It may be tropical outside but December in the Malaysian capital offers holiday activities aplenty. Catch a music festival, shop in the end-of-year sales, or see in the New Year in a world-class bar
The art deco Central Market
Wedged in a valley framed by rainforested hills, Kuala Lumpur’s fusion of Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures, plus the long-standing influences of British colonial rule, make it one of South-East Asia’s most diverse cities. ‘KL’ (as it is known locally) is also experiencing an exciting urban renewal with a constant stream of new bars, cafés and restaurants adding extra dynamism to its dining and nightlife scenes.
The best way to assimilate KL’s architectural contrasts is by strolling along the Heritage walking trail from Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square), taking in the impressive minarets of the 1897 Moghul-style Sultan Abdul Samad Building, the mock-Tudor Royal Selangor Club, built in 1884, and the Moorish former High Court, dating from 1909. Continue past Twenties Chinese shophouses and Buddhist and Hindu temples to the art deco Central Market; grab a bite at one of its cafés and peruse the stores selling local crafts and artworks.
The Urbanscapes music festival
December's headline music festival was founded 12 years ago by Adrian Yap (who was inspired by the UK's Glastonbury). Urbanscapes (6 December) is Malaysia's longest-running music festival, and has attracted names like Franz Ferdinand, Tegan and Sara, and Sigur Rós. This year's event decamps north of the capital to the verdant slopes of Genting Highlands, with a line-up featuring Glasgow’s Chvrches, New Zealand’s Kimbra, and US rockers Local Natives.
Back in the capital, visitors will notice that dining is a Malaysian obsession. Indeed, the first question cab drivers often ask is, ‘Where are you going to eat?’ A unique way to experience local cuisine is at Bayan Indah, a culinary school occupying a Malay house in a small kampung (village) surrounded by tropical rainforest on the outskirts of KL. In this delightful setting, owner Rohani Jelani teaches classes in traditional kampung cuisine; learn how to make one of Malaysia’s favourite dishes, laksa (spicy noodle soup), and Nonya classics (the popular fusion of Malay and Chinese culinary styles).
The Suria KLCC shopping mall at the Petronas Towers
Although KL is a tropical city located a few degrees north of the equator, it fully embraces the seasonal spirit and takes prides in being an exciting shopping destination. Its glitziest malls, Pavilion on Bukit Bintang and Suria KLCC at the Petronas Towers, are Christmas hotspots. Pavilion, in particular, is great for families, with giant Christmas trees, snow-themed installations and children’s rides in the vast central atrium. The season of goodwill also coincides with the annual Malaysia Year-End Sale, with stores citywide offering discounts and fashion shows throughout December.
The Sultan Lounge at Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur
After a heady month of shopping, cooking and festival-going, it’s time for a leisurely overview of Malaysia’s fast-changing capital. KL boasts several chic rooftop terraces for sipping a perfectly mixed martini in the company of local celebs and hipsters. Prime picks are View (30th floor of the GTower Hotel) and the Heli Lounge (34th floor of the Menara KL Tower), which both offer 360-degree views of the dramatic skyline and forested hills beyond. As a seductive alternative, try MO Bar at Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur for cocktails accompanied by classical piano music, or the hotel’s Sultan Lounge for a chilled clubby ambience in opulent tented surrounds.
Gary Bowerman has spent the past decade in Malaysia and China. He is co-founder of travel communications company Scribes of the Orient and author of The New Chinese Traveler: Business Opportunities from the Chinese Travel Revolution