Kuala Lumpur and Beyond: Ten Places to Visit
Overview. Kuala Lumpur is Malaysia’s capital, largest city, and cultural and economic center. Located in west, or peninsular, Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, known as ‘K.L.’ to Malaysians, has excellent transportation facilities, world-class accommodation, and many things to see and do. The population of this city is 1.6 million with a metro population of 7.2 million. Although not the most historic city in the country, K.L. was established in 1849 around the mining of tin. Chinese workers soon flooded the country to provide labor for the Malay rajas. In 1895 the British established a protectorate, the Federated Malay States, and made K.L. its capital. Independence came in 1957 as the Federation of Malaya was established. By 1963 Malaysia was rebranded in its current form after Singapore split from the country and pursued independence on its own The spilt occurred because Singapore had a majority of Chinese and ethnic tension is still present in this remarkable country. There is large minority of Chinese (23.7%) and a smaller minority of Hindus (7.1%) in Malaysia making K.L. an ethnically diverse city. Not without problems, race riots have occurred in the past most notably in 1969. Malaysia has a high growth economy with a respectable GDP of $14,275.00 and tourism remains huge. K.L. has been named the fifth most visited city in the world and saw 8.94 million tourists in 2008.
1. Petronas Towers. With a maximum height of 1,483 feet (451.9 meters), these twin towers still dominate the skyline of Kuala Lumpur, and qualified as the world’s tallest buildings at the time of their completion in 1998. The remained the tallest buildings until overtaken by Taipei 101 in 2004 in Taipei, Taiwan. Great views of the city can be seen from the skybridge that connects the two buildings on the 41st and 42nd floors (the maximum number of floors/stories in the buildings is 88). The buildings host a number of retail venues including an aquarium and science center.
2. ‘Old Town’ Kuala Lumpur. It might be a stretch to say there is an ‘old town’ in Kuala Lumpur since the city is young but head to Dataran Merdeka to view British-era Victorian buildings. (If you really crave history visit Georgetown, or Penang, and Malacca, see below). From there it’s a relatively short walk to the National Museum. The Sultan Abdul Samad Building in front of Independence Square (Merdeka Square) is perhaps the city’s most emblematic historical building with its distinctive mixed Moorish architecture. Built between 1894 and 1897 by AC Norman it housed various British administrative offices at the time of its completion. Today it remains in use as several government ministries are located there. Old Market Square, or Medan Pasar, is a great place to view colonial era stone buildings among towering steel and glass high rises. It is located in close proximity to Merdeka Square. St. Mary’s Anglican Cathedral is another historical gem and a virtual constant in former British colonial capitals and hubs. Close to downtown and Dataran Merdeka , the Cathedral was constructed in 1894 with neo-gothic elements and of course its signature white color common in tropical regions. Anglican churches with similar styles from the same era can be found in Hong Kong, Macau, and Singapore.
3. Chinatown (Petaling Street). If you want a nice cultural cross section of Malaysia head to downtown Kuala Lumpur to Chinatown. The outdoor food stalls will not disappoint your palette and you can shop for bargains as you browse along the streets. Chinatown is traditionally home to Malaysia’s largest minority group, the Chinese, who came in large numbers during the 1860s to build railroads. The buildings are among the oldest in the city dating from the late 19th century.
4. National Museum. National museums are among the best ways to acquaint foreign visitors to the national culture and history of a given country and the National Museum of Malaysia is no exception. For starts the stylized main building, completed in 1963, is sure to catch the eye of any passer-by because of its native architecture. The interior displays are no less interesting. The Museum is within walking distance of downtown K.L. located along Jalan Damansara.
5. Royal Selangor Pewter. This is what Malaysia is famous for partly because of its deposits of tin. Dating to 1885, Malaysia is known the world over for exporting its pewter products. Pewter is a metal allow which is at least 85% tin. Malaysia is second in the world in tin reserves and the element has been mined here since the late 19th century. The visitor center is located on Jalan Usahawan where you can purchase products made of tin. The world's largest tankard, or pewter mug, is displayed outside the works. Amost 2 meters tall, it can accommodate more than 2,700 liters.
6. Batu Caves. Only 8 short miles north of K.L., one can visit Batu Caves a limestone cave complex that is overdeveloped but not for the wrong reasons. It also doubles as a Hindu shrine to the large minority of Hindu (Indians) who call Malaysia home. Dedicated to Lord Murugan it is one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside India and a 140 foot high gold statue of the saint stands guard over the caves along with other shrines. The caves are approximately 400 million years old and the connection Hindu shrine has existed there since 1890. Unless you want to experience the crowds of Hindu pilgrims, avoid the caves during major Hindu festivals, especially those dedicated to Murugan. The caves are accessed easily by the commuter train from the KL central station. Bus routes also stop here.
7. Shah Alam (mosque). Malaysia is officially a Muslim country and this is the state mosque of the state of Selangor. Each of country’s thirteen states has a state mosque. Completed in 1988 it is officially known as the Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Mosque and it is the second largest mosque in Southeast Asia and has a capacity of 24,000. Also known as the Blue Mosque the central dome, surrounded by four minarets, is 106.7 meters high. The minarets are each 142.3 meters high. Built in a Malaysian/Modernist style, the mosque is the state of Selangor, city of Shah Alam, about 15 miles west of Kuala Lumpur.
8. Genting Highlands. Known as “Genting” in its short form, this is one of Malaysia’s most popular destinations because of its close proximity to Kuala Lumpur, only one hour away by car. Its greatest pull is without argument the gambling venue - the only place in Malaysia where it is legally allowed. The gondola ride, or the 3.38 km Genting Skyway, to the mountain top hotel/entertainment complex is truly beautiful, a trip through virgin jungle, although the top can be a bit of a turn-off because of the overdevelopment. Amusement parks and high rise hotels dominate in an otherwise pristine setting that pits development against conservation. At 1760 meters above sea level (5774’) you can expect cooler weather at the very least. Genting was established from scratch in 1965 apparently inspired by the beauty of Cameron Highlands. The First World Hotel, the centerpiece of the resort’s lodging, was listed in the 2006 Guinness Book of Records as the largest hotel in the world with no less than 6,000 rooms.
9. Fraser’s Hill (Bukit Fraser). A number of hill resorts that were originally built by the British to escape the heat and humidity of the lowlands. Among them are Cameron Highlands, Frasers Hill, and Bukit Larut (Maxwell Hill) of which Fraser’s Hill is the closest to Kuala Lumpur (65 miles) and an easy day trip. At an elevation between 1220 and 1525 meters, the temperatures are considerably cooler averaging between 63 and 77 degrees year round on average. Fraser’s Hill began in 1922 with the completion by the British of a hill station and an access road. The area had very rich biodiversity and waterfalls, including nearby Chiling Falls, bird and butterfly watching are popular activities. The resort also has a golf course and a number of hiking trails.
10. Malacca. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Malacca was conquered by the Portuguese in 1511 and later by the Dutch in the seventeenth century (1641). It was the most important Malay Sultanate before the Europeans overtook the city and exploited its strategic location guarding the Straits of Malacca. Old Portuguese and Dutch buildings can still be seen in well-preserved city. The ruins of the Portuguese A Famosa on St. Paul’s Hill and the Dutch Stadthuys are the best surviving examples. Malacca is located about 90 miles southeast of Kuala Lumpur which is well connected by regular train service and a high speed freeway.
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