From food markets and fine dining to indoor golf and blissful spa treatments, the capital of Malaysia has all the riches a modern traveller could ever want for either work or play
Kuala Lumpur, unlike neighbouring Singapore and Bangkok, is often overlooked by those travelling through Asia. Many fly in and out as a gateway to other oriental greats without stopping to peek at the Malay capital; but this tropical hotspot is crammed full of fabulous colonial architecture set against groundbreaking modern design, and local cuisine that is worth the long-haul flight alone.
The view of Kuala Lumpur from the Petronas Towers
One can't write about the city without referring to the landmark Petronas Towers, which serve as the unofficial heart of the skyline. Breathtaking and best viewed at night, the glass and steel towers of the skyscrapers are a little like Barcelona's Sagrada Família: you can't miss them, no matter where in the city you are, and KL (as it's known) is best viewed from their public observation deck.
If you don’t love heights, the other fabulous angle from which to admire the Petronas Towers is from Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur. The hotel sits elegantly below the watchful eyes of the 'twin towers', as they are locally known.
The Club Lounge at Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur
Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur has been widely considered the inner-city leader in luxury accommodation for years now, but with a few recent updates it is better than ever. For instance, The Spa (spread as it is over two floors) has been renovated – so between the signature spa therapies, the hot and cold whirlpools and the steam and sauna rooms, this is the perfect urban sanctuary in which to shed stresses and strains. Not to be missed is the Asian-inspired Tropical Rainforest treatment (think Asli massage from Borneo, which focuses on pressure points, and uses native herbs and spices).
For something more active, the hotel has a newly opened, totally revolutionary indoor golf course, located on the third floor. It offers no less than 50 different courses courtesy of high-tech golf simulators. And, fear not, you can enjoy that post-game beer after polishing off 18 holes as normal, because there is an on-site bar, too.
Inside the Batu Caves
For gastronomes, Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur is a culinary leader with no less than 10 bars and restaurants, including a Mandarin Cake Shop and the newest opening, Aqua Restaurant and Bar. Whether you are hankering for local flavours or something a little more westernised, you won't be disappointed (enjoy your choice alongside Aqua's signature Tom Yam Margarita, perhaps). Alternatively, a local experience can be had at any of the city's well-known night markets. All serve lip-smacking laksa (spicy noodle soup), bountiful beef rendang and nasi goreng by the bucketload. Chow Kit Market is considered the largest wet market and the Kampung Baru Sunday Market (which actually runs from Saturday evening, from 6pm-1am) offers up everything food-related and otherwise. Market lovers will also adore the Art Deco Central Market and Petaling Street Market, where the stalls are loaded with fun souvenirs and fresh food, faux must-haves and local crafts.
Also not to be missed in Kuala Lumpur are the Batu Caves, a temple complex located almost 100 metres above the ground and set within a limestone cliff. An important pilgrimage site for Hindus, this is the perfect introduction to Malay history.
The Kek Lok Si Temple in Georgetown, Penang
Finally, if you can tag a few days on to visit the neighbouring islands of Penang and Langkawi, they come highly recommended. Picture-perfect, loaded with cultural history and more of that sensational Malay food, you'll consider relocating there for good. But miss Kuala Lumpur at your peril – it's sensational, and Mandarin Oriental makes for a fabulous night's sleep while you are there.