So, funny story… going to Kuala Lumpur was actually a complete accident. We didn’t intend to visit Malaysia at all! Originally, we planned to fly to Vietnam, stay in Phú Quốc for ~5 days, fly to Cambodia, stay in Siem Reap for 3 days, and then fly home. Fortunately (though it didn’t feel fortunate at the time), we missed our very first flight to Vietnam. This resulted in a domino effect in which the airline canceled ALL of our subsequent flights. After talking to a travel agent on the phone for 2 HOURS and being on the verge of tears… everything finally fell back into place. The catch? The new itinerary included a daylong layover in Kuala Lumpur on the flight back home to South Korea.
At first, it seemed really annoying and inconvenient. Who wants to be holed up at an airport for 13 hours? Then, we realized it was actually an amazing opportunity—13 hours is plenty of time to leave the airport and explore a new country! It was just a matter of figuring out details such as transportation, immigration, what to see/do/eat, and where to keep our belongings. Missing our first flight led to us visiting what turned out to be one of my FAVORITE cities in South Asia thus far!
In case you ever find yourself in a similar position or want to spend a full-on vacation in Kuala Lumpur, you’re in the right place! Here are some of my suggestions (many of which are helpful for other destinations as well!)
LANDING, IMMIGRATION, AND STORAGE
My husband and I flew from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with the airline AirAsia X (which is a budget airline based in Malaysia / is a sister company of AirAsia). Going through the immigration process was extremely quick and simple. Americans, and many other nationalities, are not required to have a visa to enter the country. Simply present your passport to the immigration official to be stamped. We landed around 11am-12pm on a Sunday, and we only had to wait in line for 10 minutes!
The airline kept and routed our checked baggage for our later flight home, so thankfully, we did not have to worry about our large, main suitcases. However, we did have carry-ons that we didn’t want to drag around all day, so we left it at a Luggage Storage office. There are two such luggage storage facilities at the KL International Airport—one in the main international terminal and one in new international terminal 2. Both of these luggage storage services are open 24/7; so thankfully, you can drop off and pick up any time! The cost varies according to luggage size and length of storage. For reference, we paid $20 for 2 suitcases for ~12 hours.
CELL PHONE SERVICE
Many people rely on Wi-Fi when traveling abroad… but I can’t do it! I’m a control freak and I need to have access to information at all times. Whether it’s looking up directions or food recommendations, it is important to me that I have Internet access—especially when I’m in an unfamiliar place. If you are like this too, I recommend one of the following options:
- Purchase a SIM card on Amazon ahead of your travels, or purchase one from an airport retailer upon landing. I personally prefer the former, as I know some airport retailers tend to charge nearly double the cost. This is the SIM card we purchased.
- Purchase a portable Wi-Fi device—I recommend this one. These are handy, reusable, can purchase data for custom amounts of time, and have worldwide compatibility. The downsides: it’s pricey and can be a pain to ensure it’s properly charged.
To leave the airport, we used an app called Grab (download here). It’s basically the exact same thing as Uber and Lyft. I randomly learned about it during our time in Ho Chi Minh and I’m SO GLAD I did. Grab is VERY affordable and has many reliable, friendly drivers. We never had a bad experience! We took a cab from the airport to the Batu Caves—which turned out to be nearly an hour and a half away. I honestly didn’t even realize how far outside of the city it was. In spite of this very long car ride, it only cost RM90, which is approximately $21-22 USD.
FIRST STOP: BATU CAVES
The Batu Caves is a religious Hindu site that enforces a dress code for visitors. It is open to the public from 7am to 7pm. Women are expected to cover their shoulders, chest, and legs. I would advise against shorts, revealing skirts, tank tops, and low-cut tops. For men, t-shirts and shorts are acceptable, but I would still recommend wearing shorts that hit below the knee. When we visited, I wore a knee-length sundress and a jean jacket on top. The dress hit just above my knee, so I had to rent a sarong/shawl. It was tied around my waist and it hit mid-calf. The cost to rent is $5, however; you will receive $2 back when you turn it in upon leaving.
Be prepared to walk up a lot of stairs—272 to be exact! My fitness level is decent—not stellar, not awful. If I’m being 100% real, it’s easy for me to get winded after walking up 2 flights. If you need a break on the way up, there’s plenty of room to stop, catch your breath, take in the view, and snap some pictures! And, perhaps my favorite part… there are random monkeys just hanging out EVERYWHERE! I would definitely not recommend petting or feeding them, but they are friendly. I was able to get very close to them. It was so cool!
Finally, the caves at the top were so incredibly beautiful. Easily one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. The climb was worth it!
SECOND STOP: PETRONAS TWIN TOWERS
After the Batu Caves, we headed to the Petronas Twin Towers. The buildings are very uniquely designed and I’ve seen them in photos so many times, I was curious to see them for myself. The base of the buildings has a mall and food court attached, so we spent some time shopping and grabbing lunch. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go to the top as tickets were sold out. If this is something you’re interested in doing, I would suggest purchasing tickets on their website ahead of your visit.
THIRD STOP: MASJID NEGARA NATIONAL MOSQUE
Next we headed to the Masjid Negara National Mosque, which is free and open to the public between 6:30 am and 7:00 pm. However, guests are temporarily prohibited from entering during prayer times. Women must rent a purple robe to wear (free of charge) and all guests are required to take off shoes before entering. Surprisingly, cameras are allowed!
The mosque was built in the 1960s; so naturally, its architecture has a more modern influence compared to other mosques. Our visit was just a few days after the terrorist attack on the New Zealand mosque, and the mood was understandably quite solemn. I’m very grateful for the experience and can’t recommend it enough.
FOURTH STOP: MERDEKA SQUARE PARK (INDEPENDENCE SQUARE)
Merdeka Square was one of my favorite sites in Kuala Lumpur! We walked there from the Masjid Negara National Mosque, as it was less than a mile away. I loved it—such a beautiful blending of South Asian and Middle Eastern influences! I really wish we brought a blanket or something. It was the perfect location to take a break, have some drinks, take in the view, read, and enjoy the sunset.
FINAL STOP: MENARA TOWER (AKA KUALA LUMPUR TOWER)
Urban photography and good city views are my favorite. Whenever we visit a new place, I always look for the best rooftop cafes and observation decks. My first choice was the Petronas Towers; however, as I noted earlier, tickets were sold out. Thankfully, the Menara Tower offered perfect panoramic views of Kuala Lumpur—especially at night! I wish we could have seen the sunset, but we just missed it. Still glad we were able to take in the city lights though!
As of May 2019, tickets to go to the top are RM49 per international adult—which is roughly $11 USD. At the base of the tower, you can find a petting zoo, taxis, and several places to eat.
There are SO many amazing things to do in Kuala Lumpur; unfortunately, we were so tired after 10 hours that we decided to head back to the airport. However, if you have more time and/or energy than us… I recommend checking out some of the below sites!
- Eat Street Food at Hutong or Alor Street
- Central Market
- Sri Mahamariamman Temple
- Kuala Lumpur Bird Park
- Jamek Mosque
- Sunway Lagoon Theme Park
- Instana Negara Royal Museum
- Explore China Town
- Thean Hou Buddhist Temple
- Enjoy Night Life at the Golden Triangle