Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur is Malaysia’s largest and capital city. There are countless reasons why KL is among the top ten most visited cities in the world. Among them are gorgeous Indo-Saracenic architecture built by the British during the colonial era. The world’s tallest twin skyscraper. Shopping options ranging from crowded street markets to enormous modern malls. And an endless selection of food served from rickety stalls or on white table linen. You can also tour the iconic Blue Mosque in nearby Shah Alam.

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Historical Introduction to Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia

Malaysia consists of two large sections in Southeast Asia separated by the China Sea. The biggest cities are both part of the Peninsular Malaysia region. The largest and capital city is Kuala Lumpur located on the mainland of Malaya. George Town, the second largest city, is across the Strait of Malacca on Penang Island. Their combined metro populations of 9.6 million comprise over a third of the country’s total 26 million residents. The British began influencing these areas in 1826. Five years later, they combined them (along with Singapore) into a crown colony called the Straits Settlement. This was followed by the Federated Malay State (1895 – 1941). The Japanese occupied the territory from 1941 until 1945. After World War II, the Malayan Union (1946 – 1948) and then the Federation of Malaya was formed until August, 1957, when a declaration to separate from the British Empire was announced on Hari Merdeka (Independence Day). The Proclamation of Malaysia was formalized in 1963. The current constitutional monarchy is headed by the king (Yang di-Pertuan Agong). The government is managed by the Prime Minister. This is the coat of arms of Malaysia. In Malay, it is called Jata Negara.

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1 Gates of Old National Palace in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Chang Wing built an elaborate mansion on this 13 acre property in 1928. It was confiscated by the Japanese during WWII and then by the British military in 1945. When the Federation of Malaysia was formed in 1957, Tuanku Abdul Rahman was elected as the first Supreme Head of State and Istana Negara became his official residence. 13 successive monarchs (Yang di-Pertuan Agong) lived here until 2011 when a new National Palace was established in Segambut, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur. This is now the Royal Museum. Touring the 22 rooms provides a fascinating peak into the lives on Malaysian royalty.

Muzium Diraja, Jalan Istana, 50460 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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2 Mounted Guard at Old National Palace in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

While the Old National Palace was still the king’s residence, two sets of sentries protected the front gate. One pair of guards from the Royal Malay Regiment stood at attention in their crisp white military jackets while holding a bayonet rifle at their side. Another pair in red uniforms where motionless on horseback. They are members of the Malaysian Royal Armored Corps mounted squadron. Although the Old Istana Negara is no longer the king’s residence, the guards have maintained a ceremonial presence.

Muzium Diraja, Jalan Istana, 50460 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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3 Malaysia National Monument in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The National Monument is enormous. Since the bronze statuary was unveiled in 1966, it has been considered to be the largest in the world. To appreciate its 49 foot height, look how small the people are at its base. Tugu Negara honors those who died in World War II. It also commemorates the 5,000 Malayan and British troops killed during the Malayan Emergency. This battle against the Malayan National Liberation Army raged from 1948 until 1960. An equal number of civilians died during the conflict. This impressive monument was designed by Felix de Weldon. He was an American sculptor who also created the Iwo Jima Memorial near Arlington, Virginia.

Tugu Negara, Jalan Parlimen, 50480 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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4 Plaza Tugu Negara in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

A reflection pool with fountains surrounds the National Monument Kuala Lumpur. At one end of Plaza Tugu Negara is a concave walkway accented with three golden onion domes. Hanging from the columns are flags of Malaysia. The Malay term is Jalur Gemilang meaning Stripes of Glory. The design of the flag includes seven red stripes and seven white stripes. The crescent moon is symbolic of Islam. The 14 point star is called the Federal Star or Bintang Persekutuan.

Tugu Negara, Jalan Parlimen, 50480 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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5 Kuala Lumpur Cenotaph in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The 49 foot Kuala Lumpur Cenotaph was created in 1921 by the British to remember soldiers who died during World War I. An inscription was added after World War II to recognize “Our Glorious Dead” from 1939 until 1945. The third tribute lists the casualties from the Malayan Emergency. This conflict raged for 12 years beginning in 1948 against the Malayan National Liberation Army. The MNLA was a communist party. They used guerrilla tactics in an attempt to win control over the British until they were defeated in 1960. The cenotaph is located next to the Malaysian National Monument near Lake Gardens Park.

