From arts to freebies and little-known gems, these experiences will take you into the heart and soul of Kuala Lumpur
1. Rest, relax, repeat
An idyllic green lung is not what one expects to find in the heart of KL, which makes Laman Standard Chartered on Jalan P Ramlee (facing KLCC Tower 3) such a delightful oasis. Artistic sculptures of the bank’s logo double up as chairs for resting under the shade.
2. An urban retreat
Escape from the city without stepping away from it at Sekeping Retreats, a series of nine urban getaways boasting raw industrial flair and breathable spaces. Of the four in KL, a favourite is Sekeping Sin Chew Kee, which sits atop well-dressed watering hole Bar Lai and behind atmospheric coffee café VCR.
3. A new take on roti canai
There’s roti canai (Indian flat bread) and there’s Valentine Roti, hailed as KL’s best by virtue of its crispy, fluffy layers. Located on 1, Jalan Semarak, regulars like it with a chunky tomato sardine sauce. Owner Valentine, whose parents started the stall in 1975, is often behind the canai counter.
4. Meals on wheels
KL’s street dining scene has long featured mobile food kiosks, and has now blossomed to include both Western and fusion food trucks that offer a smorgasbord of cuisines. Hunt down Curbside Cantina for tacos, or Little Fat Duck for affordable Italian-French nosh.
5. Third-wave coffee craze
First, we drank thick Hainanese kopi. Then came the coffee juggernauts Starbucks, and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. These days, caffeine appreciation in KL is focused around its third-wave coffee scene that wax lyrical about single origins, cold brews and espresso-based drinks. Popular home-grown chains include Artisan Roast, VCR and PULP.
6. Incubating ideas
Celebrating ideas, Cooler Lumpur Festival debuted in 2013 as a platform for writers, artists, musicians and ‘thinkers’ to gather for meaningful discourse through talks, forums, exhibitions and film screenings. Follow their Facebook page for updates on this year’s edition.
7. Panoramic presentation
The best place to take in a 360-degree view of KL is not from a skyscraper but at the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery, housed in a centennial building fronted by a much-photographed I <3 KL sculpture. The highlight is the Spectacular City Model Show, a mix of multimedia projection and 3D scale model.
8. Pewter on point
For over a century, Royal Selangor has been producing impeccable pewter pieces that are decorative, functional and desirable (its Star Wars collection is a case in point). At its Visitor Centre, you can walk through an interactive exhibition, make a bowl at the School of Hard Knocks, get a crash course in pewter-making at The Foundry, and munch on scones at the café.
9. Paint me a river
After years of whitewashing after graffiti artists, KL City Hall legalised their form of art in 2012 and organised the KUL Sign Festival. ‘Bombers’ were invited to brighten up the walls flanking Klang River, and the vibrant results can be viewed from the Pasar Seni LRT station.
10. Explore its hipster stomping ground
A stone’s throw from Bukit Bintang, Jalan Mesui is a quiet enclave populated by hip hangouts. Stay at Hotel Mesui, with its striking original Art Deco circular windows, or sip coffee and eat cake at Feeka.
11. Go on a walking tour
Take a step (actually, many steps) back in time to Malaysia’s past when you join KL City Hall’s free guided heritage walks. There are three trails, each covering a different area – Dataran Merdeka, Brickfields, and Kampung Baru. Call +603-26980332 or email email@example.com for bookings and enquiries. For information on other walking trails, check at the Malaysia Tourist Information Centre (MaTIC) on Jalan Ampang. matic.gov.my/en
12. For the book lovers
Bibliophiles adore Book Xcess for bestsellers at a bargain and make a beeline for its annual Big Bad Wolf Books sale. For rare titles, browse through Silverfish Books. Looking to swap them? KL Book Exchange meets every first Sunday of the month. bookxcess.com facebook.com/SilverfishBooks klbookexchange.weebly.com
13. Street art
Catch young untapped talents busking at high-traffic spots like Bukit Bintang (outside Lot 10), AK Busk Stop inside Avenue K mall, and in front of RHB Bank on Jalan Bukit Bintang, which draws big crowds on Friday and Saturday evenings.
14. Showcasing East Coast culture
PUSAKA, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to protecting the cultural heritage of the Malaysian East Coast, puts up regular showcases on unique traditional performing arts such as the much-revered mak yong dance-drama, and wayang kulit (shadow puppet). PUSAKA’s showcases are usually free.
Tips to know before you go
Walk this way. KL’s streets are designed for cars (and they’ll honk to let you know it), making it difficult or dangerous to leg it from one point to another. The Bukit Bintang-KLCC elevated pedestrian walkway is thus a saviour as it zigzags between the KL Convention Centre and Pavilion Kuala Lumpur mall, with several exit points along the way. Air-conditioned and with security guards positioned at certain sections, it’s a comfortable and safe way to foot around the city.
Tourist privileges, anyone? KL-ites do everything at the malls and so should you, especially as the city’s most popular malls offer tourist privilege cards that entitle you to retail discounts and dining offers. To claim yours, flash your passport at the information counters.
Car-free in the city. On every first and third Sunday of the month, the area around Dataran Merdeka transforms into a fitness park of sorts for KL Car-Free Morning. For two hours, a seven-kilometre network of roads is pedestrianised to let weekend warriors cycle, run, jog, walk, skateboard or rollerblade. OCBC Bank provides 100 bicycles for free rentals.