I like to think of myself as a well-travelled person. I’ve seen the Empire State building and the White House, been skiing in Eastern Europe, eaten pastries in Parisian patisseries and, well… loads of other western stuff. It wasn’t until the flight to Malaysia that I realised I’ve actually never been further east than Bulgaria and that I had actually very little experience of what the world has to offer.
Kuala Lumpur is the first place in Asia I’ve ever been to, and it’s blown me away. The crazy traffic, the towering skyscrapers, the smell of cooking mystery meat that wafts up from every corner. The humidity that hangs heavy in the air like a smog, holding the threat of thunder and dampening the clothes of commuters as they cram themselves onto the rush hour sky trains.
It was on one of these trains that we found ourselves 3 hours after landing in KL, complete with jumpers, leggings and giant backpacks. Absolutely sweltering. After a 13 hour flight, nearly losing a bag at the airport and getting a bus that took us to the wrong side of the city, by the time we crammed ourselves onto the LRT we were exhausted. Following a very cramped and sweaty metro ride with several pissed off locals who weren’t so keen on having 2 giant backpacks shoved in their faces, we arrived in Chinatown. Another 40 minutes of walking around in circles trying to read the map (Yes! A real paper map!), and we finally found ourselves at the Promised Land. Our hostel.
Where To Stay
Mingle- £8/night dorm, £18/night private (£9 between 2)
Mingle hostel is a converted colonial house located at 53, Jalan Sultan, City Centre. It now houses 42 rooms, and both dorms and privates are complete with plug sockets by every bed, bed linen and a towel (free for private rooms, a small charge for dorms). It’s cool, and not only due to the air con units in every room. The style of the hostel has got a real converted warehouse-meets-tropical garden vibe, with spiral staircases, hanging plants and exposed industrial piping. The showers are hot, breakfast is free and at the end of a long, sweaty day exploring you can relax with a beer and your new pals in the rooftop bar (which is a bit expensive so best to get your beers from the 7-eleven up the road). The wifi is good too so if, like me, your family needs to know you’re alive every minute of the day, you have enough connection to tell them you haven’t been stolen, chopped up and sold at the nearest wet market. It’s clean, social and comfortable. A solid 8/10.
What To Eat
The food scene in Kuala Lumpur is absolute heaven. Being a huge melting pot of cultures where Chinese, Indian and traditional Malay all combine, KL offers the hungry traveller a smorgasbord of delicious treats. After getting past the initial ‘please take the ice out of the lemonade’, ‘I think I’ll just go veggie for the next 4 months’, white girls in Asia phase of the first day, we followed a new Malaysian friend to a few places and discovered some amazing food. This friend (shoutout Lincoln you ledge) had lived in KL for a few years and knew aaaaaall the good places to eat. Luckily for you, I asked for deets of all the places he recommend so that I can pass on his infinite culinary wisdom.
Chicken Satay- Sate Kajang Haji Samuri, Medan Mara, Lot No. 6, 50609 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
We’ve all had satay. Dry and cold from a Saino’s packet at a rainy picnic, warm but slightly rubbery from the local Thai restaurant, even homemade on the bbq with sauce made from peanut butter, soy sauce and lime juice (it’s grim, trust me). I thought I knew satay. Chicken on a stick. Then I ate this satay. I mean, it’s still chicken on a stick. But it’s bloody delicious chicken on a stick. Tender thigh and breast meat, perfectly cooked with a beautiful melee of spices…..and then there’s the sauce. Imagine the smoothest, most coconutty red curry sauce you’ve ever had, add finely chopped peanuts and crushed chillis and BAM. Heaven. They also come with these squished together rice bite things which were cakey and carby and soaked up the glorious peanut sauce like a dream. I won’t be going back to Saino’s for my satay.
