Malaysia
Apr 2024
1 month

Kuala Lumpur

An uninspiring concrete jungle, salvaged by some seriously impressive cuisine.

[Local Time}
{Temperature}
°C ·
[Description}

A true cultural mosaic with Malay, Chinese, Indian and other ethnic groups all calling modern Kuala Lumpur home.

The iconic 88-story Petronas Twin Towers were the tallest buildings in the world from 1998-2004 and remain influential landmarks. The city's diversity is reflected in its varied cuisines, festivals, and religious sites.

Verdict:
Worth it if in the area

On paper, it has everything required to be a top-tier destination. In reality it lacks sufficient charm to become somewhere you could become enamoured with. Worth visiting for a couple of days to savour some fantastic food then head to the airport.

🌎
Verdict:
Worth it if in the area

On paper, it has everything required to be a top-tier destination. In reality it lacks sufficient charm to become somewhere you could become enamoured with. Worth visiting for a couple of days to savour some fantastic food then head to the airport.

Verdict:
Worth it if in the area

On paper, it has everything required to be a top-tier destination. In reality it lacks sufficient charm to become somewhere you could become enamoured with. Worth visiting for a couple of days to savour some fantastic food then head to the airport.

👎
Verdict:
Worth it if in the area

On paper, it has everything required to be a top-tier destination. In reality it lacks sufficient charm to become somewhere you could become enamoured with. Worth visiting for a couple of days to savour some fantastic food then head to the airport.

🛫
Malaysian Ringgit (MYR)
1.8 Million
💰 Great value

Summary

Prior to the start of this year, Malaysia had never been on my radar as a potential destination. In fact, I hardly knew anyone who had visited the country.

After spending a month in Ho Chi Minh and Bangkok, two locations I was already acquainted with, I was eager to unearth some new culinary delights. Prior research showed two recurrent themes:

1) That it is a dull city.

2) It boasts exceptional food.

Both of these turned out to be accurate in equal measure.

Accommodation
Great
Good
Ok
Bad

You won't find many capital cities better suited for a short-term rental. Airbnb is full of high quality new build apartments and you shouldn't have any issues finding a great quality unit for under £800 PCM.

Given the quantity of stock, it's definitely a market worth haggling (politely), especially if staying for an extended period.

I stayed at The Robertson in Bukit Bintang. While it suffers from recurring issues common in large complexes in Asia (under-maintained gym spaces, hot communal areas), it was a peaceful base with all the necessary amenities within the complex.

Before committing to a space, double-check recent reviews of the apartment complex on Google Maps to get a sense of any recurring issues that may not be mentioned on Airbnb.

info
New legislation
Recent changes introduced by the Turkish government has made short-term rentals for under 100 days more restricted. Keep an eye on Reddit threads for up-to-date assessments of how the new legislation is impacting short-term rentals in practice.
Places to work
Great
Good
Ok
Bad

There is no shortage of places to work from, with dedicated coworking spaces found across the entire metropolitan area.

The Common Ground chain offers a number of top-quality options with a conveniently placed option in Bukit Bintang, which would've been my go-to if not having WeWork access already provided.

WeWork has two locations, both with extended working hours. Having sampled both, the Equatorial Plaza one nudges it with a more central location, but Mercu 2 offers better options for food within the immediate vicinity.

If you are only in the city for a couple of days, I'd advise working from the Citizen M hotel which I've written about further below.

Value
Great
Good
Ok
Bad

Your money goes a long way in Kuala Lumpur, where a quality local meal can be had for as little as 10 MYR (£1.68). Transport around the city via both the metro and taxis are some of the cheapest you'll find across the world.

If you want to explore the rest of the country, domestic flights can be bought last minute for £20 with train tickets equally good value.

