Kuala Lumpur is a true multicultural melting pot. With Malay, Chinese, Indian and British influences, KL is perhaps not the most coherent of cities but is charming in its diversity, each neighbourhood providing its own distinct charm and flavour.
This diverse history is perhaps best displayed at Merdeka Square – once a field where the British played cricket and later where independence was declared in 1957.
The old colonial buildings remain but nowadays are dwarfed by skyscrapers, with the Petronas Towers looming in the distance. A Malaysian flag flying from a 100ft flagpole reminds any visitor that this is a city, and country, going its own way.
As far as cities go it is also a relatively new one – having been founded in the mid-1800s amid a boom in the tin industry. Indeed the Federation of Malaysia as we know it today was only formed in 1963, unifying the Malaya peninsular with the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak along with Singapore, before the latter seceded in 1965.
But what is perhaps unusual for a modern city is that it lacks any particular centre. Ten minutes walk away is Merdeka Square is Chinatown, KL’s original commercial heart and an area defined by its markets, street food and red and gold Chinese temples tucked away in courtyards.
Nearby Little India and the Brickfields residential area are notable for their Indian communities and businesses.
Meanwhile, hints of Malaysia’s ancient Hindu past are best seen at the Batu Caves shrine and at the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple, its 23m-high gate tower embellished with ceramic idols incongruous with its Chinatown location.
Modern KL is best seen in the Golden Triangle – home to the sparkling Petronas Towers. Rising 451.9m above the city and looking equally impressive in the sunlight and by night, the building draws on the principles of Islamic architecture with an Art Deco sheen.
The area is also home to many of the top name hotels, and the restaurants and bars of Bukit Bintang rival those of any western city with an array of cuisines on offer, from tapas to Malay street food. Some reprieve from metropolitan life can also be found in the national park of Bukit Nanas, where one can spot silver leaf monkeys.
Our own trip to KL ended at the rather fabulous Heli Lounge bar, which is slap bang between the Menara and Petronas towers and offers stunning vistas of the entire city. Sipping cocktails while watching the sun go down from the helipad of a 36th-storey building is definitely one to add to the travel bucket list.
Copyright Natalie Marchant/Tales From Taliena