You know how it is. We tend to put off seeing the attractions where we actually live. I swear, half the time I’ve explored Kuala Lumpur’s sightseeing spots, is because I was taking someone from out of town. But in August 2020, Malaysia’s pandemic lockdown was successful enough that the government allowed free movement at least within our own states. So, like many other avid travellers, I experimented with a staycation, and decided to check out the National Planetarium.

But I didn’t actually make it to the planetarium itself. You see, after parking my car and wandering out towards it, something else caught my attention. There seemed to be exhibits in the garden below the crest on which the planetarium stood. I changed my mind, and went to explore the National Planetarium’s garden instead.

After all, I had been in the planetarium before (although it was decades ago!). But I’d never explored the planetarium’s garden.

For what you can find inside the National Planetarium, and more information on the planetarium itself, the official website is bilingual in Malay and English.

How to go to the National Planetarium in Kuala Lumpur

The National Planetarium of Malaysia (‘Planetarium Negara‘) is located within the wider Perdana Botanical Garden zone on Bukit Aman, a recreational and tourism complex that includes other attractions such as the KL Bird Park and the Butterfly Park. This means it is quite easy to reach.

There is usually some parking near each attraction in the Perdana Botanical Garden complex, but it’s also a good idea to take public transport and do a bit more walking once inside the complex, especially if you’re planning to come during peak periods such as weekends or public holidays.

1. KL Hop On Hop Off tourist bus

For visitors to Kuala Lumpur, the KL Hop On Hop Off bus option is especially convenient for those who also want to pick up other KL attractions as well, and have already bought the 48 hour ticket. You could alight at the Bird Park stop (Stop 9), but the National Planetarium is equally walkable from Stop 10 at the National Mosque.

2. GoKL City Bus

You can also get to the National Planetarium using the free GoKL City Bus. The National Mosque (Masjid Negara) is along the Red line bus route. Like the Stop 10 option above, this means you would walk to the planetarium from the National Mosque.

View of the National Mosque from the vicinity of the bus stop

Alternatively, you could also alight at the KTM stop, but you would be on the wrong side of a usually busy road. That said, this stop is the British colonial era old railway station building. The old railway station is a heritage building, and still in use as the headquarters for Malayan Railways (now known as Keretapi Tanah Melayu).

3. Train options to Bukit Aman

You have several options to get to the Perdana Botanical Garden complex by train.

If you’re already at KL Sentral station, you could actually walk through the station complex to the Muzium Negara (National Museum) MRT station. Emerge to the street from here, and cross the highway via the Muzium Negara overhead pedestrian bridge to get to the planetarium. If you’re not already at KL Sentral, you can get there by taking the MRT Kajang Line, and get off at Muzium Negara.

You can also take the KTM Komuter, which services broader commutes from suburbs outside the Klang Valley into Kuala Lumpur. You have the option of getting off at the KL Sentral or Kuala Lumpur stations. The latter is the original KL central station, and is same location as the KTM bus stop mentioned above.

Malayan Railways heritage building

4. Taxi or ride share options

As the National Planetarium is inside a tourism park, it is also easy to get there by taxi or ride share. The local ride share pioneer is Grab, but there are also other e-hailing options these days. 

Where to find the National Planetarium recreational garden

The National Planetarium’s recreational garden is located opposite the public car parking area. If you’re walking towards the planetarium, you would find the garden on the left, near the bottom of the planetarium’s grand ‘Milky Way’ steps.

Interesting things in the National Planetarium recreational garden

The garden of the National Planetarium isn’t very big. I didn’t expect much, but a retro-looking structure caught my eye. Upon closer inspection, I realised that I had stumbled upon a hidden gem of Malaysia’s nation-building history.

Sundial installation within the recreational garden of the National Planetarium in Kuala Lumpur, viewed from the side. It is shaped like a half circle, the side facing the viewer is tiled with yellow mosaic. The dial is embellished with a small multi-pointed star.
Sundial installation within the recreational garden of the National Planetarium in Kuala Lumpur

The Merdeka Sundial

The installation was a sundial, named the Merdeka Sundial after the Independence of Malaya (now Malaysia). It was a serendipitous find, for Merdeka Day (Independence Day) was coincidentally approaching at the time. Hence, my photos during this staycation often feature Malaysian flags somewhere in the scene.

