Exploring Kuala Lumpur on a budget
Accomodation for £18 in Kuala Lumpur
We stayed in Hilton Garden inn Kuala Lumpur on Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman. For £18 per night we got a new modern room in a 4 star hotel with a view to Petronas towers, breakfast, concierge services, laptop area in the lobby and the gym. The only downside according some is it's location. Chow kit area which has red light district reputation is believed to be less safe than central (KLCC, Bukit Bintang) areas.
Did we feel safe? We did a lot of daytime walks through the area and it was fine. We didn’t get into any dangerous situations, didn’t witness anything bad either. There’s a lot of opinions around the safety of the area but what’s for sure that it’s subjective and depends on ones experience. We were using our car a lot and if we were going somewhere further returning late in the evening we would take the car so we didn’t feel any need to be worried but we do that anywhere we go anyways. Provided you aren’t on your own walking tiny hidden streets out at late night, you should be fine but this applies to any country in the world, isn’t it? It's true that Chow kit area is not as pleasant at night and it’s not as shiny and clean as KLCC / Bukit Bintang because it is much poorer but as long as you take precautions everything will be fine. Hotel is located on the main road which is lit and has concierge 24/7.
View from our room for £18
Where to eat in Kuala Lumpur?
Chunburi seafood in Kampung Bari
This restaurant is a hidden gem and if you google places to eat in KL this will probably never show up as an option. This was a recommendation we got from local people. It’s a place for proper Malaysian seafood, curries and other authentic local food. Kafh being curry lover, he was overwhelmed and this man knows when curry is not up to scratch. Also the fact that we didn’t see any tourists was a decent indication that this is a place where local people like to eat. I found Malaysian curries not as hot as Bangladeshi curries (is this even relevant to compare then, I don’t know but an observation) but also very different from Thai meals and I enjoyed it’s uniqueness. Restaurant or I would call it more like a canteen is nothing fancy, rustic décor with some plastic chairs, food is served in big bowls on the long table at the front and you have to serve yourself. Later, waiter comes to you, checks what you have in the plate and handwrites a bill. We ate a lot and only paid ~ £10 for two. Happy belly, happy pocket, happy days!
Jalan Alor street food market
We couldn’t miss this very famous night street food market which comes up every time as one of the most important street food scenes in KL. The variety of food is just unbelievable. If you are not sure what you want to have, it can take a bit of time to choose and if you up for a challenge to try as much different foods as you, then don’t eat before going. Choices from seafood to curries to Thai food to fried fruit, stalls cracking from fruits, durian everywhere (it’s worlds smelliest fruit!) that’s just a tiny part of it. We had a variety of vegetable skewers, which are cooked in front of you and also ordered a crab which was cooked to order. It was yum! Also sugar cane juice, we loved it!
Where not to eat (unless you don't like Asian food?)
Kuala Lumpur is known for a great street food scene but we would like to talk about not so great experiences we had and hopefully save you money by advising you to look somewhere else.
Madame Kwank in Petronas towers
Walking around in KLCC we found a restaurant what said to be “truly Malaysian food” and this caught our attention straightaway. The atmosphere seemed nice and beautiful interiors made it somewhat easier to choose. “Don’t judge book by its cover” couldn’t be more true again. Whilst it was one of the most beautiful restaurants we dined in whilst in KL we thought it was also one of the least authentic in terms of food quality.
With Malaysian food you expect to have a burst of flavours, spices and heat but it had none of it. Otak otak - spicy fish paste grilled in banana leaf, spicy….really? it was bland, koey teow soup (broth lacked flavours and spices again) and noodles with prawns and some other mains I can’t even remember what else… that “memorable” it was.
Food court inside central Market
On our last day we had some time before the flight so we went to see central market and were hoping to get a good meal after having read some reviews online. Whilst we really enjoyed walk in the market and looking around (this would be a good place to come for souvenirs, gifts and all other stuff that you don’t really need), we didn’t enjoy the food. Food court I am referring to is located on 2nd floor of the indoor market. We tried Nasi Lemak (national dish of Malaysia) but it was nothing special and lacked taste?! and also the place itself could do with a little revamp. Dark and old, it was dead in the middle of the day, possibly (hopefully) it becomes more alive in the evening.
Visit Chow kit market
This market is located just stones throw from Hilton Garden Inn Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman North where we stayed. Chow kit market is the biggest wet market in KL. With rows and rows of local produce you are guaranteed to find everything you may possibly want in one market (vegetables, fruits, spices, condiments, fish, seafood). On the very same road as Chow kit there is also another street market for veggies and fruits which is open until late. If you arrive after Chow kit is closed (7am-7pm) just wonder down Jalan (Malaysian for road) Raja Alang and you will see it.
This to me was the area which opened a different side to the city; a side with no skyscrapers, no expensive shops and banks, no tourist crowds, not that clean, in fact dirty and messy, not modern but full of life and struggles of every day people just trying to make the living.
Sightseeing in Kuala Lumpur
TIP: Towers are so tall that it can be a difficult to take it all in a picture from the park in front (if you don’t have a good camera lens of course). You could be spending time just walking around looking for an angle or spot to get that picture. However there is always a solution if you don’t want to do so. There are plenty of vendors offering you to buy fish eye lenses just outside main entrance. They will offer to take a picture and if you like it, it can be yours for ~ 40 RM (as off 2018). One guy took our picture but didn’t ask any money so we got it for free. We shot on our go pro so quality is not great but its wide angle was helpful.
If there is one thing to be said about Petronas towers it's a landmark and the most iconic building of Kuala Lumpur! Two skyscrapers connected with a sky bridge up to this day are the tallest twin towers in the world at the height of nearly 452 m. For £80 ticket pp you can go up to skybridge which is on 41st floor and then to the viewing platform on 86th floor to see panoramic views of KL.
When we visited it was a rainy season (March, 2018) and days were hazy and humid. Risk of paying £160 and not being able to see the view looked like too much to take and is the view worth £160? We don't know but we are sure Malaysia has more wonderful views “for free”.
Masjid Jamek Mosque
We discovered this majestic Mosque during one of our night drives around the city. It is beautifully architected and so eye popping that you cannot miss once you are in the city centre. Mosque building consists of 3 domes surrounding the main prayer hall. It sits by the river Klang meaning you get beautiful views of city skyline, dancing fountains and the mosque itself.