THE KUALA LUMPUR JOURNAL This stylish, boutique hotel is centrally located in the city’s main shopping and entertainment district of Bukit Bintang. Have your choice of several in-house dining options and spend your evenings lounging at the rooftop pool (or, if you’re feeling adventurous, check out the nearby bar hub neighborhood of Changkat).
THE YARD BOUTIQUE HOTEL Another great option in the Bukit Bintang area, this intiving hotel consists of only 11 deluxe rooms. Our favorite part is the secluded courtyard that will transport you away from the hustle and bustle of central KL.
ALOFT Take one look at this property’s gorgeous rooftop pool (and city views) and you’ll be instantly on board. No need to venture out in the evenings, as Mai Bar is located on the 30th floor of the hotel, complete with a chic crowd, nice cocktails and DJ who plays into the night.
Malaysia is a fascinating country in Asia for many reasons, but its rich food scene certainly is at the top of the list. The blending of traditional Indian, Chinese and Malaysian cuisine is a treat for the tastebuds. My best advice: TRY EVERYTHING. And don’t be scared of the street food, it’s always the tastiest and cheapest!
JALAN ALOR FOOD STREET When looking for a sampling of different Asian cuisines, this street food market is the perfect spot. You’ll find Indian, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese…the list goes on. Everything is absolutely delicious and SO CHEAP. We’re talking like the best Nasi Goreng (Malay fried rice) you’ve ever had for the equivalent of $3 or less!
PS150 This hole-in-the-wall cocktail bar in KL’s Chinatown is not easy to find (there’s no sign), but once you’re inside you’ll be glad its remained somewhat of a hidden gem. Weave your way back through differently decorated rooms and passageways to a cool little bar with an even cooler drink list. The cocktails are an absolute must. This is the perfect spot to escape the crowds of toursists after exploring the PETALING STREET NIGHT MARKET – a crowded flea market in the center of Chinatown. Before hitting the bar you can also dine on the same street at hip Asian eateries Merchant’s Lane (for breakfast, coffee or brunch only) or Chocha Foodstore.
DEVI’S CORNER – While vising KL, getting some traditional Indian food is necessary. Devi’s Corner is one of the most popular Hawker (street food) stalls and is located in the upscale Bangsar neighborhood. They serve up the best South Indian, Traditional Indian and Indo-Malaysian dishes that the city has to offer. The best part is that, as a traditonal Mamak restaurant, its open 24 hours! Stop in anytime for their famous banana leaf rice or some freshly-made roti (or both).
HELI LOUNGE BAR A helicopter pad that morphs into a sprawling rooftop bar in the evenings, complete with DJs & killer views – need we say more? Be sure to visit the bar for sunset, the views of central KL are stunning and unobstructed by glass or baracades.
THEAN HOU TEMPLE Known as one of the oldest and largest temples in Southeast Asia, this 6 tiered Buddhist temple is also known as the Temple of the Goddess of Heaven. You’ll see devotees and visitors burning joss sticks and kneeling to pray at the giant statues located inside the temple. Try to visit during Chinese New Year or another big Chinese holiday…during these times there are thousands of lanterns strung all around the grounds (sadly, they weren’t there when I visited)!
SKYBAR Located on the 33rd floor of the Traders Hotel, this indoor bar/club (complete with glowing pool) is a popular spot to go for a drink when in central KL. I’ll admit, the whole vibe of the place wasn’t really for me, BUT, it has unarguably the BEST views of the famous Petronas Twin Towers that I could find in my 4 weeks working in KL. The clubby-scenester crowd is worth putting up with for this view…I’d definitely recommend going for sunset!
BATU CAVES Located just a short drive outside of Kuala Lumpur, Batu Caves is a grouping of Hindu temples built inside cavernous limestone hills. As it’s one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside of India, be expecting crowds (its best to not visit on the weekends, however I went on a Sunday afternoon and it was still manageable). Don’t forget to dress conservatively (same goes for most temples in Asia) and bring a scarf to cover your shoulders or knees. In order to reach the temples, visitors must climb 250+ steps past a giant bronze Buddha, so wear your walking shoes!
WEEKEND TRIP: LANGKAWI ISLAND
When considering a weekend trip outside of the city, Malaysia has over 40 gorgeous islands that are open to visitors (and over 800 in total!). The islands in the east are known for having the clearest water and best snorkelling, but they’re also more difficult to get to and commonly shut down during the rainy season (October – March, when I was visiting). Langkawi is one of the largest and most popular of those located in the west and where I chose to spend a weekend.
I arrived at my beautiful hotel, The Danna, in the morning after taking the red eye from KL. The staff was extremely welcoming, I immediately noticed the warm island hospitality that was a welcome escape from the busy city. After my complimentary welcome beverage and massage, I was escorted to my suite, complete with stunning ocean views. The hotel is classically Colonial in its design and no detail is spared in making guests feel comfortable. I tried local dishes by the pool, lounged on the private beach and watched the sunset (wine in-hand) from my balcony. The staff even brought me freshly-cut aloe vera from the spa when they noticed my terrible sunburn I had gotten earlier on the beach (after just 30 minutes in the sun. No joke. I’ll just blame it on my close proximity to the equator. #gingerproblems). The Danna was a genuine yet luxurious experience and is one of the top hotels on the island. Luckily, the Malaysian price tag makes it much more affordable when compared to similar hotels in other parts of the world.
Langkawi is a good island to explore by scooter, I’d recommend renting one for a day or two so you’re able to explore freely, discovering secluded beaches and gorgeous tropical terrains. Other highlights include a visit to Skybridge Langkawi, the longest free-span bridge in the world. It is quite crowded, but in my opinion worth the jaw-dropping views you’ll get of the whole island. Try to plan the visit when the weather is good, I was a little bummed when I visited because a crazy island storm blew in out of nowhere and suddenly I couldn’t see anything but foggy clouds, despite being suspended 250+ feet over the rainforest.
Spend one evening walking down Pantai Cenang Beach and popping into all of the little bars that spill out onto the beach. This is the most touristy area of the island, but there’s live music, cheap drinks, street entertainers, trinkets to buy and street food to eat (can’t complain about that).
DAY TRIP: THE CAMERON HIGHLANDS
The Cameron Highlands are the perfect weekend (or just for one day) escape from Kuala Lumpur. The region is significantly cooler than the city (since its so much higher in elevation), which for me was a welcome change as I’m not the biggest fan of hot/humid weather. Founded during the Colonial period and named after explorer Sir William Cameron (who mapped the area in 1885), the region has several small towns to stay in for the evening. The most popular are Tanah Rata and Brinchang. You’ll find yourself among many locals as its a popular weekend destination for Malaysians looking for a break from the constant heat. The Highlands are famous for the many rolling tea plantation fields, so be sure to make a stop during your trip. The most popular (and photogenic) are The Bharat Plantation and BOH Tea Plantation. I also enjoyed my walk through the Mossy Forest and stopping at the many road-side fruit stands sampling the local and (to me) exotic fruits. One major highlight of the day was pulling over to photograph the fog drifting over the valley and stumbling across a small settlement of the Senoi tribe. I timidly walked in (and was luckily with a Malaysian who spoke the language) and was greeted by curious tribe members. I snapped photos of the straw huts, watched as women prepared dinner over open fires, and smiled as the children ran around with the chickens playing games. These settlements are not publicly published (as the Malaysian government wants to protect these indigenous groups) but if you’re lucky you just might stumble across one!