Kuala Lumpur on a Budget: Free/low Cost Things to Do
Travelling doesn’t have to cost the Earth. While travel is becoming more and more accessible in this day and age, costs can quickly add up, even in typically affordable south east Asian countries.
Malaysia’s modern and multicultural capital Kuala Lumpur, or KL, Is a well-worn hot spot for travellers of all ages. With a diverse cultural mix, well-known landmarks, numerous festivals throughout the year, and opportunities to awaken your taste buds around every corner, I’m here to tell you that you can still experience it all without your pocket needing to take a hit.
All of the below are free of charge unless otherwise stated, although getting there may involve a cost. KL has a fairly comprehensive public transport system, but also ensure that you have downloaded Grab, the app of choice for ride sharing in SE Asia, before you arrive. But as Janet Jackson sang, “the best things in life are free”!
1. Follow the self-guided walking tour routes
Several heritage walking routes have been created as part of the River of Life project and take you past some of the major landmarks around the Klang River. Browse through the market along Madras Lane in China Town, take in the impressive architecture around Merdeka Square, and escape the heat in the beautifully curated Textile Museum (yes, free entry). Routes are clearly marked and regular signs explain the significance of each landmark.
2. Get a cultural fix at Masjid Jamek
Malaysia is a Muslim country with around 60% of the population following the religion. One of the most beautiful mosques in the city is the blue and white Masjid Jamek, perched on the convergence of the Klang and Gombak rivers where the settlement of KL began. Volunteers are on hand to welcome visitors – all are very proud of their religion and provide insightful answers to any questions you have. Conservative dress is required but robes are provided free of charge if you’re not appropriately covered.
3. Catch the evening sound and light show at KLCC
Can one really say they’ve been to KL if they haven’t been to the famed Petronas Twin Towers? While you’ll likely visit in the day time, make sure you also visit at night to see them beautifully lit. KLCC Park directly behind is the best spot to gaze up at the 452m tall structures. The lake and it’s fountains illuminate in-sync to a soundtrack each night at 8pm, 9pm, and 10pm making KLCC a memorable way to spend a balmy warm night.
4. Browse through the Galeri Petronas
While you wait for day to turn to night, head inside the Twin Towers to escape the heat. The shopping mall itself is a prime spot for some window shopping if the budget doesn’t allow for actual spending, but to escape the often overwhelming crowds, head up to the third floor. Galeri Petronas features modern exhibits and is the perfect way to dose up on some culture without the heat.
5. Climb up to Batu Caves
The stairs to these famous Buddhist caves had a make-over in 2018 and now grace all aspiring Instagram travel influencer accounts. They certainly are impressive and worth the trip north of the city. Make sure knees are covered, otherwise you’ll be charged to hire a scarf to cover yourself. The main cave is free to enter, but also worth the visit is Ramayana cave right near the train station. For 5 ringgit you enter into a far less visited labyrinth full of sculptures depicting the story of Prince Rama rescuing his wife Sita using an army of monkeys. Batu Caves is served by the KTM Kommuter with trains running roughly every 40 minutes (RM2.60).
6. Dose up on some greenery
KL Forest Eco Park is one of several green spaces close to the city centre. As the oldest protected jungle in Malaysia, be prepared to come across Macaque monkeys as you walk the short trails up and down the hill. The Canopy Walkway is a must-do with glimpses across the city as well as into various levels of the jungle canopy. Elsewhere, west of Merdeka Square you can find the Perdana Botanical Gardens, 92 hectares of local and introduced plants and flowers. A deer pen and bamboo tree house also feature with the lake the perfect backdrop to dropping everything and reading for an hour or three.
7. Escape the hustle of the city
Kampong Baru has been a pastoral community since 1900 and has remained a traditional village in the midst of the ever-evolving metropolis since. Located north of the city centre, one quickly steps back in time as they wander down the small streets and through the markets (come one evening with an empty stomach and prepare to go home stuffed to the brim). Take note of the traditional houses, but be respectful as these are people’s homes.
8. Eat your fill along Jalan Alor
Sorry, no freebies here, but certainly the place to come for another low-cost dinner. Think a whole road of stalls and no-frill restaurants open from 5pm onwards every evening offering a Malay, Chinese and Thai food. Find a place you like, pull up a plastic stool, soak up the lively atmosphere, and tuck into some good food.
9. Swim and relax with a view
While many will head up to the 86th floor of the Petronas Towers for views over the city, it certainly isn’t cheap and you miss seeing the major feature of KL’s skyline. Instead, play it smart and book yourself accommodation with a skyline view so you kill two birds with one stone. You might be surprised to find that this doesn’t cost the Earth. There are numerous listings on AirBnb for Regalia Residences, a condo building that features a rooftop infinity pool, that start for as little as 50 ringgit a night.
10. Detour via Putrajaya
While KLIA might be rated by Skytrax as in world’s top 50 airports for 2018, it’s location means that it isn’t the cheapest to get to from the city centre. One option if your flight is later in the day is to go via Putrajaya, the administrative capital of Malaysia. Catch the E1 bus from Lebuh Pudu near China Town for a direct 30 minute drive to Putrajaya (RM4).
Once there, make sure you visit the stunning pink Putra Mosque which proudly looks over Putrajaya Lake. The Botanical Gardens are also sprawling and worth a wander. When you’re ready, catch the KLIA express the rest of the way for RM9.40- a far cry cheaper than the 55 ringgit it costs for the full journey!
By Catherine MacLean @thewanderlustingexpat.
If you have any tips for visiting KL or any recommendations for other free/low cost activities leave feedback in the comments section below. Or if you would like to visit this incredible city view our trips to Malaysia.