Workaway – How to afford travelling long-term

If you want to afford travelling for longer, check out our first experience with Workaway. Plus tips and tricks to make the best of your experience.

We’ve been away from home for over 9 months now, and are still hoping to be gone for the next 5 to 6 months.  To keep the dream alive, we have had to come up with ways to make our money last us a little longer.  We have discovered a multitude of ways to do this along our travels, from Couchsurfing, to pet sitting, to camper van relocations.

So when we meet other travelers like ourselves, we are keen to talk about how we all manage to stay on the road without a steady income.  When we went for dinner in Singapore with Charlie and Lauren (better known on Instagram to their 80K+ followers as @wanderersandwarriors) during an Instagram meet-up, it is no wonder that this topic was broached.

This is when we were introduced to the concept that is Workaway.  It was described to us by Charlie and Lauren as a way for them to stay in Sri Lanka for roughly a month with free food and accommodations in exchange for working 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, at the hostel they stayed in.

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Beautiful Tanjang Rhu beach, a short drive away from our Workaway home

Whether it was checking in guests, helping to prepare breakfast in the morning, or giving people recommendations on where to go and what to see, for a mere 25 hours a week, most of their living expenses were covered.

We made a mental note of Workaway and kept the trip going.  One day in late April,  while we were in Thailand, we were looking at our bank account, and thought to ourselves, that it may be time to put our money-saving knowledge to use!

We had also been moving around quite a lot in those last months, and were looking to stay put for a little bit.  Knowing that we were planing on visiting the Philippines in early June, we figured we should make our journey that way.  So we decided to check out the site and see what we could find in Malaysia.

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We lost count of how many sunsets we saw on Cenang beach, a quick scooter ride away from our home

What did we want out of this?  Well, obviously we wanted to save some money, so having our accommodations taken care for was priority number 1.

We wanted to be by a beach, for sure. But, I mean, who doesn’t want that?

And lastly, we wanted to do work in hospitality.  We figured that since we love meeting new people and hearing their stories, this would be a great fit for us.  Also, we have a dream of getting into the hospitality business ourselves, so this was a natural fit for us.

This is where Odin, Nurul and Langkawi came into our lives.

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Our favourite beach, Skull beach.  This is also really close to our Workaway home in Langkawi.

It’s weird how some things come together naturally.  When we tried petsitting for the first time, it was our first request that came to fruition.  Well just like that, it was the same with Workaway.  After reading Odin and Nurul’s listing, and checking out Langkawi, we sent them our information, and they got back to us right away.

A little Whatsapp conversation later, and that was it, we are on our way to Langkawi to work for 3 weeks!  We also later found out that it was their first Workaway experience too.

Odin and Nurul are a soon-to-be-married couple who are a tad younger than we are.  Their story is actually quite similar to ours.  Nurul has roots in Malaysia, but like Odin, grew up in Sweden.  In their 20’s, they decided to move to Singapore for work.

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You have to love lighthouses!  This is Langkawi’s only stone lighthouse.

Before you knew it though, they decided to make a change.  Tired of corporate work, the proverbial 9-to-5, they wanted something else (ya, that sounds familiar).  Having her roots, and family in Langkawi, they made the decision to move “back home”, so to speak.

They decided to open an Airbnb.  Odin actually stayed in Singapore for a little bit, while Nurul set things up in Langkawi, just in case their dream of island living didn’t go as expected.

Well hard work and dedication paid off, because it wasn’t long before Odin was headed to Langkawi as well.  One year later, they now boast nine units, seven of which are for rent on Airbnb and 2 to house Workawayers like us.  No small feat for such a short timeframe!

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Working hard putting up this towel rack at Rama Rama

Now back to us.  We arrived in Langkawi pretty late, around 10PM, and Odin and Nurul came to pick us up at the airport.  They showed us the unit we would be staying in and told us they would come by the next day to go over our responsibilities.

The next day, they filled us in.  Our main duties would consist of:

  • Checking in and out guests in their 3 units (as 4 of them were not ready to be rented just yet)
  • Bringing the linens and towels to the cleaners after guests checked out, and picking them up the next day
  • Helping them put the final touches on the 4 new places, including some handy work and gardening
  • Being the main point of contact for guests in case they had any questions or needed anything
  • Showing the guests around in case they booked any activities
  • Gardening and maintaining the 3 existing units
  • Insuring that cleaning supplies and required inventory were stocked at all times
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We are always silly, but maybe more so here Dash Resort, the perfect spot in Langkawi to go for a dip

Seeing as though we had to run around doing errands most days, they provided us with a scooter to get around.  I’ve driven a scooter twice before, and quickly fell in love with getting around on 2 motorized wheels!

We spent the first 2 weeks taking care of guests and putting the finishing touches on Rama Rama.  That was the toughest part, physically.  It was so hot the whole time (easily 35 degrees Celsius), and the work was either outside gardening, or inside drilling into ceramic and concrete, without AC!

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The sunsets over the paddy fields by Halia Village were pretty epic!

Even though we were working, we still managed to do a ton of island exploring (take a look at our blog on what to do in Langkawi), and hanging out at one of the many great beaches on the island.  We discovered great food at the local night markets, experienced controversial Malaysian elections and lived through Ramadan for the first time.

The work was different for sure, considering we haven’t really worked since we left in September (though Carine has done some freelance marketing work).  It was a balance of getting our tasks done, staying on top of things, doing our own thing; including still getting great pics for our Instagram, keeping up on the blogging, and enjoying life.  We are on one long vacation after all!

There were some frustrations that came along with our Workaway.  Most of which was attributable to two things: communication and expectations.

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All smiles when we have the day off and visit the Durian waterfalls!

Communication was an issue at times.  Often things would change last minute, like we would be heading out to do some exploring after asking for permission, and then half way there would be told that we had to return back to the units because a delivery was being made in 5 minutes…  This has a bit to do with the way islanders live as well, where nothing is done when expected.

