CITY GUIDE: KUALA LUMPUR with Nazirul Hakim
Kuala Lumpur is a city of contrasts. Gleaming skyscrapers and historical monuments. The bustling streets of Chinatown and lush tropical parks. Street food stalls and hip eateries with interiors fit for Instagram.
The city has come a long way in a relatively short time. Born from a tin mining expedition in the mid-19th century, KL was only granted city status in 1972. It then underwent massive growth in the 1990s. “I've seen the city develop from a peaceful, laid-back place to a fast-paced, cosmopolitan concrete jungle,” says Nazirul Hakim. “But,” he’s keen to add, “It's still beautiful. Perhaps even more so now.”
Nazirul was born and raised in KL. He loves the way the city embraces change. And how culturally diverse it is. “The multi-racial mix of predominantly Malays, Chinese and Indians makes it an absolutely fascinating place,” he says. There’s a vibrant variety of food, art and architecture to be discovered.
Travel consultant by day and avid KL explorer in his spare time, Nazirul is the perfect person to give us the lowdown on his hometown. Here he gives his insider tips for visitors to the Malaysian capital:
“The area around Pasar Seni (the Central Market) has always been one of my favourites. Here you can see hundreds of traditional coffee shops called kopitiam. These places serve simple food, like toast with kaya (coconut jam), soft-boiled eggs and noodles. And, of course, kopi (black coffee) and teh tarik (milk tea).”
“I love to spend hours at an old kopitiam sipping coffee and chatting. In this neighbourhood, you’re surrounded by historic buildings and totally taken back to KL in the 80s. It feels so nostalgic!”
Food & Drink
“The food in KL is truly unbelievable. It’s pretty much the best thing about living here. Local food you just have to try? Nasi lemak (a coconut rice served with anchovy, hot chilli sauce, fried peanut and hardboiled egg), roti canai (a flatbread that you can get with a variety of fillings) and kari mee laksa (a curried noodle soup).”
“One of my favourite places to grab a bite to eat is Café Old Market Square on the Medan Pasar. It’s a traditional kopitiam with black and white photos on the wall and a really low key vibe. I often order yong tau foo (a tofu dish) or mee hun hailam (vermicelli noodles).”
“For drinks, I love The Swimming Club. It’s a fairly new addition to KL with amazing décor, great drinks and, of course, its own pool. Another favourite, at the end of the day, is the Banyan Tree’s rooftop where you’ll find spectacular sunset views of KL.”
“KL is a busy city. But greenery is never far away. And there are plenty of places you can go to truly escape from it all. The Lake Garden is the perfect place for a picnic. You can also take a boat around the lake or visit the botanical gardens, full of orchid and hibiscus flowers.”
“And a little way north of the city centre, there’s KL Eco Forest with its famous canopy walk. You can walk amongst rainforest treetops and also get sweeping views of the Menara Kuala Lumpur tower and the KL city skyline.”
“One of the most historical buildings in KL is the Sultan Abdul Samad building. This grand 19th century structure with its Moorish design and clock tower sits on Dataran Merdeka (or Independence Square), where Malaysia's independence from British rule was declared on August 31st 1957. It’s good to visit the square in the morning if you want to avoid the crowds.”
“Other must-sees include the impressive Masjid Negara and Masjid Wilayah mosques. Up at Robson Heights you’ll find great views as well as the pagoda rooftops and beautiful lanterns of the Buddhist Thean Hou Temple. And another cultural highlight is the Batu Caves, with their Hindu shrines and giant golden statue of Lord Murugan.”