In Malay language, Kuala Lumpur means “muddy river confluence”. But don’t let the name turn you off. At the center of a rising Southeast Asia, Kuala Lumpur is one of the most visited cities in the world and a major hub for travelers. The cityscape brims with mosques and temples, state-of-the-art skyscrapers, rooftop swimming pools and gigantic shopping malls. A head-turning medley of cultures and peoples calls the city home, including Malays, Chinese, Indians and other indigenous peoples. Perhaps nowhere else in the world can you see such radically different cultures existing right along side one another, each maintaining their own unique identity but also contributing to a united Malaysia.
As a traveler and photographer, Kuala Lumpur is one of the best places to begin your journey in Southeast Asia. The city boasts a modern transportation network. Trains and monorails zoom back and forth. Superhighways and overpasses gleam with lights and windshields. And provided you have a capable smartphone, cab services like Grab and Uber are easy as ever. Getting around shouldn’t be any problem at all.
And make sure to charge your batteries and bring enough memory cards, because the photography opportunities will have you spinning. From towers and skyscrapers, to mosques and Chinese temples, to parks and markets and colonial architecture, to the food and the photogenic locals, you’ll have your camera out until well after the sun goes down. So let’s get started and visit some of the best photography spots in Kuala Lumpur.
Starter tip: During the rush hours, you can get usually get to your destination much faster on the trains and metro system (make sure you bring coins to buy the metro tokens, or get a metro pass). On off-hours, using the Grab app is a speedy and cheap option.
Thean Hou Temple
Thean Hou Temple is a peaceful paradise of gates, altars, statuary, gardens and courtyards. The temple is dedicated to the Chinese goddess of the sea, but you can find many religious influences here, including Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism. To fully appreciate the architecture, take the stairs up to the rooftop levels. You’ll be able to frame up some nice shots with traditional Chinese lanterns, archways and the Kuala Lumpur cityscape in the distance. Visit during late afternoon and sunset, and you might see a few residents practicing Tai Chi.
Recommended for: Architecture and temple views, people
Urban elements and nature mix at KLCC Park. A strip of greenery in the highly developed and densely populated city, the park boasts many beautiful trees, palms and a man-made lake (Symphony Lake). And of course, the focal point is the Petronas Twin Towers standing over it all. You can get here around sunset to listen to the call to prayer from the nearby mosque and then enjoy the views as the city lights up. After dark, Symphony Lake at the base of the Petronas Towers will show off a water fountain, with a light show and music every few minutes.
Recommended for: Sunset and night photography, street photography
Looking out from the limestone caves north of the city are the Batu Cave temples. One of the most popular Hindu temples outside of India, here you can climb the steps past the massive statue of Lord Murugan (the Hindu god of war) up to the mouth of the cave. The steps were recently painted (early 2019) and now appear as a bright rainbow ascending to the caves and the temple. Be ready for the wildlife. Mischievous monkeys chase and climb over nearly every surface here, and will snatch anything they perceive to be food right out of your hand.
Inside, the roof of the cave will soar overhead. You can visit many shrines to Hindu deities and witness the priests performing rituals and giving blessings. Batu Caves is one of my favorite stops in Kuala Lumpur, and you can easily spend a whole afternoon here!
Recommended for: Temple architecture, people watching, monkeys and birds
Kuala Lumpur Tower
For breathtaking, top-down views of the Kuala Lumpur cityscape, visit KL Tower. This is one of the tallest freestanding towers in the world, and the viewing deck is over 1,000 feet (330 meters) high. You will definitely feel your ears pop, as you ride the high speed elevator up. The viewing platform will afford you a clear, 360-degree view of the entire area, including KL downtown city center and the Petronas Towers. No glass or wires in the way! When I last went up (mid-2018), they didn’t have any issue with my setting up a tripod. Come during sunset, golden hour and blue hour, and you can grab some amazing photos of the skyline.
Recommended for: City views, sunset and blue hour
Petaling Street is a famous market street and Chinatown in one of the older areas of Kuala Lumpur. The area is always hustling and bustling with activity, and you can find opportunities for street photography among the many stalls and food shops. Look for the butcher shops and roast duck restaurants for lively compositions. Also the steaming caldrons of chestnuts!