Alcohol, however, is one anomaly as it is subject to aggressive taxation. With service charge and taxes added, a pint of local beer can easily exceed around £7.

info
The yen is currently at a 34-year low
While this is undoubtedly a negative for the Japanese, it makes for an exceptionally good time to visit Japan from abroad. Although this trend is unlikely to reverse significantly in the short term, it's still worth checking before visiting.
Read more
View the cost of living
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Working hours
Great
Good
Ok
Bad

Despite being on a similar longitude as Thailand and Vietnam, Malaysia's time is one hour ahead, placing it 6 hours ahead of Central European Time (CET) during the summer months.

On face value, it appears that Malaysia is in the 'wrong' time zone, due to the majority of it's landmass being away from the peninsula to the West.

Assuming you are working into the evening, having an extra hour of daylight is something of an added bonus.

China Town is one of the more continuously populated areas and a great place to pick up a bite to eat, or a counterfeit watch if desired.
China Town is one of the more continuously populated areas and a great place to pick up a bite to eat, or a counterfeit watch if desired.
Large mounds of trash are unfortunately too common around areas such as Bukit Bintang and Pudu. Given how hot daytime temperatures get, they don't make for pleasant sites.
Large mounds of trash are unfortunately too common around areas such as Bukit Bintang and Pudu. Given how hot daytime temperatures get, they don't make for pleasant sites.
Nasi Lemak is the national dish of Malaysia. Fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk is served with an egg, sambal (a chili sauce), anchovies, and peanuts. It's often served with a protein like fried chicken (Ayam Goreng) or Rendang. A perfect breakfast or lunch option.
Nasi Lemak is the national dish of Malaysia. Fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk is served with an egg, sambal (a chili sauce), anchovies, and peanuts. It's often served with a protein like fried chicken (Ayam Goreng) or Rendang. A perfect breakfast or lunch option.

Where to stay

When looking at the map, the expanse of the city appears enormous, but it is actually an amalgamation of several distinct municipalities like Petaling Jaya, Shah Alam, and Subang Jaya.

As a short-term visitor to the city, there is a relatively small area on the map where you'd be best advised to stay in order to maximise convenience during your stay.

Would avoid
Recommended
Bukit Bintang
Your best bet for convenience. Centrally located, with an endless supply of eateries and accommodation options. Nothing inherently captivating or inspiring about it to cause you to fall in love with the area but a reliable choice.
Would avoid
Recommended
KLCC
The commercial centre and home to the Petronas Towers. Fine if visiting for a couple of nights but for anything longer I'd choose elsewhere with more of a local feel.
Would avoid
Recommended
Brickfields
In close proximity to both the botanical gardens & the KL Sentral transport hub, this is good option with high speed direct rail links to the airport.
Would avoid
Recommended
Pudu
Within walking distance to the centre of Bukit Bintang with lots of new build accommodation. Would consider if saw a good deal. Plenty of tasty Chinese food outlets close to the metro station.
Would avoid
Recommended
Bangsar & Damansara Heights
Both upscale and good quality residential areas but will likely make you dependent on vehicle use with very little ambience in the immediate vicinity.
Would avoid
Recommended
Chow Kit
Interesting area to explore with some good food options but I'd rather stay elsewhere.

Where to work

Citizen M
Top Choice
☕️ Good Coffee
📍 Top Location
🥗 On Site Cafe
🧍Community Focused
⭐️ Quality Fit Out
🌳 Outdoor Space

If you are just passing through the city for a few days and want a reliable place to work from, I would look no further than the ground floor of the Citizen M hotel.

Open and free of charge to non-guests, the ground floor has a large open plan desk / lounge area, with high speed internet and a fully stocked cafe / bar.

The quality and spec of the interior is very similar to a WeWork and it's generally deserted throughout the day making it an ideal environment to focus on work.

Remote work visa

No remote work visa
Remote work visa available
Remote work visa coming soon
If staying for a prolonged period, you may want to consider a dedicated visa for this destination.
This country is actively working on a visa support for remote workers.
Check your government website for details of how to obtain a tourist visa.

