Of all the struggles people encounter while traveling, a long layover can be one of the most daunting if not properly prepared for. In many cases the layover is planned, but little thought typically goes into the city being waited in, and the anticipation of your ultimate destination overpowers a desire to do extra research for a short stop-off. When properly planned for, a layover offers many intriguing opportunities to see a handful of things and, in some cases, get a taste for a city that could be a future destination. For this reason, it is also possible to choose layover cities that you’re interested in exploring for a day or two! This is our experience with Kuala Lumpur, a city that we chose on our way to Indonesia as a perfect short layover in a country we’d not yet explored.
The key to enjoying a layover is in the planning. Just as with the final destination on a vacation requires a bit of planning and reading, a short afternoon reading up on your extended layover city can transform your layover from a time spent sleeping on airport benches to a memorable experience that you’re eager to revisit. With a very small amount of planning and a willingness to risk the entry into an unknown subway system, most cities can offer a nice adventure before you get to where you’re really going.
Stranded in KL
Kuala Lumpur is an amazing city, but we had our reservations. Focusing on a more relaxed and natural experience on many of our vacations, we weren’t terribly excited about this big city but decided to do a bit of research and make the most of our time in Malaysia’s capital. Below you will find our shortlist of places to visit in KL if you happen to find yourself with a spare day or two in this wonderful city. Keep in mind that our entire stay in KL was just short of two days. We used the subway system and occasional taxis to navigate and found it to be a very layover-friendly city.
The most iconic landmark in all of Malaysia was a shoe-in for our first recommendation. While very popular with tourists, the Petronas Towers have the distinct advantage of being stunningly beautiful, but also in drawing your eyes upward and away from the crowds that gently engulf you. In the heart of the city, a visit to these towering new additions to the skyline can easily be added to a day’s itinerary with little effort. A wonderful park offers a relaxing respite for weary travelers and lawns where anyone can lay out and gaze up at the beautiful towers above. A massive mall also exists within the towers’ first floors and basement, so shopping enthusiasts are also taken care of in the comfort of air conditioning.
Something about Chinatown will always warrant a visit in our minds, and the one in KL ( just outside of KL Sentral) is no exception. Having amazing food, shopping for days, and the general sights and sounds of a Chinatown makes this stop an obvious choice if you find yourself in KL for a layover. Not only can you find excellent street and restaurant food in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown, but there is an excellent traditional market where you can find all sorts of fabrics, souvenirs, fish-aided foot baths, and touristy-kitsch you’d expect to find in such a place. Having probably the best food and bars to be found without much effort or research, Chinatown is a great place to get lost in KL if you have a layover and minimal ambition aside from having a great time.
We have already gone on and on about these caves in a previous post (here) but this area is absolutely accessible to the traveler with a mere day in Kuala Lumpur. After leaving the airport via the KLIA Express train, travelers must exit to the metro system and find their way to the KTM Komuter train north. The last stop of this line is Batu Caves, and pops visitors out just beyond the gates of the caves. Easily accessible and well worth a visit for anyone new to KL, the Batu Caves are our obvious top choice for essential sightseeing if you only have a day in the city but want to see something spectacular. A visit to the caves will only last a couple of hours if you’re really exploring, so there is plenty of time in a day to get back to the city and relax at your hotel or visit one of our other suggested destinations.
Walking the City
Old and new. This city is constantly changing and developing.
While many people will be tempted on a layover to get a hotel near the airport and simply wait for their flight, we generally recommend against this. If you have anything more than a half day available, you’d be better off leaving the airport for the city and having a bit of fun. Not only being far cheaper than hotels near the airport, city hotels have the distinct advantage of having things to do in the surrounding areas. At the bare minimum, we will wander a city during a layover and get a feel for its everyday, essential musk and flavor. We love wandering around on foot and getting a firsthand look at a city before we venture into public transportation and KL offers a lot to see on foot. Being a fairly safe city, we did a lot of walking without much care about the neighborhoods or areas we meandered into. There are temples, city markets, hidden cafes and restaurants, and undiscovered sights around every corner on these walks, and we suggest everyone on a long layover give a bit pavement pounding to the city hosting you. Not only will you undoubtedly get a very realistic feel of Kuala Lumpur this way, but a long walk can lead to the aforementioned destinations.
For those of you looking for something with a bit of adventure in the great outdoors, you should try the canopy walk at the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia. This is a huge park with loads to offer and you can easily spend an entire day just hanging out in this area. It’s about a fifteen minute taxi ride west of the Batu Caves. Fair warning, the park will RANDOMLY close the walkway for maintenance so our recommendation is to call them beforehand to check if they are indeed open. We got all the way there only to realize they were closed!
Suffice it to say, we had a great time during our layover in Kuala Lumpur. Not only were we able to see a great deal in a short time, but we interspersed the layover with naps and relaxation at various parks around the city on our long walks. While KL’s airport, like many major cities, is well outside of the city, our short two days were well worth the short excursion on the various trains and taxis that bounced us around the city when our feet had become too tired. This city was a wonderful place to wander before we headed off to our next destination and we immediately knew that it was going to be well worth a return trip in the future.