As for expectations, it was little things.  When you think you are committing to working 5 hours a day, we thought that would be 5 straight hours, then we would have the rest of the day to do what we want.  And when you think we work 5 days a week, we thought it would be 2 days off in a row.  And lastly are these days off… we did have a few days where we didn’t have anything to do, but most of our days off still consisted of taking care of a check-in, or a check-out, or dropping off / picking up laundry.

These small things didn’t take up much time on our days off, but they did sometimes make it harder for us to plan doing what we wanted to do.

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We had the Durian waterfalls all to ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong, we enjoyed our Workaway experience, we even extended it to a full month.  We got along well with Odin and Nurul, and even hung out with them for supper and games on certain nights.  We will likely be doing some more Workaways once we get to Europe and cost of living rises dramatically.  But sometimes, those little things can be irritating.

For sure the fact that it was both of our first times doing this contributed to some of these little issues, but it was still a great experience.  We learned a lot on how to run Airbnb units, how things work in Langkawi, we got to make some new friends, got into our little life routine, and best of all, we got to cook homemade meals.

So I guess the thing to take away from our experience for the future is to clarify things from the get-go.

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Fresh fruit is one of the best things about Langkawi

We loved our time in Langkawi and doing a Workaway was a big part of why we loved it.  It let us get a glimpse into the hospitality world, one we may one day also like to get into.  It also let us stay put like we hadn’t done since leaving our home.  We will fondly remember our time with Odin and Nurul, and ever appreciate the opportunity they gave us.

Tips for a successful Workaway experience

Here are a few tips to know to find a great Workaway for you, and to have a successful time with your hosts.

Know your strengths and your weaknesses

This is the most important thing in looking for a Workaway experience.  Know what you like and don’t, and know where you excel.  If you aren’t a people-person, maybe don’t apply to work in a hostel.  If you love to cook, try to find something that will let you use this passion.  You are working, so why not make it as enjoyable as you can, especially since you’re not getting paid.

Read up on your potential hosts’s reviews

You do this when looking for a restaurant, so why not do it to find out who your new “boss” is going to be.  Check out what others are saying about the hosts, what the tasks they did were and how they liked their experience.

After all, the list of tasks and responsibilities are chosen from a predetermined list, so sometimes it doesn’t accurately depict what you will be doing from day to day.  The reviews are a much better way to see what the experience will likely be.

Just be yourself

When writing to hosts or filling out your profile, just be yourself.  Don’t try to make yourself into someone you are not, with skills you don’t have.  Lying about having a certain skill could land you a workaway that you really want (based on timing or where it is), but in the end you will be the one who will probably regret this.

Don’t dismiss the value you bring

You will probably feel like the accommodations you are being freely provided are worth a lot, and they likely are.  But never forget that you are freeing up time for the hosts, and time is the most valuable commodity there is!  What each party provides has value, but don’t feel as though you are in their debt.

Clarify each party’s expectations

As we mentioned it earlier, make sure you talk with your hosts to clarify what you are both expecting from your experience from the get-go.  Ask questions, as many as you can think of.  Ask them what your schedule is, how the time off works, if the food is provided, what your tasks are, what your limits are.  Make sure that you are both seeing eye-to-eye on the major points.

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What a month in Langkawi, so many laughs with this lovely gal!

Make compromises and be flexible

This one is pretty simple, you have to be willing to make compromises, and to be flexible.  Of course we are traveling, and we want to do whatever we want, whenever we want.  This is the ultimate freedom after all.  But know that you will not be able to do that while on a Workaway.  Go into the experience knowing this, and you will have a better chance at having a positive time.


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Discover an affordable way to travel and work - Workaway. It's one of the ways we reduced our costs of traveling long-term. Including some tips and recommendations to make the best of your experience and pick the right Workaway.  www.wediditourway.com

Penang street art – A photoblog

A photoblog about the best street art in George Town, Penang, Malaysia. A handy map to find the best pieces.

One of the main reason people choose to visit Penang is to see the street art in George Town.  And we can’t blame them.  The scene here is so cool and hunting down the art is so much fun!  There are a ton of maps available that show you exactly where all the art is, but if you want to have some fun with it, just walk around and see what you find.  That’s what we did.  So of course, there is a ton more artwork out there to discover, but let’s leave some for you to find!

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Before you get started, here’s some history on how this whole art scene movement got started.  Back in 2009, George Town, a UNESCO World Heritage city held a contest to revive its vibe and create an outdoor living musuem.

The winning idea was from local artist Tang Mun Kian, under the theme “Voices of the people“.  You can find 52 steel-rod sculptures around the city showing elements from the everyday life of locals.  The streets of the city are named after the trades, people and events that give a unique spin to each street.  Having these sculptures at key areas puts the story back into the city and brings it to life in such a fun way.

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There are many other artists who have contributed to the art around the city.  The most famous are the interactive art pieces created by Ernest Zacharevic or the beautiful murals by Julia Volchkova and Louis Gan.

The works that Zacharevic were commissioned in 2012 by the Penang Municipal Council.  He called the body of work ‘Mirrors George Town’ which include about 9 large scale murals in different location of the old town. His paintings represent characters and scenes that celebrate the energy and playfulness of life in the inner city.  His work has truly transformed the vibe of the city, but they are quickly fading, so we’re quite lucky to have seen most of them.  Some are already gone, but make us wonder if they will be replaced.

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But that’s not all.  There are also 12 murals depicting cats and dogs all over the city.  These were drawn at the George Town Festival 2013 and were dubbed ‘101 Lost Kittens’.  This is the work of a group of artists by the name of “Artists for Stray Animals”.  Their objective was to create awareness for the needs of strays, which are all over the city.  Their message was to help protect animals and get people to foster a love for pets.  This is totally a message we can get behind.

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The street art vibe is so alive in the city that even hotels, bars and restaurants that have participated in the fun.  We can totally appreciate the work that everyone has put into making the city a true living museum.

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If you are looking for more things to do in Penang, you can check out our City Guide with tons of tips and tricks on how to make the best of your time here.


