Do you remember that show by the late Anthony Bourdain called The Layover?
I recently found myself hearing Mr. Bourdain’s narration in my head as I walked along the streets of Kuala Lumpur, knowing full well that I had less than 24 hours to spend in this beautiful capital of Malaysia.
You see, KL became a layover for me as I awaited my flight back to Manila after touring Kota Kinabalu. Air Asia is the only airline that is currently flying direct from Manila to Kota Kinabalu, and they only fly twice a week. I missed out on those days, hence my personal KL 24-hour layover episode.
I planned on making the most out of my time in Kuala Lumpur. It helped that I have been here once before.
With travel normalizing, transit stops to reach connecting flights or board cruise ships are a part again of the new normal travel, so it's best to know what you can do in a destination with limited time.
Below is an account of my experience, and I am confident that you, too, can cram these places in your itinerary before your scheduled flight—should find yourself in the same circumstance.
7PM: Chow Kit
I was booked at The Chow Kit, a quaint hotel in the center of, well, Chow Kit. Chow Kit, the hotel, is conveniently located near a couple of malls and a monorail station. The hotel has a nice vintage vibe, but the amenities and food are definitely contemporary.
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As a matter of convenience, I had food delivered to me via Air Asia’s Super App. It was through the same app that I booked a room at The Chow Kit (the hotel). Food arrived 30 minutes after I ordered it, just as I finished freshening up in my room. All I had to do was pick up my food at the lobby, bring it up to my room and plan the rest of my evening.
8PM: Bukit Bintang
A 5-minute walk away from my hotel was the Medan Tuanku monorail station. From there I made my way towards Bukit Bintang, which was about three stops away from Medan Tuanku. Going down to the street level I was greeted by the bright lights of shopping malls and giant displays. There are several high-end malls here, the most famous of which is the Pavilion mall.
There were several brands to shop through, but I only needed one shirt for my trip back to Manila the day after. I got distracted by all the great brands being offered here, not to mention the great discounts on display. Alas, by the time I made up my mind, the mall and the shops inside started to close at 9PM.
9PM: Jalan Alor
About 10 minutes walk away from the Pavilion mall was the famed Jalan Alor street. This colorful strip has always been a foodie haven, and I’m happy to see that it still satisfies the senses after all these years. The smells, the sight of cheerful crowds, the variety of delectable delights—all enough to make one think the pandemic is over. Ah, the pandemic. With this stark reminder that there is still that looming threat, I decided to make my way out and go somewhere less busy.
You can easily take a monorail from Bukit Bintang going to Petronas tower and its attached mall, KLCC. KLCC houses upscale shops, as well as several fine dining restaurants and bars. The main attraction here, of course, are the famed Petronas Twin Towers. There’s also a newly built Saloma Link Bridge nearby. Any of these sights are Insta-worthy as they shine brightly against the dark skies of Kuala Lumpur.
I was feeling a bit beat, yet I found myself walking my way back to Chow Kit. It was about a 20 minute walk, but there were wide paths for pedestrians and the allure of seeing a foreign land at these quiet moments made time pass easily. As soon as I got to the hotel, I took a nice long hot shower and passed out immediately.
10AM: Breakfast at The Chow Kit
The Chow Kit hotel offers sumptuous looking breakfast meals, and I opted to live the way kids do these days and went for the avocado toast with poached eggs paired with a nice hot cup of coffee. The hotel itself feels homey, despite its brownstone facade and 1970s-era bar type interiors. Some areas tend to be a bit dark, as the designers opted for yellow lights instead of the usual LED bulbs. Still, it’s a great place to hang out in while you wait for your flight.
12NN: Off to the airport
Kuala Lumpur’s airport is an hour and a half away from the city center. My flight was at 6PM, and I had to allow 2 or 3 hours for bag check-in and immigration lines. I decided to go to the airport early and not risk anything. We are still in the middle of the pandemic, after all, and there can be new protocols that we may not be aware of. I booked an e-hail service (once again, using Air Asia’s Super App), and thankfully the traffic was light that day.
I was able to check in to my scheduled flight, fill out the necessary forms online for me to be able to go back to the Philippines without any hassle, and relax at Kuala Lumpur’s sprawling international airport. Do note that this is a bigger airport than what we are used to in the Philippines, and you will have to familiarize yourself with your designated gate and not wander too far away from it. You would also have to check gate announcements every now and then as these could change before your flight.
Kuala Lumpur International Airport has the usual duty-free shops you can expect to find, should you want to spend your last remaining Ringgits. Or you can treat yourself one last time to authentic Malay fare on any of the restaurants within. In any case, there’s enough to do here while you wait for your boarding announcement. And before I knew it, there it was: that call for me to go back home and relish these moments that have allowed me to travel out of the country once more, no matter how long or short the trip was.