Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) in One Day: A First-Timer's Guide

by - 9:00 PM

kuala lumpur, kl

They say: "Travel and let the world change you." For 17 days, four international flights, two overnight trains, and countless hours of bus rides, I let the universe do just that. And it changed me in more ways than one.
(This post is part of my Malaysia-Laos-Thailand travel series. 
Stay tuned for more stories.)

The thought of waking up in a foreign place was already an alarm clock in itself and though we slept late the night before, we managed to get our lazy bums off the bed long before the rest of the city woke up.

I find it surprising that though Malaysia and the Philippines (my beloved home country) share the same timezone (GMT+8), we still differ with sunrise and sunset times. The sun doesn't rise/set in Malaysia til 7am/7pm unlike in the Philippines which is normally at around 6am/6pm.

We only had a day to spend in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia as we were heading off to Laos early morning the next day so it helped a lot that we had an itinerary ready beforehand. KL may be a concrete jungle with humidity and traffic to deal with but I'm proud to say that we were able to maximize our stay given the limited time. I hope this post will help those who only have a day to spend in the Garden City of Lights.

Where to Stay in Kuala Lumpur
Bukit Bintang is a good place to stay in KL and we stayed here during our visit. Backpacker hostels and budget hotels are all over on this side of the Central Business District area. It is also conveniently located near Jalan Alor, a hawker-style food haven, that comes to life at night.

From KLIA2 to Bukit Bintang
KLIA Ekspres, KLIA Transit, Train, KLIAArriving at around 9pm in KLIA2, we had several options to get to Bukit Bintang:

  • KLIA Ekspres. At 28 minutes, KLIA Ekspres is probably the fastest way to get to KL City at any given time of the day for 55 MYR. We bought the tickets by mistake (longer line was for its cheaper counterpart, KLIA Transit) but no regrets, as we were treated to  a comfortable and faster ride on our first nonstop train trip in Kuala Lumpur City.

  • KLIA Transit. This is the cheaper counterpart of KLIA Ekspres at 25 MYR. Travel time is longer because it has several stops (including Putrajaya/Cyberjaya) before reaching KLIA Sentral. 

I think both the KLIA Ekspres and KLIA Transit look the same. Just make sure to read the signage and stay in the correct side of the platform.
***For more information on KLIA Ekspres/Transit fares and schedule, just click on this link (here).

  • Skybus. Another cheap way of getting to KL City is through the Skybus service offering different stops in key areas in the city at 11 MYR. Based on research, it is best to allot ample time for travel or to choose this route during off-peak hours. Head over here to know more.

  • Taxi. If time and money are not an issue, this is convenient for those who are heading to an area that doesn't have a train or bus station nearby.

Getting Around KL
Getting around KL was easy through their efficient transport system. We were on a budget so hopping on a train or a bus helped us stretch our budget for two weeks. The following were the modes of transportation we used:

  • Train. This is the fastest and most reliable way of getting from point A to point B and I wish ours in the the Philippines is as clean and as reliable as theirs too. We were staying at a nearby train station (Imbi) so getting to KL Sentral, their main train hub, was easy. From KL Sentral, there are different train lines servicing major districts in and out of Kuala Lumpur.

  • GoKL Free Bus. Truly a blessing for us backpackers! We used this mainly in navigating from one spot to another within the Central Business District. There are different color-coded bus routes that pass by major tourist attractions like the Central Market, Chinatown, Merdeka Square, Petronas Towers, and even the area where we were staying (Bukit Bintang). Know which bus passes by where (here). What's more, these buses come with free wifi; perfect for us to snatch a few Instagram posts every now and then. One challenge here is that it gets pretty full to the brim and you get stuck in traffic during rush hour but who are we to complain for the free service, right?
  • Tip: The different bus routes are color-coded on their map. Make sure to read the sign in front of the bus because apparently all buses are in purple color, no matter which route you are planning to take. We missed the green line thinking that the bus will be in green too! Lol.

  • Taxi. We only used this once to catch the plane in KLIA2 to Laos early in the morning. Travel time was pretty fast at about 45 minutes but it's gonna be a different story during peak hours. I recommend taking a metered taxi to the airport and around the city if you are a group of four (hurrah for more savings) and if you are not in a hurry.
KL Sentral, Monorail, GoKL Free Bus, Transportation

What to Do in KL for First-Timers
Malaysia offers lots of things to do for newbies and frequent tourists alike. With KLIA serving as the main transit hub of AirAsia, the largest budget airline in this side of the world, a lot of tourists may end up just having a day or even just a few hours exploring KL. 

