Perhaps because it’s usually overshadowed by nearby Singapore, but Kuala Lumpur never seems to get its due when people are discussing major cities and great travel destinations. Kuala Lumpur has been doing very well economically lately, and is a major destination for expats who work for larger companies, yet it seems mostly forgotten by the larger public. So I’m here to tell you that the capital of Malaysia is a fantastic place to visit and a pretty nice place to work as well.
The vibe in Kuala Lumpur
That old “land of contrasts” cliche really does apply here, as Kuala Lumpur retains many historic Asian traditions of the region, yet it’s booming with modern development as well. Unlike Singapore, there is a large group of locals who aren’t quite on the modern gravy train yet, not far from an extremely modern downtown featuring what were recently the tallest buildings in the world.
Those who’ve traveled around Thailand or Cambodia or Vietnam or Indonesia will find some wonderful surprises in Kuala Lumpur. Namely, that almost everything is available in a relatively small area, plus that English is extremely common on signs and with most locals you’ll come across. The city center is loaded with posh shopping malls and movie theaters, but there are sidewalk food vendors nearby selling meals at amazingly low prices.
The city center in particular is generally cleaner and nicer than any other in the region except for Singapore itself. Those who’ve traveled extensively are used to the strange fact that the “Chinatown” in almost any city around the world will actually be chaotic and untidy, yet the main Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur is almost like a slick shopping mall, with loads of excellent sidewalk-dining places mixed in.
The public transportation system is excellent, with very cheap taxis for those who prefer to avoid the trams and elevated metro, so this is a city where owning or renting a car might be unwise even if you can afford it.
One unfortunate thing that is worth mentioning is that internet speeds in all of Malaysia are unusually slow, due primarily to a national monopoly that has no real incentive for speeding things up. Hopefully this will change soon, but for now KL (as it’s locally called) is not the place for internet-intensive companies.
Prices in Kuala Lumpur
The city is definitely more expensive for most things compared to other large cities in the region, though it’s also definitely cheaper than Singapore. Hotel rooms in the city center start at around US$20 per night, though quality tends to be quite high even at the lower levels.
One other strange aberation is that Kuala Lumpur tends to have among the cheapest 5-star hotels in the world. You can often find an honest to goodness 5-star room for around US$100, which is about half the starting price of even many cities in this part of Asia.
Food is available for any budget. If you go to one of the many Indian restaurants you can get a meal for US$3 or even a bit less, and around the same price for one of the many Chinese places. On the other end of the spectrum you can find dozens of fine-dining places start at over US$50 per person on average. In the shopping malls you’ll find plenty of Western chains at prices a bit lower than in the US or Europe, as well as local food-court-type places with interesting full meals for well under US$5 each.
One of the other excellent things about KL is that it’s the home to Air Asia, which is a very good low-cost airline that covers the entire region. In other words, you can find very cheap flights from almost any other city in Asia if you look a bit in advance, so it’s a great place to stop off in between other cities, at airfares that will probably be less than a nonstop flight between the two as well.