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Discover the beautiful street art in Penang, Malaysia. Includes some tips and tricks to ind the best art in Georgetown. www.wediditourway.com

 

Your ultimate city guide to Penang, Malaysia

Tips, tricks and recommendations to make the best of your time in Penang, Malaysia. What to do, where to stay, where to eat and everything else to enjoy this UNESCO World Heritage city.

Penang is a wonderful city that made us fall for its vibe, its people and its food.  We spent 2 days here, but it was simply not long enough. We could have easily spent a whole week, but if you don’t have that much time, a good 3-4 days is the perfect amount of time. Penang has a really laid back but electric feel that’s hard to describe. Chill out and revel in the street art during the day. Pork out and dance the night away. Whatever you’re in the mood for, Penang has it.

The historic part, Georgetown, became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008.  It’s also the country’s second largest city after Kuala Lumpur, though you really don’t feel it’s that crowded when you’re exploring.

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Any place we can steal a kiss is a good place, in Penang

Getting here

Depending on where you’re are coming from, there are different ways to get to Penang Island.

Fly

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Air Asia, our carrier of choice in South East Asia

The fastest way to here is the plane. Flights with Air Asia are quite cheap and run regularly from major cities around the area.

Once you get to the airport, there are different options to get you to the city. The taxi ordered at the airport will set you back RM47 to Georgetown but RM80 if it’s very late. The drive there is about 30 minutes long but will depend in traffic. Ours took about one hour but what else can you expect from a Friday 5PM ride?

The cheapest option is the RM10 bus but it’s a much longer ride, at about one hour, even if there is no traffic.

You can also take a Grab for RM20 but make sure you order it when you get off the plane because there’s no wifi at the lobby of the airport, and you’ll probably have to double back to connect.

Ferry

You could also take a ferry, either from Langkawi or from Butterworth on the mainland.  The ferry from Langkawi is about 3 hours long, leaving twice a day.  Just note that very often, the waters are choppy, so not the best option if you have motion sickness or if you get seasick easily.  The cost is about RM60 per person, which is not so different than what the plane costs on a good day.  You can also leave from Butterworth.  That ferry runs every 20-30 min, from 5:20AM to 12:10AM.

Drive

You can also drive into Penang by bus or car rental.  That means you get to drive on the famous Penang Bridge.  The Penang Bridge is a 13.5km (8.4-mile) dual carriageway bridge that connects Butterworth on the mainland side of the state with Gelugor on the island of Penang.  The bridge was inaugurated in 1985 and it is the second-longest bridge in Malaysia and the fifth-longest in Southeast Asia.  You will notice that many people have quite an affection for this bridge and talk about it with pride.

Getting around

Getting around Penang is very easy.  If you are staying in Georgetown, you can easily get around by walking to where you need to get.  The furthest we walked to get anywhere was about 25 minutes.  Then again, our hotel was super well-situated!

If you’re not too keen on walking, what are you doing here?  Ok.  Just kidding, but it is a great way to get around.  If not, there is the free CAT bus that goes around Georgetown.  There are also paying buses available to get around to different parts of the city.  They also have bikes that you can rent, called Link Bike, that are super convenient.

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Link Bike, an easy way to get around Penang

And if none of this suits you, you can always use Grab.  It’s like Uber but much cheaper and probably the most convenient way to get around the city.

Things to do

Street art

Ok, this is probably the reason you are in Georgetown to start with.  Back in 2009, the Heritage city held a contest to revive its vibe.  The winning idea was from local artist Tang Mun Kian, under the theme “Voices of the people“, with steel-rod sculptures around the city showing elements from everyday life of locals.  And there are many other artists who have contributed to the art around the city.  The most famous are the interactive art pieces created by Ernest Zacharevic or the beautiful murals Julia Volchkova and Louis Gan.

There are a ton of maps available that show you exactly where all the art is but if you want to have some fun with it, just walk around and see what you find.  There are even bars and restaurants that have participated in the fun.

Clan Jetty

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Clan Jetty alleyways on a quiet afternoon

The clan jetties are water villages that are about a century old.  The were home to Chinese clans that came to settle here.  There used to be seven jetties, but one was destroyed by a fire.  Known as one of the last old Chinese settlements on the island, the jetties are houses on stilts of various Chinese clans.  Each jetty is even named after a Chinese clan, with the Chew Jetty being the most visited one.  It boasts the most stilt-houses, the longest walkway, a temple at its entrance. It’s good to know that none of the families pay any taxes as they are not living on land.  Talk about finding a winning loophole!

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The view of Penang from the end of the jetty

Today, it seems like the jetties are mainly used as stores where they sell souvenirs and treats.  We tried the dragon’s beard, a string sugar that is wrapped around some peanuts.

Getting here: The Clan Jetties are part of the Heritage walk.  You can get to them by walking straight down from Lebuh Chulia (beside the Kapitan Kling Mosque) at Pengkalan Weld (Weld Quay).

Eat

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CF market, thanks for the tip Anthony Bourdain

If you didn’t know, Penang is a Foodie paradise.  Here, you can find tons of delicious food around every corner.  Sure, some will be expensive, but you can get some amazing local delicacies without having to pay much.  Our favourites were the rendang and laska and char koay teow.  More on that later!

Just be sure to pick the busiest stalls, that’s where the good food is.  And like they say, “good things come to those who wait“, so strike up a conversation with the other patrons waiting and get ready to enjoy some delicious food.

Walk around Georgetown

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A beautiful example of Penang’s colonial past

This may seem obvious, but honestly, there is so much beauty to discover in this Unesco World Heritage city.  So walk around, see how people live, discover local shops, and admire the beauty of the home fronts.  We spent a good afternoon just wandering the streets and taking in all the sights, sounds and smells of the city.  With a vibrant Little India and Chinatown, it’s really a great place to discover.

Penang bridge

This is probably one of the main prides of the city and island.  Two long bridges that connect Penang island to the mainland.  Our Grab driver told us stories of visitors who have asked her to drive up and down the bridge.  Because the 13.5km bridge is the second-longest bridge in Malaysia and the fifth-longest in Southeast Asia, a lot people want to see it.