Tugu Negara, Jalan Parlimen, 50480 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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6 National Mosque of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The focal point of a 13 acre garden encircling the National Mosque of Malaysia is this graceful 240 foot minaret. Toward the top is a 16-point star resembling a closed umbrella. At the base is a main prayer room capable of accommodating 15,000 worshipers. Non-Muslims cannot enter this beautiful, stained-glass room but you can view it during a free tour. Masjid Negara was commissioned in the late 1950s after Malaysia secured its independence from the British Empire. The Sunni Islam mosque opened in 1965.

Masjid Negara, Jalan Perdana, 50480 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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7 Kuala Lumpur Railway Station in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur Railway Station was built by the British in 1910. Its stark white, Indo-Saracenic design has several Moorish Revival elements such as horseshoe arches and chhatri domes. However, inside the platforms resembled those found in the United Kingdom during the early 20th century. This was the city’s main train station until 2001 when the KL Sentral opened and became Malaysia’s largest terminal.

2, Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin, 50000 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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8 KTM Berhad Building in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Across Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin from the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station is the KTM Berhad Building. They were both created from the imagination of British colonial architect Arthur Benison Hubback. KTM is an acronym for Keretapi Tanah Melayu, the main railway system on the Malay Peninsula. When this handsome structure was finished in 1917, it was the headquarters for the Federated Malay States Railways. FMS was the predecessor of today’s Malayan Railways. The building’s Moorish Revival design has nearly 100 keyhole (horseshoe) arches supported by Doric columns. Interspersed are circular and pointed arches. The large center cupola is complimented with a smaller one at both corners. They are accented by Moorish pinnacles.

KTMB 5, Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin, 50000 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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9 Dayabumi Complex in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

One of Kaula Lumpur’s earliest skyscrapers was commissioned by PETRONAS, an oil and gas company founded in 1974 by Malaysia’s government. When the Dayabumi Complex opened a decade later, it served as the headquarters for Petroliam Nasional Berhad until they moved into the PETRONAS Twin Towers in 1996. The facade of the 515 foot Dayabumi Tower (Menara Dayabumi) has many Islamic architectural features. They include eight-pointed stars (rub el hizb) in the crisscross fretwork of the tall lancet arches.

Dayabumi Complex, Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin, 50050 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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10 Independence Square in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Merdeka Square is at the heart of Kuala Lumpur. Prior to 1880, this land west of the Klang River was a marsh. Within 20 years, the British built a police office, their government administration complex (Sultan Abdul Samad Building), St. Mary’s Cathedral and the Royal Selangor Club. In the center was a cricket field called Padang. All of these heritage structures still encircle the 656 foot greenspace. It was renamed Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) after the country’s declaration of independence was announced here. On August 31, 1957, the first Malaysian flag was raised near the current 328 foot flagpole. Also at the south end of the square is the Horse Fountain, erected in 1897. The high-rise in the background is the headquarters for the Royal Malaysia Police.

Merdeka Square, Jalan Raja, 50050 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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11 Sultan Abdul Samad Building in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Visually monopolizing the east side of Merdeka Square is the 450 foot long Sultan Abdul Samad Building. Photography and superlatives fail to do it justice. This was the Government Offices for the British starting in 1897. This was two years after the British consolidated the four Malay Peninsula states into a Protectorate of the United Kingdom. The Federated Malay States lasted until the Japanese occupation in 1942. The building’s Neo-Mughal, F-shaped design has four million bricks with white banding, marvelous colonnades defining verandahs plus copper onion domes. The centerpiece is the 141 clock tower. Inside is a one ton bell that chimes twice an hour. During its history, this heritage building has housed various government offices and courthouses. The major occupant today is the Malaysia’s Ministry of Information, Communications and Culture.

Abdul Samad, Jalan Raja, 50050 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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12 Namesake of Sultan Abdul Samad Building in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

This is one of two, spiral staircases of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building. The namesake for this incredible Kuala Lumpur landmark is Abdul Samad. He was the Sultan of Selangor from 1857 until 1898. This position is the ruler of the Malaysia state of Selangor and also head of the Islamic religion. During his 41 year reign, Sultan Abdul Samad allowed the British to share governance. The capital was moved to Kuala Lumpur in 1880. This evolved into the Federated Malay States from 1895 to 1941. This colonial period prompted the British to build the Government Offices. Subsequently renamed the Sultan Abdul Samad Building in 1974, it was finished in 1897, one year before Sultan Abdul Samad died.