If you are staying for several days, you may opt to explore more of its beautiful countryside and attractions outside of KL City like Genting Highlands, Malacca, Legoland, or Kota Kinabalu. 

For now, let me share to you the things we did and the attractions we've visited given the one full day we had. 


Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur

Batu Caves is said to be the second most popular Hindu shrine outside of India and is probably the second most photographed KL tourist destination next to the Petronas Towers.

Batu Caves actually has several caves and temples. The biggest one is called the Cathedral Cave that is reached by climbing a steep flight of stairs consisting of 272 steps. You wouldn't miss this because the stairs is right beside the 140-foot statue of Lord Murugan (the world's tallest) that costs roughly about 24 million rupees. Aside from the temples and caves, the sheer limestone wall also serves as a rock climbing area for enthusiasts.

Kuala Lumpur, Batu Caves, Hindu

How to Get to Batu Caves:

Catch the KTM Komuter train to Batu Caves (last station) at KL Sentral.  From Batu Caves station, the entrance to the shrine is actually just a short walk away.

Tips and Reminders When Visiting Batu Caves:
1. Wear modest clothing; avoid shorts and short skirts. I was wearing a knee-length skirt but was still asked to cover up my legs. Better bring a sarong with you if you don't want to rent one for 3 MYR.
2. Go there early in the morning to avoid the midday sun and the huge crowd.
3.  Don't bring food or any shiny items that may attract the monkeys' attention. I've seen quite a few tourists playing tug-of-war with their cheeky little macaques "friends".
4. It helps if you are physically fit. It is exhausting as hell going up those steep stairs, I swear!
5. Bring a bottle of water with you. Saves money, saves you too. Haha!
6. The place is not disabled-friendly. I haven't seen any ramps or lifts in the area.

Operating Hours: 6 am to 9 pm, Daily
Entrance Free: Free (Batu Caves), 35 MYR (Dark Cave)


Kuala Lumpur, Merdeka Square
Sultan Abdul Samad Building
Masjid Jamek, Merdeka Square, Panggung Bandaraya, Sultan Abdul Samad BuildingAfter getting our first dose of KL exercise at Batu Caves, we headed back to KL Sentral for lunch. We originally wanted to get off at Cyberjaya/Putrajaya train station for another tour on our way back but decided against it as it was already lunch time and we were hungry. Here's what TripAdvisor's got to say on what to do in Cyberjaya and Putrajaya (here).

We had lunch in one of the food courts in KL Sentral. I'm not really a fan of curry-based food so lunch time was uneventful for me. Probably what stood out was the kiwi soy smoothies I had from Sugar Kids. Yummy!

Right after lunch, we boarded another train (red line) and headed off to Masjid Jamek station. Masjid Jamek or Jamek Mosque is one of the oldest mosques (1909) in Kuala Lumpur and is located between Chinatown and Little India (Brickfields). There was a Muslim event going on so we just took a picture of the place (see top picture in collage) and proceeded to the front of the area to get to Merdeka Square by scaling the river.

On our way to Merdeka Square, we passed by Panggung Bandaraya, KL's historical theater built in 1904 (see top picture on the right). The theater replaced the Old City Hall of Kuala Lumpur.

A few meters from Panggung Bandaraya is the Sultan Abdul Samad Building. Aside from being a major landmark in the city with its shiny copper domes and tall clock tower, it also serves as government offices for the Ministry of Heritage, Culture, and Arts.

In front of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building is the Merdeka Square, a huge open field with the tallest flag pole I've ever seen at 95 meters. This area is a key place in the history of Malaysia because this was where independence was declared and the British Union Flag was lowered.

Another spot not to be missed while in the area is the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery which is open from 8 am to 6 pm daily. The place is free of charge so it is a perfect respite from the harsh heat of the sun. It is located at the southern end of Merdeka Square, in between the History Museum and the City Library.

Central Market, Kuala Lumpur

We traced our way back to Masjid Jamek then to Central Market by following the two rivers at the back of Sultan Abdul Samad Building. Kuala Lumpur was named after the two rivers, Klang and Gombak rivers: kuala (estuary) and lumpur (muddy).

