Making travel plans to the paradisiacal country of Malaysia? Are you unsure of how to get there, or how much things will cost? What about things you should see and do? Keep reading for a detailed first-timer’s, and budget-friendly, travel guide to Malaysia’s incredible capitol city, Kuala Lumpur.
Welcome to this one-stop-shop guide on visiting Kuala Lumpur. If you’re like me, living in the United States, Malaysia might as well feel like traveling to the moon. SO, finally getting to the serious stage of prepping and planning is a huge deal. How exciting!
For those of us unfortunate souls of the west, Malaysia is far A.F. from home. Before you’ve even stepped foot in the country, you’ve probably spent at least a $1,000 USD in flights and possibly traveled nearly 17 hours to get there. From inception, allow me to break the bad news to you fellow budget travelers dreaming of visiting this incredible country: Unless you own your own plane, you’ll most likely be spending the majority of your budget on the flight. Let that reality sink into our brains and budgets now, so that we can move onto the good news!
How Much Should I Budget?
As for the remainder trip, I recommend a budget for as little as $30 USD per day – give or take. This budget should include your accommodations, food, metro transportation, and any attractions you visit in K.L.
If you’re still feeling a bit butt-hurt about dropping a grand on flights, allow me to put things into perspective. According to 2017 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, on average, Americans earn a yearly salary of around $56,000 USD. The Salary & Wages Survey Report, released by the Malaysian Department of Statistics, reports that in 2017, Malaysians earned on average $8,000 USD a year. For Americans, the daily average cost of living is around $55 USD. In Malaysia, however, the average daily cost of living is 46% less. Rent is even 72% cheaper! I know what you’re thinking, “Maybe I should buy a one-way ticket instead.” LOL! But in all seriousness, I mention all of these fluffy facts to make the following point:
It is possible to be on a low-budget and travel to the furthest distances in the world!
Do I Need A Visa?
If you’re a U.S. citizen and your visit will be less than 90 days, fortunately, a visa is NOT required for entry to Malaysia. Citizens of the United States are only required to have a passport valid for at least 6 months beyond stay. This is one less thing you’ll have to work into your budget.
For non-Americans in search of information regarding visas to Malaysia, I highly recommend visiting your perspective government’s Ministry of State’s official website.
CAUTION: Beware of third party websites selling visas.
I’ve had to learn this lesson the hard way. Learn from my rookie mistake below.
Before a trip to Vietnam, I was fooled into using a third party website to obtain my visa. I ended up paying more than was necessary. Third party websites attempt to trick travelers by using a URL similar to that of the official government’s site. For example, the government website’s URL might end in .gov. Meanwhile, the third party’s site might end in .govt. It’s a very slight, and often times, unnoticeable difference. PLEASE DO NOT FALL FOR THIS TRICK, as I did (LOL).
Transportation: How to Get To / From the Airport to the City Centre
For the purposes of this blog, I’ll assume that you’ll be traveling internationally via airplane and will be arriving at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (a/k/a KLIA). The capitol city has great infrastructure, with lots of options to move about.
KLIA to City Center Via Bus
Once you’ve made your way through Malaysia’s Immigration & Customs, look for signage guiding you to the buses on the arrival / ground level. There will be a counter with several windows, however, it’s basically a one-stop-shop. Depending on where exactly in Malaysia you’re headed, the attendants can help you purchase a fare for whichever bus company you desire. If you’re heading into central K.L., I recommend purchasing a fare with the Star Shuttle. You may purchase a ticket in advance on their website. However, it is not necessary, as the buses run approximately every half-hour. A one-way fare, with a duration of 1.5 hours, from KLIA to central K.L. (Puduraya Sentral Station) will cost you as little as $3 USD. The bus price is super affordable and budget-friendly.
KLIA to City Center Via Train
Another budget option is to take the train from KLIA to the city center (KL Sentral Station). The journey takes around 30 – 40 minutes and will cost you roughly $13 USD one-way. The trains are modern, reliable and safe. Aside from the journey being efficient, what I enjoyed most about taking the train is that the train service provider, KLIA Ekspres, partners with Grab (a local, ride-hailing service), to provide patrons with a combo-pass: “Catch the train and Grab a free ride home!” Enjoy a free ride-hailing trip to your final destination when you purchase your KLIA train pass online, so long as your Grab ride doesn’t exceed $3 USD. A $3 dollar ride is around a 3 mile ( or 5km) radius surrounding KL Sentral Station.
Taxi / Ride-Hailing Service
Although I’ve included “Taxi” in the sub-heading, the only point I want to make in regards to taxis are to avoid them (LOL). Do yourself a favor and download (Apple / Android) the Grab app, which I discussed briefly in the last section.
