Many flights out of Australia and into Asia or beyond stop in Kuala Lumpur before continuing onto the final destination. I flew Malaysian Air (which was very affordable, but also very hospitable). Every time I was served breakfast or dinner, I was addressed as Miss. Dougherty! They truly provided all of the comforts of home (whilst in the air) and I will definitely be flying with them again. On my journey to and from Germany, I opted for a 20 hour stopover in Kuala Lumpur on both my way there and back. Kuala Lumpur was my first Asian experience and I knew very little about the city before I arrived there. Let me tell you, Kuala Lumpur is a must-see city and very easy to get around. The busses and trains are very efficient/safe and people are very friendly if you need to stop for directions. The city’s skyscrapers adorn the skyline as reflective gems of development and growth, while the Hindu shrines and Muslim mosques paint a character of a city with rich and eclectic cultural traditions. KL offers a unique escape to even the most seasoned traveller. Dine and have a cocktail at the Sky Bar and have the best view of the city skyline, or opt for exploring the mystical Batu Caves. I only had the luxury of experiencing this city for a day at a time, but if you make the most of the stopovers you can really personalise a fantastic day in KL.
Here is what I did in under 48 hours (a combination of the two stopovers):
1. The Batu Caves
My first flight landed in KL at 4:00 AM. The trains start running at 6:00 AM and I took advantage of the early morning to get out of the city and to the Batu Caves. The train ride took around an hour. The time seemed to fly because the trains from the airport offer free wi-fi and are above ground. I was able to plan out more of my day as well as take in the beauty of the city and suburbs on my way out to the Caves. I arrived a little before 8:00 AM, and I am so happy I got there early, because by mid-day the Caves become over-crowded with tourists. These limestone caves are over 400 million years old and house various Hindu temples and shrines. Another bonus of going early is that many locals worship at the shrines within the Caves in the morning. Obviously you must be respectful, but having the chance to witness religious traditions is something you don’t get to experience everyday as a traveller. To get to the entrance of the caves you need to embark on a (somewhat steep) climb of 272 steps. If you are lucky, you will be walking up with devoted worshippers who ascend these steps to the Caves barefoot every morning as a pilgrimage. (Travel tip: pack a backpack with a change of comfortable and loose fitting clothing and trainers. Be prepared to sweat, as it starts getting hot even during the early hours of the day. Be respectful in what you choose to wear. For women I would recommend a quick-dry shirt that covers your shoulders and track pants that go down to you knees.)
2. The Chinatown Experience
Chinatown is a must-see and you can get to it easily from the Batu Caves, but also from Sentral Station if you are in the city. Take the train to the stop “Maharajela”. Start at Petaling Street, which is the central commercial hub of Chinatown. This is an ideal place to buy some local street food or a few souvenirs for your family and friends at home. Be confident and haggle for some of the best deals in KL. Also make sure to check out the Central Market, which has been a shopping and cultural center in KL since 1888. Here you can find indoor market stalls (which can be refreshing from the heat) and also Little India. Little India offers unique curios that embrace the Hindu traditions in KL. Also, it was in the Central Market that I had my henna done. (Travel tip:Bring cash but if you forget it there are ATMs inside Central Market. You can also haggle for lower prices at these market stalls.)
3. Recharge and grab a coffee at Café Amo
By around noon I was exhausted and I needed to re-charge myself and my phone. Café Amo Jalan Sultan is an experience not to miss while in Chinatown, and it is very conducive for breaking up the day for a jet lagged traveller. Café Amo is a cool escape from bustling Chinatown. It offers refreshing drinks, light snacks, phone charging ports, and fast WI-FI! I was able to contact family and let them know I arrived safe, and used the wi-fi to plan the rest of my adventures and transportation for the duration of the afternoon. Café Amo isn’t just any café; it specialises in 3-D coffee art. Yes, the foam from your latte actually is sculpted into various animals and other familiar shapes. I ordered the rose blossom latte (highly recommended) and I was surprised with 4 hello kitties floating at the rim! Great coffee, wonderful people, and a unique experience.
4. Visit a mosque
I visited 2 mosques while I was in Kuala Lumpur. You are spoilt for choice when it comes to experiencing Islamic inspired architecture in KL. KL has one of the largest concentrations of Muslims in Southeast Asia. The first mosque that I visited was the national mosque otherwise known as Masjid Wilayah Persekutuan. I took an Uber car from Chinatown to get there (to save time) but you can also take the train and walk. I arrived with a plan to just explore and take some photos. Instead, I was greeted by a wonderful woman who volunteers at the mosque. She provided me with a headscarf and full hijab to wear and she kindly volunteered to show me around. I kid you not, she spent a full 3 hours with me. She took me around the grounds of the mosque, explained the traditions of Islam, discussed the role of Islam in KL culture, and she allowed me to observe a traditional call to prayer. This was the highlight of my time in Kuala Lumpur. I didn’t feel like I was being converted, but informed about a religion that is a defining characteristic of the KL culture. At the end of our time together she even dropped me back off in the city. This was more of an experience for me than a destination. I would imagine each traveller’s time in a mosque would be very unique. The cherry on top of that experience is that it was free. Another mosque I visited was the Pink Mosque, and that is definitely worth the train/bus ride to Putrajaya. I would not visit both of these mosques on the same day, as Putrajaya is a bit of a ways outside of Kuala Lumpur. (Travel tip: bring a pashmina/scarf as you need to be fully covered inside of the mosque. Although, both mosques do have some you can borrow.)
5. Visit Putrajaya
Putrajaya is about 25 km south of Kuala Lumpur and is home to the Office of the Prime Minister, the Putra Mosque (Pink Mosque), and the Putrajaya Botanical Gardens. To get there, take the train from KL Sentral to Putrajaya, then take the L05 bus (the bus costs about 1 AUD). The Pink Mosque should not be missed on your stop in Putrajaya (admission is also free). It is made of rose-tinted granite and can hold up to 15,000 worshippers. It is absolutely stunning and it sits picturesquely over the water. Another thing to do while in Putrajaya is to rent a bike at the Botanical Gardens and bike the impressive grounds. The 92 hectares of gardens contain more than 700 species of plants, local and from abroad. Also, be sure to check out the Moroccan Pavilion, which is a replica of a palace you would find in Marrakesh located inside the gardens. The Pavilion is beautiful, but there is plenty to be admired from the outside—don’t pay to go inside. Finish off your time in the gardens with lunch at the lovely seafood restaurant that overlooks the gardens. Be mindful that a trip to Putrajaya is more of a half-day activity. I would see Putrajaya and then things around the KL city center (close to the airport train line) so that you have time to make it back in time for your next flight!
Long story short, I was able to do heaps while in KL for 2 days. I also was on a tight budget and managed to do all of the above for ~150AUD. I got most of my travel ideas by exploring Pinterest and other blog posts! If you have any questions before your journey to KL please feel free to reach out!