The vibrant city of Kuala Lumpur as it is today began in 1857 as a Chinese tin mining settlement. Despite pestilence that killed a large number of them, more Chinese miners arrived, attracting merchants and businesses. Kuala
The commercial area of tin trading was located in the confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers. This ramshackle, thatched roof settlement was named Kuala Lumpur, meaning "muddy confluence or estuary," in Malay.
The greed and wealth for tin led to fierce rivalries and claim disputes. The Chinese miners soon organised themselves into clans and warring gangs called "secret societies." Without a centralised authority, keeping peace and order in the mining areas was nearly impossible.
In 1868, needing a solution to the chaos, the headmen of the local clans elected a man named Yap Ah Loy as "Kapitan China," or leader of the Chinese community. Considered as the founding father of Kuala Lumpur, Yap Ah Loy with the support of the local sultan, built prisons and quelched revolts, quickly establishing an infamous reign over the entire Kuala Lumpur mining area. Kuala Lumpur was made capital of Selangor in 1880, mainly due to Kapitan Yap's success.
Loy had barely established control, however, when the Malay Civil War broke out with local sultans fighting for the throne of Perak. Kuala Lumpur being swept up in the conflict, was burnt to the ground in 1881.
The merchants of the Straits Settlements, concerned that the war would ruin their prosperity, asked Britain to intervene. London sent in a new territorial governor, Andrew Clarke, to appraise the situation. Clarke gathered the feuding princes aboard his ship off the island of Pangkor, and convinced them to sign a document known as the 'Pangkor Agreement'. The Agreement ended the war, established a new Sultan of Perak, and most significantly, called for the presence of a British Resident "who must be asked and acted upon on all questions other than those touching Malay religion and custom.
With Kapitan Yap's able leadership, Kuala Lumpur became Selangor's biggest city. He rebuilt Kuala Lumpur, which was devastated by the Civil War and repopulated it with Chinese miners from elsewhere in Selangor. He also encouraged Malay farmers to settle near Kuala Lumpur in order to have a steady and accessible source of food.
When the Federated Malay States were incorporated with Frank Swettenham in charge in 1896, Kuala Lumpur was made the capital.
Most of central Kuala Lumpur has grown without any central planning whatsoever, so the streets in the older parts of town are extremely narrow, winding and congested. The architecture in this section is a unique colonial type, a hybrid of European and Chinese forms.
World War II saw Kuala Lumpur occupied by Japanese from January 11, 1942 to August 15, 1945. In a period, called "3 years and 8 months", all English and Chinese schools were ordered to close down and every morning in schools, Kimigayo, the Japanese National Anthem, had to be sung to show loyalty to the Japanese Emperor.
The Japanese Military Yen or commonly known as ‘Banana Notes’ were introduced. The currency issued without reserves and over printing led to hyper inflation and food rationing became the norm of daily lives.
After the fall of Japanese, the British returned to Kuala Lumpur. In 1957, exactly 100 years since the founding of the city, Kuala Lumpur gained historical significance again when the first Malayan flag was raised on the grounds of the cricket field, in Merdeka Square, to mark the country's independence from British rule.
Kuala Lumpur came of age in 1974, when it was formally detached from its mother state of Selangor and made into a unit of its own called the Federal Territory.
Today, Kuala Lumpur is the federal capital and the most populous city in Malaysia covering an area of 243 square km (94 sq mi) with an estimated population of 1.6 million. KL, as it is almost always called, is modern and fast moving city, a thriving metropolis that leads the nation's fast paced development.
1. Petronas Twin Towers
They were once the tallest buildings in the world. Now the world’s tallest twin structures, the 88 storey buildings were designed by Cesar Pelli & Associates with both towers joined at the 41st and 42nd floors (175 meters or 557 feet above street level) by a 58 metre long, double decker Sky Bridge. Standing 452 metres (1,620 feet) tall, the Petronas Twin Towers retained its world title claim to fame until 2004 when Taipei's 101 was built, measuring 508 metres tall. Today, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, opened in 2010, retains the spot as the world’s tallest building.
Located in the KL city centre, the Petronas Twin Towers’ architecture is Islamic inspired and the buildings primarily house the corporate headquarters of the Petronas Company and other offices.
