore (156 Jalan Petaling), which serves contemporary takes on Chinese-Malaysian classics, in the city’s rapidly gentrifying Chinatown. Sri Mahamariamman (Jalan Tun H S Lee, Chinatown), KL’s oldest Hindu temple, and the colourful Taoist Guan Di Temple are an easy stroll, with stops in between at local boutiques. From here, it’s a nice walk to Coffee Amo (First floor, 54 Jalan Sultan, Chinatown), where cappuccinos and lattes come complete with 3D coffee art (and more Instagram snaps).
The Petaling Street Night Market doesn’t really get going until later, so there’s time to take a taxi back to Bukit Bintang for some bargain hunting, followed by lunch. Nagasari (Jalan Nagasari) is a great little Mamak – Malaysian-Indian – eatery serving classics such as sardine roti or nasi lemak, arguably Malaysia’s national dish, and traditional curries. Around the corner Jersey Jack Gelato (49 Jalan Berangan) has gloriously tropical ice-cream.
There’s upscale shopping in Bukit Bintang as well, but the great tech bargains are at Low Yat Plaza (7 Jalan Bintang), a six-storey electronics mall that’s the largest in Malaysia. High street brands are super-cheap at the Lot 10 shopping mall (50 Jalan Bukit Bintang, Bukit Bintang), particularly for smaller-sized girls, and the Lot 10 Hutong food court is an amazing spot to try some of Malaysia’s favourite street-food vendors all in one place.
I avoid the touristy Central Market but the Petaling Street Night Market (Petaling Street, Chinatown) is in full flow by early evening where fabulous fakes, particularly sunglasses, draw cabin crew from around the world. There are bags and watches too and you shouldn’t need to haggle much to get a bargain.
Again, there are snacks aplenty here. The tangy fish-noodle soup served at the grungy No 1 Assam Laksa inside the market is another Malaysian classic, while Kim Lian Kee’s Hokkien Chinese noodles (56 Jalan Petaling) are famous and the beers are cold – a great spot to watch the world go by.
For me, a highlight of KL is its street food, but this thoroughly modern city has its sophisticated side too and we end the break on a high note, admiring the skyline views from Coppersmith (Level 23, The Troika, 19 Persiaran KLCC), a slick, contemporary craft cocktail bar and just above it there are four restaurants to choose from at Troika Sky Dining, where the likes of David Beckham have been spotted.
TOP 3 TRAVEL TIPS
Take taxis: While public transport isn’t bad, KL’s red taxis are cheap and reliable – check the driver will use the meter before you get in. Uber has great coverage, as does its South East Asian rival, Grab.
- Stay in an apartment: Airbnb and clones such as Roomorama have good coverage in Kuala Lumpur and are generally great value compared to multiple hotel rooms when you’re travelling with a gang. Look for locations in the centre of town rather than Petaling Jaya; Bukit Bintang is central and popular.
- Buy a data package: Don’t get saddled with killer roaming charges. You can pick up a MyMaxis SIM for just 10 MYR ($3). And data comes cheap too, you can buy 600MB of data for a week at 10 MYR ($3), or 2GB for a month at 30 MYR ($9).