Like much of Southeast Asia, Malaysia is a very inexpensive country for travelers. The capital city of Kuala Lumpur is a hub for most people visiting the country. You can stay in a guesthouse for under $10 USD per night and eat for even less. Tourist attractions can range in price, but are generally less than $20 USD. Kuala Lumpur has a major airport, so it’s a great place to spend a long layover or check out the Formula One races that are popular here. It’s also a great city for shopping, so use it as a chance to stock up on any clothing or items you might need.
It’s difficult to find much green space in such a large city, but thankfully there are a few public parks for visitors to enjoy. Lake Gardens is over 200 acres inside the city, with walking paths, free guided tours and bikes for rent. Inside the park are the National Monument and parks devoted to birds and butterflies. Another well known outdoor attraction is the Batu Caves, which are more than just the caves themselves. You can go on guided tours of the caves and rock climb them, as well as see the well-known cavern and Hindu temple.
Most of Kuala Lumpur’s top attractions are not free, but there are a few you can explore without spending a single ringgit. Central Market (Pasar Seni) is a market from 1888 housed in a 1937 structure full of local craft vendors and restaurants. Nearby Chinatown, on Petaling Street, is a great place to walk around and shop for discounted clothing and goods, as well as find delicious eats.
The Royal Selangor Visitor Centre is another attraction where you can learn about the city’s pewter empire and how it is made. Tour the factory for free or check out the School of Hard Knocks workshop for 120 ringgit.
The Kuala Lumpur City Gallery has the famous ‘I Heart KL” statue to take pictures with as well as a model of the cityscape. The temples of the Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim faiths also offer a unique experience for visitors. The Guandi Temple, the Sri Mahamariamman Temple and Masjid Jamek are good examples, all free to visit.
While I didn’t stay in my usual hostels in Kuala Lumpur since I was on a press trip, I’ve heard good things about a number of budget accommodations near Chinatown. Reggae Mansion is a well-known party hostel with chic rooms and a rowdy rooftop bar while Back Home is more laid back but with equally impressive features.
If you’re on a budget but don’t want a shared bathroom, Kuala Lumpur is home to the Tune Hotels chain, founded by the AirAsia group, and now with locations around the region. I stayed in their Melbourne property and found it to be a good value, as you can add on features to your stay at an additional cost like premium television channels and WiFi. There’s the Tune Hotel Kuala Lumpur and another Tune Hotel at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
The city’s most famous landmark, the Petronas Towers, is no longer free to visit, but is well worth a trip up the elevators for a sweeping view of the city. The ticket cost of 80 ringgit ($23 USD) includes access to the Skybridge and Observation Deck, but you should purchase them as far in advance as possible. For a slightly lower price tag, you can head to the top of KL Tower, which will cost you 49 ringgit ($14 USD).
For cultural experiences, visit the highly recommended Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia for galleries on Islamic architecture, the Qu’ran and art from all over the world. The National Museum of Malaysia has the low admission cost of 5 ringgit ($1.50 USD) and offers free guided tours of the facility, which features the history of the country.
For an easy way to see the city’s top sights, check out the KL Hop On Hop Off City tour, which visits the Petronas Towers, Central Market, the National Museum and many other attractions for only 45 ringgit ($13 USD), good for 24 hours. You can also check out the KL Food Experience tour, which introduces you to Malay cuisine.
Eating and Drinking
Food is as cheap in Kuala Lumpur as you’ll find in most parts of Asia, especially street food from stalls in Little India and Chinatown. We mostly ate at sit-down restaurants, including Songket Restaurant and Ginger Restaurant, pictured above, but you can experience Chinese, Thai, Indian and, of course, Malaysian cuisine in Kuala Lumpur.
I was warned in advance how expensive alcohol is in this predominantly Muslim country. And it’s not so much that it’s expensive, especially as I used to live in Australia, but it is compared to the rest of Southeast Asia where you can get a beer for 30 cents. There are plenty of swanky rooftop bars, but be prepared for dress codes or bottle service requirements. SkyBar at the Traders Hotel and Heli, a former helipad, in Kuala Lumpur both have great views of the Petronas Towers.
Kuala Lumpur has a well organized transit system, with trains running from Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) directly into the city’s KL Sentral station. There’s also the Go-KL bus, which runs in a loop around the central tourist district and is free to ride.
Do you have any other tips for free and cheap things to do in Kuala Lumpur?
My stay in Kuala Lumpur was hosted by Tourism Malaysia.