March 18, 2015

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: What to do for a day or two?

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, is a mix of the old and modern times.  The government has done a tremendous job when they decided to preserve old buildings built by the colonizers from the 19th century.  I first came here when I was 7 years old, when I thought their mosques and buildings were very similar to those of the movie, Aladdin.  So, when my mom decided to book a short trip to this lovely country, I couldn't help but feel nostalgic about the heritage sites I've seen before.

If you're a fan of history and culture, Malaysia should be your destination.  But what can you do when your days are limited to a day or two?  Here are some tips to make your stay worthwhile:

How to get to the city from the airport
If you took Cebu Pacific to fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, your plane will land on KLIA2.  To get to KL Sentral, there are several options you can choose from:

a.  By bus.  There are kiosks that surround the lobby before you exit KLIA2.  Get a ticket for RM10 (adult) and RM5 (child).  Head outside and there are yellow buses that say KLIA2 > KL SENTRAL. Show the conductor your ticket, and wait until they fill the bus with other passengers.  Waiting time may take long, depending on the number of passengers required.  Once you get inside, pick the front seats and sleep those 40 minutes away until you get to KL Sentral.  From KL Sentral, walk further or grab an Uber taxi to get to your hotel.  The Red Backpacker's Tip: Some taxi drivers can be aggressive in haggling.  If you're staying in one of the hostels in Jalan Petaling, it only costs RM5 based from the running meter.  Be vigilant in persuading them to use the meter.  Otherwise, they can overcharge you for as high as RM10-20 = 120 Pesos.

One more of The Red Backpacker's Tip:  As soon as you're done with the immigration, buy a local sim for RM45 with 1GB worth of unlimited data.  This will be useful when using Maps and grabbing Uber taxis and, of course, uploading photos on your social media as you cruise along your trip.

b. By cab.  This option is more convenient and more expensive.  Travel time from KLIA2 to KL Sentral is 40 minutes without traffic.  Price is around RM90.

Uber Taxis in Malaysia are the best!
Regular cab vs Uber Taxi: Taxi drivers in KL can be pretty notorious.  They overcharge, and sometimes trick you into allowing metered trips then charge you double afterwards.  One of the highlights for this trip is Uber's Uber the top service (pun intended).  All you need is a local sim with unlimited data option, a registered account on Uber's website, and a credit card.  Not only are they reliable and cashless, they send pretty cars as well (as can be seen in the photo above). 

c. By train.  Take the KLIA express train to KL Sentral. From there, choose the nearest train station (via LRT or LCCT) to your hotel.  Get the directions from the hotel's website or, if you prefer to walk, open your Google Maps to get directions.  If you're still not sure, take the cab or grab an Uber taxi.  The Red Backpacker's Tip:  If you're thinking of navigating the city by train, get a re-loadable Touch n' Go card for RM20-50 for a 4-day trip.

Where to find a money changer with the best rates in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
A friend who is a frequent visitor of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, suggested Sungei Wang Plaza.  During our stay, the exchange rate was at RM1 = P 8.10 compared to Chinatown's RM1 = P7.60.  The Red Backpacker's Tip:  While at it, you can purchase your Old Town Coffee packs at Giant Supermarket that costs P10 less than buying at their restaurant.

Where to stay?
I suggest that you choose one of the 4-star hotels in Bukit Bintang.  We stayed at Bunc Hostel, located in Jalan Petaling aka Chinatown.  Just when we thought it was cheaper than the regular hotel, we realized that the rates are almost the same as with the 4-star hotels in Bukit Bintang. 

I wouldn't recommend Bunc because the WiFi is a bit slow.  Plus, it was gone for a day during our stay.  Their customer service was disappointing, too.  They did not inform us that their wifi modem was broken nor suggested a place where we could get one.  Moreover, when we checked out, no one was there but a local who did not know how to speak English.  Instead of sticking to our schedule, we had to adjust by waiting for roughly 30 minutes before their regular staff returned.

Where to eat in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
You will never run out of options on where to eat authentic Malay, Halal, or Indian food in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. 

a.  Restoran Devi's Corner.  If you're into good Indian food, one restaurant you shouldn't miss, which is located at Bangsar Village.

Devi's Corner

It was featured in Food Network's Best Thing I Ever Ate and won Best Cheap Eats in the Time Out KL in 2013.

The Red Backpacker's Tip:  If you're looking for a whole street to satisfy your tummy, head to Jalan Alor.  Although I've read in other blogs that it is best to visit this place at night, when all restaurants and hawker places are open, we went there during the day (no thanks to the unpredictable rainfall). 

b.  Restoran Dragon View.  We chose to dine here and it didn't disappoint us.  Some items may be pricey, like these huge shrimps.

