11 Things to do in Kuala Lumpur – The Alternative Guide

Masjid Jamek Mosque and The River or Life

To the casual traveler Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia (and KL to everyone that lives there), may not seem to have as much to offer when compared to other major cities in the region. It may not be packed with massive temples and Buddha statues like Bangkok, or the flashiness of Singapore.

However, don’t let that put you off! KL is a buzzing, sprawling metropolis, a miss-mash of so many different cultures with a young, vibrant and VERY international population. In our opinion, all of these give it a great, unique edge over it’s neighbours!

Hindu Temple Kuala Lumpur
Hindu Temple in multi-cultural Kuala Lumpur.

There is pretty much always something happening in KL – to suit everyones tastes. And with a little help you can discover these treasures for yourself.

Take this short guide as an introduction to the city and its many delights, that you won’t read in any guidebook. If you’re in Kuala Lumpur for more than a couple of days and are looking for some alternatives to the major Kuala Lumpur attractions then be sure to check some of these out…

For an overview of the city, where to stay, what to eat and how to get around, also see our full Kuala Lumpur Guide here.

11 Alternative Things to Do in Kuala Lumpur

1. Go on a Rollercoaster in a Shopping Mall

Berjaya Times Square, another mall close to Bukit Bintang, in Imbi has an unusual attraction, a small theme park including an 800-metre long roller coaster on one of the upper floors! A great place to stick the kids (or boyfriends/girlfriends!) while you shop!

Roller Coaster inside a shopping mall KL
Roller Coaster inside a shopping mall in KL!

Where to find it: Berjaya Times Square is located along with several other shopping malls in the centre of town near Plaza Low Yat and Jalan Alor Night Food Court. It is easily walkable from Chinatown.

2. Get a Tattoo

For many people, a travel tattoo is the ultimate souvenir. I am very much one of those people. However, most of my tattoos come from one studio: Pink Tattoos in the trendy Bangsar neighbourhood of KL. They’re also by far my best work. Run by the awesome Lynda Chen, Pink Tattoos eschew the usual Asia tattoo studio aesthetic of either dark and grungy or crusty, wannabe Rasta for something much more fun. The space is a reflection of Lynda and the gangs personalities: quirky, colourful and totally obsessed with owls. This is also true of their designs, which have some fantastic colouring and incredible detailing!

Pink Tattoo Studio in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur.
Pink Tattoo Studio in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur.

Where to find it: Pink Tattoos are on Jalan Telawi, just around the corner from Bangsar Village Shopping Centre. You can get a taxi to the studio from Bangsar LRT station for Rm4 ($1.25).

3. Take a KL street food tour

With its fusion of cultures, Kuala Lumpur is home to some of the best street food in Southeast Asia! Taking part in a Kuala Lumpur street food tour is a great way to sample a variety of Malaysian delights from Nasi Lemak to Durian Cendol.

Indian Food Restaurant in Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur’s street food scene has many cultural influences.

Where to find it: You can book our favourite KL street food tour with A Chef’s Tour here.

4. Drink Teh Tarik or Kopi

In a country where alcohol is expensive and discouraged, you’d be wise to stick to tea and coffee in Kuala Lumpur. Teh Tarik (pulled tea) is a sweet, milky frothy blend that never fails to pick you up on a muggy day in the city. If you’re more of a coffee kind of guy/gal then kopi is your go-to beverage. Kopi can be served hot (panas) or iced (aisis or peng) with plenty of sweet condensed milk. Better than a Starbucks anyday!

A Yummy Teh Tarik!
You haven’t been to KL if you haven’t drank a Teh Tarik.

Where to find it: Teh Tarik and Kopi can be found in cafes and restaurants all over the city. Kopi is particularly sold in ‘Kopitiams’ (which is the Hokkien Chinese translation of ‘coffee shop’).

5. Try Out Malaysia’s National Burger

Malaysians, as a people, are completely obsessed with food. Which is understandable when you consider the sheer range and quality on offer from all the different ethnic groups that live here. But in between all the Indian, Malay and other world cuisines there is an unsung hero of Malaysian street food: The Ramly Burger.

They’re delicious, cheap and a point of national pride for many Malaysians. Ramly Burger stands can be found across the city, but no two stands are ever the same. Where as most fast food restaurants strive for an identical product from every franchise, Ramly burgers pride themselves on each stand giving the burgers a unique twist. And so it is that many KL residents will frequent one individual stand above all others their whole lives, confident that they have found the best in the city.

Malaysia's national burger - a Ramly Burger!
Malaysia’s national burger – a Ramly Burger!

Where to find a Ramly Burger: The stands are dotted all over the city and while some move around there is a permanent one at the south end of Jalan Alor (the main food stall street for tourists) as well any of the gardens and parks in the city. Just look out for the red, yellow and green stalls.

Ramly Burger Stand, KL.
Watch out for Ramly Burger Stands all over the city.

6. Learn to Swing Dance in KL

There is a thriving, vibrant contemporary dance scene in KL, catering for almost any style and level of experience. Every night of the week, in bars across the city there are classes, workshops and dance socials for everything from Salsa to Hip Hop. The most fun by far is KL Swing!

