Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

From the observation floors of KL’s own wonder of the modern world, the Petronas Twin Towers, you can see the city unfurl like a giant concrete map, splashed with colour by elegant mosques and Hindu temples. With more than one and a half million people living, working and playing here, it’s mainland Malaysia’s most dynamic destination and, of course, its capital. Despite its global renown as one of Asia’s high-rise commercial heavyweights, there’s a lot more going on under the smooth, executive surface. Gourmets and gluttons alike thrill at the vibrant cuisine scene – from mouth-watering street-eats to upmarket fine-dining – and hardcore boutique-browsers will revel in the wallet-draining shopping hub, the ‘Golden Triangle’.

When to go

Kuala Lumpur’s equatorial climate keeps the city warm, sunny and humid all year round, but the occasional evening storms get more intense between September and April. In summer, ‘the haze’– a dense dusty fug created by Sumatran forest fires – often comes to town and stays for one or two weeks.

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Getting there

  • Planes

    International flights touch down at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA; www.klia.com.my). The main carriers plying these routes include Malaysia Airlines (www.malaysiaairlines.com), AirAsia (www.airasia.com) and Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeair.com). It's worth noting that AirAsia flights land at a second airport, a 20-minute taxi ride from the main hub.
  • Trains

    The non-stop, high-speed KLIA Ekspres service (www.kliaekspres.com) whooshes from KLIA to KL Sentral Station. It’s zippy (faster than a taxi at any time, let alone rush hour), air-conditioned and reliable. When you leave, do it in style: check-in alongside savvy jet-setters at the Kuala Lumpur City Air Terminal (KL CAT) inside KL Sentral Station before getting on the KLIA Ekspres.
  • Automobiles

    If you prefer to catch a cab from the airport, don’t bother negotiating a fare with a random cabbie outside: buy a fixed-price taxi ticket to ensure that you arrive at your hotel without a case of haggle-induced stress.
  • Taxis

    To get around town, taxis are a cheaper option than in many capitals. Insist on paying for a metered fare, or negotiate a price before getting in. Although you should be able to hail a taxi easily, keep an eye out for taxi ranks, usually in front of shopping malls.

Malay magic

Malay magic

Start in spick-and-span Singapore, a city known as much for its designer shops and scintillating street food as its superlative airport (yes, Changi really does have a rooftop pool, giant slide and butterfly garden). Hop across the Straits to Malacca, a little gem of shaded alleys, Portuguese ruins and inspired Nonya cuisine. The Petronas Towers dominate Kuala Lumpur (or KL as it’s affectionately known), a pulsing but laid-back metropolis with a pleasing café culture and serious shopping habit. Stock up on tea stops and cool air in the undulating Cameron Highlands, lose yourself in foodie-heaven Penang or relax in sultry Sabah, where you can climb majestic mountains, dive Sipadan’s turtle-rich waters or play with orang-utans.

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Singaporean boltholes

Singaporean boltholes

Tucked away in an upscale corner of Kuala Lumpur, Villa Samadhi’s Thai-styled rooms are set around an inviting lagoon-shaped pool; ladders from ground-floor terraces allow guests to swim out from their rooms.

Tiny Tioman Island can only be reached by boat. Perched over the South China Sea, Japamala Resort’s luxury tree houses and cliff-clinging chalets are the ultimate back-to-nature retreat, with courtyard Jacuzzis, secluded sun decks and overwater day-beds.

Set on a peaceful lagoon, romantic Gayana Eco Resort in Sabah even has its own marine research centre. It’s just the place for overwater plunge-pool petal-strewn baths à deux, if you’re into that sort of thing. And, let’s face it, who isn’t?

Weird and whimsical, Wanderlust is a vivid dreamscape of a boutique hotel set in the heart of Singapore’s Little India. No two rooms are the same – expect 29 flights of fancy inspired by pop art, origami and childhood fantasies.

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Malaysia exploration

Malaysia exploration

Shopping is Singapore’s national pastime; savvy visitors avoid the glitz and glamour of Orchard Road in favour of its quirkier designer boutiques. Tucked in a Chinatown nook, World Savage stocks repurposed vintage togs and hand-made jewellery; Haji Lane is home to a string of fashion-forward boutiques and scandi-furniture store cum bespoke cocktail den Bar Stories. When you’ve had your fill of plastic-flashing, turn to the spiritual at intriguing Tamil festivals; in KL’s Batu Caves, Thaipusam is a colourful display of faith, endurance and penance. Singapore’s verdant new ‘supertrees’ dominate the skyline at Gardens by the Bay, but for the real thing head to Sepilok’s pocket of rainforest, home to an orang-utan sanctuary and rehabilitation centre.

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Singaporean suppers

Singaporean suppers

Pure pleasure, tingling tastebuds, sheer happiness – if you’re after one word to describe the state of bliss following a good meal, just say shiok. Locals can spend hours arguing over the best chicken rice or nasi lemak; from curry-laced Ramly burgers to the crispiest of wafer-thin dosas at Sri Vijaya (+65 6336 1748), the heart of gastronomy is in food centres and hawker stalls. That’s not to say fine dining is off the menu: Joël Robuchon, Mario Batali and Daniel Boulud all have Singapore outlets. Ladies who lunch flock to the Regent’s groaning high-tea buffet, in-the-know expats bunk off early for Morton’s free happy-hour steak sandwiches, but for the real taste of Malaysia, pull up a plastic chair at a roadside stall and tuck into smelly, buttery, custardy durian.

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Villa Samadhi

Villa Samadhi

Taking its name from the Sanskrit word for journey, Villa Samadhi boutique hotel offers a luxurious departure from the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur. Located in the Malaysian capital's leafy embassy district, this Thai-styled temptress will seduce with lantern-lit paths, a curvaceous central pool and ultra-private rooms.

Find out more about Villa Samadhi