Are you planning a trip to Kuala Lumpur? Here are seven hidden gems in KL that you won't find on Google or TripAdvisor. Read on for more.
Every good trip begins by finding a hub and branching off the beaten path. Like Japan’s Harajuku Station, a world-famous hub of a neighborhood culture so famous it made it into a Gwen Stefani album, where careful looking will unearth the best elements of Japanese cotton candy crazy.
Kuala Lumpur is like that. It’s a huge, bustling metropolitan city, but the true crown jewels are removed from the bustle and noise of tourists. You know, those areas TripAdvisor hasn’t ruined yet.
Here’s a look at seven of the best hidden gems in KL, with a little something for every kind of traveler.
1. Kwai Chai Hong
For truly remarkable hidden gems in Kuala Lumpur, your first stop has to be Kwai Chai Hong.
It’s a stunning heritage lane that takes you on a journey back in time to 1960s KL Chinatown (no, not Chinatown like the Jack Nicholson movie, even though the literal translation “little ghost lane” sounds perfect for a film noir). The neighborhood itself is more colorful and bustling than its glamorous neighbors, and Kwai Chai Hong is an Insta-worthy trip down memory lane.
In fact, taking pictures is one of the foremost activities in the area. Sorry in advance for your tired arms!
Once you lower the camera lens, you’ll find an enticing mix of trendy bars and childhood treats–stop by Pandan Republic for a variety of delectable traditional desserts like the Peanut Bunny, a morsel of kuih served on a banana leaf.
2. Rumah Penghulu
You might be surprised to find a wooden stilt house right in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. Trust us–this is one of the most historic places to visit in Kuala Lumpur. In fact, Rumah Penghulu is one of the oldest surviving traditional Malay houses.
Built between 1910 and 1930, it was owned by the local headman of Mukim Bagan Samak, Bandar Baharu, Kedah. The house itself was actually originally located in Kampung Sungai Kechil, a small village in Mukim Bagan Samak. The good news for travelers is that it’s no longer on the list of Kuala Lumpur excursions–the house was moved to the heart of Kuala Lumpur in the 1990s by the Heritage of Malaysia Trust and is maintained today as a stunning example of Malay architecture.
We know the name probably calls to mind a brick factory rather than Bollywood, but that’s just what you’ll hear when you visit the Brickfields: infectious Bollywood beats. Dance numbers aside, you’ll quickly see why the locals refer to this spot as Little India.
This is the home of the country’s vibrant Indian community, and you’ll quickly be swept in by the swirl of activity. It’s easy to spot–look for the flower garlands and telltale arches. Oh, and the Bollywood music, of course.
For a taste of history, drop by Sri Kandaswamy Kovil, an elegant Saivite-style temple that’s been around for the last 100 years or so. After that, get a literal taste of a different kind of history by visiting Brickfields’ Pisang Goreng, the oldest fried banana fritters stall in the Brickfields.
4. Zhongshan Building
You know the old adage don’t judge a book by its cover? You might not think much of the Zhongshan Building when you see it on the street, but it’s actually a seriously cool arts hub.
The Zhongshan Building is home to a thriving artist collective, and inside its humble four-stories, you’ll find a treasure trove of indie bookstores, quirky artisanal stores, and cozy cafes to pour over your purchases (and sip coffee, of course). Like any true arts hub, this place has everything. Seriously, everything. Where else can you find law, artisanal sourdough, and punk records under the same roof?
For traditional Malay goods, we recommend a visit to Naiise, which offers a host of artisanal goods with old-school Malaysian design. Music junkies should drop by Tadang Records Store, which carries rare 12″ and 7″ vinyls (new and used) plus a collection of cassette tapes, CDs, and band t-shirts that may or may not be older than you.
5. KL Eco Forest Park
Who says you need day trips in Kuala Lumpur to appreciate nature? This concrete jungle was once an actual jungle, and KL Eco Forest is a hidden gem in KL that reminds visitors of the city’s humble, wild beginnings.
The forest is one of the oldest forest reserves in the whole country. Better still, there’s a breathtaking 200m walk, the better to enjoy the meticulously preserved jungle canopy. For those who prefer to get their boots on the ground, there are abundant hiking trails too.
For an Instagram photo (hey, we get it, your priorities are in order) take a canopy walk between 7 and 9 a.m. on a weekday. Stroll to one of the high towers and photograph your little heart out.
6. Astaka Morocco
You probably didn’t picture a Moroccan pavilion as one of the hidden gems in KL, did you? Malaysia actually has a deeply ingrained Muslim culture, so much so that Muslims and Malays are often interchangeable (or, in many cases, the same thing). Astaka Morocco is a physical manifestation of Malaysia’s rich Muslim culture and strong ties to the Middle East.
Astaka Morocco is tucked inside the Putrajaya Botanical Garden, perched beside a lake and surrounded by lush gardens. It was designed with materials imported from Morocco and crafted by Moroccan craftsmen in the style of Morocco’s oldest imperial cities–think colorful mosaics, arabesques, swirling Arabic calligraphy, and geometrical patterns, rounded off by a hint of cedarwood on the breeze.
7. Orchid & Hibiscus Garden
For a directly botanical experience, hop on over to the Perdana Botanical Garden and visit the Orchid Garden and Hibiscus Garden. The Orchid Garden is home to 120 genera species of orchids and 5,000 hybrids, while the Hibiscus Garden shows off lush, richly scented variations of the Bunga Raya (Hibiscus Rosa Sinensis), Malaysia’s national flower.
Oh, and if you want to take a scent of Malaysia home with you, you can purchase your own orchids from the garden. It’s the most unique souvenir you’ll acquire in Malaysia.
Ready for More Hidden Gems in KL and Beyond?
We like to think of these hidden gems in KL as the unsung crown jewels of the city. All the best travel experiences are like that–experiences treasured by locals that you can’t find anywhere else in the world.
If you love to travel that way, make sure to check out our blog for more awesome posts delivering a one-of-a-kind travel experience, like this list of the 20 most beautiful beaches in the world.