Penang hill

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Great view of the city from Penang Hill

This is a view you don’t want to miss, so make your way to Penang Hill.  You can hike up the 833-meter mountain or take the funicular.  This is the region’s fastest, steepest and highest train.  It will set you back 30RM per person but it’s well worth it for the view.  Once you are up there, you get a 180° panorama of the city.

At the hilltop, you will also find a mosque, a temple, and a few restaurants.  If you walk 10 min, you will get to the Habitat, a newly created attraction that includes a canopy walk, a sky walk, multiple gardens and guided tours.  You’ll get to really become one with nature, learn about the fauna and flora, and as always, get some awesome views of Penang (you might even see Langkawi, on a nice day).  There is an entrance fee, and don’t forget comfy walking shoes, sunscreen and insect repellant.

Getting here: You can take the 204 bus to get here, or the free city hop on and off bus, for a green alternative.  If not, you can always Grab-it there.  You can ask to get to Penang Hill or Bukit Bendera.

Batu Ferringhi Beach

This is probably the second most popular thing to do in Penang, after Georgetown.  Batu Ferringhi is a long stretch of soft, white sandy beach along a winding road named Jalan Batu Ferringhi.  It’s filled with a ton of accommodations and restaurants.  The night market here is quite legendary as well.  Its waters are a popular spot for a whole slew of water sports like jet-skiing, parasailing and windsurfing.  Not sure if you want to swim in the water (it may not be the cleanest), it is however, a pretty epic spot for sunsets.

Getting here: From Georgetown, you can take Bus 101.  You can pick up this bus from many of the popular tourist areas of the city, including the Jetty, Chulia Street and KOMTAR.  The bus ride is about an hour (depending on the time of day and amount of traffic).  It’s on the same route as the National Park.

Kek Lok Si Temple

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I guess we sneak kisses all over Penang, Kek Lok Si was no exception!

This temple is about 9km from the city.  This is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia, and one of the most important ones in South East Asia.  The complex is actually made up  of different sections including many temples, pagodas, a turtle liberation pond, shops, the four heavenly kings pavilion, gardens, and a huge statue of the Goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin.  Because it’s on a hilltop, you also get a great view of the city from here.

What makes this temple more impressive than most is that Kek Lok Si is carved into the rock face and, at the same time, it’s perched atop the Air Itam hillside.  The main attraction is the beautiful pagoda of Rama VI.  At the centre of the complex, this 30 metre high tower is acknowledged as the face of Kek Lok Si.  This is another place to get some awesome views of the city.

There is seriously so much you can do and see here, and it’s all beautiful.  Your visit will probably take a good 1.5 hours, if not more.  The entrance to the temple complex is free, but to visit and climb the pagoda, you will have to pay RM2 per person.  To take the inclined elevator to the Kuan Yin statue, you will also need to pay RM3.

Getting here: The temple is situated on Air Itam, and the best way to get there is to take a Grab.

Mosque Kapitan Keling

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Kapitan Keling Mosque in George Town, Penang

Situated at the heart of Georgetown on what is dubbed Harmony street, you will find the Kapitan Keling Mosque.  The street is nicknamed this way because you can find buildings of different religious faiths on the street.

Built in 1801 by Penang’s first Indian Muslim settlers, it’s the largest mosque in the Heritage city.  It really is a beautiful place to see.  If you wish to visit it, mosque officials will have to grant you permission.  You will only be allowed to enter if you’re dressed properly – for women, this means longs pants or skirts and long-sleeve shirts and men will also need to have their shoulders covered and wear pants.

Getting here: The mosque is at the intersection of Lebuh Buckingham and Lebuh Pitt.

National park

The Penang National Park is located on the north-west corner of the island in Teluk Bahang.  With so much to do here, it’s well worth a day trip.  It has some of the best beaches on the island located along it’s shores, so make sure you come prepared.  You can also hike it’s many trails, do the canopy walk (you’ll need tickets for this), do some bird watching, fishing or even camping.

You can also take boat rides along the shores to visit the beaches there.  Seriously, this place has it all!  Well it almost has it all.  They actually don’t sell any food or water inside the reserve you have to bring your own.

Getting here: From Georgetown, you can take Bus 101.  You can pick up this bus from many of the popular tourist areas of the city, including the Jetty, Chulia Street and KOMTAR.  The bus ride is about an hour (depending on the time of day and amount of traffic).

Snake temple

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Snake temple in Penang

Snake temple is 17km from the city and another place that is easy to get to with Grab.  This temple was built in honour of Chor Soo Kong, a Buddhist priest and healer.  According to the legend, the monk gave shelter to the snakes and when the temple was completed after his death, they moved in on their own. After they moved in, it was believed that the snakes were disciples of the priest, so it became the home to several resident venomous Wagler’s pit vipers and green tree snakes.  They must really like it here because they are still here.

You don’t need to worry too much about the venom – first, the snakes won’t bother you much.  Then, their venom has been removed so it’s quite safe to walk around.  Just don’t tease the snakes or try to grab them aggressively.  Anyway, they seem to be sleeping most of the time.

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One of the smaller snakes at the Snake Temple

When you get past the main area, you will find a place where they will let you touch a huge python… and then offer to take your picture holding it for RM40.  There is also the snake breeding area at the back where you can spot them hanging around the tree branches.

Getting here: From Georgetown, there are three buses that take you to Bayan Lepas, where the temple is located.  The bus numbers 302, 401 or 401E.  There is not much else around the temple in the way of sightseeing attractions, mostly surrounded by factories and a highway.  If not, you will definitely want to take a Grab here, if you don’t have a car.  It didn’t cost us much from Georgetown, roughly RM25.

Religious enclave around Snake temple

Right by the Snake temple, you there is a religious enclave with a Hindu temple, a church (Gurdwara Sahib Bayan Baru) and a Buddhist temple.  Although church and the Sri Vishwanather Visalatchi Alayam Temple were closed, the Buddhist temple, Than Hsiang Temple, was quite a sight to see.