Malaysia has introduced the DE Rantau Nomad Pass, a new type of Professional Visit Pass (Pas Lawatan Ikhtisas PLIK), specifically designed to allow qualified foreign digital nomads to travel and work in the country.

The pass has an initial validity of 3 to 12 months, is renewable for up to an additional 12 months allowing a total stay of 24 months and permits digital nomads to bring their spouse and children.

View full details
To the best of my knowledge this information was correct as of 27th April 2024. If you notice something has changed drop me a message and I'll update it!

Citizen Remote is a great source of up to date knowledge for everything to do with remote work visas.

Safety

  • On the whole a safe and secure city.The only issues I heard of were of petty theft involving bag snatching and issues arising from using unofficial taxis. Always use Grab.
  • The streets are less busy at night.Compared to Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh where you are seemingly always surrounded by crowds of people into the early hours, that is not the case here. I walked around at all hours of the night and didn't experience anything untoward, but the streets take on an eerie emptiness past midnight.

Off-work

Visit Batu Caves

Easily reachable from the city centre via taxi or public transport, the Batu Caves are home to one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside of India.

The multi-coloured staircases take you into a series of enormous hollowed out caves adorned with shrines. Popular with tourists, locals and monkeys alike, arrive early to beat the crowds during the weekend.

Learn more
Take a trip to George Town

Easily accessible via flight or train, George Town in Penang is well worth a couple of days whilst you are in the country.

Placed on the north eastern tip of Penang Island, it has a distinct local culture and cuisine shaped from former colonial rule. The centre of the island is ideal for hiking, with beaches to be found on the western coast of the island.

Visit Langkawi

An idyllic island near the Thai border, Langkawi can be reached by plane in about 1 hour from Kuala Lumpur.

Two nights were enough for me, but it's a great additional destination when visiting Penang. Langkawi's duty-free status means alcohol and other goods are notably cheaper than on the mainland.

Visit Botanical Gardens

This would be my pick of any of the outdoor spaces within KL, easily accessible from anywhere in the city centre. Perfect place for a traffic free run or walk, with a large lake and views of the city skyline.

Take a trip to George Town

Easily accessible via flight or train, George Town in Penang is well worth a couple of days whilst you are in the country.

Placed on the north eastern tip of Penang Island, it has a distinct local culture and cuisine shaped from former colonial rule. The centre of the island is ideal for hiking, with beaches to be found on the western coast of the island.

Visit Langkawi

An idyllic island near the Thai border, Langkawi can be reached by plane in about 1 hour from Kuala Lumpur.

Two nights were enough for me, but it's a great additional destination when visiting Penang. Langkawi's duty-free status means alcohol and other goods are notably cheaper than on the mainland.

Visit Botanical Gardens

This would be my pick of any of the outdoor spaces within KL, easily accessible from anywhere in the city centre. Perfect place for a traffic free run or walk, with a large lake and views of the city skyline.

Visit Batu Caves

Easily reachable from the city centre via taxi or public transport, the Batu Caves are home to one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside of India.

The multi-coloured staircases take you into a series of enormous hollowed out caves adorned with shrines. Popular with tourists, locals and monkeys alike, arrive early to beat the crowds during the weekend.

Duration & season

April comes at the end of the generally wetter season in the country, and the weather was unrelentingly hot and humid. Most days consisted of cloudy and sunny periods, with a predictable afternoon rain coming around 17:00.

May to July is supposed to be a comparatively drier period, yet given its proximity to the equator, no period in the year is immune from sporadic and intense rainfall.

3 nights would be sufficient to see everything you need to in the city. If you're on a limited time schedule, it's difficult to justify an entire month. That being said, if you are not seeking excitement, it's by no means a bad place to spend 4 weeks.

