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How to Travel in Kuala Lumpur on a Budget | Ummi Goes Where?

Insider's Guide to Traveling in Kuala Lumpur on a Budget - Tips from a Local

If you’ve been traveling in countries like Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines for a while, you might be surprised to arrive in Kuala Lumpur for the first time and find that it’s not as cheap as the rest of Southeast Asia. It’s the second most expensive city in the region (after Singapore).

But that doesn’t mean you have to break your bank to travel here. The following are some insider’s tips on how to travel in Kuala Lumpur on a budget — from the perspective of a (cheapskate) local: 

Despite being named “Kuala Lumpur International Airport”, the airport is not actually in Kuala Lumpur. It’s located one hour away from the capital city. Fortunately, traveling between the two is very convenient and not that expensive. You have several options:

  • The fastest: KLIA Express (ERL). RM55 one way/RM100 return. Takes only 28 minutes. Check their website for latest fares and schedules.
  • The most convenient: GrabCar, which is an e-hailing app like Uber that you have to install on your phone. Around RM65 (not inclusive of toll). Pick-up and drop-off right in front of your doorstep. Can be cheap too, if you’re traveling in a group.
  • The most expensive: Taxis. The fare varies, depending on how wealthy and how gullible you look.
  • The CHEAPEST: Airport coaches. There are a few companies, charging from RM12 to RM14 one way.

I would definitely recommend using the airport coach. It is comfortable, air-conditioned, and punctual. If you have a lot of luggage, you can stow them in the luggage compartment. Otherwise, there’s enough leg room for you to comfortably take your carry-on luggage on board.

It is an express coach that will take you directly to the airport with no other stops along the way or after, so you can also take a nap in peace, without having to worry about missing your stop.

2. Get Around by Public Transports

Within the city center, it’s easy enough to walk from one place to another. However, if you’d like to avoid the midday heat, then public transports provide a cheap and comfy option.

In Kuala Lumpur, there is a range of public transports to help you get to your destinations:

  • KL Monorail
  • Light Railway Transit (LRT)
  • Mass Railway Transit (MRT)
  • KTM Komuter
  • RapidKL buses
  • GOKL buses
  • GrabCar

A ride on the LRT costs around RM1.20 to RM4.00, while the RapidKL bus is usually almost twice as cheap. Better yet, take the free GOKL bus. Yup, if you combine walking and taking the GOKL buses, you can easily explore the whole of Kuala Lumpur for free!

Free GOKL Buses
Free GOKL buses. Credit: Aliff MR / Wikimedia Commons

Use taxis only as a last resort. Try to get the driver to use the meter if you can. As a guideline, the red-and-white ones are budget taxis while the blue ones are premium taxis.

3. Skip Hotels

Hotels in Kuala Lumpur are quite inexpensive to begin with, but you can save even more if you stay in hostels. A dormitory bed can cost as low as RM12 (USD3) per night. If you have never stayed in one before, check out this article on how to survive your first time in a hostel.

accommodation in Kuala Lumpur with infinity pool
Credit: Booking.Com / Wikimedia Commons

Or, if you prefer a bit of privacy and some luxury, stay in an Airbnb instead. You can get a studio apartment (with a swimming pool) in a central location for only about RM150 per night. If you don’t have an account yet, you can register through this link here to get a special discount on your first booking.

4. Eat Where the Locals Do

Most seasoned travelers would go for street food, thinking that it’s the cheapest, most authentic dining experience one can get in an Asian country. Um…not always. Case in point: Jalan Alor Night Food Court.

Jalan Alor
Jalan Alor – a tourist trap. Credit: John Walker / Wikimedia Commons

If you’ve been doing some research on Kuala Lumpur, the name “Jalan Alor” must have popped up more than once. Its popularity is mainly due to its location, which is near to major shopping malls and hotels, and the fact that it stays open till 5 a.m.

Unfortunately, it has become more of a tourist trap now. The food isn’t exactly Malaysian, and it’s definitely not cheap. Locals don’t really go to Jalan Alor. I personally wouldn’t eat there unless I suddenly crave for seafood in the middle of the night when no other seafood restaurants are open.

Instead, go to other night markets. Every residential area usually has a night market once a week, but if you’re staying in the city center, your best bet would be the Kampung Baru Night Market. Also, check out the Friday food markets near the National Mosque and Jamek Mosque. They’re open at around lunch time for the mosque-goers.

5. Bring Your Own Water Bottle

It’s important to stay hydrated, especially in Malaysia’s hot weather. The humidity will also make you sweat a lot, so you’re going to want to replenish all that fluid. However, buying bottled mineral water every day for the entire trip can burn a hole in your pocket.

Save money and the environment at the same time by bringing your own water bottle. Tap water in Malaysia isn’t drinkable unless boiled, so most hotels/hostels/Airbnb usually provide either a kettle or a water dispenser for you to refill your bottle.

There are also many public places that provide water stations, such as the airport, temples, and museums.

6. Visit Tourist Attractions with No Entrance Fees

Kuala Lumpur can cater to travelers of all budgets — it’s up to you to make it cheap or expensive. For example, you could pay RM80 to go to the top of the Twin Towers, or you could see it from ground level and enjoy the surrounding park and fountains for free.

KLCC fountain and park
The KLCC Park and fountains. Credit: Marcin Konsek / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Personally, I think unless it’s your bucket-list goal to go to the top of those towers, you can do just fine to see them from the base.

Other than that, there are a lot of other attractions that you can visit for free such as places of worship, public parks, and historical spots. Most of the museums only charge a small fee (RM5/person).

If you like art, there’s an art gallery on the third floor of Suria KLCC that showcases local artists’ work and is free to enter.

7. Stay Sober

Unfortunately, Malaysia is not a very cheap place to drink till you drop. Being a predominantly Muslim country, it imposes heavy taxes on alcohols.

A pint of beer in the more upscale restaurants can cost up to RM30 (USD7) and the cheapest can of beer in a convenience store would cost around RM6.

So, if you want to travel in Kuala Lumpur on a budget, it is best to skip alcohol altogether… unless you’re female, in which case you can get free drinks on Ladies’ Night (usually Wednesday night) in most bars.

However, if you really need to get your fix, go to the duty-free island Langkawi instead, the locals’ go-to destination for cheap perfumes, chocolate, and booze.

8. Buy Souvenirs in Chinatown. And Haggle, Haggle, Haggle!

This is probably very obvious, but don’t buy souvenirs in places like the KL Tower or the Twin Towers. Basically, if the place charges an entrance fee and makes you go through a souvenir shop before exiting, chances are they will try to rip you off at every possible chance they get.

Petaling Street Kuala Lumpur
Chinatown. Credit: Jorge Lascar / Wikimedia Commons

If you want to buy souvenirs like keychains, fridge magnets, and T-shirts, Chinatown is one of the cheapest places to shop at. In Chinatown, you could get a fridge magnet for only RM3 or RM4 while in the Twin Towers, the same thing may cost you up to RM15.

But make sure you polish your haggling skills before you go!

Have you ever visited Kuala Lumpur? Do you have any other tricks on how to travel in Kuala Lumpur on a budget? Share in the comments section below.

Posted in Malaysia

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    • ummi

      You’re welcome, Ophelie! Yes, Malaysia is generally more expensive than most other countries in Southeast Asia, other than Singapore. It might not be too obvious if you’re coming from Europe or the US, but if you’ve been traveling in the region for a bit, then you’ll notice the difference. I hope these tips will help if you do come to Kuala Lumpur 🙂

    • ummi

      No problem, Margarida! You’re absolutely right — going local and using public transports are the best options to really get to know a place and its people.

    • ummi

      2013 is a long time ago, Tess! Perhaps it’s time to give us another visit? I hope these tips will be useful for you when you do come back to Kuala Lumpur. 😀

  2. Catherine

    What a great post on how to do budget travel in Malaysia! I can hardly believe how inexpensive hostels are. And I 100% agree with eating street food. It’s soooooo good in Malaysia! Yum!

  3. Hannah

    These are some great tips for visiting Kuala Lumpur! I try to travel with my own water bottle where I can to save wasting lots of plastic bottles. I’d never have thought about heading somewhere like Chinatown to pick up souvenirs though! That’s such good advice! Although I’m not sure I’m very good at haggling! I’ll have to brush up before I visit! Thanks for sharing these tips!

    • ummi

      You’re welcome, Hannah. I’m not that good at haggling either, despite being Asian and having spent all my life here. So, I usually tend to go to shops with fixed prices even if it’s slightly more expensive. Haha. Perhaps you’d even be better at haggling than I am. Hope you’ll get to visit Kuala Lumpur in the future! 😀

  4. Megan

    That is great that there is a free bus for getting around. And it sounds like I would need to go to Chinatown because we love getting magnets of the places we visit!

    • ummi

      Oh yes, Megan, Chinatown is the best and cheapest place to buy fridge magnets but make sure you bargain hard. And I love the free bus — a great initiative by the government, in my opinion.

    • ummi

      Thank you, Rachel. Yes, during the pandemic, hostels are even cheaper. Last I checked on, there were beds for only MYR9 per night (less than USD2.50). I hope you’ll get to visit us one day. 🙂

    • ummi

      Oh, that’s great, Krista! Budget travelers are my favorite type of travelers to meet and share tips with 😀 I hope this article will serve you well when you do visit Kuala Lumpur.

    • ummi

      That’s right, Linda. Most people only visit Kuala Lumpur on a layover to other destinations in Southeast Asia, but I hope you will stay longer. And with these tips, it won’t break your bank. 🙂

  5. Mayi

    I would love to go to Kuala Lumpur. The city seems like a nice place to visit. Plus the street food experience would be my top priority. Malaysian food is delicious!

    • ummi

      Glad to know that you like Malaysian food, Mayi. You’d have to come over and experience the food here yourself. Pre-pandemic, we used to have 24-hour restaurants at every corner (not exaggerating)! 😀

    • ummi

      Thank you, Devin. This guide is written for frugal travelers like you! I hope this will be useful for your future visit to Kuala Lumpur. 🙂

  6. Rachel Hall

    I have spent 3 weeks in KL (on a budget) and had NO idea about the art gallery on the 3rd floor. Love the ideas, there’s also the KL Forest Eco Park, which is free that I really loved. Great ideas – especially about the market because I didn’t know about the ones you suggest! Thank you!

    • ummi

      You’re welcome, Rachel. I’m quite intrigued when people stay in Kuala Lumpur for longer than a few days, because usually they rush to other more exciting destinations in Malaysia or surrounding countries. I hope you had a great time in my city and that this article will be useful for you when you come back. 🙂

    • ummi

      Great choice, Denise. A lot of people go to Jalan Alor because it’s the nearest to the tourist spots, hotels, and shopping centers. But the food there is actually not authentically Malaysian at all. And it’s expensive too! You’d do so much better at Kampung Baru 🙂

  7. Shafinah

    Waving a big hello over here from Singapore – this makes me miss KL soooooo much! Can’t wait for the borders to lift 😭 😭 😭

    • ummi

      Thank you, Sarah. I hope you’ll make it here someday. If you’re coming from the UK, you probably won’t find it very expensive, but it’s certainly not the cheapest in Southeast Asia. However, I hope this guide will help you optimize your travel budget. 🙂

  8. Miriam

    On my one-year trip to Southeast Asia I stopped long time in Malaysia also in KL, I worked in a hostel. It’s a city that I love and I would gladly move there to live. With your article you made me remember some beautiful memories.

  9. Maddy

    I’ve never been to Asia but it’s on my bucket list for sure! I’d never heard of this particular destination. Thank you for sharing!

    • ummi

      You’re welcome, Maddy. Admittedly, Kuala Lumpur (or Malaysia, for that matter) is not very well known outside of Asia. But I do hope you’ll come and visit someday. We have a lot to offer 🙂

  10. shegowandering

    Skipping alcohol altogether would be painful on a vacation haha… Seems like Kuala Lumpur alcohol-wise goes under the same budget in alcohol as Manhattan, NYC. Anyhow, great post! Can’t wait to visit!

    • ummi

      Thank you, shegowandering. Haha, I can totally relate to that! If you’re coming from Europe or the US, I suppose you’d still find alcohol here affordable — just not as cheap as in the rest of Southeast Asia. 😉

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