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The Native | Nicole Vella shows us around Kuala Lumpur

Travelling is always risky business – get stuck in a touristy area and your meals are terrible, as will be the rest of your stay. Nicole Vella shows how to get around Kuala Lumpur like a native.

rachelzc
Rachel Zammit Cutajar
8 December 2017, 9:00am
Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur
Travelling is always risky business – get stuck in a touristy area and your meals are terrible. The same can be said of sightseeing, hotels and nightspots. Travelling to a place where you know people to recommend the right places makes your stay all the more enjoyable.

Nicole Vella, 26, was born in Malta, and lived in Kuala Lumpur for a year. If you’re visiting Malaysia, these are the places she recommends to hang out like a native.

Best place to eat

Putu Bamboo is a coconut rice cake, made from rice flour and palm sugar steamed in bamboo tubes
Putu Bamboo is a coconut rice cake, made from rice flour and palm sugar steamed in bamboo tubes
Street local food! Anywhere in Asia, street food is always the best option. It's an experience, one is eating food that is cooked on the spot from the locals at the cheapest rates possible; not more than 10 ringgit (2 euro). China Town and Jalan Alor are the best spots for cheap food stalls and restaurants. There are plenty of food vendors round every corner and down every street. Aside from the street vendors there are plenty of local restaurants around. I could personally live on Indian food and Malay is packed with Indian restaurants. That beautiful dosa or roti not more than 2 ringgit (40c) or a buffet of mouthwatering curries for 8 ringgit (1.60 eu) at most!

If you have a sweet tooth, you are spoilt for choice in Malaysia. My favorite; Putu Bamboo (coconut bamboo cake) from central market and Apam Balik (peanut pancake turnover) which I used to get from this sweet old Malaysian guy found in Jalan Petaling, China Town, just five minute walk from central market. I used to enjoy these treats with some nice Te Tarik!

Best place for a night out

Bukit Bintang is the best spot for a night out in Kuala Lumpur
Bukit Bintang is the best spot for a night out in Kuala Lumpur
I wasn't much into the nightlife scene when in Malaysia but every now and then everyone needs a goodnight out. Kuala Lumpur, especially Bukit Bintang, is a hub for countless bars, pubs and extensive alcohol offers. Did I mention that the ladies drink for free? Every night is ladies night in Kuala Lumpur! Don't bother getting into the motive after this marketing strategy, just go to the bar, order a rum and coke and just enjoy! Weekends are of course the busiest but one can enjoy a good night out during the week also. Alcohol in general tends to be quite pricey round Malay but the generous bar offers make up for that.

Best local thing

Melacca is the place for antique preservation whilst cherishing both traditional and new artists
Melacca is the place for antique preservation whilst cherishing both traditional and new artists
Malaysia is well known for its beautiful antiques and handicrafts – priceless authentic antiques, woodcrafts, metal crafts, hand-woven crafts (bags, baskets, mats, hats made from bamboo, rattan, local plant fibers and leaves) and textiles (batik and songkret among others made into all sorts of decorative items from clothes to curtains).

China Town has many hidden gems offering such items but places like Melacca, which is a three-hour bus ride from Kualal Lumpur, is definitely the mecca for antiques, art and exquisite traditional finds. The town is full of arts and visuals giving it a distinctive look. So just walking round town is already a treat. I loved strolling around, taking in all the art (old and new), exploring antiques and second hand shops in Jonker Street and diving into the food at the night market afterwards.

Cherishing the traditional artists while attracting new Malaysian ones, Melacca is definitely the place for antique preservation and visual arts.

Best place to stay

Kuala Lumpur offers a wide range of hotels, hostels and guesthouses, ranging from cheap and laid-back stays suitable for the backpackers which are mostly found around China Town to five-star hotels for a more sophisticated traveler round Bukit Bintang or other Kuala Lumpur areas.

Though China Town is the place to be if you’re on a budget, Bukit Bintang should be your choice if have more money to spend
Though China Town is the place to be if you’re on a budget, Bukit Bintang should be your choice if have more money to spend
I personally prefer the laid back local scene of China Town, but for those that wish to be in the centre of Kuala Lumpur, surrounded by numerous shopping malls with shops ranging from Zara to Louis Vuitton, nightlife and diverse restaurant options, Bukit Bintang should be your choice.

Best spot for shopping

When visiting Kuala Lumpur one is spoilt for choice for shopping. If you're into the normal Western shopping then in Bukit Bintang you will find anything and everything, from H&M and Zara to super expensive brands in the Pavilion Mall like Cartier and Chanel.

The flea market of Pasar Karat is worth visiting even if you have no intention of buying anything
The flea market of Pasar Karat is worth visiting even if you have no intention of buying anything
I would much rather explore and hunt the second hand book and clothing stores and to my amusement Kuala Lumpur, especially China Town, is a real treat in this area. Additionally, there is what is known as Pasar Karat (rust market) which is a local flea market found close to Petaling Street in China Town. Even if you are not interested in purchasing anything, visiting this market is an experience of it's own.

A bit of a heads up; it is mostly for the early risers as this market is in motion from 5.30am till around 9am, but the early bird catches the worm! Do not let the scary rumours of such markets put you off.  On the two occasions that I visited this market, I was the only foreigner there, but it was so much fun. It is packed with a local hustle and bustle, so do not miss on this local experience especially if you are into antiques from old books, magazines, clothes, instruments and collectibles.

Best place to unwind and enjoy nature

Malay has so many beautiful spots. My stay was mostly round Kuala Lumpur, but when I needed to get out of the city, I was spoilt for choice with the many islands around. On the West one can find the touristic busy island of Langkawi whereas on the East side one can find smaller quieter islands like Kapas and Tioman. Your choice is based on your interests. Islands like Kapas and Tioman are very chilled and remote with less activities (alcohol and pubs are very limited if not scarce) whereas Langkawi is busier and usually attracts more tourists. You might want to take note of the time of the year you'll be visiting the islands because the weather may differ from one side to another.

Tioman island is just a short boat ride away from the city of Kuala Lumpur
Tioman island is just a short boat ride away from the city of Kuala Lumpur
My favorite island is Tioman. Super chilled with barely any people and no means of transport round the island, except the boats and the wifi is very limited! Perfect for some!

Getting there involves a five to six hour bus ride from Kuala Lumpur and another two hour boat ride to the island. I chose to stop at the top part of the island, Salang. I then trekked through to jungle to get to another point of the island. The trek was around three to four hours (if you choose not to stop along the way) accompanied by monkeys, snakes and Komodo lizards. This way you get to  explore those hidden beaches and cool off during the journey. Don't worry, one can catch boats to other parts of the island.

Just a heads up; stock up on food and fruits because as I said shops are very limited and have a plan for your return to mainland as the boats do not always operate daily. This island is a true gem with crystal waters, rich in coral and colourful fish. It is perfect to just enjoy nature and to truly disconnect!

Should you want a short trip out of the city I would suggest the Blue Lagoon round Port Dickson which is only a couple of hours from Kuala Lumpur.

rachelzc
Rachel Zammit Cutajar graduated in economics from the University of Malta...
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