The Malayan capital is blessed with multicultural influences, from the diversity of food to formidable architecture, while a slick shopping mall or a lush park is never too far away
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A few degrees north of the equator, the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, is a dynamic urban destination, setting futuristic architecture, tropical parks and luxury shopping against a multicultural backdrop. Exotic cuisine fuses the flavours of the Malay, Chinese and Indian communities, while a thriving nightlife and access to jungle adventures make KL (as it is known locally) one of South-East Asia's most alluring cities.
With so many smart malls, it's easy to join KLites in their national pastime of shopping. Suria KLCC, which anchors the Petronas Twin Towers, sells a meticulously curated mix of designer and high-street brands; check out local multi-label boutique Aseana, set up by Farah Khan, which carries her own designs alongside the likes of Hervé Léger, Via Spiga and Pedro García, plus the vast Kinokuniya bookstore and Galeri Petronas for contemporary art. A magnet for families, Pavilion has hundreds of outlets, offering everything from international brands like Versace and Swarovski to high-street fashion, electronic gadgets and kids' toys, as well as excellent dining options. Not too far away, the restored Art Deco-style Central Market is the place to pick up handicrafts, souvenirs and jewellery, while Publika in Solaris Dutamas is a hipster shopping hangout combining local brands such as Dude & the Duchess with cool bars, restaurants and galleries.
Dominating the skyline is César Pelli's Islamic-inspired 88-storey Petronas Twin Towers – especially impressive when illuminated at night. Ascend to the observation deck on the 86th floor for an unbeatable overview of the capital. In the heart of KL is Dataran Merdeka, where independence from Britain was declared in 1957. This fine square is flanked by the eye-catching Moghul-style Sultan Abdul Samad Building, built in 1897, and the Tudor lines of the grand old Royal Selangor Club, founded in 1884. Eleven kilometres north of KL is the temple complex of Batu Caves, a revered pilgrimage site. At the base is a 48-metre-high golden statue of Hindu deity Lord Murugan. Climb the 272 steps to arrive at the shrine-filled Temple Cave.
Join a cookery class at Rohani Jelani's Bayan Indah Culinary Retreat to experience Malaysian kampong (village) cuisine in a bucolic hillside home. Or head to the Islamic Arts Museum, a treasure trove for art history aficionados, and the National Visual Arts Gallery, which ventures into the diversity of modern Malaysian creativity. For entertainment, Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre, in a 35-acre park, presents a year-round calendar of dance, drama, musicals and art house films.
Mingle with the locals on the rooftop of Avenue K shopping centre for incredible photo opportunities of the Petronas Twin Towers, or get snap happy at the nearby Lake Gardens, home to the Bird and Butterfly Parks and the Orchid and Hibiscus Gardens. Golf lovers should ask the concierge to get you a game at the Royal Selangor Golf Club. For a little tropical adventure, the Forest Research Institute Malaysia, 16 kilometres from downtown, provides a bird's-eye panorama of the rainforest canopy from the rope bridge and guided walks along trails to spot monkeys and tropical birds.
The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur offers unique treatments such as the Tropical Rainforest experience, featuring traditional techniques and native herbs and spices, with a signature foot ritual and body wrap.
From the hawker street-food stalls along Jalan Alor to foie gras satay and chilled bubbles with a view at Cantaloupe on the 23rd floor of Troika Sky Dining, and prime cuts of Wagyu beef at the elegant Mandarin Grill at Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur overlooking lush KLCC Park, KL has something for every palate. Tuck into Chinese-Malaysian delights including Hokkien mee (soupy noodles with prawns, pork, vegetables and spicy sambal) and Hainan chicken rice at Lot 10 Hutong food hall on Jalan Sultan Ismail, or South Indian vegetarian curry at The Ganga Café in the Bangsar district. Devoted foodies might want to make the 30-minute cab ride to Dewakan in Shah Alam for chef Darren Teoh’s inventive Malaysia-inspired molecular gastronomy.
On the Town
Join KL's beautiful people with a cocktail at the sophisticated Marini's on 57, the city's highest bar, located on the 57th floor of Petronas Tower 3. Also with fantastic views is Heli Lounge on a real helicopter deck on the Menara KH Tower's 34th floor. For a classy jazz and blues club, try No Black Tie. Recently relocated across town, Zouk remains the venue of choice for KL clubbers and globetrotting DJs. As a seductive alternative, Sultan Lounge at Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur offers a chic, clubby ambience, while MO Bar serves expertly mixed drinks alongside classical piano music.