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World Travel Guide > Guides > Asia > Malaysia > Kuala Lumpur

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Local time Kuala Lumpur

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Kuala Lumpur History

It’s hard to believe Kuala Lumpur didn’t even exist 200 years ago.

Kuala Lumpur's history is surprisingly short – it only came into existence in the late 1850s, when a group of Chinese tin prospectors settled where the Klang and Gombak rivers meet in what was then deep mosquito-ridden jungle. The mines developed into a trading post which evolved into a frontier town.

Its development into modern day 'KL' began under British colonial rule, when the scruffy little settlement ridden by inter-gang rivalry was placed under the control of a Chinese Kapitan or headman. His name was Yap Ah Loy, and he was responsible for the layout of the city.

The jungle was cleared, and the construction of more substantial brick and stone buildings commenced. The use of skilled Chinese carpenters meant that many of the buildings that sprang up resembled the distinctive shop houses of southern China.

The construction of a railway line, the establishment of laws, courts, a prison and a school all contributed to the city’s early modernisation. This led to KL being proclaimed capital of the newly formed Federated Malay States at the end of the 19th century.

Different communities settled into distinct areas – the Chinese around Chinatown and the commercial district, Malays and Indians along Java Street, and the British around Padang, now known as Merdeka Square.

KL’s growth continued apace until capture by the Japanese in 1942. But British administration returned post-war, and preparations for Malaysian independence began in earnest, coming to fruition in 1963.

In 1969, race riots kicked off between the Malays and the Chinese. Almost 200 people died during the 13 May Incident, leading to nationwide economic reform to reduce Chinese monopolies.

Since independence, KL has steadily grown, particularly during the boom years of the 1980s and 1990s, into the ultra-modern (in parts) city it is today.

Did you know?
• Kuala Lumpur’s name translates as ‘muddy confluence’.
• Kuala Lumpur hosted the 1998 Commonwealth Games.
• At 379m (1,2142ft), the Petronas Twin Towers were the world’s tallest buildings between 1998 and 2004.

Featured Hotels

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MiCasa All Suite Hotels

For a home-from-home experience, this design hotel has accommodation in the form of elegant, well priced one to three bedroom suites with kitchens. There's also a palm-shaded pool, a restaurant and a bar. The hotel is situated in the central business district, opposite the Petronas Towers and near the shopping centres of KLCC.

The Majestic

This lovely heritage hotel retains the refined air of its pre-war days, but recent restorations have added a modern 15-storey Tower Wing. The contrast between old and new plays out in the bedrooms, with those in the colonial quarter boasting wood panelling and claw tubs, while the new wing entices with four-poster beds and sleek glass fittings. The hotel's parlours, smoking lounge and orchid-filled conservatory add further allure.

Mandarin Oriental

Located in the cosy Back Bay, the Mandarin Oriental combines comfort and style to produce one of Boston's most luxurious and trendy hotels. Rooms resonate with classic oriental styles with a modern flare and boast beautiful views of the Back Bay cityscape. After a long day of touring and shopping, enjoy a soak in the oversized Jacuzzi baths or indulge in a massage at the Mandarin Oriental's five-star spa. Perfect for a business retreat or a relaxing holiday, the Mandarin Oriental will not disappoint.

Tune Hotel

Taking the budget airline concept and applying it to hotel rooms, the brightly-coloured Tune Hotel offers limited service at low cost. Its tidy and compact singles, doubles and twins are good value but add a surcharge for air-con, Internet access and other extras. The flagship hotel is located downtown, a short stroll from Medan Tuanku Monorail station, but a new sister establishment has opened in Jalan Putra.

Hotel Capitol

Regular promotions and online booking deals bring down prices at this towering business-type hotel set in the midst of the Golden Triangle. Rooms are neat and functional rather than opulent, but the staff are friendly and the location is excellent, with the Jalan Bukit Bintang shopping strip right on your doorstep. Guest have access to an upscale restaurant, a kitchen-bar and 24hr concierge service.

Sarang Mas

This homely bed and breakfast set in a 1920s brick-built house offers rooms with simple furnishings along with communal lounge areas, and suits both families and single travellers. There's relaxed and welcoming atmosphere that feels far-removed from the business hotels of KLC, and the owners also have various other options, including apartments and single rooms, in six other locations across the city.