Grab is the local, ride-hailing service – basically the Uber equivalent of Southeast Asia. I’ve had many conversations with Grab drivers throughout my travels, and it is true that Taxi drivers do not like Grab for reasons that, honestly, are justifiable. I get it! However, my response to the taxi industry is to step-your-game-up! Obviously, there was a hole in the tourism-transportation industry and capitalism came to fill it.
I loathe more than anything being ripped off my taxi drivers. I’ve been in situations with taxis driving around in circles with the meter running, or at my final destination being coerced into paying more than the justifiable fare. In my opinion, tourists are sick of it, and someone was smart enough to create a solution to remedy our grievances. Now, does this mean that all taxi drivers have bad intent? Absolutely NOT. After all, they’re regular people just trying to make a living. However, enough bad incidences have occurred where, I believe, it has left a stain on the industry in its entirety. This is my opinion – sorry not sorry.
With that said, Grab is a great, budget-friendly option. If you’re traveling with friends, for example, you could split the fare and save money (cha-ching!). A Grab fare from KLIA to the city center would set you back, on average, $20 – $30 USD. Depending on time-of-day and traffic, the trip duration is around 40 minutes to an hour.
Accommodations: Where To Stay On A Budget
Kuala Lumpur is a highly developed city, with accommodations to meet the needs and desires of the budget-conscience to the bougie travelers (haha). There are several luxurious hotels I could shoutout, however, this blog is for my “dollar-and-a-dream” travelers. Remember, our budget of $30 USD a day has to cover everything, including where you’ll lay your head at night.
K.L. is a super affordable city as far as travelers are concerned. There are literally thousands of accommodations to choose from. According to Booking.com, you can find a place to stay, on average, from $7 USD, for your hostels and guesthouses, and up to $110 USD per night for a 5-star rated hotel.
During my travels, I stayed at a hostel called Paper Plane Hostel. For a 6-person (3 bunk-beds) dorm, my single bed cost $8 USD per night. Refurbished from a 100-year-old, colonial home, it houses 6 dormitory rooms and 4 private rooms. It’s in a quiet neighborhood, walking distance from the Pudu Sentral Bus Station, Hang Tuah Metro Station, and tons of places to eat and socialize. The staff are super friendly and so are the feral cats that frequent the reception patio. Aren’t they just the cutest!?
It may be the case that a hotel or an AirBnB is more economical if you’re traveling with friends or family. However, if you’re traveling solo through Malaysia, or anywhere else for that matter, it would be my recommendation that you stay in a hostel. Hostels are awesome! They’re a great place to meet other like-minded travelers from all over the world. They’re cheap, and some are even nicer than a hotel! If you’re nervous about sleeping at a hostel, read the reviews. Nine times out of ten, the reviews are honest and are an excellent representation of what can be expected.
One last point for those who still may have some hesitation regarding sleeping at hostels:
Traveling is the ultimate experience of enlightenment. Enlightenment is meant to be uncomfortable.
Sometimes, you’re going to feel a spin-wheel of emotions. However, the certain takeaway from pushing yourself outside your comfort zone is the recognition of how capable and brave you are. It’s where you experience a higher level of consciousness. The world becomes less scary. You’ll start to feel empowered, and your fears will soon be replaced with joy.
Don’t be afraid to live your best, fearless life.
Places of Interest: Things To Do & See
Thean Hou Temple
Completed in 1987, Thean Hou Temple is a six-tiered Buddhist temple. It’s one of the largest temples in Southeast Asia. Its ornate architecture and roofing embellishments make it one of the most beautiful temples in Kuala Lumpur. There is no admission fee. Be sure to dress modestly, covering your shoulders and knees. I also recommend arriving early to beat the tour groups. Hours of operation are from 8a – 9p daily. Thean Hou Temple is one thing-to-do that you shouldn’t miss, and again, it’s FREE! Yay for our budget!
Due to the high percentage of residents and business owners of Indian decent, Brickfields is known as the “Little India” neighborhood of Kuala Lumpur. There are also several prominent Buddhist temples and Hindu shrines located Brickfields. It’s a vibrant community with tons of delectable and culturally diverse restaurants to choose from. I recommend stopping by to grab either a salty or sweet roti – my fav!
KL / NU Sentral Station
It might be weird that I’m recommending a rail station as a place of interest. However, KL Sentral is not your average station. Opened in 2001, KL Sentral is the largest railway station in Malaysia. If you plan on taking the train from the airport, you’ll likely end up at this station. It’s adjacent to NU Sentral, which is a 600,000 square foot, multi-level shopping and restaurant centre. It’s great place to do some souvenir shopping, grab lunch, or even grab a SIM card for $3 USD at the 7-Eleven store. Lastly, for my fellow photography enthusiasts, there’s an aesthetically pleasing escalator entrance that, in my opinion, is a design marvel.