Abdul Samad, Jalan Raja, 50050 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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13 National Textile Museum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Eight years after the Sultan Abdul Samad Building was finished, it welcomed this impressive neighbor with the unimpressive name of JKR Building 26. They share an Indo-Saracenic architectural style by Arthur Charles Norman. The façade features red and white bricks, white onion domes capped with decorative finials, plus countless arches with pointed, round, horseshoe and scalloped designs. This was the headquarters of Federated Malay States Railways from 1905 until 1917. It was then occupied by government agencies, a courthouse and banks before becoming the National Textile Museum in 2010. Among the displays is the history of Malaysian clothing, costumes and other textile applications dating back millenniums.

26, Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin, 50000 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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Holiday Greetings in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

One delight of international travel is being exposed to religious holidays in different cultures. The first sentence on this skyscraper above the camel wishes happiness during Hari Raya Aidilfitri. This festival is held at the end of Ramadan, the month-long period of obligatory fasting by Muslims. Deepavali (also called Diwali) is a major Hindu celebration of spiritual light triumphing over darkness.

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14 Central Market in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The Central Market of Kuala Lumpur was established in 1888 as a major hub for merchants selling meat, fish and produce (wet market). The current structure, called Pasar Seni, was built in 1937. Its Art Deco design seems incongruent with the surrounding architecture. However, the style was popular around the world beginning in the late 1920s and extending into the late 1930s. The 350 stalls inside Central Market display predominately arts, crafts and clothing aimed at tourists. The merchandise reflects three cultures: Malay, Indian and Chinese. There are also a few eateries worthy of a snack on the second floor.

Central Market, Jalan Hang Kasturi, 50050 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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15 Street Food in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Street food is abundant in Kuala Lumpur. The ultimate experience in cuisine and culture is yours when visiting one of the street markets called pasar malam. Crowds line up in front of busy stalls to order dishes you have never seen before and might be afraid to taste. The most popular markets are Jalan Alor, Taman Connaught (over a mile of food choices) and the Chinese night market OUG. Food trucks are also plentiful while other entrepreneurs hawk their delicacies on push carts.

11, Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, 50000 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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Rambutan Fruit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Rambutan has its origins in Southeast Asia. During its two peak seasons – June to August and December through January – the fruit is readily available in Malaysian markets plus sold by street vendors. The name comes from the Malay word for hair. This accurately describes the fuzz covering the red and yellow exterior. Inside is a white or pink sweet seed resembling a grape.

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16 Petaling Street in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Chinese began settling in Kuala Lumpur during the mid-1800s. By the end of the 19th century, the population was predominately Han Chinese. Today, Chinese constitute about 43% of the city’s residents … almost equal to those of Malay ethnicity. The main Chinatown is Petaling Street or Jalan Petaling in Malay. This cultural experience should not be missed. It is your chance to sample authentic Chinese dishes served in restaurants and from food stalls plus rickety carts. The aromas are exotic and inviting. Also practice your haggling skills over a wide selection of imitation branded products. The racks and tabletops are filled with clothes, jewelry and handbags. The locals call the overhead canopy the Green Dragon.

23, Jalan Petaling, 50000 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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17 Roasting Chestnuts at Petaling Street in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Do not be alarmed if you see billowing smoke ahead of you as you walk among the bustle of Petaling Street. The smoke is likely coming from a large drum of roasting chestnuts. Watch as the arm rotates the berangan over a bed of hot stones or charcoal until they turn a reddish mahogany brown. When they slightly cool, purchase a bag, add some salt and peel away the skin to reveal the tan center. You are in for a delicious snack. The Chinese have enjoyed these treats since the 5th century BCE.

49, Jalan Petaling, 50000 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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18 Tourism in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The core of Kuala Lumpur has 1.8 million residents. And over 11 million international and almost five million domestic tourists pour into the city each year. This qualifies Kuala Lumpur as the ninth most visited city in the world. In short, expect the famous sites and streets to be bustling with activity like the pedestrian-only Kasturi Walk shown here. Those crowds can be exhilarating and exhausting. The main zones are also safe yet obviously require the vigilance needed when touring any major city. So, enjoy exploring the capital of Malaysia.

36, Jalan Hang Kasturi, 50050 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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19 Kuala Lumpur Tower in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

PETRONAS Twin Towers is Kuala Lumpur’s most famous landmark. Yet nearly as tall is the Kuala Lumpur Tower at 1,381 feet. Because it is built on Pineapple Hill, the top of the broadcasting antenna is 1,273 feet above sea level. This makes Menara Kuala Lumpur visible from most street corners in city center. KL Tower offers several attractions. The Observation Deck is at 682 feet while the Atmosphere 360 restaurant revolves at nearly 700 feet. Want more adventure? Walk out into the glass-enclosed Sky Box and dare to look 741 feet below you. The ultimate adrenalin rush is the open-air Sky Deck at 1,018 feet. Even the elevator ride that high is fun. If you prefer, you can climb the 2,058 steps.