Food & drink

Bukit Lagong Trail
·
Walk
If heading to the Batu Caves, the surrounding area at the perimeter of the city is ideal for hiking. The first half of this particular route can be skipped, but head to the 'Bukit Lagong Trail Head' on Google Maps.
Botanical Gardens
·
Walk
The best open green space within the immediate city centre. Large, landscaped city park with a lake and views of the city. Head to KL Sentral station and it's a short walk from there.
Bukit Saga Waterfall
·
Walk
A demanding hike that takes you into what feels like some remote wilderness, up and down some slippy paths. Take a taxi to the "Hatamas Trail entrances" on Google Maps for the start point.

People

Malaysia is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the region, making for a stark contrast compared to Thailand or Vietnam. Kuala Lumpur is comprised of a roughly equal split between the ethnic Malay and Chinese populations, with a noticeable Indian presence.

While walking through various neighbourhoods, you'll find some areas with more pronounced ethnic backgrounds, yet all groups appear to coexist harmoniously. The result is a remarkably tolerant culture, where each of the cultures is expressed through varied cuisines and temples for their respective religious denominations.

It's by no means a hub for remote workers, but you're likely to encounter plenty of international tourists, as well as expats from Europe and other neighbouring Asian countries.

Exercise

Bukit Lagong Trail
If heading to the Batu Caves, the surrounding area at the perimeter of the city is ideal for hiking. The first half of this particular route can be skipped, but head to the 'Bukit Lagong Trail Head' on Google Maps.
keyboard_arrow_down
Botanical Gardens
The best open green space within the immediate city centre. Large, landscaped city park with a lake and views of the city. Head to KL Sentral station and it's a short walk from there.
keyboard_arrow_down
Bukit Saga Waterfall
A demanding hike that takes you into what feels like some remote wilderness, up and down some slippy paths. Take a taxi to the "Hatamas Trail entrances" on Google Maps for the start point.
keyboard_arrow_down
Bukit Lagong Trail
If heading to the Batu Caves, the surrounding area at the perimeter of the city is ideal for hiking. The first half of this particular route can be skipped, but head to the 'Bukit Lagong Trail Head' on Google Maps.
Botanical Gardens
The best open green space within the immediate city centre. Large, landscaped city park with a lake and views of the city. Head to KL Sentral station and it's a short walk from there.
Bukit Saga Waterfall
A demanding hike that takes you into what feels like some remote wilderness, up and down some slippy paths. Take a taxi to the "Hatamas Trail entrances" on Google Maps for the start point.

