Historically overlooked by popular Southeast Asia hotspots like Bangkok and Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur, or simply KL, is certainly a city on the rise.
In this eclectic city, the best parts of Malay, Chinese, and Indian culture come together to create a truly one-of-a-kind destination.
In one day, you can visit Malaysia's serene National Mosque, historic Sri Mahamariamman Hindu temple, and the impressive six-tiered Buddhist/Taoist/Confucian Thean Hou Temple. And when you're ready to break for lunch, rest assured that the city's many influences have made KL one of the best food cities in Asia.
Whether you're an architecture nerd, a history buff, or a dedicated foodie, read on to find out why Malaysia's capital city deserves a spot on your budget travel bucket list.
Kuala Lumpur on a budget: Know before you go
It gets (and stays) HOT
With average temperatures in the 90s for most of the year, it will almost certainly be hot on your trip. Dress for the weather and remember to hydrate.
Dress for the occasion
Malaysia is generally a conservative country and while you won't be expected to fully cover up, you still should dress appropriately, especially when visiting any religious sites.
Don't sweat the language barrier
English is pretty widely spoken in Kuala Lumpur. At the same time, it definitely couldn't hurt you to learn a few Bahasa phrases.
Free and cheap things to do in Kuala Lumpur
Snap a shot of the famous Petronas Towers
It’s hard not to be mesmerized by Kuala Lumpur’s towering Petronas Towers, the iconic skyscrapers that have made Kuala Lumpur’s skyline one of the most unique in all of Southeast Asia.
The Petronas towers are free to go see (80 RM to go up), conveniently located, and even more incredible in person. They’re also a sort of 3-for-1 attraction, as the towers share their location with the beautiful KLCC Park and luxurious Suria KLCC Shopping Mall.
Escape the city in KLCC Park
A healthy serving of greenery amongst the towering Petronas Towers and the bustling city surrounding it, KLCC Park is an impressive urban park with shaded footpaths, comfortable seating areas, and the massive man-made Lake Symphony. At night the lake's fountains come alive to dance for the nightly light and music show.
Shop for local goods at Central Market
Central Market, also known locally as Pasar Seni, originally began as a wet market way back in 1888. Today, it’s one of KL’s best places to sharpen your haggling skills while you shop for local handicrafts, budget-friendly souvenirs, and everything in between. Once you’ve shopped until you nearly drop, refuel at one of the many food stalls or cool off with a fresh juice.
Climb the rainbow steps to Batu Caves
Situated in a limestone mountain just a short drive from the city center, Batu Caves is one of Kuala Lumpur’s most awe-inspiring attractions.
Batu Caves is a collection of caves filled with Hindu temples and shrines. To access the main cave, which is ‘guarded’ by a mammoth golden statue of the Hindu deity Murugan, visitors must first ascend 272 vibrant rainbow-colored steps. Just watch out for those cheeky monkeys on the way up!
Where to stay on a budget in Kuala Lumpur
The Kuala Lumpur Journal Hotel
Centrally located in popular Bukit Bintang, The Kulala Lumpur Journal is a chic, Instagram-worthy boutique hotel that is beautifully designed from the lobby to the rooftop. After a long day of exploring Kuala Lumpur, unwind with a fresh coconut or a cold beer at The Swimming Club, the hotel’s rooftop infinity pool and bar.
The Bed KLCC
The Bed KLCC is one of Kuala Lumpur’s most elegant places to stay on a budget. The pod-style bunk beds, available in mixed-gender or female-only options, provide privacy and comfort that’s often missing from similar accommodations. Downstairs, the inviting lounge space is perfect for meeting fellow budget travelers or, for the digital nomads, getting some work done.
Gold3 Boutique Hotel
Smack in the center of backpacker hotspot Bukit Bintang, Gold3 Boutique Hotel is a stylish yet affordable stay in Kuala Lumpur. The hotel, thoughtfully decorated in a charming camera theme, offers clean and comfortable rooms that start as low as $25 per night, depending on the season. Gold3 is just a 2-minute walk to the swanky Pavilion Shopping Mall and about a 7-minute walk to the famous Jalan Alor Night Market.
Cheap flights to Kuala Lumpur
Recently, Dollar Flight Club members have saved between 70-90% on cheap flights to Kuala Lumpur. On average, our members spent $469 on their tickets to KL and saved over $510 per ticket. Here are a few samples of cheap flight deals that Dollar Flight Club members have received recently.
Los Angeles (LAX) to Kuala Lumpur (KUL)
Price with Dollar Flight Club: $489
Average Price: $1,110
Chicago (ORD) to Kuala Lumpur (KUL)
Price with Dollar Flight Club: $530
Average Price: $965
JFK (LAX) to Kuala Lumpur (KUL)
Price with Dollar Flight Club: $425
Average Price: $1,015
Best cheap eats in Kuala Lumpur
Jalan Alor night market
Arguably Kuala Lumpur’s most popular place for cheap eats, you can find everything from Indian to Chinese to Malay favorites at Jalan Alor.
A popular spot at the far end of the street is Chinese restaurant Wong Ah Wah, where the late Anthony Bourdain once ate on an episode of 'Parts Unkown'. Try the black pepper crab, char kway teow (a stir-fried rice noodle dish), or their famous BBQ chicken wings.
Banana leaf restaurants
Kuala Lumpur is a great place to try Banana Leaf, a popular South Indian dish of various rice, curries, and vegetables, served on a banana leaf and eaten with your hands (you can usually ask for utensils). Popular Banana Leaf spots in Kuala Lumpur are Sri Nirwana Maju Restaurant or Bala's Banana Leaf in the trendy Bangsar and Vishal Food and Catering out in Brickfields, home of KL’s Little India area.
Nasi Lemak, Malaysia’s national dish, consists of fragrant rice (thanks to the local pandan leaf) cooked in coconut milk and served with cucumber, fried anchovies, peanuts, a boiled egg, and a generous spoonful of sambal, a spicy, sweet chili paste. Common side dishes include beef rendang (an aromatic curry dish) and fried chicken.
While it’s a little bit out of the way, Village Park is the place to go if you want to try what locals say is the best nasi lemak in Kuala Lumpur.
Start planning your trip to Kuala Lumpur
No longer content to be passed up in favor of neighboring cities, Kuala Lumpur is definitely worth a visit, especially for budget travelers.
So when you're ready to see what this cultural melting pot is all about, be sure to save this budget travel guide, sign up to receive cheap flight deals, and start planning your trip to KL today!
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BY: ZACH ANDERSON, CONTENT MARKETING & FLIGHT EXPERT
Zach is a digital marketer, copywriter, and flight deal expert at Dollar Flight Club where he helps 1 million people travel more. As a digital nomad, he is deeply passionate about location independence, Thai food, and helping others see the world affordably.