Malaysia’s bustling capital is a rich melting pot of flavors, smells and sights thanks to the complex tapestry woven by it inhabitants and their history.
To fully immerse yourself in the beauty of Kuala Lumpur, we recommend you base yourself at the peerless Mandarin Oriental hotel, perfectly located just 30 minutes from the airport and right in the heart of the city. With a luxurious spa, tennis and squash courts, a beautiful infinity pool and a number of on-site bars and restaurants, you might feel no inclination to leave the property, but we assure you, it’s worth it. While the hotel is within a stone’s throw from the Petronas Towers, KL’s iconic twin architectural peaks, we’ve got some gems to recommend that are a bit more, well, hidden.
Indoor and outdoor art
The developer who took on the Solaris Dutamas housing complex obviously had an eye for the aesthetic and a heart for art. These days it is home to MAP, a versatile space used by the bright lights of the city’s arts scene as a platform to show their multi-disciplinary works. Between the more traditional White Box gallery and the Black Box new media space, you’ll see the best of KL’s diverse contemporary talent. If you head onto the banks of the canal near the Pasar Seni station, meanwhile, you can find the renegades of the art world. Vast graffiti murals are scrawled all along the walls that line the waterway, blaring the political messages and visual stories of the underground artists who have to render their work in secret, always checking over their shoulders for the authorities who have little patience with this form of self-expression.
Mosques and temples
Perhaps not technically a ‘hidden’ gem, Masjid Jamek is well known as one of the most beautiful mosques in the city, with its elaborate archways and bright white onion domes with pointed spires. Wander in to take a stroll inside its tranquil grounds and marvel at the architecture, and you will feel as if you’ve discovered a secret treasure. Tian Hou Temple, on the other hand, gives you a taste of Malaysia’s Chinese influence, featuring elements of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Built by the city’s Hianese community in honor of the titular goddess, the temple is a gorgeous confluence of traditional features rendered with modern architectural know-how. Wander among the ornate carvings and formidable pillars, and up the six-storey tower for a spectacular view of the city.
Kuala Lumpur’s museums tell the stories of Malaysia’s history through exhibits and rare artefacts. A visit to the Royal Museum, formerly the Royal Palace, reveals the lifestyles of the city’s aristocratic well-to-do, with its rich tapestries and chandeliers. If you spend some time in the Islamic Museum, you can discover ancient calligraphy, armor, jewelry and ceramics with the museum’s founder, who is a friend of Remote Lands and happy to show you round. A guided tour around the compound of the Rumah Penghulu at Badan Warisan offers a glimpse into the Malaysia of yesteryear: one of the oldest wooden houses built in the traditional way and still standing today, it was constructed between 1910 and 1930 in a small village and moved to the city in 1996. Take a walk around the house and gardens and be whisked back in time.
For an escape from the city, pack a picnic and head for Broga Hill, about one hour’s drive from KL. The relatively steep climb is worth it for the stunning views at the top. Locals make a point to start the hike before 5am so as to catch the sunrise, but the panoramas are stunning whatever time of day you make it up. Alternatively, make an adventurous visit to a sacred Hindu shrine and pilgrimage destination. The Batu Caves are the site of annual festival, Thaipusam, where devotees come to pierce their bodies to atone for their sins. However, the grottoes make for a fascinating and beautiful day trip from KL at any time of year. Painted with colorful depictions of Hindu lore, the cave system is a feast for the eyes, not to mention home to a number of cheeky macaque monkeys. And if wildlife is on your list, or if you’re with the kids, you don’t even need to venture very far out of KL: head to Farm in the City for day of fun spent petting and feeding horses, goats, alpacas and even tortoises.
Explorations on foot
Experience all of Malaysia’s tastes and smells at Pudu Market: open every morning, it’s the city’s main produce market, and a stroll in between the hawkers reveals everything from exotic fruit and veg to clothing and crafts. Alternatively, delight your senses with a “street food crawl”. The blend of Chinese, Indian and Malay flavors makes for some of the best roadside eats in the world, and a little taste here and a small sample there is one of the best ways not only to get to know Malaysia’s national dishes, but to also get a sense of its national character.
Though it’s perhaps not possible to exhaust all the secret places and hidden treasures Kuala Lumpur has to offer, it’s certainly likely you’ll tire yourself out trying. With that in mind, there’s surely no more luxurious way to take your leave than on the timelessly elegant and storied Eastern & Oriental Express.