But, their Nasi Lemak and roast duck are to die for. :)

c.  Old Town Coffee.  When in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, never miss a trip to Old Town Coffee and get a taste of their White Milk Tea.

Best Teh Tarik in town
What to do if you skipped the city tour
The reason why my family chose this is because everyone wanted to skip the tourist trap locations where agencies require each city tour with a corresponding shop that sells overpriced souvenirs.  We went DIY and did the following:

a. Visit Batu Caves.  We booked a cab via Uber that only charged us RM14 (P170), compared to regular taxis or personal drivers that gave me quotations as high as RM55 (P660).  Another way to go there is to head on to KL Sentral and ride via Central bus and train station connected to Nu Sentral Mall.

Welcome to the Batu Caves
The Red Backpacker's Tip:  Entrance is FREE.  Just make sure you wear proper clothes as they consider this a sacred place.  Authorities will require you to wear sarong (you can rent one for RM2) if you're wearing shorts/skirt above the knee.

300 steps to the top
It takes 300 steps to get to the top.  Are your lungs ready? 

Ceiling art
As soon as I hit the last step, I can feel my blood gushing inside.  My knees were shaking.  And, my adrenaline all pumped up.  Hello, Cardio. We meet again.  I thought I was going to pass out. But when I saw this view, I felt alright.

View from the top of Batu Caves
The Red Backpacker's Tip:  Bring a bottled water to keep you hydrated while climbing under the heat of the sun.  Monkeys are also everywhere so make sure to keep your accessories inside your bags.

This lovely photo was shot by my sister
Once you head down, you can relax and enjoy the view of pigeons flying from one place to another, scouting for food.  My sister had her moment, too. She got pooped. :)

Pigeon's poop

Pigeons waiting to be fed
You have 2 options to go back to the city.  One is Uber.  The second one is via train.

My sister and I chose the longer, cheaper, and more fun option this time.  We took the Port Klang Line and headed to KL Sentral Station.  From there, we bought tickets to KLCC via Kelana Jaya Line.  Once you reach KLCC Station, head out to AvenueK Mall, which is right across Suria KLCC.

The famous Petronas Twin Towers
b. Relax at Suria KLCC.  After a long time of waiting, walking, and switching trains, enjoy the lovely Suria Mall and head to the park at the back to enjoy the lovely view of The Petronas Twin Towers.

at the Suria KLCC park
c. Go back in time at Merdeka Square.  A National Heritage site, there are 20 national icons located here.  Among them are:

Kuala Lumpur City Gallery.  Where you can take your selfie at the famous I Love KL installation. Admission to the gallery is RM5.

National Textile Museum.  The Islamic style facade was derived from Moghul architecture.

Sultan Abdul Samad Building.  Grabbing one's attention because of its copper domes, this place is now occupied by the Ministry of Information, Communications and Culture.

Kuala Lumpur City Library.  This also serves as a multi-purpose hall, conference area, and auditorium.

d. We also passed by the KL Railway Station.  It was built in 1904 & 1910 during the British colonialism.

KL's view from the train
e. Check out the nightlife at Bukit Bintang.  Located at the heart of the Kuala Lumpur's Golden Triangle.

f. The best knock offs are at Jalan Petaling / Chinatown.  Drivers always say BARGAIN when in Chinatown.  Prices start high so don't hesitate to haggle up to 30%.

Others may suggest a full itinerary where you get to see more places.  But, for us, what we wanted was to see KL in a relaxing light.  We had time to rest and enjoy the view without rushing ourselves.  Malacca and Penang were too far.  Genting Highlands was under renovation.  So, what else can you do but enjoy what the city has to offer.

Tune Hotels lobby. By far, KLIA2 is the best branch I've been to.
The Red Backpacker's Tip:  If your flight is scheduled during wee hours (12AM-3AM), you may want to consider booking a hotel near the airport.  Our flight was at 1:30AM, and most shops in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, close at 10PM (including the train).  It takes 40 minutes to get to the airport, so we arrived there at 6PM.  My mom got us a room (for 6) at Tune Hotels for RM420 per night - a bit pricey but you can rest until 2 hours before your flight.  Some shops in KLIA2 close early, too.  So, this was by far, the better option.

Overall, Kuala Lumpur reminded me of Manila.  The food was great, the people were friendly, choosing taxis can be tricky.  This is the kind of trip that is best to experience with family.  I'd definitely go back for more authentic Teh Tarik.  But, maybe, I would want to explore other places in Malaysia such as Penang, Cameron Highlands, and Langkawi.

Here's a 4-minute video of our 2 full day trip to Kuala Lumpur.  Enjoy!