There are already many pages in our magazine telling you what to see and do in Kuala Lumpur, but from personal experience, we love to know what NOT to do in a strange, exotic city. While going with the flow and adapting to the local culture is the best way for first-time visitors, uncomfortable and unnecessary situations can be avoided if you’ve done some research beforehand.
Kuala Lumpur is a generally laidback and friendly city, but its multicultural community still practises a number of unique traditions and customs that visitors should be aware of. So we have put together this list of common mistakes and faux pas that as a first time visitor to Kuala Lumpur you could easily make and not realise.
…be scared of local restaurants
Kuala Lumpur’s humble-looking local restaurants and hawker stalls may seem daunting to some, but you can enjoy authentic local food at a fraction of what you’re paying for at eateries within hotels and shopping malls. Don’t let the lack of English signs put you off – a busy restaurant is the best guide to excellent local restaurants!
We highly recommend exploring the narrow streets of Chinatown Kuala Lumpur, where you can find authentic cuisine such as assam laksa noodles, beef noodles, and chicken rice.
…kiss and cuddle excessively in public
Most locals (especially conservative Muslims) refrain from showing excessive affection in public. There are also signs prohibiting kissing and hugging plastered on trains, buses and taxis. A peck on the cheek is fine for most people, but leave the full-on make-out session for behind closed doors!
...accept an unmetered taxi
While budget taxis are convenient and affordable methods of getting around, cabbies here are notorious for refusing to turn on their meters and offering a fixed (and higher) rate. To avoid this, make sure the meter is switched on before entering the taxi. Alternatively, you can buy taxi coupons at counters within Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), KL Sentral station and bus terminals or use a dependable taxi app such as MyTeksi or EasyTaxi to book your ride.
…shake hands (unless someone offers)
As physical contact with the opposite sex is prohibited amongst locals who strictly practice Islam, do not be offended if your handshake is not reciprocated. To avoid a rather awkward situation, the best way is to keep your hands on your sides, smile and greet the locals with a friendly nod.
...enter holy places or homes with your shoes on
In Kuala Lumpur, it is customary to remove your shoes before entering homes and religious institutions. Perceived as a mark of respect, visitors are also required to dress appropriately (no shorts, sleeveless tops and short skirts) when visiting mosques, Hindu temples and the popular Batu Caves.
…underestimate the time it takes to reach the airport
While TV shows such as The Amazing Race make rushing to the check-in counter with seconds to spare look thrilling, the reality is anything but fun. Do bear in mind that KL traffic can get very congested during peak hours and public holidays, particularly the city centre. To avoid hassles such as missed flights, cancelled connections and lots of waiting around, our advice is to leave yourself about one hour travel time from the city centre.
…leave home without your umbrella (during rainy season)
The weather in Kuala Lumpur stays hot and humid throughout the year with occasional rainfall, while heavy rains and thunderstorms hit the city usually between the months of March and April. During these rainy months, don’t trust your instincts or even the weatherman: always bring an umbrella when you’re out exploring the city.
…forget a pack of tissues
Light and disposable, a pack of tissues can often save you from a lot of annoyances. While tissues may seem trivial compared to your wallet or passport, public toilets in Kuala Lumpur are notorious for their lack of cleanliness and toilet paper – same goes with hawker stalls. So remember to keep a packet of tissues when you’re out and about in Kuala Lumpur.