Port Klang (Kuala Lumpur),
Kuala Lumpur, or KL as locals refer to it, intrigues visitors with its diversity and multicultural character. The city's old quarter features stretches of shop houses that hint at its colonial past, while modern buildings—including the iconic Petronas Towers—give a glimpse of its modern financial ambitions. The city is filled with culturally colorful quarters dedicated to Chinese, Malay, and Indian communities. New shopping malls with designer labels, five-star hotels, and top-notch restaurants also proliferate in this bustling city of 1.6 million.
Using the name of the Malay word for sesame, Bijan is a top pick for many KLites when choosing where to take out-of-towners to sample authentic local cuisine. Head chef Zulkifli Razali brings a haute touch to classic Malay dishes, such as rendang daging (a dry meat curry) and kerabu pucuk paku (fiddlehead fern salad). Book a spot on the chef's Saturday morning tours through Chow Kit's markets to discover many of the quintessential ingredients of Malay cooking. Note that homemade ice cream is served in local flavors, including the "king of fruits," durian, so save room for dessert.
Lot 10 Hutong
Typically, a mall food court would not make it to a must-try dining list; however, Lot 10 Hutong has something special going for it. Each of the 33 hawker stalls has been handpicked based on its previous success and reputation on the streets of Kuala Lumpur and Penang. The only difference is that instead of just slurping up beef ball noodles, fried oysters, and roast pork street-side, here you can indulge in the glorious comfort of air-conditioning at the same time. Prices are also, understandably, a bit higher than if you bought this food from a cart on the street.
After graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education in the United States, Chef Paul Lai worked in New York City kitchens and opened a modern Japanese restaurant in Chicago before moving with his family to set up shop in Kuala Lumpur. Here, he's partnered up with Su-Ann Wong, trained in design at Goldsmith's College in London, to combine their two passions, referenced in the name of the restaurant. This eclectic little haunt is set up in a colonial-style bungalow and conveys an arty, bohemian vibe. White-brick walls are covered in black-stencil drawings, mismatched brightly colored furniture fills the space, and an old-school carousal horse sits proudly on the bar countertop. Try the chicken lollipops—deep-fried drumettes with roasted-chili mayo; beef, bacon, and mushroom quiche; and crème brûlée, infused with locally grown ginger. Make sure to sample from the cocktail list as well—the Oh Boi is a boozy twist on the traditional calamansi and preserved–sour plum drink. Weekly specials include Wednesday's Ink & Drink night, when tattooed patrons score happy-hour prices all night.
Old China Café
Step through the battered wooden swing doors at this restaurant–cum–antiques shop for a meal that's served with a generous portion of history. One of the oldest restaurants in KL, it's set up on the edge of Chinatown along a street of slightly run-down pre–World War I shophouses. In this old guild hall of the Selangor & Federal Territory Laundry Association in the 1930s, many architectural details remain, and framed black-and-white photographs on the wall tell the story. Traditional Nyonya (Chinese-Malay) cuisine is served—must-try dishes include the Devil Curry (laksa made with spicy coconut milk), and pie tee ("top hats"), crispy pastry shells that arrive with a plate of fillings that you choose yourself. A teahouse has recently opened upstairs.
On the ground floor of the designer-dress-filled Starhill Gallery, Enak KL has become renowned for its creative interpretations of classic Malay fare. Try the kerabu asparagus, tender stalks tossed in red chili, lime juice, and freshly roasted coconut; or the grilled prawns in udang bakar serai enak (soaked in lemongrass and served alongside a mango salsa). Finish off the meal with the dessert tasting menu, which comprises a rich sampling of delicious traditional local desserts—each with an in-house twist, of course. Seating options vary, with traditional small intimate tables, floor cushions, and long dining tables among your choices.
Thean Hou Temple
South from the center of town, the six-tiered landmark Chinese temple on top of Robson Hill is dedicated to the Heavenly Mother, Thean Hou. The decorative beams, giant murals, and domed ceilings were built over nearly 2 acres in 1987 from public donations from within the Malaysian Chinese community. Take in the Kuala Lumpur skyline from above, or pay a visit to the wishing well, medicinal herb garden, and several souvenir and food stalls.
Petronas Twin Towers
Completed in 1996, the 88-story twin structure encased in steel and glass was inspired by former Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad. His vision was to create an internationally recognized landmark that would symbolize courage and the advancement of the nation. Skybridge, the double-decker structure connecting the two towers and also the world's highest two-story bridge, helps form the letter "M" for Malaysia. Take the elevator up to Skybridge and walk across on the 42nd level, and then zip up to the 86th floor and take in the expansive panorama. Tickets for Petronas Tower tours are limited and issued on a first-come, first-serve basis, so show up early—doors open at 8.30 am. There are also plenty of shopping and dining opportunities at the base of the towers, as well as the Kuala Lumpur City Centre Park, with playgrounds for the kids. Catch the towers from a distance at night for a brilliant light show.
During the mornings in KL's thriving Chinatown, florists go about their business, but come late afternoon, vendors get busy setting up their wares for the evening crowds. This neighborhood, sandwiched between Jalan Hang Kasturi and Jalan Sultan, has things to see both before and after dark. The Taoist Sze Ya Temple and Hindu Sri Mahamariamman Temple both deserve a visit. You can pick up souvenirs like watches, sunglasses, and T-shirts in the market, but know that this is where your haggling skills will be put to the test; bartering down to a third off the offered price is a good rule of thumb. The Central Market is also filled with local food and tropical juice stalls—handy when you're feeling peckish.
The city's most popular park dates back to the 1880s and is spread over 92 hectares (227 acres) of green. It's built around a man-made lake, and boats are available for rental on the weekends; free tai chi sessions take place early most mornings, and jogging trails attract plenty of locals. The gardens have a number of interesting sections, including the Bird Park (with some 200 species) and the Butterfly Park, which has more than 7,000 winged creatures fluttering about. In order to avoid the sweltering heat of the sun, it's best to explore Lake Gardens in the early morning or late afternoon.
Islamic Arts Museum
More than 7,000 artifacts make up the permanent collection at Southeast Asia's biggest museum of Islamic arts. Pieces range from jewelry and tapestries to hand-written Korans and large-scale architectural models. The 12 permanent galleries serve to represent the diversity of Islamic people and the multicultural heritage of Malaysia. Visit the restaurant for a taste of Middle Eastern cuisine, and stop by the shop on your way out to pick up Islamic crafts and jewelry to take home.