It doesn’t take long to understand why Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s robust capital, is one of the most visited cities in the world. First, there is its remarkable diversity—a mix of Mughal, Moorish, Tudor, Neo-Gothic, Asian, Islamic and modern architecture. Then there are its charming shophouses, historic and colorful two-story structures in which merchants once sold wares on the ground floor and lived on the second with his family. As for culture, the city is awash with arts, from dance to sculpture and painting. But rising above it all is the city’s main draw and glittering centerpiece—the Petronas Twin Towers, soaring postmodern skyscrapers resembling a pair of rockets preparing for liftoff.
It is a spectacular achievement that a city so young could develop so quickly. KL, as it is sometimes called, was founded by a Malay chief with help from Chinese tin miners around 1857. Back then, just a few houses and shops lined the jungle-dense shores where the Sungai Gombak and Sungai Klang Rivers meet. (To give you an idea of the city’s modest beginnings, its name translates into “muddy confluence of rivers”). The British ruled from the late 1800s, overseeing railway construction and spurring rapid growth. The harvesting of rubber in the early 1900s—used primarily to outfit the newly invented automobile—bolstered the city’s wealth and vitality further. Kuala Lumpur, except during the stagnant Japanese occupation during World War II, became an economic force, unbridled even more by its independence in 1957.
Today, Kuala Lumpur is unlike any other city in the world. This dizzying metropolis is renowned for its emerald-draped parklands dotted with banyan trees, gleaming skyline that conceals gigantic shopping malls, reverent mosques and temples, and sizzling street food served amidst incense-laced markets. One could say that KL is many things to many people, a rich amalgam where tradition and custom remain very much alive despite the pull of modern technology.