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Asia travel

Six ways to enjoy Kuala Lumpur whatever your budget

Whether you can afford to indulge in luxury or you're counting your pennies, there is plenty to indulge in, see, buy, eat, or drink in Malaysia's capital

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 September, 2015, 8:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 September, 2015, 8:00am

According to research recently released by Deutsche Bank, Kuala Lumpur is one of the cheapest cities in the world in which to enjoy a five-star holiday. Not only are prices reasonable (one night in a five-star hotel could cost one-third of the price in a similar property in Hong Kong), there is much to see and do. Malaysia’s capital, whose name means “mud estuary”, is an interesting fusion of Malay, Indian and Chinese cultures, which can all be explored at  any price range. Here’s how to experience what the city has to offer, whether you’re looking for affordable luxury, or value for money.


Luxe: take a private food tour

Price: 160 ringgit (HK$300)

Explore a part of KL most tourists never see, and indulge in dishes from Malaysia’s three biggest ethnic groups: Malay, Indian and Chinese. The passionate foodie guides from  Food Tour Malaysia will take you to their favourite street stalls and restaurants, and weave a memorable cultural experience that is as fascinating as it is tasty.  

For less: browse an art museum

Price: 14 ringgit

The Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia holds what is likely the best collection of decorative Islamic art on the planet. The displays range from intricate paintings to exquisite fabrics and ceramics, as well as photographs, jewellery and armour. Allow at least two hours to get lost among the treasures here.  


Luxe: look out for labels

Kuala Lumpur has cultivated a reputation as one of Asia’s top shopping destinations and those searching for haute couture usually head to the  Pavilion mall. In trendy Bukit Bintang district, this 130,000 square metre marble-finished mall  contains stores such as Michael Kors, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Gucci, Prada, Rolex and Jimmy Choo.

For less: markets in Chinatown and Little India

Bargain hunters head to the down-to-earth streets of the Little India and Chinatown districts to shop for clothing, cheap electronics, fabrics and quirky souvenirs of the Petronas Towers. The Petaling Street market in Chinatown is popular with tourists, and when you’ve worked up an appetite the many small restaurants in Little India serve up feasts.


Luxe: chill at a luxury spa

Price: from 390 ringgit

After hours of shopping and exploring Malaysia’s capital, a massage isn’t just welcome: it’s necessary. At the luxurious Essa Spa at the Grand Hyatt hotel the treatments are based on the Malaysian concept of ramuan, where plants are selected and combined for their health benefits. The spa runs a continuous offer: book a massage for a weekday between 10am and 1pm and get a 30 per cent discount.

For less: revive your body

Price: from 58 ringgit

Thai massage, where a person’s body is moved into various postures by a qualified therapist, has become a popular indulgence for weary travellers. Erawan Spa is located in Avenue K mall, across the road from the Petronas Towers; pop in for a soothing half-hour neck and shoulder massage then continue with your sightseeing.  


Luxe: fine dining in the city centre

Price: dim sum from 298 ringgit for two, excluding drinks

Make your way to the Mandarin Oriental’s Cantonese restaurant, Lai Po Heen, known for its seafood and carefully crafted dishes of steamed or fried dumplings. Be sure to book a table in advance, and ask for one next to the window so you can enjoy the view over the park in front of the Petronas Towers.

For less: enjoy colonial heritage

Price: mains from 55 ringgit  

Once Kuala Lumpur’s finest eatery, the colonial-style Coliseum Cafe has been open for  94 years. It is  loved for its sizzling steaks as well as the gin and tonics, served from a bar said to have been built to the height of the average Englishman’s elbow. Decor-wise little has changed over the decades, and many of the staff have been there forever.  


Luxe: toast the best view in the city

Price: from 34 ringgit  a glass

In perhaps the most picturesque setting in Kuala Lumpur, Claret wine bar, on the 23rd floor of The Troika, is the place to watch the city lights  as night falls over the Petronas Towers. Claret is linked to three restaurants that offer fine dining. Plan to spend at least one evening here.

For less: Bar Lai

Price: cocktails from 26 ringgit

Hidden in a back street of  Bukit Bintang, Bar Lai is one of those places you’ll wish you’d found earlier: the atmosphere is super-chilled, with comfortable seats and quirky corners that encourage conversation. The cocktails are sublime: don’t miss the lemon grass G&T, or the Bacon Bourbon Bloody Mary, served with a piece of crispy bacon. 3 Jalan Sin Chew Kee, Bukit Bintang


Luxe: escape from the city

Price: from 440 ringgit a night

Retreat from the city’s bustle for some space and calm at the Shangri-La to soothe your senses. Stay in one of the luxurious suites and, with five restaurants and two bars to choose from, you’ll never need to leave the hotel.

For less: stay in the centre of the action

Price: from 153 ringgit a night

A stone’s throw from the malls of Bukit Bintang and many of KL’s nightlife hotspots, Chaos Hotel is a new establishment that offers affordable accommodation in a popular area. The rooms are small and simple, but with good attention to design. If you plan on spending more time around Kuala Lumpur and less time in your room, this slick hotel is a good option.