It really wasn’t what we expected, have you ever seen a temple that looked like an apartment building?  Lucky for us, a volunteer found us and showed us around.  The main temple is on the 6th floor of the building, with a 2-storey high statue of Buddha.  The rest of the building is used as a community centre, a school, a retirement home and much more.

Getting here: Walk from the Snake temple to get here.

Where to stay

Penaga hotel

This was one of our favourite stays ever.  Georgetown is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so it’s only fitting we would stay in a heritage building at the heart of it.  Hotel Penaga was the top choice.  The hotel has kept its original layout and decor but updated the facilities.  The owners were architect and artist/environmentalist and you can feel the love in everything they have done here.  It’s the first restored heritage building in Malaysia with a green rating, which is why we loved it even more!

All the details came together beautifully – the decor was stunning, the furniture was influenced by Chinese design.  The walls are decorated with works from resident artists.  Each room has some beautiful stained glass windows that add a touch of luxury and class.  The lights were replaced by LEDs to ensure they are as efficient as possible.  The roof tiles were salvaged from demolished buildings in Penang, and the timber for structures and floors came from demolished colonial buildings throughout the peninsula.  Anything new was mainly handmade, which shows the importance given to support the local economy and artists.

The staff was so friendly and attentive to anything we needed.  They were always ready to help with anything and were always smiling.  They went above and beyond offering us a mid-day snack and happy hour cocktails which were perfect bookends for a refreshing dip in their lap pool.  A perfect way to get out of the heat in the city.

More than a hotel room, our stay at Hotel Penaga felt like a retreat away from the hustle and bustle of the city, while still being at the heart of it all.  We really felt that they take pride in everything they do.

Seriously, this place has everything you can possibly ask for.  It’s just awesome.

What to eat

Usually, we do a where to eat but in Penang, you can’t go wrong.  Instead, here are some delicious meals we tried.

Asam Laksa –  This is Penang’s most famous dish, so you just have to try it!  Typically, asam laksa is a fish-based noodle soup with thick rice noodles, a tart herb broth, chilli paste, lemongrass, shrimp paste & mackerel.  The base is tamarind so it’s a lot more sour than the coconut curries and is said to have an incredibly fishy, tangy taste.  Luckily, we found a vegetarian version of this dish, so we didn’t get that fishy taste.  The one we had Yun Shui Ge Vegetarian House was amazing!

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Vegetarian Laksa @  Yun Shui Ge Vegetarian House

Rendang – This mix is supposed to have been created in Penang so we had to try it as well.  It’s a spicy meat concoction that’s rich in spices.  With the main meat ingredient, rendang is made with coconut milk and a tasty paste of mixed ground spices, like ginger, galangul, tumeric, lemongrass, garlic, shallots, chillis and a slew of other spices.  We enjoyed the vegetarian version of this dish as well, and it was delish!

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Vegetarian Rendang @ Yun Shui Ge Vegetarian House

Char Koay Teow (Fried Rice Cake Strips / Noodles) – This is one of the most iconic street food dishes in Penang and you can find it everywhere.  It means “stir-fried rice cake strips” so it’s basically made by frying noodles in pork fat with a light and dark soy sauce, prawns, briny cockles, chewy Chinese sausage, crispy sprouts, fluffy egg and chillis, often served on a banana leaf, to infuse some more flavour into it.  Derek had this at CF Food Court and loved it!

The oyster omelette – It’s also known as “Oh Chien” and is a culinary delight amongst the list of street foods in Penang.  The oysters are fried in an egg & rice flour batter (to crisp it up), with chives and served with a spicy chilli or garlic sauce.

Curry Mee – It’s a soup made with a mix of curry and coconut milk, usually served with yellow noodles and rice vermicelli, fried bean curd, cockles, prawns, cuttlefish, cubes of pig’s blood and bean sprouts.  The Curry Mee is like traditional coconut laksa found in other parts of Asia.

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Fried sesame pau @ Yun Shui Ge Vegetarian House

And since we know you love our Where to Eat, here re some of our favorite places:

Yun Shui Ge Vegetarian House:  We came upon this restaurant almost by accident, but man were we lucky we found it.  They had all of the traditional Malay and Penang specialties, but in their more delicious vegetarian versions.  We had the laksa, rendang and dumplings here.  Each was more delicious than the next!

CF food market:  This is probably one of the most popular hawker centres in Penang, mainly because Anthony Bourdain came here.  So obviously, we had to come!  This was before his untimely death, which has hit us hard, considering he was such an inspiration to traveling foodies like us.  They have tons of stalls that offer pretty much everything.  After 9pm, the entertainment starts with singers and dancers.  It gets loud and smoky, but it’s quite a fun experience!

Lagenda restaurant:  The restaurant is a unique Malay-Indonesian-western fusion eatery on Campell Street.  It offers a few good vegetarian options as well as traditional Malay dishes with a twist.  We went here with friends and although the prices are a little more steep than other places, every dish we ordered was delish!  The waiting time may also be a little long, but only because the chef uses fresh ingredients, which is great when you taste the powerful punch of herbs and spices.  You can’t go wrong here.


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The ultimate city guide to Penang, Malaysia. Everything you need to know about having a great time in the city. Tips, tricks, what to do, where to eat and where to stay. Includes the beautiful street art as well. www.wediditourway.com

Your ultimate city guide to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Tips, tricks and recommendations to make the best of your time in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. What to do, where to stay, where to eat and everything else to enjoy your time in the city.

Kuala Lumpur is as diverse of a city as they come.  The capital of Malaysia is at the crossroads of different cultures, including Tamil, Chinese, Malay and the indigenous. It’s the country’s most populated city, so it’s no wonder that there’s an insane amount of things to do here for every type of traveler and any type of budget.

We spent about 3 days here and found the time to do quite a lot, despite the rainy weather and intense heat.  Because tourism is such an important focus for the city, you will really find plenty to fill your days here.  Feel free to go off the beaten path, explore anything between the very traditional to the ultra-modern, enjoy the party life or create memories as a family.  Seriously, this city has it all!

Getting there

Chances are, you will be flying into to Kuala Lumpur.  It’s a major airport in South East Asia and a layover stop for many flights around the area. There are 2 major airports in the city, KLIA and KLIA2.  Both are close to each other and not that far from the city centre.  There is a free shuttle that takes you from one airport to the other.

Getting to the centre of town is actually quite easy.  There are a few options for you:

Public transportation:  You can either take the express train to Sentral station.  It will cost you RM55 and take about 30 minutes.  The train passes every 15 minutes during peak hours.  You can also take the bus, or Airport coach, that costs RM12, but takes about 1 hour.  From Sentral, figure out where your hotel is and take the super convenient LRT to get there.

Taxis:  They are also a cheap option to getting around!  To get into the centre should cost between RM80-100 and take about an hour in all.  For an even cheaper option, you can take a Grab, the equivalent of Uber in South East Asia.  It will cost a fraction of the price!

Getting around KL

Public Transportation

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One of the perks of taking the Kuala Lumpur LRT is the amazing air conditioning!  Oh, and it’s pretty fast too.

Did we mention how tourist-friendly this place is?  The public transportation makes it super easy and convenient to get around the city.  We ended up taking the LRT everywhere, or even just walking.  Our hotel was so conveniently located that it made walking around easy.  Also, because it was a stone’s throw away from the Masjid Jamek LRT station, we found it was so easy to get around that way as well.

There is a 2-day tourist pass available for the LRT to visitors, but make sure you will using it a lot before buying it.  Because we could walk to most destinations, this wasn’t necessary for us.

Grab

Another great way to get around, especially if where you are going is not near public transportation is Grab.  For those who don’t know, Grab is Uber in South East Asia – They actually bought out Uber in this part of the world.  You get all the convenience, like knowing in advance how much your taxi ride will cost.  It’s cheap too, which is a good bonus!

Things to do

Petronas twin towers

Obviously, this is the first thing on the list.  I know we usually do things our way, but you just can’t miss these monumental towers when you’re in town.  They’re Derek’s favourite buildings so we just had to come see them for ourselves!

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Derek’s favourite building in the whole world!  The famous Petronas Twin Towers

Standing at an impressive 451.9 meters and 88 stories high, the Petronas twin towers are the pride of the city.  You can spot them from miles away all across the city, but you can’t just take one glance at them.  They are so different by day and by night that they are worth visiting twice.  We actually went before sunset and then later at night, in the same day.  The Suria KLCC mall is right there, so a perfect place to spend some time between visits.

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They are even more impressive at night.

For budget travelers like us, taking your picture downstairs is already quite impressive.  Be warned, there are a TON of people there.  A little tip: we found the best spot to take your pics are from the side – the middle is insanely crowded and someone will always be in your shot.

If you have some time and money to spare, you can go up the towers and onto the Skybridge.  This is the world’s highest 2-storey bridge that connects the 2 towers.  This will set you back 85RM per person.

Getting here: Super easy!  Jump on the LRT train and get off the KLCC Station.

Suria KLCC

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Get all your shopping needs taken care of at the KLCC mall.

Whether you are looking for the fanciest of fancy things, to watch a movie, to spend time at an art gallery or just to window shop, this is the mall for you.  With 7 storeys of shops, you can find anything and everything you could possibly need at Suria KLCC.

We’re not big shoppers, so we spent our time here at the Galeri Petronas, admiring the works of art on display.   The best part about the gallery – it’s free!  Perfect way to get cultured during one of our rainy days.

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There was no one around, so we decided to take some silly pictures at the Galeri Petronas

Another awesome way to spend your time not shopping is eating!  The Suria KLCC food court has something from all four corners of the globe.  The best part is that there are plenty of vegetarian options available.  Bon appetit!

Getting here: Easy!  If you were at the Petronas towers, just walk into the mall.  If not, head to the same KLCC station as the Petronas towers.

KLCC Park

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The KLCC Park, a great place to unwind in Kuala Lumpur.

If the weather is nice, you can grab you bite to eat as a takeaway and head down to the KLCC Park.  Situated within the KLCC precinct, it’s a “lush, 50-acre urban sanctuary” as they describe it.  We would tend to agree with this.  Perfect for people-watching and just chilling in the middle of the city, this park has something for everyone.  It boasts a two-acre children’s playground, wading pool and jogging track, shelters and benches, patterned footpaths and sculptures.

Getting here: Again, easy if you were at the Petronas towers of the mall.  Just walk outside! If not, head to the same KLCC station as the Petronas towers.

KL Forest Eco-Park

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The lungs of Kuala Lumpur, the Eco-Park is the only tropical rainforest left in the city.

A quick refuge from the city, this Eco-Park is a nice place to visit to get away from the city.  Great for adults and kids alike, there is an awesome 200m canopy walk that lets you get awesome views of the city and of the Menara Kuala Lumpur.  This park is the only remaining stretch of tropical rainforest within the city and has plenty of paths for jogging and trekking.

Entrance to the park is free (yay!) and it’s right next to the Menara Kuala Lumpur, so you can visit both quite easily.  The park is open from 7AM to 7PM daily.

Getting here:  If you are taking the LRT, Dang Wangi station is a short walk from one of the entrances.

Menara Kuala Lumpur

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The KL Tower looks just like the CN tower in Toronto, Canada… probably because we’re missing home.

Welcome to the 7th tallest telecommunications tower in the world.  With a height of 421m, Menara Kuala Lumpur is an impressive sight to see.  Although the Observation Deck is at 276m, it still offers great views of the city when you make your way up there.

On top of the views, there are also a ton of attractions at the Menara Kuala Lumpur, like a rotating restaurant, an upside-down house, an aquarium and a zoo.  Being animal lovers, we would say to avoid the last two because animals belong in the wild, not in boxes, but you do have those options.

Getting here: From the Eco-Park, you can see the tower and just walk to it. If not, you can also get off at either the Masjid Jamek station or the Dang Wangi station and make your way there.  Both are about 15 minute walks.

Walk around Chinatown

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Get ready for cheap street food, and plenty of souvenirs on Petaling Street, the heart of Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown.

What major city doesn’t have a Chinatown! KL’s is quite impressive, complete with temples, delicious food stalls, and endless shopping.  Based on Petaling Street, it is one of the most popular tourists sites, as much by day as by night.  If you have some decent haggling skills, put them to the test at one of the stalls here, although most of what you find is already pretty cheap.

The stalls here sell everything from Chinese herbs, to gadgets, imitation goods (we would recommend you avoid those) and anything else you can think of.  We’re not big shoppers (long-term travel will do that to you) and we’re minimalists too, but it was still fun to walk around and see what each vendor offers, if only to make some fun conversation with them!  The market is open every day, from 10am to 11pm.

Getting here: From the 1000 Miles Hotel, it’s a quick 10-15 minute walk to Petaling Street (Jalan Petaling).  From Bukit Bintang, it’s also about 15 minutes.  If not, you can take the Monorail to Maharajalela station which is around the corner of the southern end of Petaling Street.  If you are coming from KL Sentral or KLCC, you can take the LRT and get off at Pasar Seni.  The Pasar Seni station is just to the west of Chinatown.

Guan Di Temple

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Nestled in Chinatown, the lovely Guan Di Temple.

While you are in Chinatown, don’t forget to check out Guan Di Temple, one of the most impressive and oldest Chinese temples in Kuala Lumpur.  This temple is home to the legendary 59kg copper Guan Dao (Chinese pole weapon) that many believe it possesses a special power to bless and protect the person who touches or lifts it.  Some even believe that it has an inner force that can magically turn a person’s luck around as well.  Worth trying for sure… unless you have good luck already!

How to get here:  Just walk to Jalan Tun H. S. Lee, a small street parallel to Petaling Street and you will find it.

Sri Mahamariamman

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The impressive Sri Mahamariamman temple in the heart of Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur.

This is the oldest Hindu temple in Kuala Lumpur.  It is extravagantly decorated, with tiles from Spain and Italy, precious stones and gold.  It was founded by Tamil immigrants from southern India, who arrived in Malaysia as contract labourers to build the railways and roads or work in the rubber plantations – its primary purpose was to serve as a solace from the rigours of their working life.

Although construction began in 1873, there has been plenty of restoration and embellishment occurring over the years.  It was still under renovation when we visited!

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The designs in the Hindu temples are always so colourful

You will have to remove your shoes before you enter this temple.  They stall at the entrance will charge you 2RM per pair to keep them.

How to get here: If you were just at Guan Di Temple, walk across the street!

Merdaka Square

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Just around the corner from 1000 Miles Hotel, the Sultan Abdul Samad Building is a stunning sight across from Merdaka Square.

This is the main square in Kuala Lumpur, right in front of Sultan Abdul Samad Building (the former State Secretariat).  It is the first place that the Malaysian flag was hoisted in 1957, and here’s a fun fact for you, it is still home to the tallest flagpole in the world at 95m!  It’s a great place to take a picture, either on the fountain, in front of the Sultan Abdul Samad building, or the Royal Selangor Club.

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The tallest flag pole in the world is in Merdaka Square, Kuala Lumpur.

Getting here: Take the train to Masjid Jamek station and walk around on the bridge.  You can walk all around the square here, it’s just beautiful!

Mosques to visit

There are quite a few beautiful mosques in Kuala Lumpur that are worth visiting.  But before you go, there are a few things to note.

When you arrive at a mosque, as a non-Muslim visitor, you will need to register and will receive a robe to wear over your clothes, as much for men as for women.  This is to show respect to the members of the community here.  In line with their traditions, women need to have their head and hair covered, as well as their arms and legs.  Loose fitting pants are better suited than tight ones or leggings.  Men also need to have their shoulders covered, as well as their knees.  If not, they will also be given a robe, though they need not wear the hood.

When you are in religious places, whether they are mosques, temples or churches, it’s always important to act with integrity and respect for the people around.  It was quite frustrating to see people put on photoshoots here, imitating and laughing at certain ways people pray or act in this religious place.  We may not all believe in the same things, but it’s important that we treat others with respect, especially when they welcome us into their religious space.

Also, make sure you check opening hours for all mosques, as most of the time, they are closed to non-Muslim visitors during prayer hours.

Masjid Jamek

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Right across from the LRT station by the same name, Masjid Jamek Mosque

Masjid Jamek, known as the Friday Mosque, was built in 1907.  It’s the oldest mosque in the city and was built on the first Malay Burial Ground in Kuala Lumpur.  The mosque sits at the meeting point of the Klang and Gombak rivers, which is also the birthplace of Kuala Lumpur.  Quite a historic and significant place in the capital city.

The beautiful architecture of the mosque is a combination of Moorish, Islam and Magul.  It is really a stunning religious site and a great place to walk around and learn about the religion.  It’s important to note that the mosque is closed during prayer time for non-Muslims.  It’s open Saturday to Thursday, from 08:30 to 12:30 & 14:30 to 16:30 for visitors.

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A peak inside Masjid Jamek’s prayer hall.

Getting here: It’s a breeze!  Just get off Masjid Jamek train station and walk across the street.  You can’t miss it.

Masjid Negara

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As close as we could get in the prayer hall of the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur.

Masjid Negara is Malaysia’s National Mosque and a nationwide symbol of Islam.  It was built in 1965 and is made of a main prayer hall with 48 smaller domes around it.  Spread across 13 acres, the National Mosque is able to accommodate up to 15,000 people, though when we went, luckily, there were not so many people there.  The Grand Hall is the most intricate part of the mosque with beautiful stained glass adorning its walls, as well as verses from the Quran.

Again, be aware of opening hours as non-Muslim tourists will not be allowed in during prayer time.  The mosque is open from 06:30AM to 01:00PM, from 02:30PM to 04:00PM, and from 05:30PM to 07:00PM.

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How beautiful is this outdoor hall in Masjid Negara?

