Twenty reasons to visit Kuala Lumpur

From shopping and cooking to markets and mosques, this is the best Kuala Lumpur has to offer.

1 Cheap flight connections

Air Asia's new flights from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur - with promotional return fares available for less than $600 - make KL the logical connection point for flights across south-east Asia. Connecting fares to places such as Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand are absurdly cheap. But, if you're passing through, you may as well get out of the airport for a couple of days and make a point of exploring one of Asia's more agreeable big cities.

2 Petronas Towers

The world's tallest twin towers manage to pull off the trick of being superb pieces of architecture rather than just attaining height for height's sake. They're best looked upon from the splendid KLCC Park below, but get a clear day and it's worth shelling out to take the trip up to the top. The 41st-floor Skybridge between the two towers isn't all that gripping, but the observation deck right at the top has a true jaw-drop factor.

3 Traders

The Traders Hotel sits bang opposite the Petronas Towers and thus many of its swish rooms are blessed with tremendous views. What really gives this business hotel its hip swagger, however, is the fabulous Skybar on Level 33. The booths with views at the top of the building are spread around the hotel's swimming pool - don't jump in after too many cocktails, it'll not be appreciated - the DJs start early and its place as Kuala Lumpur's most spectacular party joint is unchallenged.

4 Menara KL

It doesn't look as grand as the Petronas Towers, but the 421-metre-tall Menara KL has the benefit of being on top of a hill. This means the views from the observation deck are arguably better. The experience certainly is - the windows stretch around 360 degrees and the audio guides do an excellent job of explaining what's what. It's in the middle of the Bukit Nanas Reserve - a wildlife-crammed chunk of tamed jungle in the heart of the city. Monkey spotters should be happy.

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5 Urban wildlife

It's not just Bukit Nanas where wildlife holds sway. The KL Deer Park in the Lake Gardens has various species of deer ambling around, while the Bird Park and Butterfly Park are nearby. The latter is more peaceful, with thousands of butterflies flitting around the landscaped gardens - but the Bird Park is more impressive. More than 200 species fly around within the gigantic netted complex, while bird shows, eagle feeding and the perennially popular ostriches are big draws.

6 Islamic Arts Museum

Just down the hill from the Bird Park is Kuala Lumpur's best museum. The woodwork, textiles and jewellery sourced from across the Islamic world are beautiful, but the real reason to visit is the fantastic Islamic architecture section. This features 3D scale models of some of the world's most important Islamic buildings. Many of these - such as the al-Haram mosque in Mecca and the Prophet's Mosque in Medina - cannot be seen by non-Muslims in real life.

7 Mosques you can visit

Malaysia's mosques are less restrictive on entry, and as long as you're appropriately dressed and not turning up during prayer time, you'll be allowed into the Masjid Negara (National Mosque). It's huge, with an umbrella-style roof and a 74-metre minaret. The vast open space of the prayer hall, ringed by stained-glass windows, is robustly impressive. The intricately Mughal-style Masjid Jamek is also open to non-Muslim visitors.

8 Merdeka Square

Masjid Jamek is a colonial-era throwback in keeping with the grand public square that it's next to. The grass in the middle used to be a cricket pitch, while the buildings around it are gloriously mismatched and out of place. The Mughal theme is continued with the Moorish domes and arches of the Sultan Abdul Samad building. Positioned on the other side are the mock-Tudor houses of the Royal Selangor Club and St Mary's Cathedral, which looks like a church plucked straight from the English countryside.

9 Afternoon tea

Nothing will transport you back to Malaysia's colonial era better than high tea at Carcosa Seri Negara. These hilltop mansions, now a luxury hotel, may as well have pith helmets on top. The afternoon tea is straight out of a period film starring dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith - all thinly cut sandwiches and scones - but there are some Malay twists for the more adventurous. It's strongly advisable to make a booking.

10 Jalan Alor

Considerably less decorum is to be found along Kuala Lumpur's premier eat street. Jalan Alor is wall-to-wall cafe terraces and food stalls, most with plastic seats and tablecloths. It's not sophisticated, but chances are you'll get a good feed in a crackling atmosphere. Prices are slightly higher than at the numerous hawker centres around KL, but you're partly paying for the buzz. The dishes on offer generally span Asia, although the brave can try dining on frogs.