2, Jalan Puncak, 50250 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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20 PETRONAS Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Looking up at the 88 floors of the PETRONAS Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur is awesome. Each tower was the world’s tallest from 1996 until 2004. Menara Berkembar Petronas are still the biggest twin skyscrapers at 1,483 feet with the deepest foundations at 374 feet. The price tag was an equally impressive: $1.6 billion. In the center is the Skybridge on the 41st and 42 floor. If this 558 foot observation deck is not high enough for you, then double down by going up to the 86th floor. The namesake is PETRONAS, an oil and gas company founded in Malaysia and headquartered in Tower One.

Petronas Twin Towers, Khazanah Nasional, 50088 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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21 Golden Triangle in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

On Jalan Ampang street – seen here from a fountain at the base of PETRONAS Twin Towers – is the headquarters of Public Bank Berhad. Public Bank is one of Malaysia’s big three financial services firms. The surrounding area is known as the Golden Triangle. This is a major attraction for several reasons. KLCC park is a scenic, 49.5 acre greenspace lined with trees, walking paths and a manmade lake. At the base of the towers is Suria KLCC, a shopping mall with 1.5 million square feet of upscale retailers. If that is not large enough for you, try Berjaya Times Square with 3.5 million square feet of shops or the high-end Pavilion Kuala Lumpur. Both are on Bukit Bintang. Golden Triangle is also famous for every type of food, whether it is from stalls or cuisine prepared by world-class chefs. This is also the center for nightlife, some of the city’s finest hotels and the high-rises defining the Kuala Lumpur City Centre.

146, Jalan Ampang, 50450 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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22 Iconic Blue Mosque in Shah Alam, Malaysia

About a 45 minute drive from Kuala Lumpur is one of Malaysia’s most iconic sites: the Blue Mosque. It is located in Shah Alam, the capital city of the state of Selangor. This Islamic structure features four slender minarets. They each reach a height of 460 feet, making them the world’s tallest when construction ended in 1988. The Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Mosque is also Southeast Asia’s second largest mosque.

Blue Mosque, Persiaran Masjid St., 40000 Shah Alam, Malaysia
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23 Shah’s Vision for Blue Mosque in Shah Alam, Malaysia

The best way to appreciate the Blue Mosque is to stand in the 34.5 acre Garden of Islamic Arts. This was the incredible vision of Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah. In 1946, he became the Tengku Laksamana of Selangor and four years later the crown prince. From 1960 until his death in 2001, he was the Sultan of Selangor (Selangor Sultanate). This means he was the head of state for 41 years. He also was Yang di-Pertuan Agong (king of Malaysia) from 1999 until 2001. Among all of the educational and government buildings plus infrastructure he commissioned during his reign, he is best remembered for this mosque bearing his name: Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Mosque.

Blue Mosque, Persiaran Masjid St., 40000 Shah Alam, Malaysia
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24 Largest Religious Dome at Blue Mosque in Shah Alam, Malaysia

The Blue Mosque’s dome looks large from a distance. When you stand nearby, you are humbled by its size. The measurements of this blue and silver, crisscrossed dome are 167 feet in diameter and 350 feet in height. This makes Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Mosque’s dome the largest religious one in the world. Notice the Arabic calligraphy at the base.

Blue Mosque, Persiaran Masjid St., 40000 Shah Alam, Malaysia
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25 Prayer Hall Inside Blue Mosque in Shah Alam, Malaysia

Visiting the Blue Mosque is an incredible experience. Before beginning the free tour, women are fitted with a robe plus a scarf for their head. Everyone removes their shoes. Then you walk along a white marble corridor flanked with ornate aluminum lattice. As you enter the carpeted main prayer hall, you will gasp. It has a capacity for 24,000 worshipers. The tinted windows bathe the room with a tranquil blue hue. There are multiple pointed arches, typical of Islamic architecture. The upper walls are covered with red panels made from local Malaysian wood. The chandelier in the center of the rotunda is extraordinary.

Blue Mosque, Persiaran Masjid St., 40000 Shah Alam, Malaysia
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Five Photos Composite of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Five photos of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia are (upper left to lower left: A mounted Royal Guard at Old National Palace; Two rampant tigers on the Malaysia coat of arms called Jata Negara; The Sultan Abdul Samad Building; The PETRONAS Twin Towers; and in Shah Alam, the Blue Mosque, also called the Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Mosque.

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