Recommended for: Street photography, food and people
Sri Mahamariamman Temple
Fairly easy walking distance from Petaling Street, on the edge of Chinatown, you’ll find Kuala Lumpur’s oldest and main Hindu temple. The temple entrance and main tower are decorated with figurines, idols and deities from the Hindu pantheon, and as soon as you make your way through this entrance you’ll find yourself in another world. Compared to the deafening city street outside, the temple interior will be meditative and peaceful. All visitors have to remove their shoes, but you can check them in with a guy next door, for a few RM. If you happen to be arriving during one of the occasional temple ceremonies, you will see the bare-chested priests performing the puja (offerings) and giving blessings to visitors.
Recommended for: People and architecture
Sky Bar in Traders Hotel is one of the coolest places to get a view of the Kuala Lumpur skyline. And I kid you not, most of the floor space in the bar is taken up with a pool. But you can take a seat in one of the alcoves and enjoy an unrestricted view of KLCC and the Petronas Towers. Unfortunately, if you try setting up a tripod, the staff will tell you that it’s not allowed. For long exposure or night shots, you can try using a bean bag or small flexipod at the window. (I got away with using a lightweight GorrilaPod) Get to Sky Bar using the elevator on the east side of the block, up to the 33rd floor.
Recommended for: Cityscapes and nighttime views
This is another excellent spot to take in some cityscape views. You’ll find the bar at the top of a building at Menara KH, on an actual helipad, surrounded by skyscrapers. The KL Tower will be visible nearby. Arrive early to catch the sunset and stay for the amazing night lights.
Recommended for: City views, panoramas
Brickfields neighborhood has grown into the official Little India for Kuala Lumpur, with most shops and restaurants run by the Indian community. Take a stroll here from KL Sentral, and you can snap photos at the clothing stores, flower and spice shops, with beautiful garlands and saris on display. Also think about visiting one of the banana leaf restaurants.
Recommended for: Street photography, food and flowers
Crowded, loud and hot, Jalan Alor is a famous alley full of street vendors, hawker stalls and seafood restaurants. Try to capture the action, and look for compositions that highlight the fantastic and colorful food! You can see all sorts of food and fruits on display here, from noodles and desserts, chicken and beef skewers, exotic seafoods, durian and even Thai food, all under the warm light of traditional hanging Chinese lanterns. And once you’re done taking photos, grab a seat and try some of the barbecued meats.
Recommended for: Street photography, nighttime, food
The Putra mosque is the most distinctive landmark in Putrajaya (a planned city about 30 km outside Kuala Lumpur) and one of the most modern mosques in the world. With Malaysian, Persian and Arab influences, the huge structure sits over a reflecting pool and can make for some dramatic long exposure photos. Take the train from KL Sentral and visit during sunset for the best experience. Or, if you’re a morning person, you can head to the west side of the lake and catch the before-sunrise blue hour. Don’t forget your tripod.
Recommended for: Architecture, long exposures, blue hour
Best short trip from Kuala Lumpur
About 150 kilometers south of KL, you’ll find the colonial port city of Melaka. With the oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia (Cheng Hoon Teng Temple) and the centuries-old Dutch waterfront and colonial churches, here you can learn about the cultures and peoples that have shaped modern-day Malaysia. You can get here via bus in about three hours from Kuala Lumpur, and there is enough to do and see in Melaka to spend one or two nights. Make sure you visit the floating mosque (Masjid Selat) and take in a sunset over the Straights of Melaka.
Recommended for: Street photography and architecture
Photographer’s Guide on DailyPhotoBlog
Skilled photographers know that good photography is about subject, lighting and composition. So my Photographer’s Guide series on DailyPhotoBlog aims to give you the best chance to create shots you love, by bringing you to the most photogenic places and the most beautiful viewpoints. (i.e. the subjects) The composition and lighting are up to you!
Additional Creative Commons images from Flickr: