Spending time in KL after backpacking through the rest of South East Asia is comparatively expensive. Of course nothing compares to Singapore, but food, accommodation and entertainment in the Malaysian capital are likely to leave a dent in your wallet if you are not careful. That is precisely what started to happen to me. I intended to spend only a few days in KL with a friend to try some vegan restaurants before moving on – but life had different plans for me and I found myself stranded in Kuala Lumpur for nearly three weeks with a rather empty bank account. I had to be crafty and come up with ways to make my stay cheaper. Turns out, it’s absolutely doable to stay in KL on the cheap! Here are a few things I discovered.
It’s possible to find cheap dorms for as low as $4 a night, but you have to look for them. Many people’s impression is that Bukit Bintang is where it’s at, but I don’t know how much I agree with that. The city is very well served by the monorail (MRT) and the light rail (LRT), and Chinatown is possibly a better area to stay on the cheap while still being very close to all the tourist attractions and transport. Le Village China Town, Fernloft, Agosto Inn, Backpacker’s Travelers Inn, Birdnest and Irsia all seem like decent options (I have not tried them myself, but would not hesitate to book a bed at any of them) with good reviews on Tripadvisor and Agoda, cheap dorms, wifi and some of them even have free filtered water refills and free breakfast (usually white bread, but just carry a jar of peanut butter and some bananas and you’re golden). Most places will give you a discount if you stay one week or more, so ask if you plan to do that.
If, like me, you are on a mega tight budget, there are a gazillion Couchsurfing and Global Freeloaders hosts in KL, just make sure you contact them in advance as they book quite quickly (often the case with more expensive destinations). In my case, having recently converted to bicycle touring, I could stay at a wonderful Warmshowers (the Couchsurfing equivalent for cyclists) host family who cooked me amazing vegan food and took great care of me. I also camped on the rooftop of another Warmshowers host right in downtown KL, and slept on the floor inside a bicycle shop; which made for some very unique experiences!
It’s totally possible to find cheap or even free food in KL. Brickfields (the more “real” little India next to the more “touristy” little India) has a great selection of cheap eateries and any little Mamak shop (Muslim Indian) will dish out super cheap and yummy thosai and roti (try roti banjir, a chopped up roti doused in dhal, delicious!). Eating like the locals is always a good idea whatever the destination. You’ll also find Muslim women on the road side selling fried tempeh with rice, a few cucumber slices and sambal or mee goreng (Fried noodles) for 2RM. Nonya kueh is a great filling sweet snack that you can find almost everywhere and that is also super cheap. They are made of glutinous rice flower, coconut milk, sugar and often times an awful lot of food coloring, making them look like toys more than sweets. Here are a few other options:
DHARMA REALM GUAN YIN SAGELY MONASTERY
Great vegan canteen ran by monks and volunteers. Piled-high plates will cost only about RM5-7. Free breakfast between 7:30am and 9:30am Monday to Friday and free lunch on the 1st and 15th of lunar calendar.
Sikhs the world over have a very strong sense of community and organize “langar” every night, a practice where volunteers in the gurdwaras cook a free fully vegetarian (they use dairy but there’s generally vegan options in there too) meal for anyone who cares to join, regardless of their faith, gender, ethnicity, or financial status. Everyone is welcome, the only condition is that you cover your head and take off your shoes before entering the hall. Donations are accepted. Meal schedule varies with some temples offering breakfast, lunch and dinner daily and some other offering only one meal once a week. Information is a little scarce online, but here is what I found:
Tatt Khalsa Diwan Gurdwara
Free lunch on Sunday
24, Jalan Raja Alang, Chow Kit, 50300 Kuala Lumpur
Gurdwara Sahib Pulapol
Langar is served when there is a program. Regular program as follows:
Wed Simran 6.30pm-8pm Sat Satsang 6.30pm-8.30pm
Sunday morning Asa Ki War 6.30am-8am.
Contact them on Facebook to confirm
Jalan Pahang, Pulapol, 54100 Kuala Lumpur
The downtown core of Kuala Lumpur is easily walkable and a great way to get your bearings on. For everything else, the MRT and LRT are quite cheap and super efficient.
Go KL is a free bus service initiative to improve public mobility into the Central Business District. There is a bus running the Chinatown to Bukit Bintang area and another from Bukit Bintang to the Petronas Towers. The light purple buses are easy to spot and operate from 6am to 11pm on weekdays and 7am to 11pm on weekends. The bus is quite frequent, stopping every 5 minutes on peak hours and 10 minutes the rest of the time. Download the map here.
There is also a free bus that runs between Bangsar LRT and Midvalley Megamall, a frighteningly large mall where you are bound to find everything your heart desires. Look out for the yellow Causeway Link bus.
My Teksi currently has a promotion, if you download their app, for 15RM off you first three rides which is usually more or less the cost of a ride across town. Make sure you check out their Twitter and Facebook for current promo codes and special offers. They were delivering free durian for two days a couple of weeks ago! I missed it!! 🙁
If you have Uber installed on your phone, know that it is often cheaper than a normal taxi because they can’t scam you.
Most religious buildings are free to visit, and, with so many different faiths in Kuala Lumpur, there is a lot to explore. The Batu Caves, Putra Mosque (Putrajaya altogether is an interestingly odd place to visit), Masjid Wilayah Persekutuan and Sri Ganesh Temple are all fascinating places to explore for absolutely free.
Going up the Petronas Towers is kind of pricey, but don’t stop yourself from visiting the surroundings. If you walk through the swanky mall and exit at the back, KLCC park is a lovely place to chill in with great views of the towers and a swimming pool.
Free Dataran Merdeka Heritage Guided Tour is on at 9am every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.
Celebrity Fitness does a free 8 day pass to any of their gyms.
Got any more tips for doing Kuala Lumpur on the cheap? I’d love to hear!