Kuala Lumpur on a budget: 7 travel hacks to save on your trip
As the capital city of Malaysia and the fastest-growing in the region, Kuala Lumpur can be a hard place to get a handle on. Just when you think you've come to grips with this multifaceted place, it changes on you, throwing up new facets to keep you engaged whether you're here for a weekend or a lifetime. With its fascinating clash of modernity and tradition, along with one of the world's great street food scenes, exploring Kuala Lumpur is enough to keep you busy indefinitely. Plus, Kuala Lumpur makes a great springboard to see more of Southeast Asia.
This is a part of the world that's popular for budget holidays. Travelers from richer nations often find that their dollars stretch much further in places like Malaysia. That's not as true as it used to be, as the economies of Southeast Asia improve and the cost of living climbs. However, it's still possible to find some bargains and visit Kuala Lumpur on a budget without missing out on the activities that make this city so fascinating to explore.
From the moment you arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, you'll find it almost impossible not to get swept up in the lively atmosphere of the city. With glitzy shopping malls, luxury hotels, delicious food courts and hawker stalls, and the dramatic Petronas Towers looming over it all, you'll never forget this city. And you'll have a much easier time exploring Kuala Lumpur on a budget if you drop off your unneeded belongings at a convenient suitcase storage.
Bounce partners with local businesses to provide convenient luggage storage in Kuala Lumpur and in cities around the world. Drop off your bags when you visit Kuala Lumpur, and you'll have your hands free for eating street food, getting the perfect Kuala Lumpur photo, and browsing the nearest shopping mall.
Cheap places to stay in Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur is a sprawling city, so no matter how you choose to spend your time here, you'll probably find yourself making use of the city's public transportation network. After all, you certainly don't want to even try and drive on the busy streets here. Luckily, Kuala Lumpur has a solid public transportation network as befits a city with this kind of population density, so you'll be able to make use of commuter trains, light rail, monorail, and buses. There's even a free Go KL city bus with eight different routes serving the city center, making it not only easy to get around and explore Kuala Lumpur but cost-effective too.
For those reasons, it's better not to get too hung up on trying to stay in the center of the city. After all, many of the top attractions you'll want to visit are outside of that area anyway. Plus, staying in the shadow of the Petronas Twin Towers can quickly get expensive, at least by Malaysian standards. You can save a lot of money if you're willing to stay in an outlying area and travel into the city. Just do a little research into the neighborhoods of Kuala Lumpur before you commit.
The average cost for a Kuala Lumpur hotel room is 273 RM, which is currently only about US$60. That's already quite cheap by Western standards, but if you really want to stick to a stringent budget, there are some options for places to stay that cost well below that average.
Scott Hotel KL Sentral
This hotel is indeed central, as the name implies. Located right next to KL Sentral Train Station and within walking distance of the National Mosque and Perdana Botanical Garden with its beautiful lake gardens. It's also within a short streetcar ride of KLCC Park and the Petronas Towers, you really can't beat this location when looking for budget hotels.
Kuala Lumpur doesn't really have a tourist season, although the city is perhaps at its busiest during the December and January festival seasons. Even then, a room here will only cost you around $30 for a queen room with a private bathroom, though no window. For a less claustrophobic option, the deluxe queen room offers a city view for $35 a night.
KLCC Homestay Vacation @ Sky Suites KLCC by Birdy Stay
Located right by some of the city's top tourist attractions, including KLCC and the Petronas Towers, stepping out of the front door of this hotel will make you feel like you've stepped into the pages of a Kuala Lumpur travel guide. From here, you can walk to some of the city's top attractions and easily catch transit to the rest. Plus, this homestay location can provide all the comforts of home, sometimes including a kitchen, although with food as cheap as it is in Kuala Lumpur, there's really no reason to cook for yourself. Rooms here start at only $30 a night, so it's a great way to save money on accommodation.
Perdana Kuala Lumpur City Centre
For something a little more luxurious, consider this four-star hotel right in the city center. Within walking distance of the top attractions in the city center and with excellent public transport options right nearby, you can get a studio room with two twin beds for $50 a night in December. You can even get one bedroom suite with a king-size bed, a separate living room, and free breakfast included for only $60 a night.
Cheap things to do in Kuala Lumpur
The Petronas Twin Towers dominate Kuala Lumpur's skyline and provide more than just an iconic landmark. The towers are home to fantastic restaurants and thrilling tourist attractions that make them a top destination to visit in the city. Likewise, if you want to see the more traditional side of Malaysian life, head a little north of Kuala Lumpur to the incredible temples of the Batu Caves to immerse yourself in Malaysian spiritual traditions.
Ordinarily, top attractions don't come cheap. However, even some of Kuala Lumpur's best experiences can be surprisingly reasonably priced. And by taking advantage of cheap and free things to do in the city, you'll free up your money to spend elsewhere.
KL Forest Eco Park
Astonishingly, there is a natural rainforest right in the heart of this ever-growing city, and you can explore it at KL Forest Eco Park. Protected and preserved since 1906, this beautiful forest is all the more striking for being in the heart of the city, surrounded by the towering buildings of the city center, including the KL Tower.
