Sam (from Malaysia)
In this article about Kuala Lumpur nightlife I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about having a good night out in this city. You’ll learn all about the usual goings on in and around town, what to expect from the place, and how it has a different vibe to other parts of South East Asia.
By way of a quick background report, you should be aware that the local people are a mixture of Malays, Chinese and Indians. Most of them socialize amongst themselves and don’t mix with people of different races. There’s also a thriving expat community, with westerners most often being middle-aged professionals.
Malaysia portrays an image of being a deeply Islamic country and has good ties with the Middle East. Religion is serious business and a lot of Arabs come here for a holiday. This directly influences the Kuala Lumpur nightlife scene. Drinking and partying isn’t as acceptable as other places in Asia. From experience, it can be tricky to meet and hang out with locals unless you know people. It’s easier to find and meet Westerners. Young American, European and Australian backpackers who like to drink and have a good time flood the city.
The Kuala Lumpur nightlife isn’t really about drinking, not in the eyes of the locals at any rate. For them it’s more about eating delicious street food and hanging out with friends. Malaysians like to sit in restaurants and drink soft drinks or coffee whilst chatting. Alor Road is the best place for this, but not all foreigners like this scene. I have to admit that I’m one of them, I like to enjoy a beer or two and found this city a difficult place to get one.
In Thailand almost every restaurant sells beer; the same is true for Cambodia and Vietnam but not in Malaysia. Indian and Malay restaurants never sell beer, Chinese ones often do, but not so much in the city centre. Food courts are another place to have a drink, but the ones in Bukit Bintang and Kuala Lumpur city centre are more restrictive.
Drinking in pubs and bars is expensive by SEA standards and you should expect to pay around the same as you would back at home in the west. I have friends who bring bags and bags of vodka and whisky back from the airport when they arrive because it’s cheaper. You can buy cheap liquor in some shops, but the quality is low and it may not be safe to drink.
The best place to be at night is around Bukit Bintang. Locals and tourists like to hang around here, so let’s have a look at this part of the Kuala Lumpur nightlife first.
Bukit Bintang is full of hotels, restaurants, and vendors selling street food. During daylight, people flock to the malls and at night it transforms into a busy and bustling area with locals and tourists coming to eat and hang out. Restaurants have cheap food and different cuisines. Drinking beer is difficult, remember that Malaysia is a Muslim country and drinking isn’t as open, but you can find bars and pubs near the shopping malls in Bukit Bintang. Alcohol can be very expensive here compared to local standards, so don’t expect the Kuala Lumpur nightlife to be as wild as other parts of Asia.
If you do decide to hang around Bukit Bintang, you’ll probably see a lot of beggars. Some are disabled and others send their kids to do their dirty work. Foreigners find this a little bit disturbing. I was sat in Alor Road and had a problem with some of these kids. The Westerners on the next table gave them some money before leaving the restaurant, so the kids assumed that I would do the same. They kept standing next to me for 10 minutes begging for money… it was an uncomfortable experience. The waiter had to send them away in the end. Giving money to street beggars in SEA is not often a good thing as it often ends up in the hands of unsavoury characters, so my advice on this is to ignore beggars.
You can buy cans of beer from most convenience stores and, as you might expect, they are much cheaper than in the pubs. I used to buy a few cans with my friends and drink them in the park near KLCC – about a 30-minute walk from Bukit Bintang. Although it’s frowned upon, it’s not too much of a problem if you’re quiet and discrete. My friends and I often did this for pre-drinks before heading out to some of the more expensive places.
Changkat Road in Bukit Bintang has the best party scene in Kuala Lumpur. This is a stretch of road lined with pubs, nightclubs, and cocktail bars. Most start to get busy at around 10pm and stay open until way after midnight. Some have live bands and international DJ’s. This is probably one of the most popular places to enjoy the Kuala Lumpur nightlife, but the service standards tends to be poor and the drinks aren’t cheap. You can find good deals during Happy Hour, but that’s before 10pm.
Another thing that might disappoint some travellers is the fact that the Kuala Lumpur nightlife scene isn’t really the best place to find and pick-up girls. There’s generally more men around than women…
Meeting regular Malaysian women inside the clubs is difficult because groups don’t mix well with strangers in a bar or club. If you do manage to strike up a conversation, it’s unlikely that it’s going to end with you bringing her back to your hotel. Realistically, you’re not going to meet anyone that’s up for a casual encounter. When I lived here I went out most weekends, and it was almost impossible to penetrate the groups of girls in the bars. They just didn’t appreciate the interruption and interest from me.
Compared to Kota Kinabalu or Kuching, where the girls are much more laid back and open, you might find the Kuala Lumpur nightlife a bit of a disappointment. In fact, it was quite a shock at first after all the attention I had in Thailand and Vietnam.
Prostitutes work inside some of the clubs and they can be a little forthcoming. African prostitutes in particular can be very direct and pushy. I was constantly harassed by one and she didn’t seem to care at all that I was with my girlfriend! She wouldn’t take no for an answer and kept following me around.
The red light areas are in Bukit Bintang and Chow Kit. In the former, girls walk freely along the street whilst in Chow Kit you’ll find ladyboys. Expect to see Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, and African prostitutes. Some tend to hang outside of hotels trying to find the wealthier Westerners. You can also find massage parlours around that double up as brothels.
So, as you’ve read, the Kuala Lumpur nightlife isn’t very active or wild compared to other parts of South East Asia. Locals like to enjoy street food and chat over coffee. Pubs and bars on Changkat Road offer a wider selection of venues, but the prices outside of Happy Hour can be high. Last but not least, the Kuala Lumpur nightlife isn’t the best place to pick up girls.
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