Visa runs can be a right royal pain in the A#*!, but I’ve just been to Kuala Lumpur (KL) – on my monthly Visa run, and I’m not going to lie – I actually kind of enjoyed it!
So I’ve decided to give you all some tips on the place, whether you’re going for a short time, or you’re in for the long haul!
Getting the right Visa can be a hassle.
There’s no denying that being based in Chiang Mai in Thailand certainly has it’s merits, but deciding to live outside of Australia means there are certain duties one must perform.
One of them is conforming to this country’s immigration laws, meaning I have to abide by that pesky little stamp in my passport that says I gotta leave by a certain date or else cop a fine for overstaying my welcome, or possibly even prison if I’m a Really bad boy!
And it’s costing me a fortune – in airfares alone, let alone finding places to stay, currency exchanges, scoping out places that are cheap for a decent breakfast/beer (whichever comes first) etc etc!
Border crossings are sometimes fraught with a multitude of worry too – ‘will they let me in?’, ‘how long will they give me?’, ‘have I filled in my Arrival form properly’ and so on.
KL is actually one of the easiest ones around I think – no forms, just turn up with your passport, smile while they take you photo, and get your prints taken on the scanner in front of you and you’re done!
Border crossings differ throughout the world, and depending which passport you hold, can depend on how much time you get when you cross.
A handy site that seems to be kept fairly up-to-date is Project Visa – this site gives you all the goss on what you’ll be charged, the length of stay you’ll get, whether they have visa-on-arrival etc. for your particular passport as well, and it’s very easy to use!
Buying your flights early can save you heaps!
I think this one goes without saying, but if you want to save some serious, SERIOUS cash, then Book Early! I’m talking Double the price of what you would’ve paid by booking early. A good site I’ve found for checking cheap fares is Skyscanner.
If you’re an expat like me, you have to put in a bit of intelligence work AT THE START of your month-long stay and sort out your airfares asap – this way you’ll get the best prices. Leaving it til the last minute promises to leave you seriously out-of-pocket believe me!
Up until now, I’ve left my flights because I could never decide where I was going to go, but it’s good practice to decide early on and book your flights. I can hear you all saying “why don’t I catch a train or bus to the border and cross that way?” – well that’s because some borders often give you LESS time if you cross by land – I dunno why but they do!
Thailand for instance, gives Australian passport holders 15 days usually if it’s a land crossing, but 30 days by air!* So it’s important to do your homework!
*I crossed by land into Thailand with my Bro about 2 months ago – he got 15 days and I got 30 so go figure! – Maybe it was my winning smile! 🙂
KL accom. is actually pretty good, but tends to be a little dearer than say, Bangkok.
I decided to forgo the soul-less Hotel experience this time, and gave AirBnB a try – this was my first time and I was pleasantly surprised.
I stayed with a very nice Russian guy in a condo complex called Kampung Warisan, just out of town, with a huge pool, well-equipped gym, great wifi, cheap restaurant and shop onsite, and my own private entrance so I wouldn’t disturb anyone. And all for A$23 a night – How good is that!? It was right across the road from the LRT train station too – Handy!!
I will admit, KL is not my favorite place on earth – it’s like a lot of big Asian cities – spread out, dirty, smoggy, and seemingly in a never-ending state of repair or new buildings going up everywhere. The Bukit Bintang area of KL seems to have been in this state for the last 10 years, and even if you can see where you want to go ‘just over there’, it can take you the better part of 20 minutes to get there because of all the work going on! It’s crazy, but that’s Asia for you!
Having said that, KL has some amazing architecture, some pretty good natural sights, and some of the best Indian food you can get outside of India (in my humble opinion anyway!). It also SEEMS to have less traffic and is less chaotic than Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh as 2 examples.
The train and monorail systems both work well, are cheap to use, and signage is in both Malay and English.
‘Ticket’ machines are at every station (‘stesen’ in Malay) that will spit out little blue tokens to the station required – swipe them when you go in, drop in the slot when you go out – simple!
KL is central to a Lot of places too, with cheap flights going all over Asia.
Being a hub destination to a lot of places that are pretty cool is a very good thing, and KL does it well. It’s well worth noting that cheap flights to almost anywhere around Asia and the world can be had from here. Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, India, and Australia, to name just a few.
Singapore if you’ve not been there, has to be one of the most amazing places on the planet, if only for the Marina Bay Sands hotel and the surrounding area. With a thriving food scene, incredible architecture, and infrastructure second to none, it’s the envy of a lot of other first world nations.
The East coast of Malaysia has some of the most beautiful beaches and tropical islands in Asia; and Penang is only a 5 hour bus journey or a 1 hour flight to the north, where you can experience a unique city that is undergoing rapid and eclectic changes making it well worth a visit!
Malacca is just a short trip south to experience Malaysia’s colonial past, with some beautiful architecture, and not forgetting it’s specialty Nyonya food which is an exquisite fusion of Chinese and Malay food styles.
The Food is great and Cheap too!
Did I mention food? Along with gorgeous Malay cuisine, and the cheap and very good Indian food (2 roti canai plus coffee for breakfast was costing me less than A$1.50), KL also has a plethora of other eastern and western foods, ranging from Japanese, Korean and Thai, to steak and chips, pizzas and burgers.
If you have the facilities and you’re into cooking for yourself, I found a great supermarket as well – when you get off the LRT train at KLCC station, before heading upstairs, walk past the escalators, turn right and keep going down to the very end (about a 3 minute walk). It’s got everything you’ll want and possibly an even better selection than you’d find at home (but they didn’t have Vegemite, so Aussies byo!)
There is also a Pub Street if you want to catch the latest sport from around the world while having a few beers.
Getting to and from the Airport is a breeze.
KL Sentral is your friend here. It’s a station on the LRT (Light Rail Transport) line and is the main hub connecting almost anywhere in KL, whether that be changing to a different line, catching the Monorail, grabbing a taxi, or getting to the airport.
Buses from KL Sentral to the airport run almost hourly from 3am til midnight, take about 45minutes to an hour, and are cheap.
More info for getting around can be found here.
If you’re coming from the airport, walk out of arrivals right to the end of the concourse and catch the escalator downstairs and they’re right there in front of you.
Money is the easy part.
Malay currency is the Ringgit – currently the exchange rate for the Australian dollar is almost 3MYR to 1AUD, so it’s pretty easy to figure out – divide all Malay prices by 3 to get a pretty good estimation of price in Aussie dollars.
I found most prices in town for say, breakfast, were only a bit cheaper than breakfast in a Melbourne café. There are plenty of cheaper alternatives though – lots of ‘Warungs’ around, plus food markets where you’ll find all the locals eating – they’re cheap, the food is good, and the atmosphere is great fun!
So what are you waiting for?
KL for the most part is like most other busy Asian capital cities, but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find it has its own unique qualities and a culture as varied as any other.
It’s easy, safe, affordable and friendly, and I enjoyed myself here – you should try it next time you’re in the area, if only for a few days to discover another fascinating part of Asia!