When the Petronas Twin Towers were completed in 1998 they were declared the tallest buildings in the world, surpassing the 442 metre tall Willis Tower in Chicago, U.S.A. At the base of the Petronas Twin Towers is Suria KLCC, an upmarket shopping mall that is very popular with tourists. Tower One is fully occupied by the Malaysian state oil company Petronas, and its subsidiaries and associate companies. Tower Two is mostly taken up by multinational companies such as Accenture, Al-Jazeera, Barclays Capital, Bloomberg, Boeing, IBM, McKinsey & Co., Microsoft, Reuters and more.
Set on Level 86 is Petronas Twin Towers' observation deck, where visitors can get a closeup view of the tower's spire as well as digital displays and exhibit of the tower's history. The double decked Skybridge at the Petronas Twin Towers is one of its major draws as it offers amazing views of the city. Apart from allowing tenants of the towers to move from one building to the other without having to go to ground level, the Skybridge also functions as an emergency exit route.
A ticket pass is required to enter the bridge, so make sure to get there early as queues can be long. Opening Hours: 09:00 – 19:00
(closed for Friday prayers 13:00 – 14:30)
2. Batu Caves
11 km north of KL, Batu Caves is a 400 million year old limestone hill with a 100 year old temple incorporated within it, best known as the focal point of the annual Hindu festival of Thaipusam.The Batu Caves are a very sacred spot for Hindus in Malaysia. Hundreds of thousands of Hindus gather here every year to celebrate Thaipusam in which Hindus carry large items, such as jugs, and have body piercings with hooks to attach to other things. This is a form of penance for them. As if climbing up the 272 steps to the caves is not penance enough. At the top of the stairs, visitors will find three huge limestone caves plus smaller ones filled with Hindu art and statues Visitors may want to bring peanuts or bananas for the monkeys that will greet them upon arrival.
3. Merdeka Square
Merdeka Square is the heart of Kuala Lumpur. It is sometimes called Independence Square because the Malaysian flag first flew here in 1957 when the country became independent of Great Britain. The square is mostly a grass field, used by cricket players in colonial days, that is surrounded by some of the city’s more famous buildings such as the National History Museum and the Royal Selangor Club. Various public events, such as open air concerts, take place at the square, which is also a starting and ending point for marathon races around town.
4. Bukit Bintang
Bukit Bintang is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Kuala Lumpur, perhaps because travelers like to shop. Bukit Bintang is the city’s shopping and entertainment center. Here, travelers will find tiny shops and shopping malls where goods in all price ranges are sold. The area has lots of places to eat, from sit down restaurants to street food vendors, including one street that only serves Chinese food. Bukit Bintang is a lively place at all hours, but especially so at night when it becomes a hangout for visitors seeking nightlife.
Jalan Alor, located just behind Jalan Bukit Bintang, is basically a strip of Chinese seafood restaurants, with a row of hawker stalls set up on the five foot walkway on both sides and plastic tables and chairs spilling out onto the road. The variety of food available is amazing, recognised as some of the best and cheapest in the city.
5. KL Bird Park
Located in the serene Lake Gardens, KL Bird Park is an eco-tourism site that it home to more than 3,000 birds belonging to 200 species. Birds are divided into four zones; three of the zones are called free flight, because birds are free to fly wherever they want in surroundings that resemble their native, natural habitat. Park operators say their bird park is the largest free flight park in the world. Visitors can walk among the birds in these zones, making for a different experience. There are caged birds are in the fourth zone.
6. Menara KL Tower
The almost 335 meters (1,100 feet) high Menara KL Tower serves two purposes. The first is as a communications tower. The second is as a tourist attraction with a revolving restaurant and observation area that offers stunning panoramic views of Kuala Lumpur below. It is the highest public viewing area in the city. Trivia fans will be impressed that it took 31 consecutive hours to pour the concrete for the tower base. Travelers in top athletic condition might want to participate in the annual race to climb the steps to the top levels; couch potatoes can take the elevator.
The viewing deck is at least 100 meters higher than the Petronas Tower’s Skybridge and to get free tickets be sure to arrive early.
