The skyline of Kuala Lumpur is awesome seen from a distance. In the teeming urban streets, however, this quiet grandeur dissolves into the kinetic activity of an efficient capital city. Kuala Lumpur displays its patriotism through “Proud to be Malaysian” songs, ubiquitous Malay flags, and the highest flagpole in Asia. A country that has been in the hands of every country from India to Portugal, from The Netherlands to Britain, Malaysia’s multi-ethnic history is still visible: up to 7% of the population is of mixed European and Asian blood, and there is a national obsession with inter-racial marriage. And as Malaysians chant, “Malaysia Boleh” (“Malaysia Can”) at sports events, the rumblings of numerous construction projects throughout the city reiterate the same sentiment.
Most sites within the city are accessible by the LRT Trains and the central city is more walkable that one might think judging from a map. Budget accommodations are clustered near the Puduraya Bus Station and in Chinatown. To the east of Puduraya Bus Station, Jln Bukit Bintang runs from Jl. Pudu through the “Golden Triangle,” a posh area of luxury hotels, expensive restaurants, and large shopping malls. The Golden Triangle is roughly bordered by Jl. Imbi to the southeast, Jln Raja Chulan to the north, and Jln Bukit Bintang and Jl. Sultan Ismail to the west. Heading west from Puduraya Bus Station, Jln Pudu splits into Jln Cheng Lock, which runs along the northern edge of Chinatown, and Jln Tun Perak, which leads to Masjid Jamek, where the LRT station of the same name connects Star and Putra LRT lines. South of Masjid Jamek, Jln Sultan Hishamuddin runs through Merdeka square and past the GPO before reaching the old railway station. KL Sentral, to the south, is a major transportation hub to other cities and for KLIA Ekspress to KL’s international airport. While restaurants and shops are open late along Jl. Bukit Bintang and in the Golden Triangle, Bangsar Baru, south of KL Sentral, is the center of nightlife. North of Masjid Jamek, Jln Tuanku Abdul Rahmam takes you through the Indian community and the financial district. The famous Petronas Twin Towers stand in the northeast part of the city, situated along Jln Ampang, which is also home to many foreign embassies.
Kuala Lumpur’s most architecturlly rich area is Merdeka Square (Freedom Square) and was once a colonial cricket field. South of Merdeka is home to the National Mosque (Masjid Negara) as well as famous museums such as the Islamic Arts Museum and National Museum. Along with Asia’s tallest flagpole, Kuala Lumpur also boasts two of the tallest buildings in the world, the Petronas Twin Towers (88-stories).
Though the city is easier to walk around than you may expect, visiting all of the sights it has to offer still remains a challenge. Here is our list of favorite attractions to help you make the most of your visit. Click the links below to learn more about tours and activities.
Malaysian dance and drama are closely related, as exemplified by the Ma’Yong (also Mak Yong), a Malay dance-drama that gained prominence as a court tradition over 400 years ago. Roles are traditionally reserved for young women, except for that of the buffoon or clown. Malay shadow play is an ancient and elaborate form of puppetry. The central story is the Ramayana, Valmiki’s epic Hindu poem, in which Rama leads an army of monkeys from India to Ceylon to rescue his wife. Malay dance comes in many forms. Two of the most popular are the candle dance, in which dancers hold candles on small plates, and silat, which started as a deadly martial art. The most popular Malay dance is the Joget, derived from Portuguese folk dance. Also popular in the state of Johor is the Kuda Kepang, a form of drama-dance brought by Indonesian immigrants in the 20th century. The Kuda Kepang depicts Islam holy wars and is thought to be connected to the world of spirits. Another dance specifically for women, the Datan Julud is found in Sarawak and is used most often to greet visitors to the longhouses
Traditional Malaysian music exhibits Middle Eastern, Indonesian, Portuguese, Filipino, and Chinese influences and usually contains some combination of the drum and gong. Thought to be of Arab origin, the kompang is an instrument similar to a tambourine and consists of goat hide stretched across a circular frame made from the wood of the balau tree. It is usually played at social events in ensembles of two or more kompang. Another traditional instrument to listen for is the sape (pronounced “sa-peh”), a carved, wooden guitar-like lute of the Orang Ulu people in central Borneo. Musical compositions for the sape are designed to accompany specific ceremonies of the rumah panjang (longhouses) in concert with the jatung ulang (wooden xylophone) and kelual (mouth organ). Among the most well-known instruments is the rebab, a spike fiddle. The popular music scene in Malaysia is dominated almost entirely by Indonesian artists.
As in most Muslim countries in Southeast Asia, the standard conservative codes of conduct apply. Remove shoes entering a home or place of worship, dress modestly, and use your right hand when handling food or greeting someone. As part of the traditional Muslim handshake, or salam, the younger person usually grasps the hands of the older person. Malays extend this gesture by retracting the hand and placing it over the heart to indicate sincerity. Handshakes are suitable between men and between women, but be forewarned that Muslims discourage physical contact with the opposite sex. Longhouses observe a specific code of politeness with foreigners. Visitors should never enter a longhouse an invitation. Upon entering, one proceeds directly to the elder’s room to announce one’s presence. It is not polite to enter a family’s sleeping quarters without permission, nor is it acceptable to walk over a person. Before departing, it is expected that one stay and converse with the inhabitants of a longhouse while sampling the local wine, which is usually made from fermented rice.