Verdict

Positives
  • Amazing local food.Beef Rendang, Nasi Lemak, Wantan Mee, Roti Canai and Hainanese Chicken Rice are some of the highlights on a local culinary list which fuses together both Chinese and Indian influences. Given the breadth of flavours on offer, it's a worthy competitor to Bangkok on this front. More unconventional cuisines such as Iraqi, Mongolian and Syrian restaurants are also well represented. Food courts containing multiple vendors can be found across the city and make for ideal places to sample numerous dishes.
  • You can have a high quality of life for a comparatively low cost.While it may not be the most stimulating place, you're likely to have a very comfortable experience, with accommodation and entertainment expenses far below what you might experience at home.
  • A positive experiment in multiculturalism.During a period of ever-increasing global hostilities, it's encouraging to witness such a diverse blend of backgrounds and beliefs seemingly managing to coexist with one another.
  • A great base to explore the rest of the country from.The train network is impressively functional and allows for easy travel both north and south.
  • Quality hiking can be found at the city's perimeters.Within a 25-minute taxi ride, you can be hiking on secluded, Bornean-esque forest trails at the edge of the city. This is something not feasible in many cities.
  • Good quality accommodation is cheap and abundant.Take your pick from a wide selection of large, modern apartments, more often than not featuring on site gyms and swimming pools.
Negatives
  • It's not an exciting place.At the heart of this, is a notably reduced population density. The energy and vibrancy felt in other Asian cities is distinctly missing here. Walking around the city is, on the whole, an unstimulating and unrewarding experience. With daytime temperature levels constantly in the mid 30s, it's not surprising the city has a heavy reliance on car usage. The end result is a lack of any real central hub, or one area as a distinct focal point.
  • Little remote work community.From a social perspective, if you're looking to meet like-minded people, you'd be much better off heading to Bangkok or Bali.
  • A lack of a clear, distinct identity.While its multicultural diversity is one of the country's strengths, it results in a less cohesive national identity than you may find elsewhere in the region. This isn't inherently a bad thing, but it's less likely to make a cultural impact on you.
  • Underwhelming nightlife.For better or worse, the high taxes on alcohol mean nightlife is subdued in the city. Changkat, one of the main bar streets, is overly brash and gaudy, ending up as a hub for prostitution and drug dealing. The chances of unexpectedly finding a quaint, relaxed bar there, or anywhere else, are slim to none.
  • Frequently rainy and cloudy.This is not unexpected given the proximity to the equator, but euphoric, blue-sky days are rare. During such spells, the city's skyline feels distinctly dystopian..
  • Away from KLCC and the high end malls, it can be a dirty place.It's not uncommon to see large piles of trash lining the streets in central areas like Bukit Bintang, Pudu, and Chow Kit. These are eventually swept away, but they can create unpleasant eyesores as they stew in the tropical heat.
  • Tired building stock.Aerial imagery of the skyline looks impressive, but the reality on the ground is that much of the city feels in need of significant urban renewal, similar to a third-tier provincial UK town like Portsmouth. Whereas Bangkok's Sky Train feels like a beacon of modernity, the supporting structures of KL's metro are far less inspiring.
Tips
  • Check the traffic if booking a taxi from the airport to the city centre.At peak times the traffic can be notoriously bad and you may be better off taking the KLIA Ekspress. Otherwise, download Grab and a ride should cost you around 65 MYR (£10).
  • Plan around the period of Ramadan and the Hari Raya Aidilfitri festival.As a majority Muslim country, many shops and restaurants are (understandably) closed during this period. For a city that's lacking in excitement at the best of times, further shop closures don't help.
  • Book rail tickets in advance.If planning a journey up north, book in as much in advance to secure a seat as these can sell out. This can be done via the KTMB app and website.
  • The quality of toilets can be abysmal.Outside of malls and well-maintained public spaces, there is no limit to how bad they can get. It is not uncommon to find nothing more than a hole in the floor with a hose. Be prepared.
  • Consider spending an extended period working from George Town.The city has numerous coworking spaces, and as a more compact location, it felt like it had more of a buzz on the ground than Kuala Lumpur. Spending two weeks in both Penang and KL would be a good mix.
  • Always carry some cash.Card availability is generally very good, however at food stalls you'll want some cash on hand. There were no card fees using a Monzo card at CIMB banks.
  • Don't place too much weight on Google Maps Reviews.I usually would not visit a venue with less than 4 stars, yet this didn't seem to carry as much weight here.
  • Singapore is easily reachable.I didn't make it on this occasion, but there are frequent connections to the south via plane, bus, and train.
  • If staying for a month, grab a Hotlink SIM Card in the airport.I paid under £10 for a month's worth of data and calls.
Planning a trip?
I loved everything about this trip to Japan. I've put together some thoughts on my entire stay in the country, which may come in handy if you are planning a visit soon.
It's worth keeping an umbrella on you at all times in Kuala Lumpur. After providing shelter from the sweltering midday sun, late afternoons are frequently a period of intense rainfall.
Looking towards Pudu from The Robertson in Bukit Bintang. Vast expanses of undeveloped land dot central areas and contribute to a dormant feeling throughout much of the city center.
Attempting to navigate the wider metropolitan area on foot can be a frustrating experience, with often impregnable highways dominating the city.
If there's any data missing that you would like to see in these articles please leave some feedback and I'll aim to add it in.