In western Malaysia—roughly 60 miles from the shores of the Straits of Malacca—lies one of the most significant destinations for business travellers today: Kuala Lumpur. This former mining town is now one of the largest economic and cultural centers of Asia, even amidst powerhouses like Singapore and Hong Kong. From technology to manufacturing, finance and tourism, Kuala Lumpur attracts those at the head of their industries. If you do have any free time outside of the conference room (even if it’s just an afternoon, or a couple of hours) take advantage of this vibrant city.
Getting around Kuala Lumpur is easy: buses and taxis are in abundance, and a modern rail system runs between the airport and downtown area, as well as makes various stops at popular locations around the city. Yet, whenever possible, walk. You’ll notice much more on the ground than while passing by, and with its Indian, Chinese and Malay heritage, the architecture of KL is as diverse as its residents. In just the course of a mile, you’re liable to pass by a mix of colonial buildings, modern skyscrapers, Chinese merchant shops and temples, Moorish-style mosques and Hindu markets.
While there’s plenty of interesting places to stumble upon while wandering, here’s a few sites to check out when you get the chance to throw on some comfortable shoes and break away from your colleagues:
Petronas Twin Towers
Considering that these stunning buildings will likely be the first thing to catch your eye (and your breath…seriously), start off your ventures in Kuala Lumpur by visiting the iconic Petronas Twin Towers. Holding the title of the world’s tallest buildings until 2004, these chrome and steel structures boast 88 floors and a window-filled Skybridge that links them together.
View from the Sky Bridge, Petronas Towers
Thus, if you’re not due for a business meeting within one of the many offices inside at some point, make time to tour its many amenities on your own instead. The Petronas Twin Towers host a shopping mall, an art gallery, a science discovery center, a concert hall, and, of course, incredible views of the city. Plus, literally everyone will ask if you’ve had a chance to see the towers yet, so do yourself a favor and get to it, asap.
Menara KL Tower
In order to boast that you looked out over Malaysia from an even higher vantage than from the Skybox at the Petronas Twin Towers, consider a quick visit to the nearby Menara KL Tower. The tower’s beautiful external and internal design reflects Malaysia’s Islamic heritage, and the view is spectacular, particularly in the revolving restaurant, Atmosphere 360.
Sky Box @ Menara KL Tower
While it’s not necessary for admission, you can book a ticket in advance through their website, thus avoiding the afternoon-killing activity of waiting in line. Plus, if you’re unexpectedly needed for a meeting or working lunch, you can cancel totally free of charge.
Perdana Botanical Garden
New York City has Central Park, Tokyo has Hamarikyu Gardens, London has Hyde Park and, now, true to its powerhouse city status, Kuala Lumpur has Perdana Botanical Garden—a sprawling, 227-acre park located right in the middle city.
If you need an hour away from the hustle of the city, or just a quiet place to open your laptop and catch up on emails, the park (sometimes referred to as the Lake Gardens by locals), has winding paths to stroll along and plenty of places to sit. Although you’ll still be inside a major metropolis, the native rainforest plants, trees, monkeys and birds make you feel otherwise. After all, there’s no better remedy for a stress headache brought on by watching too many PowerPoint presentations than fresh air.
Pro Tip: This exquisite and world-renowned green space is just a quick walk away from most of the major business hubs downtown, or a short jaunt on public transport if you’re outside the city center.
The Chinatown District
No trip to Kuala Lumpur, whether for business or pleasure, is complete without a trip to Chinatown. Take advantage of any free lunch hour you have and explore this district on foot, although it’s perhaps even better to stroll through in the evening when the city lights and Chinese lanterns usher in the vibrant nightlife of the area. The preferred activities here are to people watch, and to eat—ideally at the same time. In fact, this street is so packed with food that you can even wave down a mobile food stall—transported around by motorcycle—and order a plate of salted roast duck or select something healthier, like jackfruit stacked neatly in the motorcycle’s sidecar. Furthermore, Chinatown’s vast outdoor market (which keeps running once the sun goes down) is a great place to shop for souvenirs. From jewelry to t-shirts to knick-knacks and purses, you’ll find rock bottom prices here, as well as the perfect environment to test out your haggling skills.
And if you’re looking for a quiet spot to regroup once you’re finished sampling the cuisine, stop into The Sri Mahamariamman Temple. This Hindu temple was built in 1873, and will transport you to a different era.
When traveling for work, it’s not uncommon to become fatigued by the back-to-back flights, the stale hotels, and the uninspiring strip malls and urban sprawl, but traveling to Kuala Lumpur is different. From the moment you arrive into the city center from Kuala Lumpur’s massive international airport to long after you leave you won’t be able to forget the lively(vibrant) energy, the eclectic streets and the air smells of spices, fruits and grilled meat.
Paige Towers is a writer living in Milwaukee with her husband and a pack of rescue dogs. Her writing has appeared in The Harvard Review, The Baltimore Review, McSweeney’s, Midwestern Gothic, Prime Number, and many other publications. You can read more of her work on www.paigetowers.com.