My recent trip to Kuala Lumpur was actually the second time I’ve visited. This sprawling city is such a contrast to its pretty UNESCO neighbours, Melaka and Penang and even from the well-oiled machine that is Singapore. KL is huge, crazy busy and appears to have grown at a rate of knots. as with any cities, your money can start evaporating into thin air pretty fast as you try and fit in all the sights, so I’ve put together my guide to visiting Kuala Lumpur on a budget, so you can stretch your Ringits a little bit further. In fact, nearly everything I’m about to suggest can pretty much be experienced for no more than the cost of transport!
How to get to Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur’s international airport (KLIA) is one of the major airports in Asia, with hundreds of flights landing here every day. Flights from many other cities in South East Asia are also just a couple of hours flight away so it’s easily accessible. KLIA is about 1 hours drive from the Kuala Lumpur’s famous ‘Golden Triangle’ which is the best place to base yourself (but I’ll get back to that in a bit). You can either get the express train to KL Sentral and get on the connecting train from there to your hotel, get a Grab Taxi or pre-order a transfer through your accommodation.
I travelled to Kuala Lumpur from Melaka (after being in Singapore) and it was a short 2 hour drive from there to KL and the bus dropped us off at KL Sentral. As there was no border crossing it was a super easy trip and we simply went to Melaka Sentral bus station in the morning and bought a ticket there and then. If you’re planning to make this trip on the weekend though, I would highly recommend booking your bus ticket in advance.
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How to get around Kuala Lumpur on a budget
Ok, so I have to admit, Kuala Lumpur’s accessibility (or lack of) is a real bugbear of mine. I mentioned at the beginning that the city has grown incredibly fast. In fact, it feels like it’s grown so fast that the transport and footpaths haven’t quite had time to catch up. It’s also worth noting that the traffic is some of the heaviest I’ve seen.
As Kuala Lumpur is really spread out, it’s not the easiest city to get around on foot, but the centre around the ‘Golden Triangle’ is fairly easy to walk. Be sure to bring some comfortable shoes and plenty of water as it’s hot and humid here!
Kuala Lumpur has 3 main rail networks – The MRT, LRT and Kommuter trains and then also the Monorail. It can be a bit tricky to navigate your way around but to give you some idea, the MRT runs through the city centre and stops at the major sites such as Central Market and Bukit Bintang, the LRT covers most areas that aren’t directly in the centre, and the Kommuter lines cover areas outside of the city such as Batu Caves.
To use any of these lines or the KL bus network, you can either buy a single ticket, but if you’re visiting for a few days, it’s easier to by a Myrapid transport card that you simply top up as you use it. This is the best way to get around Kuala Lumpur on a budget so I would definitely recommend using them. You can learn more about Myrapid on their website here.
Kuala Lumpur has the cheap and handy Grab Taxis (basically Asia’s version of Uber) and this can be a great way to get around. Some of the main attractions such as the KL Tower are not close to a train station so having Grab as an affordable alternative will save you time and get you out of the heat as well. You just simply need to download the app and wait for a driver to accept your trip. The cost is a fixed price and you can either pay in cash or add your bank card to the app and the money will automatically be deducted.
Where to stay in Kuala Lumpur
I’ve mentioned the ‘Golden Triangle’ a couple of times already and basically, this refers to the CBD area where you will find all the shopping, nightlife and restaurants. Basing yourself here will make it so much easier to get around and see the main sights.
I stayed at Dorms KL 2, a great little hostel located within the golden triangle and surrounded by culture. I stayed in a 4 bed dorm and each bed has a plug socket, lamp and small shelf as well as a big locker for each person. It’s not a party hostel but it is a nice sociable hostel so you’re bound to meet people there too. It’s a great affordable option and their 4 bed dorms are a decent size and the staff are really great.
