So far, what are my tips for my own base city of KL, for the sustainable traveller? That is a good question. This is what I intend this live page to be for.
There are a lot of travel blog guides for Kuala Lumpur, for a layover. But these just scratch the surface, and rarely contain tips for the sustainable or even the offbeat traveller. By and by, as I explore my own city, I will gradually write about the quirky things I find.
This is not so much a list of my ‘best recommendations’, nor is it an overview of where the city is at in terms of sustainability practices. Rather, it is a shortlist of interesting tips that would increase the sustainability element of your time in Kuala Lumpur.
Obviously this is not an exhaustive list – I’ll keep updating this every so often with different things! But here’s something to get you started!
KL for the Sustainable Foodie Traveller
This would not be a true Malaysian-written guide if it didn’t begin with food! There is a mind-blowing diversity and availability of food in Malaysia, throughout the country. But what if you’re looking for a little extra value other than just the culinary one?
This site is basically like the Airbnb/Couchsurfing for restaurants. You select the local home chef that you want to visit. Then they make you a home-cooked meal and host you for a pleasant dinner evening. I’ve tried this myself in Kuala Lumpur with a couchsurfer, and lucked out with a wonderful hostess.
This is a local social enterprise that caters and organises meals cooked by KL’s many refugee communities. Malaysia receives a great many refugees from the region (mainly Rohingya fleeing ongoing genocide in Myanmar) as well as internationally. This is despite getting no formal recognition of their status here. Picha Project is a Malaysian enterprise that aims to provide empowerment through livelihood for refugees sheltering in Kuala Lumpur, and introduce the culture of the refugees’ origin countries through their food.
Thinking out of the box – suppose the foodie experience is not about your meal? PERTIWI runs a volunteer-driven soup kitchen to deliver basic food aid to the society’s disenfranchised. You can contact PERTIWI to assist in soup kitchen activities, run 4 times a week at several locations within central Kuala Lumpur.
KL for the Zero Waste Traveller
If you’re in the city for only a short period of time, there is no need to transition from your usual zero waste travel habits. However, if you’re in the city for a week or more, or intend to use KL as your ‘rejuvenating’ base in the middle of a longer series of travel, then you start to need to replenish supplies, buy groceries, get things repaired, etc. Check out these tips:
Zero Waste app
Places to get secondhand goods, bulk/not plastic-packaged groceries, recycling locations, etc. can be found on the Zero Waste app, downloadable from App Store and Google Play. Choose ‘Malaysia’, pay $1, and access the geo-referenced information.
Zero Waste toiletries
As a tourist, I’d point you to Pavilion mall in Bukit Bintang as being the easiest location for a re-supply. There is a Lush, for those sustainable travellers who feel more comfortable with a known brand.
Additionally, on the same floor as the Lush store, on a cross bridge to the other side of the mall, is an Olive Tree kiosk. Olive Tree is an Australian-Malaysian brand selling organic and non-plastic packaged personal care products.
For those who are more mobile or perhaps couchsurfing in more residential KL areas, The Hive in Bangsar and Ampang has a wider range of zero-waste / non-plastic packaged goods.
Low Carbon KL Transportation
Most Malaysians still live very car-centric lives. However, visitors to KL typically stay around the city centre hubs. This makes the more sustainable train system perfectly viable for the sustainable traveller. I won’t really cover the KL train systems, since there’s already a lot of official information. Just check out the link, or enquire on arrival. But KL also has a bike sharing option.
oBike used to operate around the city centre (this is an app-based, dockless bike sharing platform, with yellow bicycles distributed across the city). You unlock the bike with the smartphone app. And ‘dockless’ means you don’t have to return the bike at any particular location. Just leave it. Location tracking enables its recovery and re-arrangement. However, around 2018 it went defunct, probably for the same reason it didn’t take off in other cities.
Taking its place almost immediately, are electric scooters. By scooter, I mean the hipster standing-up kind, not the la dolce vita Vespa kind. Uptake seems pretty good – I think even more than oBike – and it seems to annoy people less. Maybe because they’re less bulky than bicycles? And that it’s motorised, so you don’t need to have athletic pretensions or be suitably attired? Anyway, that’s probably your most sustainable transport option around the city centre at the moment. And… Beam has confirmed that a hipster beard is not a necessary pre-condition for renting a scooter! Phew!
