Rebecca Pearson explores the sights, sounds and fabulous cuisine of Malaysia's capital
WHY GO NOW?
KL - as it is invariably known - has blossomed from a colonial backwater into one of Asia's great cities. Yet amid the high-rises, you can still find a strong sense of history. And if food is important to you, the Malaysian capital offers sheer indulgence.
Malaysia Airlines (0870 607 9090; www.malaysia-airlines.com), flies daily from Heathrow and four times a week from Manchester to Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). Emirates (0870 243 2222; www.emirates.com) has connections in Dubai from Gatwick, Heathrow, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. Thomson Worldwide can arrange two-night B &B packages at the Federal Hotel for £604 per person (0800 197 1917; www.thomsonworldwide.co.uk).
KLIA is 28 minutes from Sentral station (1) on the KLIAekspres; a one-way ticket costs 35 Malaysian ringgits (£5) (00 603 2267 8000; www.KLIAekspres.com). The bus (00 603 6203 3064) costs RM25 (£3.50) one-way, RM45 (£6.50) return. Taxis - pre-booked at the desk near the exit - cost around RM70 (£10).
GET YOUR BEARINGS
KL has several distinct districts, notably Chinatown, Little India and the historic quarter where the Klang and Gumbak rivers meet. The upmarket hotels and shops are in the "Golden Triangle" (between Jalan Sultan Ismail, Jalan Bukit Bintang and Jalan Ampang), with cheaper options around Chinatown. There is a tourist information centre (00 603 2274 3125; www.tourism.gov.my) at Sentral station (1). For details of what's on, pick up a free copy of PM (00 603 2297 0999; www.pmmag.com.my), which is available in hotels and restaurants.
For luxury on the cheap try the J W Marriott (2) at 183 Jalan Bukit Bintang (00 603 2715 9000; www.marriott.com), part of the exclusive Star Hill mall. Doubles start at RM368 (£52), room only. The Renaissance (3), at the corner of Jalan Sultan Ismail and Jalan Ampang (00 603 2164 8877; www.renaissance-kul.com), offers a two-night weekend package without breakfast for RM224 (£32).
More modest accommodation can be found near Sentral station, at the YMCA (4) at 95 Jalan Padang Belia (00 603 2274 1439; www.ymcakl.com). A double here costs RM80 (£11), with breakfast.
TAKE A VIEW
The 421m high, Menara Kuala Lumpur (5) is the fourth-tallest telecommunications tower in the world (00 603 2020 5448; www.menarakl.com.my). The observation deck at 276m is open 9am-10pm daily; your RM15 (£2) ticket includes the loan of binoculars and an audio tour. While you're in the area, explore Kuala Lumpur's nine-hectare Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve, starting at the Forest Information Centre (6) at 240 Bukit Nanas (00 603 2616 4488; 7am-6pm daily; free). You won't spot a tiger, but there are exotic insects and plants aplenty.
TAKE A RIDE
... on the KL Transit, the cheap, air-conditioned six-line elevated railway system that traverses the city. Fares start from RM0.70 (£0.10).
TAKE A HIKE
Not all of KL's heritage has been obliterated in the race for modernity. Directly opposite the east side of Masjid Jamek station (7), you can see the beautiful Art Deco Bank Bumiputra building (8), the former radio HQ and KL's answer to Broadcasting House. Head south, pausing to admire the old Gian Singh building (9), and head down Lebuh Ampang. This leads into Market Square (10), with its fine collection of elegant 20th-century buildings; look out for the Art Deco OCBC building on the south-east corner. Continue south along Jalan Hang Kasturi and you reach Central Market (11) - which narrowly avoided demolition in the 1980s and is now a handicrafts centre.
LUNCH ON THE RUN
Jalan Alor (12) used to be the red-light district of KL, but has morphed into a popular place to eat, boasting plenty of (mainly Chinese) hawker stalls. If you're not sure what you want there'll probably be a hostess who's eager to explain what's on offer. Nasi goreng (fried rice) is always a good option and shouldn't cost more than RM4 (£0.50). The area livens up after dark.
From Maharajalela station (13) follow the big sign at the bottom of the stairs for Chinatown. After about a minute you'll see a big overhead sign for Jalan Petaling. Brace yourself: as soon as you step over the threshold you'll be accosted by hawker-stall owners who sell everything from shirts (pay no more than RM20/£2.50) to CDs (the usual deal is three for RM10/£1.25). The road was recently given a grand glass roof, which successfully keeps out some of the heat.
To combine shopping with rollercoasters, head to Berjaya Times Square (14), where you can whizz around in Cosmo's World Theme Park aboard the Supersonic Odyssey (00 603 2117 3118; 10am-10pm daily, RM25/£3.50).
The trendiest area is Asian Heritage Row (Jalan Doraisamy). Start with a daquiri at The Loft (15) at 34-40 Jalan Doraisamy (00 603 2691 5668). Then move to thatindianthing (16) at 52 Jalan Doraisamy (00 603 2698 6357; www.thatindianthing.com) for pint-sized margaritas and fabulous Indian cooking that may entice you to stop for dinner.
DINING WITH THE LOCALS
Jalan Walter Grenier (17) features a fantastic row of restaurants that serve mainly Chinese food. Restoran Mohamed Abbas (8 Jalan Walter Grenier, 00 603 2143 4980) serves wonderful spicy tom yam soup for RM4 (£0.50).
SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH
Most Malays are Muslims, but in this diverse culture many faiths are represented. In KL terms, the Anglican St Mary's Cathedral (00 603 2692 8672), dating from 1887, is an antique: it stands in a quiet corner of Merdeka Square (18).
OUT TO BRUNCH
Head to the Lot 10 Mall (19) on Jalan Bukit Bintang where you'll find the Dome restaurant (00 603 9200 3438; www.domecafe.com.my) by the entrance. It boasts outdoor air conditioning, which has to be felt to be believed. Try the puff pies, or several of their super-indulgent cakes.
Get a taxi to Muzium Negara (20) on Jalan Damansara (00 603 2282 6255; www.museum.gov.my; 9am-6pm daily; RM2/£0.28). The first-floor section on the insects of Malaysia is good. After that, head to the immaculate Islamic Arts Museum (21) on Jalan Lembah Perdana (00 603 2274 2020; www.iamm.org.my). It has some fine Islamic artefacts, and is open 10am-6pm daily except Mondays; RM8 (£1)
A WALK IN THE PARK
Drop in at the world's largest covered bird park (22) at 920 Jalan Lembah Taman Tasik Perdana (00 603 2272 1010; www.birdpark.com.my; 9am-7.30pm daily).
THE ICING ON THE CAKE
KL's proudest edifice is 452m high: the Petronas Towers (23), once the tallest buildings in the world, are now the tallest matching pair of skyscrapers. At night they glow bright white. During the day, visit the 170m-high sky bridge at levels 41 and 42 (00 603 2331 1769; 8.30am-5pm, daily except Monday). Get there early - the first 1,300 visitors each day are allowed up for free.
Additional research by Alice WoudhuysenReuse content