11 things to do in Kuala Lumpur on a budget
1. Get the classic Petronas Towers selfie
I love these towers! They were actually built in 1993 which seems crazy as they look like something from way into the future. You’ll be able to see them from quite a lot of places around the city and their striking gothic-like architecture has led them to be an iconic part of Kuala Lumpur. You can pay to go onto the little walkway between the towers but that’s gonna cost ya. Instead, grab your camera, get your elbows out and join the crowds to try and get an awesome photo with these striking buildings.
2. Climb along the treetops at the Eco Park
Right in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, you’ll find the green burst that is the Eco Park. It wraps around the hill the KL Tower sits on and is full of beautiful walks and trails where you’ll see beautiful flowers and trees, some of which are endangered species. As well as this, there’s a 200m canopy walk that will take you above the treetops and give you a whole new view. Best of all, it’s completely free!
3. Get the city views from the KL Tower
This is the only thing I’m going to recommend that isn’t free but I do think it’s a great thing to visit. Along with the Petronas Towers, the KL Tower can be seen from most places around the city and is just as iconic. It offers panoramic views from its indoor Observation Deck as well as the Skydeck which also has clear Skyboxes hanging over the edge for some awesome photos or if you just like to scare yourself a little bit. If you buy the more expensive ticket for the Skydeck you can go in the Skybox as well as to the slightly lower Observation deck. My pro tip for visiting here is to avoid weekends if possible, and if you go up for sunset, be prepared for big crowds and long queues for the Skybox.
4. Explore Little India
Little India, or Brickfields, is a vibrant neighbourhood to visit. With streets and laneways full of colourful fabric stores, gleaming jewellers and the smell of spices wafting around, it’s a great place to explore as well as grab a bite to eat.
5. Explore China Town
No matter where I am, I always love Chinatown and it’s no different in Kuala Lumpur. You’ll know when you get there with the signature Chinese lanterns strung from above. From the traditional shops to the authentic restaurants, as with Brickfields, this area is a great place to go for food. Be sure to look up as you walk around too, and take in some of the beautiful architecture.
6. Stroll through Petaling Street Market
You won’t be able to go to Chinatown without visiting Petaling Street Market. This market stretches through the whole of the undercover section in Chinatown and it’s where you’ll want to go if you’re looking for some knock-off bargains.
7. Check out iconic Central Market
just a short walk from Petaling Street you’ll come across the famous Central Market. This was built in the 1920s and is a cultural heritage site. There are heaps of shops, stalls and restaurants inside and there are also a number of market stalls on the street next to it.
8. Eat your way along Jalan Alor
If street food is your thing or if you’re looking for a delicious meal for a small price (erm, hello!) then you’re going to want to head on over to Jalan Alor. This long street is purely about the food. The restaurants here sprawl out onto the road, along with stalls going down the centre. It’s busy, it’s crowded but the food is awesome!
9. Eat where the locals eat at Kampung Baru
Whilst Jalan Alor is a fantastic place to go to for some street food, it can be pretty busy and very touristy. If you want to escape from this and eat where the locals do, then be sure to go to Kampung Baru. This smaller and much quieter street is still full of restaurants and street food stall but this is definitely where the local people go for a bite to eat. Nasi Lemak is the famous dish of Kuala Lumpur so be sure to grab that here.
10. Visit Merdeka Square
Merdeka Square was built by the British during the colonial period and was originally used as a cricket ground. Over time though, this square has become a symbol of unity and independence too. Around Merdeka Square, you’ll see the stunning Sultan Abdul Samad Building which is actually a court, the incredibly British looking Royal Selangor Club but most importantly, the tall mast with the Malaysian flag flying. This flag was the first to be flown once Malaysia gained its independence in 1957.
11. (Window) Shop like crazy at Bukit Bintang
Bukit Bintang is the super shiny shopping district in Kuala Lumpur. It’s full of huge malls selling anything from gadgets to clothes to make up. There’s even a rollercoaster inside the Berjaya Times Square which is insane! A lot of the malls seemed to be joined to one another so you could easily find yourself walking into one and coming out another. It’s great if you want to buy something but also if you just want to window shop and delve into this part of Kuala Lumpur.