Kuala Lumpur – which local residents call ‘KL’ – is not only the capital but also the most important gateway to Malaysia and is located on the west coast of the Malaysian peninsula between Thailand and Singapore. About 1.6 million residents in the city and 8 million people living in the surrounding area make it the largest metropolitan region in the country. In addition to its administrative and economic importance, ‘KL’ thrills foreign visitors with its cultural diversity. Malays, Chinese, Indians and other ethnic groups have all played their part in shaping the city’s art and language. Modern skyscrapers stand next to Malay villages on stilts (‘kampongs’), while Chinese pagodas are located next to mosques. This all creates a genuine cultural melting pot in Southeast Asia and its unique identity is one of the reasons why Euromonitor International has ranked the metropolis as one of the top ten city destinations in the world for more than five years.
The name Kuala Lumpur literally means ‘muddy confluence’ and describes the meeting point of the Rivers Klang and Gombak. This strategically favourable location laid the foundation for the initial settlement of what is now the suburb of Ampang. A group of 87 Chinese miners led by Raja Abdullah, a member of the royal family of Selangor, discovered tin here in 1857. Kuala Lumpur replaced the town of Klang as the capital of the federal state in 1880. Its subsequent growth is attributed to Sir Frank Swettenham, who promoted the construction of a railway line between Klang and Kuala Lumpur. ‘KL’ received a newly designed city centre during the course of the British period of administration. It finally became the capital of the independent Federation of Malaya in 1957 and the capital of Malaysia in 1963.
The former mining town situated in the dense Malaysian jungle is now an urban jungle and attracts many investors from all over the world. What are the reasons for this? Kuala Lumpur is the country’s banking and financial centre. Tourism has also become extremely important. At the same time, Kuala Lumpur is home to a wide range of different lines of business: the industrial suburb of Sungai Besi combines iron foundries, engineering factories and food processing plants. Railway companies and sawmills are situated in the district around Sentul and Ipoh Road; cement is produced in Rawang to the north. The focus is on the high-tech sector in the neighbouring suburbs of Petaling Jaya and Batu Tiga, where companies such as Siemens, Samsung and BASF are based.
There is no shortage of attractions in Kuala Lumpur either. The city is particularly a real Eldorado for shopping tours. According to CNN, it was number four on the list of the world’s best shopping cities in 2013 – ahead of fashion meccas such as Paris and Milan, and was only topped by London, Tokyo and New York. The shopping scene has the reputation of being a one-stop destination, offering people commercial shopping at huge malls as well as bargain hunting at markets. Berjaya Times Square is a genuine superlative; it is a complex consisting of a shopping centre and two five-star hotels. The constructed area measures 700,000 square metres and it is currently the world’s fifth-largest building and the ninth-largest shopping mall in the world. Shopping enthusiasts will find more than 1,000 retail outlets here, 65 catering facilities and several entertainment attractions such as Asia’s largest indoor theme park. At the other end of the spectrum, the Central Market is one of the most popular flea markets in the city. The blue building, which was constructed in 1928, houses several art galleries, arts and crafts and souvenir stalls as well as boutiques, which sell authentic Malay batik prints and local works of art.
These twin towers are quite simply the hallmark of ‘KL’ – and at a global level; after all, they were formerly the world’s highest building. Soaring 452 metres into the clouds with their 88 floors, the Petronas Towers are still the world’s highest twin buildings. And with this gigantic height, it is hardly surprising that visitors have a view of this landmark from every corner of the city. They also have a view far and wide in the opposite direction, that is to say, from the viewing platform on level 86. Tower number one is home to the headquarters of the state Malaysian oil company, Petronas, and its subsidiaries. Tower number two is mainly used by multinational corporations such as Accenture, Al-Jazeera, Barclays Capital, Bloomberg, Boeing, IBM, McKinsey & Co., Microsoft, Reuters and others.
Other highlights in the buildings include the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas, Southeast Asia’s leading event site for classical music, the Petronas Art Gallery and the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. The Petrosains Science Centre is an interactive discovery facility that displays exhibits relating to the oil industry – ranging from the origins of crude oil during the age of the dinosaurs to the latest oil-based products. It is also worth visiting the extensive KLCC Park located next to the Petronas Towers.
