Visit exotic Kuala Lumpur now to glimpse ancient festivities, but also prepare to shop like the locals, as at this time of year there are bargains galore
November is a rousing month in Kuala Lumpur (known locally as ‘KL’), as the Malaysian capital undergoes an exciting urban makeover: the world’s largest low-cost carrier terminal is opening at Kuala Lumpur International Airport and a citywide subway and skytrain network is under construction. The dining, nightlife and art scenes are thriving, too, with hip venues popping up with increased regularity.
A colourful festive vibe will invigorate KL for five days in early November as the Hindu community celebrates Deepavali. The most auspicious part of the Festival of Lights takes place on 2 November, when fireworks light up the sky. Watch the festivities at Sri Kandaswamy Kovil temple in Brickfields and Sri Mahamariamman temple in Chinatown, where worshippers light diya lamps, share Indian sweets, wear wreaths of flowers and prepare kolams (intricate floor mosaics made from coloured rice powder).
If the celebratory ambience makes you hungry, the Brickfields district, or ‘Little India’, is a haven of delicious Indian food. Jalan Berhala is lined with appealing eateries, notably Annalakshmi, which serves exquisite vegetable curries and dhals accompanied by piping hot naans and chapatis.
Awal Muharram is another symbolic celebration and marks the beginning of the new Islamic calendar. KL’s Muslim communities pack the city’s mosques – including the eye-catching National Mosque, or Masjid Negara. Nearby, amid the beautifully tended Lake Gardens, is the Islamic Arts Museum, whose Al Hajj: The Malaysian Experience runs until 20 November, documenting the history of the Malaysian pilgrims who travel to Mecca and the key rituals of the world’s largest pilgrimage, the Hajj.
Later in the month, music aficionados will gather for Urbanscapes, Malaysia’s longest-running music and creative arts festival. Taking place at the Malaysian Agro Expo Park in Serdang, over the weekend of 23 and 24 November, Scottish indie favourites Franz Ferdinand headline a line-up featuring a host of international bands, including Danish alt rockers Mew, Tegan and Sara, and Two Door Cinema Club. The event also features comedy and theatre performances, plus installation artworks.
For visitors seeking retail therapy, November is a good time to arrive. The annual Malaysia Year-End Sale begins on 16 November and runs until the New Year. Stores across KL offer big discounts and promotions – head to the glitzy Pavilion mall and the boutiques lining the downtown Bukit Bintang thoroughfare. But don’t miss the art deco Central Market, KL’s premier destination for Malaysian handicrafts and artworks.
For the perfect overview of KL, visit the Observation Deck of the 452-metre César Pelli-designed Petronas Twin Towers, whose pinnacles, inspired by Islamic geometric forms, are shimmering icons of modern architecture at night.
As the locals say, Selamat dating (welcome to KL)!
Gary Bowerman is an Asia-based writer and editor who has spent the past decade in Malaysia and China. He is co-founder
of Scribes of the Orient,
a Hong Kong-based media and communications company