Inside the forest, you'll find a variety of hiking trails where you can explore the native plants and wildlife and feel like you're a very long way from the city. There are even guided tours available to can help you learn more about the local wildlife and how it has adapted to city life. There's also a campsite if you're looking for one of the cheapest and most unique places to stay in the city.
For many years, the park was free to visit. However, that's no longer the case. Now, if you don't have a MYKAD card proclaiming you are a Malaysian resident, you'll have to pay 40 RM to get inside. Children from 6 to 12 years old only cost 5 RM, and anyone younger than six is free. It's still a great bargain and a wonderful place to explore Kuala Lumpur's wild side.
Malaysia is a place where religion and spiritual traditions combine just as easily as culinary influences from around the world. Malaysia has a large Muslim population, and Malaysia's National Mosque, Majid Negara, is the spiritual heart of the country for millions of people. The mosque is free to visit and open to everyone except on Friday mornings, and this huge and beautiful building is a wonderful place to explore. You can also combine a trip here with a visit to the fascinating Islamic Arts Museum, which holds thousands of artifacts and artworks from the Muslim population of Southeast Asia. It only costs 15 RM to visit this beautiful collection.
Sri Mahamariammam Temple
If you don't have time to make it to the Batu Caves but want to explore Hindu spirituality and art in Kuala Lumpur, this temple is a great alternative. Free to visit, this monumental building is one of the most striking in the city and offers the perfect Kuala Lumpur photo opportunity. Possibly the oldest Hindu temple in all of Malaysia, it's also a wonderful place to explore the religious history of the city and gain a deeper understanding of its cultural life.
Cheap places to eat in Kuala Lumpur
Where to even start? Food is absolutely everywhere in Kuala Lumpur, and the street food scene here is exciting enough that you could easily make it the focus of your entire trip. And although there are plenty of extremely high-end restaurants in the city, some of the best food in the region can be found in the hawker stalls and food courts of Kuala Lumpur. After all, this is the birthplace of the mastermind behind Hawker Chan, the first hawker stall in the world to be awarded a Michelin star.
Every local has their own opinion on where to get the best chicken rice or rendang. And in a city that's evolving as constantly as this one, new legends are popping up all the time. Still, here are some excellent places to get cheap food in Kuala Lumpur and at least start to explore Kuala Lumpur for its food.
Specializing in Malaysian Indian food, this is one of Kuala Lumpur's best claypot rice restaurants. Pick your vegetable, your sauce, and your protein, or go with one of the special dishes that are designed to be split between two or three people. Even a large clay pot of rice packed with prawns or lamb will only cost you 36RM. At the time of writing, that's around eight US dollars.
If you feel like a break from the ubiquitous hawker stalls while you visit Kuala Lumpur on a budget, this is a great place to come for authentic Thai food. The relaxed and welcoming restaurant provides the ideal haven from the busy streets, and you can tuck into favorites like tom yam fried rice and pad Thai for as little as 15 RM. They also offer a prix fixe menu with four courses for around 100 RM, so it's a great way to try a little bit of everything on the menu while you're here.
Medan Selera 223
This tiny but popular stall is open 24 hours a day, and it needs to be to have any hope of catering to the crowds of locals and visitors that make their way here. This neighborhood spot is all about nasi lemak, a coconut rice dish with sambal that is one of the (many) national dishes of Malaysia. Split a few different versions with friends to see which you like the best and enjoy some of the best food in Kuala Lumpur on a budget.
Cheap bars in Kuala Lumpur
Thanks to its popularity with international travelers and ex-pats, Kuala Lumpur maintains a lively nightlife scene. Check out these cheap bars for good times in the Malaysian capital.
One of the best places in the city for cocktails, this park is routinely ranked as one of the best in all of Asia. And yet it is surprisingly cheap to enjoy a well-crafted drink here. Expect to pay anywhere from 30 to 50 RM for a cocktail.
The Great Beer Bar
The excellent selection of craft beer here starts from 25 RM a bottle. There's also a great menu of very affordable bar snacks like wasabi scallops for 10 RM and smoked duck skewers for 12 RM.
The Locker & Loft
This cozy bar offers creative cocktails and wines from around the world. Think a whiskey sour for 35 RM or 70 RM for the Bar Flaming, which can only be served on the copper bar top for fear of setting the place on fire. There are also punch bowls to share.
Bonus budget tips for Kuala Lumpur
Shop at markets: Kuala Lumpur has a variety of markets, including the Central Market and Chinatown, where you can find souvenirs, clothing, and other goods at affordable prices. Bargaining is common at markets, so be prepared to negotiate.
Use ride-sharing services: Ride-sharing services such as Grab are a convenient and affordable way to get around Kuala Lumpur. They are often cheaper than taxis and can be easily accessed through a smartphone app.
Stay hydrated: Kuala Lumpur can be hot and humid, so be sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. You can also save money by carrying a refillable water bottle and refilling it at public drinking fountains.
With great free things to do in the city, along with extremely affordable accommodations, restaurants, and bars, Kuala Lumpur remains an excellent place to explore on a budget. Leave your bags behind at a convenient luggage storage and make your money go further.