Putrajaya Putra Masjid Mosque (a/k/a Pink Mosque)
Putra Mosque, also known as the “Pink Mosque,” is the principal mosque of the neighboring city of Putrajaya. Located around 30 minutes outside Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya is the Washington D.C. equivalent of Malaysia. A Grab ride from central KL to the mosque will cost around $20 – $25 USD. Located next to the mosque is the Prime Minister’s residence and office. Completed in 1999, the mosque can hold up to 15,000 worshipers. The exterior is painted in this beautiful pink color, with a pink-tinted dome made of granite. Non-Muslims are welcome to visit, however, it must outside of prayer times. The mosque is another budget-friendly option, as there is no fee to enter. Visitation hours are as follows:
|CLOSED||09:00 – 12:30|
14:00 – 16:00
17:30 – 18:00
|09:00 – 12:30|
14:00 – 16:00
17:30 – 18:00
|09:00 – 12:30|
14:00 – 16:00
17:30 – 18:00
|09:00 – 12:30|
14:00 – 16:00
17:30 – 18:00
|15:00 – 16:00|
17:30 – 18:00
|09:00 – 12:30|
14:00 – 16:00
17:30 – 18:00
Guests, including men, must be conservatively dressed. The cutest pink-hooded robes / abayas are provided to women, if you’d like. Shoes must also be removed before entering the prayer room.
Although Malaysia is a multi-cultural country, over 60% of its population practices Islam. You don’t have to be Muslim to learn and partake in all of the beauty of the religion, which is so ingrained in Malaysian culture.
Perdana Botanical Gardens
Located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, Perdana Botanical Gardens is the perfect refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city. There is no admission fee. With over 90 hectares to roam, the park is inundated with thousands of different plant and flower species. Perdana would be a great place to start your day on a morning run or bike ride, which can be rented for less than $1 USD for 30 minutes. The nearest transportation hub is KL Sentral station and is within walking distance of the gardens. The RapidKL bus also services the area. However, my recommendation would be to just take a Grab. It’s far more convenient, and yet, affordable.
National Mosque of Malaysia Masjid Negara
As a symbol of Malaysia’s peaceful independence from British-colonial rule, construction of the Masjid Negara National Mosque was completed in 1965. The mosque has a capacity of 15,000 worshipers. Non-Muslim visitors are also welcomed, however, they must follow similar dress guidelines as the Pink Mosque. Admission is complimentary. The mosque is centrally located and accessible via walking, bus or Grab from KL Sentral station. The mosque features a 240 foot minaret, a 16-pointed star roof, and dozens of perfectly lined columns supporting the roof. If I could describe the National Mosque with one word, it would be peace. The message of peace must permeate through the walls because being there really made me feel calm and relaxed. I really enjoyed my time spent there.
Sri Mahamariamman Temple
Situated in the energetic neighborhood of Chinatown, Sri Maham is the oldest Hindu Temple in Malaysia. It serves as an integral place of worship for Indian immigrants, as well as a cultural site. The temple’s monument is a remarkable 5-tier, 75 foot tower, depicting Hindu gods. Non-Hindu visitors may visit free of charge, however, there is a small fee to check your shoes at the door. You must also wear a sarong, which can be provided to visitors upon entry. During my visit, there was a wedding ceremony taking place. If you’ve ever have the pleasure to witnessing a Hindu wedding, all of your senses will be stimulated. Everything from the decor, processions and colors are fascinating and outright beautiful!
One thing I want to make clear about the Batu Caves is that it looks just like the pictures on Instagram – believe it or not! Due the exponential increase in visitors because of its immense popularity on social media, rumor has it that officials had given the colorful stairs a facelift. And boy, did they do a fantastic job!
The stairs and massive gold statue are undoubtedly a focal point. However, the 400 million-year-old cave is quite impressive too. If you dare to climb the almost 300 steps to the top, you’ll find a cathedral-sized Hindu shrine inside. Again, foreigners may visit admission free. However, guests must dress modestly, covering shoulders and knees.
As a pleasant surprise, there are dozens of curious and gregarious monkeys running around the property, often sneaking food from the offerings. Also, not sure of the full background story on this, but I also observed dozens of families carrying babies and small children to the cave temple. The babies, whose heads were covered in a white orange-ish paste, appeared to be getting blessed by the religious figure head. It kind of reminded of a baptism-equivalent ceremony. You can see the pride and joy on the faces of the parents. It was really beautiful to witness.
