Top 10 Things To Do In Kuala Lumpur

Jungles, skyscrapers, temples, mosques and good ol' British fare--you can find all these and more in Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, is a vibrant, dynamic and colorful city. Established by Chinese tin miners in the late 1800s, Kuala Lumpur has had an eventful, if short, history, going through British rule, Japanese occupation, independence and industrialization all in the space of a few decades. While rapid economic growth in recent years has resulted in a new Kuala Lumpur skyline-dominated by skyscrapers and construction sites, vestiges of its checkered past remain, an interesting mix of history and culture for visitors to explore. Here are some of the must-see and must-do activities that no tourist should leave out on a trip to Kuala Lumpur.

1. Historical tour

At Merdeka (Independence) Square, in the heart of old colonial Kuala Lumpur, the country's first prime minister declared independence from Britain in 1957. Here, surrounded by elegant Moorish-inspired buildings that used to house colonial administrative offices, you can get a good feel of life under British rule. The largest, the Sultan Abdul Samad building, is now the Malaysian High Court. Across the road from the Sultan Abdul Samad Building is the Tudor-style Royal Selangor Club, which was set up in the late 1800s for British civil servants to relax and enjoy cricket matches on the adjacent lawn.

A short walk from Merdeka Square takes you to the confluence of two rivers, where Chinese entrepreneurs first arrived to seek their fortunes in tin mining. Here stands the oldest and most beautiful mosque in the city, Masjid Jamek. A few blocks away is the art deco Central Market, once a bustling vegetable and meat market, now a great stop for souvenirs and traditional crafts.

Within walking distance from Central Market, tucked away in the heart of Chinatown, is the oldest Hindu temple in the country, the Sri Mahamariaman temple. Built in 1873, it is an elaborate construction embellished with ornate sculptures of Hindu deities. A few blocks away, also nestled among old Chinese shops is the Sze-ya Taoist temple, built about 140 years ago by one of the founding fathers of Kuala Lumpur.

2. Petronas Towers

The Petronas Towers, designed by Cesar Pelli and completed in 1998, was, until recently, the tallest building in the world and is the country's pride and joy. While you can't go right to the top of the towers, you can buy a ticket for the observation bridge which connects the towers. Closer to the ground, one of the towers also houses a a shopping center with designer boutiques, restaurants and a petroleum museum (with interactive exhibits for children). Outdoors, in the grounds of what is called KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Center), are beautifully landscaped gardens complete with a children's playground, wading pool and fountains.

3. Bird Park

Kuala Lumpur has the largest free flight aviary in the world-a massive site spanning 20 acres right in the middle of the city that takes hours to walk through. It houses an impressive collection of tropical and temperate-region birds. Especially interesting are the different varieties of hornbills and other indigenous bird species.

4. Butterfly Park

The Butterfly Park is a favorite spot for tourists and locals to bring their children. It is located near the Bird Park and is as beautifully landscaped with lush, jungle-like vegetation, fountains and fish ponds. The park also has an impressive display of forest bugs.

5. Lunch at the Coliseum

The Coliseum is another relic of the colonial era. The hotel was built during British rule and was a reputed hang out of writer Somerset Maugham. Not much has changed over the past 90 years, including the restaurant menu, and visitors can still tuck into steaks, chops and boiled vegetables much as they did all those years ago. It's more of a must-feel than a must-see-every inch of the Coliseum exudes the ambiance of an era long gone.

6. Chinatown at night

A trip to Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur's Chinatown, is a must for every visitor. Here, at the night market, you can hone your skills in haggling with vendors who offer everything from dodgy-looking knock-off designer watches to equally dubious herbal remedies for impotence. It's a great place to sample local fruits and the food stalls are very popular with tourists.

7. Shopping

Kuala Lumpur is a great place to spend your tourist dollar because it goes far. The city has a number of shopping centers all of which seem to have sales most of the time. Good buys are apparel (high-end and moderately priced) cameras and traditional crafts.

8. Craft Center

The Craft Center in downtown Kuala Lumpur is a one-stop cultural center where visitors can watch artisans at work and buy their crafts. Here, you can also learn a traditional skill like batik printing from the experts themselves. The center also holds special arts events periodically throughout the year.

9. Jungle walk

Kuala Lumpur may be a bustling metropolis, but you don't have to go far to commune with nature. If you want to experience the rainforest, the Forestry Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) is less than an hour's drive away. Here, you can take numerous jungle treks of varying levels of difficulty. The highlight of a visit to FRIM is the forest canopy walk-a 20-minute walk on a sturdy rope bridge skirting over the very tops of the trees. It's a steep uphill trek to get to the canopy walk but well worth it.

10. Batu Caves

About half an hour's drive from the city center are the Batu Caves, a magnificent grouping of several caves formed out of limestone 400 million years ago. The caves were discovered about 100 years ago and the largest was made into a Hindu temple. This temple plays a very important role in Hindu religious ceremonies in Malaysia. It is quite a feat to climb the 272 steps to the temple cave which has a 300ft high ceiling and is filled with religious sculptures and artifacts.

Before you start off on your Kuala Lumpur visit, it's best to get an up-to-date street map and information brochure. The Malaysian Tourism Board prints some good ones and you can get these from any hotel, tourist booth or at the airport. A good map is essential to navigating the streets of this ever-growing city!

© High Speed Ventures 2011