Getting here:  We could easily walk here from our hotel, or Masjid Jamek, but if you take the LRT, it’s at Pasar Seni station.  You will then need to cross the river by one of the pededstrian walkways. The signs to the Masjid Negara are quite clearly indicated.

Masjid Wilayah Persekutuan

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Masjid Wilayah Persekutuan, the most beautiful mosque we have visited so far!

To be honest, this mosque was not on our list at first, but we are so happy we made the trek here.  It ended up being our favorite place of all.  Masjid Wilayah Persekutuan, also known as the Federal Territory Mosque, opened its doors in 2000 after 4 years of construction.  Seeing the size of this mosque, we were impressed by how short this was but the volunteers seemed to think it was long.  They should see how long construction takes in Montreal!

Masjid Wilayah is one of the largest and most modern of all the mosques in Malaysia.  It incorporates design elements, motifs and architecture from Iran, Morocco, Turkey, Egypt, Malaysia and more.

The best thing about our visit here was the free guided tour.  Two volunteers took us around the mosque explaining its details and spoke to us about Islam.  We had very interesting discussions about the differences between sexes, how women are treated and so much more… Maybe we should have warned them they were dealing with a feminist.

The free tours are available every day from 10AM to 6PM except on Eid Fitri and Eid Adha holidays.

Getting here: The Masjid Wilayah Persekutuan Mosque is a little further than the center of town.  The easiest way to get there is to take a Grab, it’s about a 10 minute ride from our hotel.  You can also take the bus there, either from KL Sentral, Jalan Stresen Sentral 3 (U83) or from Pasar Seni (B115).  Entrance into the mosque is free, with or without the tour.

Thean Hou Temple

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Thean Hou temple is one of the oldest and largest Buddhist temples in Kuala Lumpur and South East Asia.

Your visit to Kuala Lumpur would not be complete without checking out Thean Hou Temple.  It’s one of the oldest and largest temples in Southeast Asia.  Built in 1894, it’s located on a hilltop in the southwest of the city, so it offers some amazing views of KL.  The six-tiered Buddhist temple is also known as the Temple of the Goddess of Heaven and is dedicated to Tian Hou, a goddess said to protect fishermen, and is also a shrine to Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy.  It’s a beautiful and cheerful temple with tons of lanterns swaying around in the wind.

Getting here: This temple is not close to any LRT stations, so the best way to get here is to grab a Grab, get it?

Batu Caves

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The 200-step stairway that leads you to the Batu caves

The Batu Caves are one of Kuala Lumpur’s most popular tourist attractions and well worth the trek to get there.  The caves and the 100-year-old temples there are situated about 10km north of KL and are actually at the top of a limestone hill.  Yes, you will have to climb up some stairs, but the monkeys there will provide you with some entertainment along the way.

There are three major caves and a few smaller ones.  The limestone formations are actually supposed to be around 400 million years old, so it is quite impressive to see.  Cathedral Cave, the largest and most popular of Batu Caves, is home to many Hindu shrines.  At the foot of Batu Hill are two other cave temples – the Art Gallery Cave and Museum Cave.

The Caves are free to visit and are open daily from 6AM to 9PM. There, you can see a great view of the city below.  Because there are temples in the Caves, you will be asked to wear appropriate clothing – shoulders covered and a skirt or shorts that go below your knees.

However, there is a paying cave, known as the Dark Cave that you can enter for a 35RM fee.  This will allow you to participate in a 45-minute guided tour where they will show you all the creepy crawly creatures that live in these caves.  They actually use some of the proceeds from your ticket purchase to do conservation and research for the eco-biodiversity in this cave.

*Update: since we wrote this article, the Batu cave steps have undergone a radical transformation!  There are now painted all types of vibrant colours, adding to its charm!

Getting here:  First, you will need to get to Sentral station.  From there, you will take a bus to Sentul then a train to Batu Caves.  If the train from Sentral is running, then you can take the KTM train directly to the Batu Caves.  The whole trek will take you about 45-minutes, but this depends on when the train leaves vs when you get there. This train will cost you RM4.80 per person to go and come back to Sentral.

Where to eat

TG’s Nasi Kandar: We went to TG’s more times than we care to acknowledge for some delicious Indian food.  Can you really blame us?  The food was cheap, delicious and easy to get to.  Everything we can ask for.  Our favourites here are the veggie murtabak, the cheese roti and the butter paneer marsala.

Alor street: This street transforms into a night market during the evening, every single night.  Cheap eats can be found in food stalls all around, as well in the surrounding restaurants.  Just make sure you check out prices before you sit.  You will also have your fair share of entertainment here with all the street musicians around.  An awesome place to walk around and take in all the sights, sounds and smells.

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The always happening Night Market on Alor Street

Waterlily: Unfortunately for us, we only found Waterlily the day before leaving KL, because we would have eaten here many more times!  Being a vegetarian restaurant, this was perfect for us.  At a very reasonable cost, they will serve you set meals consisting of tofu in soy sauce, 1 of 3 types of fake meat, vegetables, rice and a drink.  Their fried noodles and steamed buns were also to die for.

Where to stay

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Our cozy home at the heart of Kuala Lumpur

This one is a no-brainer.  We picked a super convenient hotel in the heart of the city.  The 1000 Miles Hotel is a stone’s throw away from Masjid Jamek LRT station.  Conveniently located between Little India and Chinatown, a short walk away from Merdaka Square and Masjid Jamek Mosque, it’s pretty much walking distance to most of the attractions you want to see.

As if it’s convenient location wasn’t enough, there’s also the fact that the rooms are super clean, the bed is comfy and the shower is amazing.  The staff is always helpful and they have plenty of tips for when you make plans.  Above that, they are just great people to chat with.  The laid-back feel of the place made it super easy to meet new friends and the hang out in the lobby.  Better yet, there is an awesome rooftop terrace where you can drink a beer at night and just hang out watching the amazing view of the city when it’s all lit up.

Seriously, this place has everything you can possibly ask for. It’s just awesome.


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The ultimate city guide to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  Everything you need to know about having a great time in the city. Tips, tricks, what to do, where to eat and where to stay.  www.wediditourway.com