A Guide To Kuala Lumpur For Budget Travelers
Kuala Lumpur is the capital of Malaysia with almost two million inhabitants. The centre is very modern and rich and you'll see expensive cars and high rise buildings everywhere.
Kuala Lumpur might not be an amazing highlight of South East Asia but it's definitely a nice place to stay for a while, especially when traveling long term. We used it as a home base to hop between Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia and for that it's the perfect city. But don't worry, there's plenty to do for any length of stay at any budget. From cultural wonders to luxury malls and from food courts to rooftop restaurants.
Free and cheap things to do in Kuala Lumpur
1. Petronas Twin Towers
One of the most recognizable land marks in the world and definitely a must visit when in Kuala Lumpur. You can go in the towers and even walk on the sky bridge but honestly, we found it really expensive so we just took a stroll through the park at the base of the towers right before sunset and it was amazing. The towers look really cool when the sunlight fades away and hey, it's free!
2. Batu Cave and Dark Cave
If you have to pick one thing to visit in Kuala Lumpur, this should be it. A lot of monkeys live in the surroundings so you'll definitely see them. Because people feed them, they've learned to steal from us rather than find their own food, so please don't. The Batu Cave is free to visit and looks impressive when entering but the real highlight here was the Dark Cave. This cave has an entry fee and we were hesitant but when we hear the reactions of other people we decided to just go for it. It was definitely worth it!
A guide accompanies you and explains a lot about the history of the cave and you'll be pointed out different critters that live in the cave. Crickets, spiders and snails but but the coolest one we saw was the long legged centipede. The walk through the cave ends at a viewpoint where... Well, just check out the picture...
Make sure to avoid visiting in weekends or on holidays. The caves are very popular with tourists as well as locals.
3. Eco Park Forest
Another gem that's hidden in the centre of Kuala Lumpur is the eco forest. It's a piece of rain forest in the middle of the city where you can make short (but sweaty) hikes and there's even a canopy walk. Be aware of the monkeys. They're known to steal food or drinks right out of your hands...
4. Visit the malls and catch up on movies
We love movies but we had been traveling for a few months before we arrived in Kuala Lumpur and we missed a bunch. We felt we needed to catch up and well, we did. All Hollywood movies are in English with local subtitles and a ticket only costs around RM15. We always went to the Pavilion mall as it was close and always had lots of movies playing.
5. Explore Malaysia's Food Culture
Laksa, Hokkien Noodles, Popiah, Chicken Rice, Nasi Kandar. There's so much to try in Malaysia and pretty much everything is good and cheap. If you're not sure on what to have, just pick a random dish and you'll probably like it. We really liked picking random meats and vegetables from buffets because of the big variety at a low price. So that's why we love food courts. They're everywhere in Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur is no different. Check out the next chapter for our favorite food courts.
Where To Eat in KL
Food courts are very convenient and cheap places to eat. Especially when it's your first time in Malaysia, we recommend the food courts at the malls. They might be slightly more pricy but it's easier to order and everything feels clean and hygienic. Here are our favorite ones.
1. Hulong 1
Lots of Chinese influenced food here. It's located at the lower level of the Lot 10 mall. Around RM10 to 15 for a dish.
This is our favorite food court in Kuala Lumpur. Located at the basement level of the Pavilion mall and serving Malaysian food as well as Chinese, Indian, Thai and Western. Anyone will find something they like here. Expect to pay from RM10 to 15 for a cheap dish.
3. Twin Towers
Another option we found by accident but with bad timing. We discovered the food court at the Suria KLCC mall the same day as the end of the Ramadan and it was absolutely overcrowded. The food we had was also not as good as the other two malls but it might have been because of the circumstances. Prices are similar.
4. TJ's Nasi Kandar
I you're staying in Bukit Bintang then you should also definitely visit TJ's Nasi Kandar. Cheap but delicious Indian food with a fresh coconut to wash it down.It might not look like much but don't let that put you off...
5. Breakfast in Kuala Lumpur
One of our favorite places to get breakfast in many Asian countries is 7-Eleven or similar. Cereal, croissants, coffee, grilled sandwiches... you name it, they have it.
How to get in and around
Kuala Lumpur International airport is a big hub in South East Asia and flights arrive from all over the world, so you'll most likely arrive here. From the airport, there are different possibilities to get to the city centre.
1. By Taxi
Don't use regular taxis. They're always the more expensive option.
2. By Grab Taxi
First thing you need to do when traveling these days is to download some essential apps on your phone. For South East Asia it's Grab. Why? You'll save a lot of money using it to get everywhere and it's the most convenient way unless you're right next to a subway station. A Grab taxi from Kuala Lumpur International Airport to the city centre will cost you RM65 plus around RM7 for toll.
3. By Train
If you want to use public transport, that's possible too. There's a rail link between KLIA and the city centre but don't make the same mistake we did. There are two options: the KLIA Express and a regular train. The Express is much faster but significantly more expensive and it's not really clear when buying tickets. If you're on a budget, make sure to buy tickets for the cheaper and slower train. It makes a few more stops and will take around 1.5 hours.
4. By Bus
If you're already in Malaysia or you're coming in from Thailand or Singapore then you might arrive by bus. Buses in Malaysia are very comfortable and go to anywhere in the country. In Kuala Lumpur you'll most likely arrive in Terminal Bersepadu Selatan or Pudu Sentral. From there, just order a Grab taxi to go to the city centre or wherever you want to go.
Where to stay in Kuala Lumpur
The two main areas where there's a lot of hotels and guesthouses are Bukit Bintang and Chinatown. We definitely prefer Bukit Bintang as it's more conveniently located and you can walk to almost everywhere. The downside is that the prices are higher than Chinatown so if you're on a budget you'll have to plan ahead. During our two weeks in Kuala Lumpur we did find a few budget options in Bukit Bintang. All with private bathroom and air conditioning.
1. Zen Rooms Sahabat Guesthouse
We stayed here twice and its location is excellent. The only downside is that the cheaper rooms are really small and don't have a window or the window is looking out on the common area. That's why, for our second and longer stay here, we decided to get a slightly more expensive room at the same place and it was definitely worth the money. Another good thing about this guesthouse is that it has breakfast included. It's basic; with just coffee, tea, toast & jam, cornflakes and oatmeal but you can have as much as you want. When you take that in account, the price for a night is actually not too bad.
2. Hotel Signature International @ Pudu
A little bit further away from the centre of Bukit Bintang but still walkable. This multi-floor hotel doesn't have much personality but it's clean and the staff is friendly. The perfect budget hotel for a few nights in Kuala Lumpur.
3. Hotel Paloma Inn
A nice building with clean rooms and friendly staff. The only downside here was that the rooms felt a little bit damp. It was not the first time we had a room like that when traveling in South East Asia and it's not the end of the world but if you want to stay a little bit longer it might be a problem.
4. Adya Hotel
When flying from Sumatra to Java, both Indonesia, we had a stop over in Kuala Lumpur for three days (flight was a lot cheaper that way) and we stayed in a hotel closer to Chinatown. From here, the distance to Bukit Bintang was a bit far (for us it was still walkable) but if you want to explore Chinatown then this is the place to be. The price of one night was indeed cheaper here for similar levels of comfort.
Airbnb in Kuala Lumpur
Airbnb is also a good option to find cheap stays. We found a whole apartment for ourselves for just $30 per day with an epic view!
If you use our link to sign up with Airbnb (It's free!) you'll get $40 off on your next booking! Sign up here for $40 off!