1 MYR/stick= 20p (ish)
About 12 MYR for 5 sticks, sauce and rice= £2.40
Masala Dosa- Sri Paandi, 14 Bukit Bintang Street, Bukit Bintang, 55100 Kuala Lumpur
If you fancy a break from rice and noodles, head to Sri Paandi in Bukit Bintang for some tasty af Indian food. For 3.50 MYR you can get a Masala Dosa- a flatbread made of rice flour, rolled reeeeeally thin then folded around delicious masala potatoes. It’s flaky, buttery, deliciousness with some tasty dahls for dipping. We also got a side of chicken curry and 2 iced lemon teas for a grand total of 13 MYR. Still can’t quite believe we got dinner for 2 for £2.40 but that’s Malaysia for ya! Join in with the locals and eat with your hands- right hand only though!
Madras Lane Hawker Stalls
If, like us, you spend your first day in KL clutching your Lonely Planet book, you’ll notice that pretty high up on the ‘where to eat’ list are the Madras Lane hawker stalls. Here, you can buy steaming bowls of curry laksa, join the loooong queue for yong tau foo or head to the stalls at the back for some Chinese noodles. Whilst trying to find Madras Lane, we took a wrong turning and ended up in the connecting wet market where live chickens are thrust into pans of boiling water, fishes heads are being chopped off at every turn and the puddles underfoot run a suspicious reddish-pink. It was no surprise, then, that chicken and fish were the last things we wanted to eat, so we settled on a bowl of deliciously simple pork noodles. These beauties were tossed with fresh veg, topped with minced pork and accompanied by a clear pork broth. Not being the biggest fan of meaty flavours, I passed on the broth as it was reeeeeally porky. The noodles, however, I slurped down with reckless abandon. Washed down with an iced lemon tea, it cost a total of 12 MYR/ £2.22.
What To Do
Although it’s widely known as a stopover point on the way to further-flung locations, there’s actually heaps to do in KL for the budget traveller, most of which can be done in 2-3 days! There are so many free museums to, temples and cultural experiences to be had, so why not extend your stop and see what it has to offer?
Yes, its hot. Yes, it’s humid. Yes, after 5 minutes outside you will look like Monica in Barbados if she stuck her hand in an electric plug, but the best way to see all the sights of KL is to walk around. If you stay at Mingle (not an ad, I promise but hmu Mingle if u wanna sponsor) you’ll be in perfect walking distance from places like the National Textiles Museum, Merdeka Square and the National Gallery. We saw them all in one day. So strap on your walking shoes and get moving! Your legs will be thanking you after your 13 hour flight.
What is it you look for in a temple? Beautiful colours? Monkeys? More steps than Covent Garden Tube station? A colossal statue of the Hindu god Murugan with a belly that is an exact replica of mine after eating nothing but noodles and rice for 3 weeks? The Batu Caves have it all. If you can withstand the humidity of 1000 rainforests, climb up the 272 multicoloured steps to the cave at the top and marvel at the sight of this outstandingly beautiful Hindu temple. The stairs leading to the cave were built in 1920 out of wood (I’ll take the concrete, thanks) and the complex consists of 3 main caves and a few smaller ones. The main cave is free for all to enter and the dark cave with all its flora, fauna and creepy crawlies costs 35 MYR (£7) to enter. Take lots of water but keep it away from the opportunistic monkeys, who love stealing from tourists!
Chinatown Night Market
(Not my image. I was too busy shopping to take pics. Original can be found here.)
Chinatown, although hectic and bustling during the day, really comes alive at night. At around 8pm, the wide, covered length of Jalan Petaling becomes a labyrinth of souvenir stalls, various street food hawkers and fake Fila trainers. Bring your coin purse and be prepared to haggle. Where at home can you indulge your penchant for tacky fridge magnets, gap yah elephant trousers and roasted chestnuts all in the same place?
Even though you may only have a few days in KL, there really is a wealth of things to see and do that cost practically nothing and are perfect for the budget backpacker. There are so many things I haven’t even touched on and there are a few famous must-sees. But hey, the best pace to see the skyline is from a rooftop pool. To witness the KL Tower and Petronas Towers at their best, splash out on a £10/night Air Bnb and watch the lights twinkle from the 46th floor. Just watch out for the lightning!
What are your favourite cheap things to do in KL? Are you a galleries and museums kinda backpacker? Or have you found some cool bars where you can drink for a tenner with change to spare? If you have any other tips, let me know in the comments below!