09:00 – 22:00 (weekday)
09:30 – 22:00 (weekend & public holidays)
7. Thean Hou Temple
Visitors to Thean Hou Temple will find a little bit of China in Kuala Lumpur, since it is one of the largest Chinese temples in Southeast Asia. Opened in 1989 by Malaysia’s Chinese community, it is a stunning example of Chinese architecture, with its four levels of orange tiled pagodas. The temple honors Thean Hou, the goddess of the sea. With a spectacular view of Kuala Lumpur as a backdrop, the temple is a popular spot to take wedding photos; the temple even has a marriage registration office, with about 5,000 couples a year choosing to get married here.
8. Sultan Abdul Samad Building
Among Kuala Lumpur’s earliest Moorish-style buildings, the Sultan Abdul Samad Building is a distinguished city landmark that originally served as the secretariat for the colonial British administration. Today it is home to the offices of the Ministry of Information, Communications and Culture of Malaysia. Built in 1897 and designed by AC Norman, it is set to the east of Merdeka Square and is frequently the backdrop for Malaysia’s annual Independence Day parades.
9. Aquaria KLCC
Located on the concourse level of the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, it is said to be one of the largest aquariums in Southeast Asia. Home to over 150 species of marine life, its star attractions include scary tiger sharks, lethal sea snakes, blue rays, bright coral fish, seahorses and more. It is a well stocked aquarium just begging to be explored, and after a few hours here you will have seen over 5,000 freshwater and marine creatures, including massive arapaimas, giant groupers, gar fish and more. Some people write it off as a tourist trap, but they are sorely missing out, beyond the big tanks, with gallons of water, filled with necklaces of kelp, coral and mysterious and sometimes menacing sea creatures, is one of the country’s foremost sightseeing attractions with real depth and complexity.
One of the highlights of Aquaria KLCC is a giant tank, featuring an authentic-looking shipwreck, a 90 meter walk through tunnel with a moving travelator in its centre. Inside you will be surrounded by sand tiger sharks, huge stingrays and more. You can take a break from looking at Nemo and his crew, as you head to The Stream which plays host to the giant water rat and the adorable Asian small-clawed otter. Meanwhile, the Jewels of the Jungle section is home to a variety of reptiles, amphibians and insects including the green snake, coatimundi, tarantula and many others; also be sure to check out the exhibit showcasing the life cycle of butterflies.
Level 2 sees you journeying through the Amazon Flooded Forest where the oversized araipaima, red tail catfish and many others dwell; next, head up to The Coast to see archer fish, horseshoe crabs and more. Later, develop a deep appreciation for deep sea inhabitants such as the octopus and giant blotched fantail ray at the Oceanarium. Lastly, the Weird & Wonderful section is home to chambered nauticus, sea jelly and more, while the Coral Discovery Section has the requisite array of coral, seahorses and more. What’s more, catch the fish feeding sessions which take place on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays in the 2.5 million litre aquarium.
10. Central Market
A Malaysian cultural landmark, Central Market has been classified as a Heritage Site by the National Heritage Department. Similar to London’s Covent Garden or San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, the 120 year old Central Market has undergone several renovations over the years to attract younger generations and to foster greater appreciation for racial tolerance and integration. Central Market is strategically located close to major public transportation links, making it easy to access from all major KL destinations. The second floor has several restaurants and a food court serving Asian cuisine.
Central Market hosts a variety of vendors that bring out their best wares during the country’s colourful and exciting annual festivals such as Hari Raya, Chinese New Year and Deepavali. For example, during the Hari Raya festival vendors will sell an assortment of sweet cakes and titbits; at Deepavali, the market has a colourful collection of saris and other Indian merchandise on display, while Chinese New Year sees the bazaar filled with Chinese treats as well as traditional Chinese costumes for sale. For the rest of the year Central Market supports local contemporary arts by hosting art exhibitions.
Another way to describe Central Market is to say that it is like New York’s SoHo flea market – the merchandise here is cheap and traditional goods such as batik, embroidery carvings, souvenirs, and sculptures are on offer. The Batik Emporium houses well known batik designer labels, while outside local artists painting renderings of the busy street or impromptu song and dance performance take place.