Central Market - this Art Deco style building is the perfect place to buy all your pasalubong needs or if you want to take a piece of Malaysian art and culture with you back home. This was where we bought cheap keychains and ref magnets as souvenirs.

At the back of the Central Market is an annex which houses the arts and crafts life of Malaysia. You'd find rows and rows of art galleries, craft shops, as well as theater and music performances to satisfy the creative soul in you. My friend bought a koi painting here for 200 MYR.

Nearest train station: Pasar Seni LRT Train Station. 
GoKL free bus: Purple Line

Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Hindu

We found this ornate temple by chance when we were walking from Central Market to Chinatown. The Sri Mahamariamman Temple is the oldest temple in Kuala Lumpur and is tucked away in Jalan Bandar at the edge of Chinatown, partially hidden by two tall buildings on both sides. It was already mid-afternoon when we chanced upon this hidden gem and to our surprise, there were just two people inside. 

The temple is free of charge but you would have to leave your shoes at the counter before getting in. The cool breeze and the sudden eerie silence of the temple seemed to calm our tired bodies and we felt a bit energized from all the nonstop walking since morning.

Feeling a jolt of energy, I walked around the temple and was impressed with the delicately designed temple gate and the colorful paintings of the different Hindu deity scattered along the walls of the temple. Reaching the altar, I whispered a short prayer of thanks for all the blessings in my life.

Kuala Lumpur, Chinatown, Petaling
One of the many Chinese temples we passed by in KL

Chinatown's sight, smell, and vibe seem to transport us to a whole new world. You'd find lots of things here from the delectable Chinese street food to the cheap knock-offs of bags, clothes, shoes, and wallets. It's a good place to immerse yourself in and letting yourself be lost in a place full of sensory delights (though I believe you'd be able to find better quality goods elsewhere).

Nearest train station: Pasar Seni LRT Train Station. 


Kuala Lumpur, Petronas Towers
Petronas Towers

Petronas Towers is the tallest twin towers in the world and is very prominent in Kuala Lumpur's skyline at a whooping 452 meters (1,483 feet). Though the tallest building award had long since been transferred to Taipei 101, this mighty structure still stands with pride and glory and we couldn't help but exclaim with delight the first time we caught a glimpse of her beauty from our hotel room the night we arrived.

We got here from Chinatown by tracing our way back to Central Market for the GoKL Free bus (purple line) to Pavilion mall. From Pavilion mall, we hopped on another GoKL Free Bus (green line) again to Petronas Towers.  
Kuala Lumpur, KLCC Park
Public pool at KLCC Park

At the base of the Petronas Towers is the Suria KLCC mall, a high-end mall of mostly foreign labels. At the front of the towers is the KLCC Park where we enjoyed getting a few splashes from the dancing water fountain, tracing the jogging and walking paths, taking advantage of the free water from various drinking stations (water in Malaysia is expensive), and looking at the kids playing at the playground. We even discovered a public pool where a few locals were cooling off from KL's humid weather.


Kuala Lumpur, KL, Jalan Alor

Just like in the movies, this street comes to life at night. Jalan Alor is famous all over the world for its hawker-style street food. We scaled the entire street from one end to the other and we got mesmerized with what seems to be an endless row of food stalls serving Chinese, Indian, Malay, and even Japanese and Korean cuisines.

We settled for Chinese instead and we ordered some noodles, satay, roasted chicken and Peking duck. Though the prices may be a bit more expensive and the food wasn't as good as I expected, Jalan Alor is still a good place to spend the night away gawking at food and  other tourists as it gets packed all night. Just be careful though with pickpockets, scammers, and cars passing by (surprisingly, they don't close the street) as you get enchanted by Malaysia, truly Asia.

Actual Itinerary and Cost Breakdown
Note: I used the conversion rate I got when I had my USD exchanged to Malaysian Ringgit at the airport. You'll get better rates when you use exchange companies outside of the airport or when you withdraw money from the ATM. Just make sure you have your international withdrawal activated before leaving the country.  

We had a successful KL trip partly because we had a detailed itinerary ready. But no matter how well-planned your itinerary is, just like any matters in life, you gotta be ready for sudden detours and change of plans. Life doesn't always go the way we want it; we just gotta go with the flow as life unfolds one day at a time.

This post is part of my Malaysia - Laos - Thailand travel series. Stay tuned for more stories! :) 

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