The Batu Caves, which are located 11 kilometres north of Kuala Lumpur, are limestone caves that are 400 million years old. You cannot miss the entrance – a golden statue of Lord Muruga, the highest statue of a Hindu deity in Malaysia, towers into the sky – and 272 steps take you up to the caves from there. Visitors can view the caves and discover more about the local flora and fauna, including wild monkeys that live in the region, as well the famous bats that inhabit the caves. There are also opportunities for rock climbing with more than 160 climbing routes in the district and fairly easy walking tours for visitors with less experience. However, the Batu Caves are particularly famous as the venue of the annual Hindu festival known as Thaipusam. It is celebrated at full moon in the tenth month of the Hindu calendar and, depending on the year, takes place in January or February. The festival attracts thousands of visitors, who are present for the colourful spectacle of the faithful as they pay homage with artistically decorated ‘Kavadis’ altars and various metal hooks and skewers, which people use to pierce their skin, cheeks and tongue.
The Sultan Abdul Samad Building, one of the earliest structures built in Kuala Lumpur in Moorish style, is an important landmark in the city and originally served as the centre of the British colonial administration. It is now home to the offices of the Ministry for Information, Communication and Culture in Malaysia. The building, which was built in 1897 and designed by AC Norman, is located to the east of Merderka Square (Dataran Merderka) and is often the venue for the annual parades to mark Malaysia’s independence day.
More than 3,000 birds live in this enormous aviary, which covers an area measuring more than 20 hectares. Most of the exhibits are local breeds. Visitors can also discover more about the local flora and fauna. The park is a distinguished scientific centre for the survival of species and education too. There are breeding programmes and scientific studies about the birds in their natural habitat.
Interested visitors can discover everything about the history and culture of Malaysia at the National Museum, which is located near the Lake Gardens, and they can admire replicas of Malaysian houses, wedding scenes and hunting exhibitions. Local musical instruments and traditional costumes are also on display. In addition to the museum’s permanent exhibits, there are also temporary ones, which change throughout the year and can be seen in the central hall.
Sultan Abdul Samad Building
National Museum in Kuala Lumpur
Batu Caves and Thaipusam
Kuala Lumpur Bird Park
The numerous different cultures, which are brought together in the population of Kuala Lumpur, are reflected in the local food specialities. Jalan Alor Food Street in Bukit Bintang is an absolute institution and is the city’s culinary centre. Visitors should head here after sunset in order to experience the chaotic way of life far from the glistening shopping centres and residential skyscrapers. Restaurants and street stalls, which serve Asian, western and European cuisine, line the footpaths on both sides. Grilled meat, noodles and desserts are some of the best (and cheapest) types of food in the city. Anybody who really would like to try a dish from Malaysian cuisine should order nasi kandar. This roughly means ‘mixed rice’ and, as the name suggests, is a plate with rice and the selection of side dishes and toppings. The sauces are strongly seasoned with curry powder and chilli because of the many immigrants from southern India; the typical side dishes include curried meat, seafood, okra and Asian cabbage.
Kuala Lumpur is located close to the Straits of Malacca, one of the busiest waterways in the world. This means that Malaysia’s capital is well-positioned as a logistics centre at the heart of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN. Singapore in particular, another global megacity, is also not far away. It takes half an hour by train or 45 minutes by taxi from Kuala Lumpur to its international airport.
Current and future projects are continuing to accelerate the growth of logistics in Kuala Lumpur: the Malaysian government introduced the Digital Free Trade Zone in 2017, an electronic world trading platform, which aims to make smooth cross-border trade even easier. The focus here is on e-commerce activities. The DFTZ positions Malaysia on global radar as a potential country to become a regional e-fulfilment hub for e-commerce companies. The East Coast Rail Line project (ECRL) is another important initiative taken by the government to establish logistical infrastructure. This project is designed to complement the Maritime Silk Road and is a part of a development strategy to promote infrastructural connectivity in Southeast Asia, Oceania, the Indian Ocean and East Africa. Rhenus, the international logistics specialist, has business operations here too: in addition to having its headquarters at Port Klang, 30 kilometres away from Kuala Lumpur, Rhenus Malaysia has branches in Penang for the northern region, in Johor for the south of the country and an airfreight office at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).
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