When we moved to Thailand in April 2018 we had a list of places in southeast Asia we wanted to visit. Somehow Malaysia was not on our radar, but we now realize that it should have been. A few months into teaching English we were told that we would need to go to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in order to complete paperwork for our Thai Visa (go figure). We immediately started looking into things to do and see in Kuala Lumpur, but knew from the beginning that we weren’t looking to spend a lot of money. Kuala Lumpur honestly surprised us and we feel so fortunate to have been given an excuse to visit. We spent a total of three full days in KL and have compiled a list of seven free (or almost free) things to do in Kuala Lumpur. We have included a mix of sightseeing, experiences unique to KL, and Malaysian cultural experiences and highly recommend everything on this list!
- KL Forest Eco Park
Kuala Lumpur is a metropolitan city filled with high rise buildings and shopping malls. However, in the midst of the metropolis there a few hidden gems that allow you to escape the city and find yourself surrounded by nature. The KL Forest Eco Park is one of these gems. The Eco Park is actually one of the oldest permanent forest reserves in Malaysia and it’s located smack dab in the middle of Malaysia’s capital city.
Our favorite part of the KL Forest Eco Park was the canopy walkway. Starting at the bottom of the hill, we climbed up a tight staircase to the first observation deck. From here, we continued over a series of wooden canopy bridges spanning from one observation deck to another. Throughout the walk we had glimpses of the city surrounding the park. Once we reached the top of the hill we were greeted by a family of wild silver leaf monkeys, which we happily sat and watched for a while.
The park also contains the KL Tower, a communications tower complete with an observation deck and revolving restaurant at the top. We chose not to pay the entrance fee to go up to the top of the tower, but admired it from below.
2. Batu Caves
While researching things to see in Kuala Lumpur, the Batu Caves were consistently came up on the “must see” lists. The caves are located in a limestone hill approximately six miles north of Kuala Lumpur. We took the train from our hotel to the Batu Caves (public transportation in KL is very advanced and easy to use). After hopping off the train, it was a quick walk to the entrance of the cave which is marked by an iconic gold statue of Lord Murugan (a Hindu deity).
After climbing the steep staircase behind the statue, we reached the mouth of the cave. Word to the wise – you will pass A LOT of monkeys on the staircase to the caves and they are not afraid to reach out and grab anything you set down. We saw them run away with people’s water bottles and snacks.
At the time of our visit there was a lot of construction going on inside of the cave and upon entering we were asked to help carry material to the back of the cave. Visitors grabbed bricks, and shoveled loose gravel into buckets and carried them up another staircase to the back of the cave where maintenance was taking place. It was truly remarkable to see the amount of material that can be moved just by asking that each person carry a single load.
The Batu Caves complex consists of three main caves filled with colorful Hindu shrines that are contrasted against the natural cave walls. The caves were larger and more open than I expected and there was an interesting mix of old and new as much of the infrastructure was being renovated.
I certainly see why the Batu Caves are on every Kuala Lumpur travel list and I agree that a visit to this charming city wouldn’t be complete without a walk through the Batu Caves complex.
3. Tea Tasting in Chinatown
This likely isn’t something that you will find in other travel blogs as a “must-do” in KL, but if you are a fellow lover of tea there are several wonderful locations in which to go tea tasting in KL’s Chinatown. KL’s Chinatown is a hip, bustling neighborhood that is definitely worth spending some time in (see #7 below for more things to see in Chinatown). We knew we wanted to do a tea tasting while in KL and were particularly looking to taste Pu’er tea. We ended up wandering into Taetea Garden, a small tea shop located in the middle of KL’s Chinatown, and ended up having a wonderful tea tasting that included a variety of Pu’er and Oolong teas. The man who conducted the tasting was very knowledgeable about tea and gave us lots of insight as to proper brewing techniques, aging of tea, and how to describe the complex flavors that we were tasting. We were so intrigued by the information during the tasting we forgot to take any pictures but we recommend looking up this tea shop if you find yourself in KL’s Chinatown!
After the tasting, we bought a small green Pu’er tea cake and a bottom dispensing teapot for loose leaf tea which was by far our favorite souvenir we brought home from Malaysia.
4. Perdana Botanical Garden
The Perdana Botanical Garden is a 200+ acre park located in the city center of Kuala Lumpur. The park itself includes a combination of free and priced attractions. Without paying a single entrance fee you can walk through miles of walking trails, experience beautiful diverse botanical gardens, and observe the smallest hoofed animal in the world (the mousedeer) at the KL Deer Park. Attractions with admission fees include a free-flight aviary (KL Bird Park) and the largest butterfly garden in the world (KL Butterfly Park). We spent a couple of hours walking through the park, while hitting as many of the botanical gardens as we could. We opted not to pay for the Bird Park or Butterfly Park, but we have heard wonderful things about both of them. The Perdana Botanical Garden is a great escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and is a lovely way to spend an afternoon in KL.
5. Historic walking tour
The KL Heritage Trail is a loop that takes you past eleven historical sites in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. There are several ways to do the tour:
- Pay for an organized tour (of which there are many listed on TripAdvisor)
- Join the free guided walks offered on Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays at 9:00 am (see map below for more information)
- Use the map below and the GPS on your phone and complete the loop on your own (we chose this option as the free guided walk times didn’t fit with our other plans)
We completed the loop in about 45 minutes, but we definitely could have taken more time to look around at each location. The architecture of the buildings along this walking loop was like nothing else we saw in KL. I highly recommend this walking loop as a way of seeing the “old KL”.
6. Petronas towers light show
The Petronas towers themselves are a sight to see, and are hard to miss when driving around Kuala Lumpur as they are the tallest buildings in the city. Behind the towers there is a large pond where a water/lights show takes place every night of the week on the hour from 8:00 pm to 11:00 pm and lasts for about 10 minutes. We read about the show on TripAdvisor and went to check it out without any real expectations but were pleasantly surprised by how elaborate and entertaining it was! The water and lights are choreographed to classical music and it was beautifully done.
This also gives you a good opportunity to snap a photo of the Petronas towers lit up against the night sky.
7. Pedalling Market
This well-known market is located in Chinatown and has hundreds of small stalls in a walking only section of town. The market mostly consists of row after row of stalls selling knock-offs of any clothing or accessory item you can imagine.
However, there is also a wide variety of food and the market itself is worth walking through, if only to snack on some Malaysian desserts and people watch.
See below for a couple more things we did in Kuala Lumpur that we particularly enjoyed but that do cost some money.
- Ear Candling
I had never heard of ear candling before visiting Malaysia, but once we arrived we saw advertisements for it everywhere! For those who aren’t familiar with it, ear candling is the process of placing a hollow candle into your ear, lighting the end of the candle, and letting it burn for about 10 minutes or so. Advocates of ear candling claim that it can not only remove earwax from your ear but also can cure people of ringing in their ears, among other ailments.
- Foot Reflexology
You can find foot reflexology places on every corner in KL. We wandered into one after a full day of walking and enjoyed a 30-minute foot reflexology massage. Foot reflexology massages are more than your typical foot massage as the practitioner uses knowledge of pressure points to provide a therapeutic massage. We were both very happy with our reflexology massages and recommend the experience for anyone visiting Malaysia.