11 Learn to cook

There's a strong argument for Malaysian food being the best in the world, and there are a number of cookery classes where visitors can don aprons and learn to make classic Malay dishes under expert tuition. Cookbook author Rohani Jelani runs highly regarded day classes in her countryside home just outside the city. Themes run from village favourites or rice dishes to creating the perfect laksa.

12 The School of Hard Knocks

Royal Selangor is the biggest maker of pewter in the world and its factory is in KL's northern suburbs. The visitor centre tour is interesting enough - you can look at some of the sports trophies that have been fashioned out of this malleable alloy of tin, antimony and copper and watch the incredibly talented craftspeople at work. But the real joy comes from making your own pewter bowl at the School of Hard Knocks, using moulds and an awful lot of hammering.

13 Batik painting

A less vigorously creative outlet can be found at the Kompleks Kraf on Jalan Conlay. It's a tourist-focused craft studio and shop complex, but the workshops on the lower level allow visitors to make their own batik paintings. These traditional colourful fabrics are made using wax along the pencil lines of a drawing - either do your own or paint a pre-made design - to keep the paint from flowing into the wrong places. It's a wonderfully relaxing and rewarding way to spend an hour or two.

14 Mega Sale Carnival

If hammering the credit card is your preferred cultural pursuit, then Kuala Lumpur's many malls - of which the Suria KLCC and Pavilion are the best - should prove heavenly. Many are giant, multi-level affairs that cover everything from street fashion to high-end designer labels. Prices are a wee bit below those in Australia, but the real bargains can be found in the Mega Sale Carnival, which runs for seven weeks between mid-June and early September.

15 Berjaya Times Square

Of the shopping malls, Berjaya Times Square is perhaps the city's most bizarre. It is, as custom dictates, terrifyingly large and full of all manner of places to shop and eat. But it is also a five-star hotel. Oh, and there's a theme park inside it. Head up to the fifth level and you're met with roller coasters, chairs being spun around high on rotating arms and contraptions seemingly designed to induce motion sickness.

16 Lot 10 Hutong

A shopping mall without a food court is barely worthy of the name, but not all food courts are born equal. When the Lot 10 mall was going for a revamp, it was decided to track down some of the most popular hawker stalls from around the city - many of which have been family-owned for generations - and ask them to open up in the same place. Surrounded by industrial chic, Lot 10 Hutong's stands have stood the test of time - and the food is generally fantastic.

17 Putrajaya

Making Canberra look like a particularly buzzing part of Manhattan, Putrajaya is Malaysia's federal administrative centre. Found 25 kilometres south of Kuala Lumpur, it is a feast of egotistical architecture, with a spaceship-like convention centre, numerous palaces, landmark bridges and a pink mosque on the lakeside. Of course, it has the character of a piece of cardboard and no one wants to live there, so all the pompous grandeur sits in freaky quietness.

18 Batu Caves

The Batu Caves, carved out of a large stand-alone hill by nature throughout the years, are stunning enough on their own. But the important Hindu shrine that has been built inside them makes for a human spectacle as well as a natural wonder. Take on the 272 sweat-inducing steps up to the summit and you'll be joined by pilgrims. Some apply turmeric to their shaved heads, others give donations to priests in order to perform rituals for them. And the giant Lord Murugan statue standing by the staircase to the mouth of the cave looks down on the city.

19 Kuala Gandah

An easy day trip east of KL, Kuala Gandah is at the forefront of Malaysia's elephant protection program. It won't be to everyone's tastes - activities such as feeding, riding and swimming with the elephants skirt a little too close to circus-like at times. However, the half-hour introductory video showing how elephants are relocated to national parks should set the whole range of emotions whirring - the issues around helping them survive are complex and absorbing.

20 Pudu Wet Market

For a more atmospheric shopping experience, ditch the airconditioned malls and head out early in the morning for this taste of real blood-and-guts retail. The Pudu Wet Market marries scarcely controlled chaos with wriggling eels and river fish taking their last breaths as knives slice through them. All manner of tropical fruit is for sale, and you probably don't want to ask what's in the bucket-slopped water you're tramping through.

David Whitley was a guest of Tourism Malaysia, tourism.gov.my.

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