KL Upside Down House
The KL Upside Down House was a cute attraction that we decided to visit but that left us, honestly, a bit underwhelmed. It’s a cool concept. However – full disclosure, the space is small and the lighting isn’t too great. It was a good place to seek refuge from the rainy weather on that particular day, but I can’t say I would return in the future. If your time is limited in KL, I’d recommend you skip this attraction, as there are so many other cool things to do in the city. Also, the fee for admission is around $6 USD.
As one of Kuala Lumpur’s most recognizable landmarks, the Petronas Twin Towers currently holds the record for the tallest twin buildings in the world. Standing at at 1,483 feet, the towers reflect a post-modern, Islamic architectural style, reflective of Malaysian culture and the official religion. Kuala Lumpur’s skyline is super impressive, rivaling those of other world cities. I highly recommend stopping by to either check out the shopping mall at its bed or take your best selfie. For an even better view, stay tuned for details below on the helipad-turned-rooftop-lounge-bar at night.
Additional Places of Interest
Despite spending 4 days in Kuala Lumpur, unfortunately, it was still not enough time to see all of the places I would have liked to have visited. So, although I’m unable to give a full review of the following attractions, I still think it would be worth the visit, if you have spare time. I know I definitely plan to visit on my next trip to Malaysia!
- Wilaya Mosque
- Nasi Lemak Street Food Market
- Sultan Abdul Building
- Merdeka Park
- KL Eco Forest; and
- Merchant’s Lane Street Food Market.
Places to Eat
Petaling Street & Food Market
Petaling Street is in the heart of KL’s Chinatown. Haggling is the name of game in this part of town. It’s a great place to go souvenir shopping, and by souvenirs, I mean shop for counterfeit belts and purses (lol) – just keeping it real with you guys. If you’ve worked up an appetite, you can grab some Chinese cuisine. The main road is completely pedestrian friendly and is regarded as a heritage site. It’s crowded with loads of tourists and locals alike, which makes for some good ol’ people watching!
Jalan Alor Street Art & Food
Similarly to Petaling Street, the Jalan Alor neighborhood is one of the best places to go for local street food. The street, closed to vehicular traffic, is lined with dozens of food and drink vendors. The seating, for the most part, is outdoors in the street on little tables and chairs. It’s such a cool experience. If you’re looking for steamed dumplings in variety, Jalan Alor is the place to go. If you’re in search of freshly squeezed juice on the cheap, again, Jalan Alor is your spot. Also unique to this area is the street art! There are blocks of residential and commercial buildings displaying beautiful murals painted in vibrant colors – definitely Instagram worthy!
Leaf & Co
Leaf & Co. cafe came recommended via another blogger’s website, and boy, did it not disappoint! It’s a really cute establishment, with a totally vintage-factory vibe. The cuisine is less Malaysian, and more international, offering artisan coffees and delectable desserts. The food is delicious and economically priced! Walk-ins are welcomed, and they are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you’re in the area, I’d highly recommend Leaf & Co. Cafe.
Helipad Roof Top Lounge
OK! This has to be one of my favorite spots in Kuala Lumpur. For my budget travelers, I don’t want you to freak out. You may have to spend a little extra to partake in this activity, however, it’s worth every penny! The Helipad Lounge Bar is located on the 34th floor of one of KL’s skyscrapers. There’s a minimum bottle service for entry. Between my two girlfriend’s and I, we purchased a bottle of champagne for $60 USD, which provided for around 2 glasses each. You’ll quickly forget about having to spend a little more than normal for Southeast Asia once you see the views! Not to mention, this is one of the few destinations that’ll even cost you money. You’ll find that most attractions in Kuala Lumpur are free. That is to say, one night out for drinks shouldn’t break the bank.
This is – no joke, a full-functioning helipad during the day. The only thing keeping you from a plunge off the edge are roped queue lines. The scene is extraordinarily romantic. The vibe is chill. Reservations are not required. However, keep in mind that space is limited. I recommend visiting just before sunset to catch the sun’s decent into the night’s sky. It was seriously the best 360 degree view of my life! I cannot recommend the Helipad Lounge Bar enough.
Overall, I really loved Kuala Lumpur. I wish I would’ve had more time there, but I guess that just means I have a great excuse to return!
I hope that you’ve found this guide helpful in preparation for your travels to Kuala Lumpur. Lastly, I’d like to thank the people of Malaysia for their generosity and hospitality. They are literally some of the kindest people I’ve ever met.
You can also find my blogs exploring more cities in Asia here.