I bet you didn’t jump out of bed this morning thinking “I can’t wait to book that trip to Kuala Lumpur.” Its name is mud. Well, quite literally: it translates to “muddy junction” – because the city was built where two brown rivers met. That’s hardly a vote of confidence.
From the outside, it seems like an unremarkable city, firmly in the shadows of its big glitzy cousins like Singapore, Hong Kong or Shanghai. But I firmly believe it’s Asia’s most underrated city and here’s why:
The city has a sizzling mix of Malay, Indian and Chinese cuisine, best celebrated in places like Jalan Alor – a street that transforms into a large open-air restaurant by night, with hundreds of stalls selling everything from barbecued chicken wings to satay scallops. And best of all, none of it costs much.
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The most memorable meal I’ve ever had was at Dining in the Dark – the restaurant is run by blind waiters. To enter, you join with your waiter – conga line style – to be led through a series of curtains into a pitch black dining hall.
The waiters have the restaurant mapped out in their head and use click and clap noises to make sure they don’t bump into each other. When the food arrives, you’re not told what the dish is, and the chefs deliberately try and trick your remaining senses by mixing unusual textures and tastes.
The iconic Petronas Towers dominate the skyline, and the 86th-floor observation deck is a great place to get a bird’s-eye view of the city. There’s also a free light show in the park next to the towers each night.
The astonishingly large Batu Caves, thought to be 400 million years old, is just 30 minutes from the city. It’s one of the most important Hindu shrines outside of India. Everything about the caves is spectacular, from the 50-metre tall gold coloured statue at the entrance, to the enormous Cathedral Cave deep inside a cliff with a shrine inside it. Visitors can walk right through the complex, watching pilgrims pray.
The biggest difference between Kuala Lumpur and nearby Singapore is price. You can get a four-star hotel in KL for around a $100 a night – including rooftop pool – while in Singapore, you’re lucky to get a dorm room for that price.
The shopping is cheaper too, and there’s no shortage of it: the Pavilion KL is a luxury shopping mall in the centre of the city with 532 shops.
The world’s coolest mall
Who needs a luxury shopping mall, when you can have one with a theme park inside it. Berjaya Times Square has a five-storey indoor rollercoaster whizzing through it, complete with a loop. Leave the kids at the theme park, while you wander around the 1000 discount shops inside the mall.
Getting there Malaysia Airlines flies daily from Auckland to Kuala Lumpur. You can also pop up from Singapore – it’s just an hour flight away.
Staying there The recently-opened Stripes Hotel has modern rooms, fantastic food and a stunning rooftop pool. Prices start from $97. See: stripeskl.com
The author’s accommodation was provided by Stripes Hotel.