This group is dedicated to swing music, swing dancing and the Lindy hop. Swing dancing is also a relatively easy to learn dance style, the focus much more on fun and energy than technical skill. As well as regular social events, KL Swing! also host free weekly classes, for all levels. The teachers are great fun and very patient and attentive. And the regulars love having new people to join in. So even if its your first night, and you’ve never danced before in your life, expect to be dragged out on the dance floor for a swing.

Swing Dancing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Swing Dancing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Photo courtesy of KL Swing!

Where to find it: KL Swing! hold weekly free classes for beginners at Sid’s Pub in South Bangsar. The pub is a short walk from Universiti LRT stop, just up the hill to the right.

7. Seek Out Some Street Art

KL has a big culture of street art, which can be seen sprayed across many of the slightly ruined old buildings in Chinatown, and down most of its alleyways. The local government has also embraced, for the most part, this burgeoning art scene and the city’s many parks and gardens often host exhibitions for local artists.

Street Art in Kuala Lumpur
Street Art in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Not all of the pieces are quite so welcomed by the government however. Malaysians are a very politically charged people, constantly on the receiving end of their governments corruption and inefficiency. Naturally this shines through on much of the street art in the capital. It can be great fun seeking out the angrier of these and trying to discern the political messages behind them.

Street Art in KL
Some of the street art in KL has political tones.

Where to find it: Pretty much any of the city’s neighbourhoods except maybe Bukit Bintang. There is plenty along the banks of the Klang river and old run down buildings in Chinatown. Lake Gardens in Brickfields sometimes holds outdoor exhibitions.

8. Go for An Old School Shave

Going for a shave at a mens salon in Brickfields, KL’s Little India, is like stepping into an odd time capsule. With their mix of Hindu kitsch, worn out 80’s style posters and 60’s furniture they are a throwback to a time when the salon was a place for men to socialise as much as the local pub. Except that at the pub, you might still have some women hanging around. Its not just the decor that is old school at these places: they still use single blade, sheer razors and shaving cream with a brush and a hot towel. It’s rare you’ll get this experience these days without paying for the ‘novelty value’. In KL it will set you back just $2.

Visit an old-school Barber Shop. Photo: Tim Mossholder.
Visit an old-school Barber Shop in KL.

Where to find them: Most of the barbers are dotted along Brickfields’ main streets, just look out for the red and white candy canes. There is also one in Chinatown on the corner of Jalan Hang Katsuri, opposite Central Market shopping centre.

9. Go for an Olympic Sized Swim

KL can get pretty hot and humid at (most) times, and if it hasn’t rained in while it can be downright suffocating. So after an afternoon of sightseeing in the sweltering heat, you’re going to want to cool down. You could do like the Malaysians do and hang out at the numerous shopping malls. Or, a little more fun, head to the outdoor pool at Chin Woo Stadium.

Olympic Sized Swimming Pool, KL.
Olympic Sized Swimming Pool, Chin Woo Stadium, KL.

The pool is olympic sized, sat on a hill overlooking Chinatown and a short walking distance from most of the hostels there. It also has a small cafe and plenty of space to sun bath, read a book and enjoy a quiet oasis in the middle of the busy city. The sunsets aren’t bad either.

Where to find it: Chin Woo Stadium is located on a small hill just south of Chinatown. Walk along Jalan Sultan, at the back of Petaling Street and turn the corner up the hill. The stadium is on the right.

10. Go Rock Climbing in Bukit Takun

The Batu Caves are the most sacred place in Peninsular Malaysia for the countries Hindu population. Within the caves are a number of shrines and temples, the biggest sitting atop a flight 272 steps, guarded on the outside by a massive statue of Lord Murugan, to whom the caves are dedicated.

Aside from the religious sites, Batu Caves is also home to some great rock climbing. The caves are part of a massive outcrop of limestone, as high as 150m. There are over 100 routes scattered along the rocks for all levels, but most of the best are found at Damai Caves to the north east of the main shrines. This area is known as Bukit Takun.

Rock Climbing in Malaysia
Bukit Takun is a great place for rock climbing in KL.

Where to find it: Batu Caves are 13km outside of Kuala Lumpur. They can be accessed by bus from Central Market in Chinatown or on the KTM train line from KL Sentral transit station. It takes 45-60 minutes. While experienced climbers might like to bring their gear and find their own routes, there are a number of adventure companies offering courses and guides in the area. Daily rock climbing trips are organised by Camp5 Climbing Gym. See here for more info.

11. Have a Laugh at Crackhouse Comedy Club

Established in 2014, the Crackhouse Comedy Club is fast becoming a national institution. The club showcases a variety of local and international talent and, lucky for us travellers, all stand-up shows are in English. There are currently five shows a week with headliners appearing every Friday and Saturday. If you’re a budding comic yourself then you’ll want to check out the Wednesday open-mic night! The event is a great insight into local entertainment culture and guaranteed to make you giggle, maybe even LYFAO!

Some comedians at the Crackhouse Comedy Club, KL.
Some comedians at the Crackhouse Comedy Club, KL.

Where to find it: The address of the comedy club is 1st Floor 24A, Lorong Rahim Kajai 14, TTDI, 60000 KL. We recommend getting a taxi.

Conor Walsh | Nomad Africa

Conor Walsh is a freelance writer and the founder of Nomad Africa, the continent’s first online community for remote workers, online entrepreneurs, and digital nomads. You can join Nomad Africa’s free Facebook community and follow Conor on Medium.

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