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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.

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Featured Hotels


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.

Traders Hotel

Firmly targeting the business traveller, Traders Hotel offers a location and amenities associated with the top Kuala Lumpur hotels but its prices are easier on the pocket. Rooms are modern and smartly decorated, and service is friendly and efficient. A bonus of staying here is having immediate access to the rooftop Sky Bar, an in-demand address thanks to its epic views of the Twin Towers.

Metro 360

Located in a bustling part of the Golden Triangle, Metro 360 offers tasteful, air-conditioned rooms across 22 floors of a tower block. Guests can make use of all-day dining options, free Wi-Fi, a pool and a gym, as well as shuttle buses to KLCC and Sentral Station. Visitors hoping to explore KL's shopping scene will appreciate the hotel's location nearby the Pavilion, Starhill and Lot 10 shopping malls.

Villa Samadhi

Set behind bamboo-clad gates in the leafy embassy district, this intimate hideaway is one of the city's finest boutique offerings. The 21 rooms and suites are wonderfully spacious and decorated in exotic artefacts collected from across Asia. Guests can enjoy private hot tubs and romantic balconies that overlook a tear-shaped pool surrounded by cabanas and tropical foliage. The restaurant serves all-day dishes and an indulgent breakfast come daybreak.

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.