Although scootering is pretty much the most sustainable transport option, bear in mind that Malaysian traffic can be unpredictable (you have travel insurance, right?). Even though there are (sort of) bike lanes in some places, they are sometimes on the side of proper roads without a barrier. Also, motorcyclists often commandeer these lanes as ‘shortcut’ routes to bypass traffic on proper roads.
You’ll also sometimes see scooters ridden on paths meant for pedestrians – it’s not so clear cut here. Just please give consideration to pedestrians first, if you need to take these routes.
KL for the Sustainable Culture Traveller
Most travel blog articles, and even official tourism material, would cover the cultures of the major races in Malaysia. The majority content for KL point you to the Chinese and Indian communities, who are often more prominent in cities and towns across Malaysia because that was where the migrant communities congregated in the long years of our history.
Here, I intend to add lesser-known culture tips, and explain how your visit can significantly improve more overlooked or marginalised communities.
Mah Meri Cultural Village
Although not in Kuala Lumpur, this little cultural village complex is an easy half-day road trip from KL. The Mah Meri are an aboriginal people of the Malaysian peninsula, belonging to the Senoi ethnic group. They live in the coastal areas of Carey Island, in the state of Selangor. Known for their surreal wooden statuary and intricate nipa origami work, the Mah Meri Cultural Village tries to keep alive these cultural elements in the face of modernisation.
In the early part of the year (around late January to early February), they celebrate two Ancestor festivals. Both are about honouring their ancestor and guardian spirits. Find out more from my story attending Ancestor Day with a coastal Mah Meri village, along with tips on how to participate respectfully. Check out Mah Meri related tours (and other local tours) on Lokalocal.
Attend an event organised by Refuge for the Refugees
Refuge for the Refugees (RFTR) was founded by a bunch of 18 year olds (their own words). They provide support to refugees that make their way to the relative safety of Malaysia, primarily to the Chin ethnic minority. Chins are one of two ethnic groups fleeing persecution from the up-and-coming exotic travel destination of Myanmar; the other are the Rohingya, fleeing genocide.
RFTR organises screenings and other events every now and then to raise awareness on refugees seeking asylum in Kuala Lumpur. Why not check them out, and meet inspiring young people doing their part responding to the refugee crisis of the 21st century? Proceeds help them continue their work providing schooling to refugee children and creating a support network linking Malaysians with resources, and refugee communities who need them.
The School of Hard Knocks
This is a pewter workshop activity that you can sign up for at the Royal Selangor Pewter visitor centre in Kuala Lumpur. Accessible by public transport as well as via numerous shuttle pick-ups from major hotels, you get to fashion your own little piece of lead-free pewter artefact which you can take home. (Mine is now the dish that I use to mix DIY facial scrub in – it makes me feel like an apothecary!).
Royal Selangor Pewter is the royal pewterer of the Sultan of Selangor, having received their warrant in 1979. Their pewter pieces range tremendously in style, and are retailed in major Malaysian malls as well as airports, but always with collections showcasing its Chinese migrant roots as well as its Malaysian-grown history.
The workshop is a 30 minute activity, and the fee is RM65.
KL for the Conservationist/Outdoor Traveller
Malaysia has many valuable nature destinations, spanning rainforests, wetlands, bird congregation areas, coral reefs, cave complexes, and more. Although there has been a great deal of development pressure on/near natural heritage areas, there is a longer history of naturalist interest in the country.
The conservationist traveller could find out more by looking up talks and forest walks facilitated by the oldest environmental NGO in Malaysia, the Malaysian Nature Society. Check out their website, and you can also drop by their office – itself a quaint old early-Kuala Lumpur era building.
Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM)
For the outdoorsy traveller in Kuala Lumpur looking for a little bit more than light walks and hikes in a green park, FRIM is a great option. Yes, without leaving Kuala Lumpur, it is possible to undertake nature activities and get more of a learning experience in a rainforest!