|Founded in the mid-nineteenth century, KUALA LUMPUR, or KL as it's popularly known, is the youngest Southeast Asian capital and the most economically successful after Singapore - and it's still growing: building sites abound and the city is awash with stunning examples of modern architecture, not least the famous Petronas Towers and the recently opened Museum of Islamic Arts. It's not one of Malaysia's most charming cities, perhaps: it doesn't have, for example, the narrow alleys, bicycles and mah-jong games of Melaka or Kota Bharu or the atmospheric waterfront of Kuching. But it's safe and sociable, and with a population of nearly two million, it's usually exciting in the day and always buzzing with energy at night. From a cultural standpoint, it certainly has enough interesting monuments, galleries, markets and museums to keep visitors busy for at least a week.
KL began life as a swampy staging post for Chinese tin miners in 1857 – Kuala Lumpur means "muddy estuary" in Malay – and blossomed under the competitive rule of pioneering merchants. But as fights over tin concessions erupted across the country, the British used gunboat diplomacy to settle the Selangor Civil War and the British Resident, Frank Swettenham, took command of KL, making it the capital of the state and, in 1896, the capital of the Federated Malay States. Swettenham imported British architects from India to design suitably grand buildings, and thousands of Tamil labourers poured in to build them; development continued steadily through the first quarter of the twentieth century. The Japanese invaded in December 1941, but although they bombed the city, they missed their main targets. Following the Japanese surrender in September 1945, the British were once more in charge in the capital, but Nationalist demands had replaced the Malays' former acceptance of the colonisers, and Malaysian independence – Merdeka – finally came in 1957.
Kuala Lumpur is an Asian tiger that roars: in almost 150 years, it has grown from nothing to a modern, bustling city. Take in its high-flying triumphs from the viewing deck of one of the world's tallest buildings, then dive down to explore its more traditional culture in the back lanes of Chinatown.
It's a modern Asian city of gleaming skyscrapers, but it retains much of the local colour that has been wiped out in other Asian boom-cities such as Singapore. It has plenty of colonial buildings in its centre, a vibrant Chinatown with street vendors and night markets, and a bustling Little India.
- Golden Triangle – The area of Kuala Lumpur located to the northeast of the city centre, the Golden Triangle is where you’ll find the city’s shopping malls, five-star hotels, Petronas Twin Towers and party spots.
- Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman – This is the traditional colourful shopping district of Kuala Lumpur north of the city centre and moves into high gear when the festivals of Hari Raya Puasa (Eid ul-Fitr) and Deepavali approach. Located just beside the Golden Triangle (northern neighbour) with many popular budget accommodations. The gigantic Putra World Trade Centre & the traditional Kampung Baru food haven are among the most important landmarks.
- Brickfields – This area, located south of the city center, is Kuala Lumpur’s Little India filled with sari shops and banana leaf rice restaurants. Kuala Lumpur’s main railway station – KL Sentral – is located here.
- Bangsar and Midvalley – Located south of the city, Bangsar is a popular restaurant and clubbing district while Midvalley, with its Megamall, is one of the city’s most popular shopping destinations.
Food for Thought
- Northern suburbs – This huge area to the north of the city is home to several attractions, such as Batu Caves, the National Zoo and the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia.
If you arrive in Kuala Lumpur with a raging appetite, you're in for one of the sweetest dilemmas. Where to eat?
Brickfields is KL's largest 'Little India' and just behind its traffic-choked Jalan Tun Sambanthan lies a quiet neighbourhood of housing flats and curb side eateries – ideal for a leisurely al fresco morning meal.
Malay food is best when it's fresh from a home kitchen. Luckily there is a number of family-owned eateries nestled in the narrow lanes of Kampung Baru, a Malay village a stone's throw from the Golden Triangle.
Kopitiam - traditional Chinese-owned coffee shops serving strong brews and Malaysian comfort food - are the local antidote to Starbucks. They are increasingly rare in KL's evolving urban landscape, but they offer a caffeine jolt with a lovely side-serve of sweet nostalgia.