Kuala Lumpur is the beating heart of Malaysia and as the country’s capital and largest city, there are plenty of malls, a growing list of tall, iconic buildings, and some of the best bars and nightclubs in Asia. But on a remote work vacation in Kuala Lumpur, you’re more likely to fall in love with a neighborhood than a skyscraper. Combine this with the affordable rents, delicious food, and good public transport, KL makes for a great stomping ground for digital nomads.
The city’s neighborhoods are a melting pot of Malay, Chinese, and Indian cultures. From the old shophouses in Chinatown with the latest fusion restaurants, longstanding eateries, and hidden bars and cafes, to the more residential neighborhoods like Bangsar that are still alive at night with Mamaks, each area has its own charm and advantage. These are Muslim eateries that open 24-7 and serve typical Malaysian food like all types of roti and Nasi Lemak.
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Bangsar is like the Beverly Hills of KL, a great choice for those who value suburban levels of quiet and a nice zip code. It lies about four kilometers southwest of the KL city center and was once a rubber plantation. You have everything you need in the area with two popular shopping centers Bangsar Village and Bangsar Village II. There is also the Bangsar Sports Centre where you can play tennis and plenty of restaurants at your fingertips.
Proper Cafe is a great place for breakfast or lunch with fair prices, a western menu, and solid coffee. The more popular of the two is Breakfast Thieves APW Bangsar, and even though it often has a queue outside, the food is worth it—especially the Munghal Legend baked eggs with chicken and Bonnie & Clyde rosti, a grated and fried potato pancake.
Other great eateries include the Melbournesque Naj & Belle Bangsar, which is known for its watermelon cake. For Malaysian food, Sri Nirwana Maju Restaurant @Bangsar is very affordable and one of the best banana leaf rice places. In the heart of Bangsar Village, there is also Kayra Authentic Kerala Cuisine, an Indian restaurant run by a family from Kerala.
The two coworking spaces, Escape by Etiqa and The Ark @ 53, are both in the southeast corner of the neighborhood by the Bangsar LRT Station. Bangsar Station is only one stop away from KL Sentral, the popular business district. Otherwise, Grab, the popular Southeast Asia taxi app, is easy to use.
At the center of the action, Bukit Bintang is the shopping district of Kuala Lumpur and it is accessible by MR6 line at Bukit Bintang Monorail station and the MRT Kajang Line. The area is still the most popular place for locals and tourists to go shopping and get massages despite other mega malls opening up around the city. This is where you’ll find everything you need with the Pavillion, Fahrenheit88, Lot 10, and the Starhill malls located right across from each other.
Beyond the shopping malls, the newly opened Urban Museum is a contemporary art museum that’s worth checking out, but you’ll need a reservation in advance before you go. Jalan Sin Chew Kee is a residential street on the fringes of Bukit Bintang that has rows of colonial houses that have been transformed into some of the hippest cafes, bars, and restaurants. Art lovers must also take a walk around the colorful Jalan Alor Street Art 1 and 2, where you’ll find colorful streets completely decked out in murals.
In terms of food, all the Malaysian favorites can be found in Lot 10 Hutong Food Court. It’s on the LG floor of the Lot 10 shopping center where you can get the hawker style food and experience with air conditioning. Eden Coffee Rooftop Cafe is a quieter choice, also located within Lot 10 with a clear view of KL Tower. There is outdoor and indoor seating and it’s a lovely spot for reading, chatting with friends, or getting some work done. VCR is another popular cafe that has recently gotten pricier but has consistently excellent coffee and a great brunch menu.
Common Ground is one of the most popular coworking chains with a three-story outpost in Bukit Bintang. It’s within walking distance of the Pavilion mall with a view of the Petronas Twin Towers and downtown KL as well. There’s also, PAPER + TOAST X Seedspace, another coworking space with upcycled furniture, 24/7 access, and weekly community events.
The Chinatown district of Kuala Lumpur is centered around Petaling Street and is the place to go for street food and buying knick-knacks. It once housed a tapioca factory run by a prominent Hakka Kapitan, the highest ranking official overlooking the Chinese population in colonial Malaysia. He convinced the colliers to stay and work after the mines were flooded. The entire area was refurbished in 2003 and, fortunately, many original shophouses and long-standing eateries remain. There are also other hip cafes and restaurants opening around, too, making this a fun neighborhood to explore.
Take REXKL, a community and cultural hub built in the former Rex Theatre. It has a food court on the ground floor, and a sprawling bookstore on the two floors above, with a stage for concerts and events. Or, the Hungry Tapir, a plant-based restaurant that serves vegan and vegetarian Malaysian food, while boasting a full bar.
Other cultural attractions include Kwai Chai Hong, one of the most famous alleyways in KL. There are murals depicting everyday scenes from the 1960s with QR codes that play what the scene might have sounded like when scanned. Next to the alley are Bunn Choon Restaurant and Ho Kow Hainam Kopitiam; both are institutional dining spots in their own rights for dim sum and Hainanese style breakfast, respectively.
For a western-style breakfast, Cafe ETC has a good menu and affordable prices with the chic aesthetic of modern minimalist cafes. Vintage 1988 Cafe & Accessories Store is a larger cafe that you can relax and work at. For a great day-to-night spot, RUST KL CAFE & BAR is halal-friendly with a great selection of cocktails at night. Shhhbuuuleee Restaurant on top of REXKL is a more upscale choice with an innovative East Asian menu. For reliable cheap eats, you can’t go wrong with Al-Baik Di Bistro Restaurant’s Malaysian food.
Damansara Heights is another ritzy neighborhood north of Bangsar but more residential. It started out as housing for civil servants and slowly grew to become a thriving and popular place to live in Klang Valley. It is well connected to the city with the two MRT stations on the Kajang line: Pusat Bandar Damansara and Semantan MRT station and the coworking space Common Ground also has a location here. And there are two shopping malls in the area: the bigger and newer Damansara City Mall in the south and Hartamas Shopping Centre in the north.
Plaza Batai is an alternative to the two malls, along with Jalan Batai with many new restaurants and small cafes openings. The 385F Cafe has an extensive western and Asian menu with a metallic interior good for a great brunch and morning work. Damansara is also home to some exquisite restaurants. Notable ones are the French fine dining Chateau Dionne, contemporary European and Asian fusion restaurant Soleil, and Japanese fusion Tokio Restaurant and Bar.
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