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.
Each coach has only one stop, so you can take a nap 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 bus
- GOKL bus
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!
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.
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.
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 really typically 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.
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.
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.
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