Nothing quite prepares you for Kuala Lumpur or KL, for short. KL is a place of surprising extremes with a vibrant, interesting mix of things. Glass and steel collide with red-tiled roofs and vintage Chinese shop houses. You can find ancient forests to trek through, right smack in the middle of the city, while the concrete jungle expands all round its perimeters. It's a city that effectively carries remnants from the British Empire (imagine clock towers and cricket pitches) into the present, without compromising its vigor and dynamism. KL can be simultaneously cosmopolitan as it can be conservative. Expect to find minarets and domes rising above a modern landscape of buildings, freeways and overpasses.
Kuala Lumpur is one of the region's great success stories – its exuberance belies its humble beginnings as a tin mining town in 1857. It began at the confluence of two caramel-colored rivers, the Klang and Gombak rivers from which the city derives its name. A frontier settlement, KL soon transformed into a stable, thriving city, surviving two World Wars, the rubber and commodity crash, fire and flood. Much of the old city can easily be explored on foot. Discover traces of the past through buildings such as the Old Post Office, Sultan Abdul Samad Building, the Old High Court, railway station and the Cathedral of St. Mary. Observe the buildings' sweeping white arched colonnades and impressive Moorish minarets. Pop into the National History Museum at Merdeka Square for a quick lesson on the city's historical beginnings. Some of the city's timeless structures have since been lovingly refurbished to accommodate swanky bars, restaurants, clubs and boutique accommodation along the Asian Heritage Row and around Changkat Bukit Bintang. However, there's no escaping the futuristic Petronas Twin Towers because these colossal spires, belonging to the world's tallest twin towers, dominate the skyline. Or the KL Tower, which soars high to 421 meters.
KL'ites are simple and straightforward with diverse and complex cultures. The city's 1.7 million population can be Malay, Chinese or Indian. When the Chinese and Indians emigrated here (a legacy of the British), they clung tightly to their distinctive cultures and customs. Spend time in the city's mosques and temples- there's something about the people's moods and their turn towards spirituality that makes KL unlike any other city. A visit to one of KL's temples is testament to this – Guan Di Temple in Chinatown, impresses with its elaborately embellished pillars, beams and altars. The city's oldest mosque, Masjid Jamek, with its clear white domes and arched colonnades, is a picture of beauty.
KL is fantastic for shopping. An influx of big names coupled with intriguing homegrown fashion makes KL the ideal destination for style seekers. In their glory days, Chinatown, Little India and the Tunku Abdul Rahman strip were the popular places to shop. Today there are chic mega-malls where every imaginable designer labels congregate. One such destination is the Suria KLCC shopping center at the foot of the Petronas Twin Towers. Its six floors of fashion, lifestyle and entertainment offer you the Asian shopping experience. Nevertheless do explore Chinatown and Little India, for their hive of activity and a cacophony of smells, sights and sounds. If your sole intention is to overstuff your luggage, then the year-round carnivals and sales will give you an appetite to shop even more; time your visit during the mid-year Mega Sale Carnival and the Malaysia Year End Sale.
No one can pretend to know and love KL and not its food. No other Asian city offers such assured cooking across the board or such a wide range of cuisines. Put your palate to work round the clock at every corner of the Malaysian kitchen: endless hawker-style eateries (you can eat here for as little as RM5/ US$1.60), raucous dim sum palaces, hushed sushi temples or at Thai restaurants. Join regulars on sidewalks, planted on low plastic stools or feast on delicate morsels in plush surroundings. Whichever your choice, it's your opportunity to share in this grand food obsession.
Party people will find no dearth of bars and nightclubs and the hottest ones are along Jalan P. Ramlee, Changkat Bukit Bintang and the Asian Heritage Row. Local and international DJs spin to a full house, everything from 80s pop and house to hip hop and lounge, every night of the week. The month of April is terrific, jam packed with parties, concerts and music festivals that coincide with the Petronas Malaysian F1 Grand Prix (incidentally KL was the first South East Asian city to host the Formula One World Championships).
The capital's galleries and stages are more exciting than ever. KL's art history is best appreciated at the National Art Gallery and Galeri Petronas (at the Suria KLCC). The Annexe Gallery thrives attracting a younger, hipper crowd with unique and controversial exhibitions, performances and workshops featuring up and coming local talent. The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Center (KLPAC) and the Actors Studio (at Lot 10) top the list for local theater productions. For a fabulous evening of extraordinary music, there's no better place than the Dewan Filharmonik (Petronas Philharmonic Concert Hall) at the Suria KLCC, home to the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra. Concerts held here draw in bigger audiences with major star names.
Kuala Lumpur is in her element. KL has morphed into a truly global city offering a diversity of experiences and activities. Be they intimate or over the top, traditional or contemporary, or somewhere in between there's bound to be something for every type of traveler. Soak in the sizzling heat and get ready to sample KL's warm hospitality.
3 Jalan Stesen Sentral