Although the planetarium was only built in the early 1990s, this sundial dates from much further back. It was built in 1957, the year of Malaya’s independence from the British, and was moved to its current site in 1997. The architect was Stanley Edward Jewkes, an American who – interestingly – was granted the title of Tan Sri, one of the highest noble titles in Malaysia. I reckon it’s probably for his contributions as Director of the Malaysian Public Works Department.

The shape of the sundial draws inspiration from the yellow crescent and star on the Malaysian flag. The bowl of the crescent is the face of the sundial, and the gnomon (the part that casts the shadow) is topped by an 11-pointed star. (In 1957, there were only 11 states in the federation, as Sabah and Sarawak hadn’t joined yet).

There are directions for how to use the sundial. You will get the true standard time for Peninsular Malaysia, which is GMT+7.5. This is half an hour behind the current Malaysia time, which was adjusted to GMT+8 (Borneo time) after Sabah and Sarawak joined the federation.

Half of the bowl of the sundial crescent at the National Planetarium in Kuala Lumpur. Blue lines mark zodiac constellation changes, yellow and red lines at different times of the year, along with the number markings, to tell time according to where the star shadow falls.
Mosaic bowl of the sundial with guide lines for telling time and constellation position.
Merdeka sundial in the garden of Malaysia's National Planetarium. Close up of the number 11 laid in black mosaic against  light blue mosaic background. The time guide lines in yellow and red mosaic curve above it, forming an ovoid shape. Red mosaic representing a few zodiac symbols form a line to the left.
Close up view of the analema pattern on the Merdeka sundial. Use the yellow line between the winter and summer solstice, and the red line between summer to winter solstice.
The gnomon of the Merdeka sundial at the National Planetarium in Kuala Lumpur, topped with an 11-pointed star.
The gnomon of the Merdeka sundial is topped by an 11-pointed star, which represented the states in the Malay federation at the time of independence.

The Ancient Observatory Park

The planetarium garden also has an ‘ancient observatory’ section. Three installations are found here, in honour of three different stargazing cultures with ties to Malaysia.

There are replicas of two observatories of the great continental civilisations of China and India. One was built by the astronomer Guo Shou Jing in Gao Cheng, China. The astronomical information obtained from the observatory helped order life in China. Acquiring it was said to be the responsibility of the Emperor, and linked to his mandate to rule.

The other is a replica of one of the Jantar Mantar (observatories), built by Emperor Sawai Jai Singh II, who had wanted to make science more accessible to the public. This one looks like it might be the one in Delhi, which I have personally visited. I had also gone to the Jantar Mantar in Varanasi, but that one looks different.

The third installation is a replica of Stonehenge, with the original in Salisbury, England. Come to think of it, I’ve also been to Stonehenge. I seem to gravitate to such sites in my travels, but I can’t say that astronomy itself is a field that I’m knowledgeable in!

Space-time sculpture

Another notable installation in the garden was a pretty cool artistic sculpture. The sculpture features flowing lines of time, while space is depicted by spheres representing the planets. Curves bounding the lines are inscribed with Arabic numerals, representing man’s scientific endeavour to understand the universe.

Inspired by space-time

Amenities in the National Planetarium garden

Aside from these feature installations, the planetarium garden is also reasonably pleasant to rest in. There are short astro-themed trails named after planets. Planter boxes are shaped like stars, and every so often there are whimsical imprints in the cement that faintly bring to mind ‘alien’ footprints.

There is also a spacious seating area, the tables and stools designed as though they were made with space rocks. It makes for a nice area to loiter in, for family members not particularly interested in the planetarium but waiting for those who are. Or it could be a place to have a little picnic after a visit to the planetarium.

Ceres seating area

The National Planetarium is an institution created during the modernisation phase of Malaysia. It opened to the public in 1994, just in time for me to go on a school trip to see the astronomy show at the dome projector theatre. It marked the beginning of Malaysia’s study of space science, with the country’s first telecommunication satellite launched just two years later. A little over a decade after the establishment of the National Planetarium, Malaysia sent its first cosmonaut to the International Space Station under a joint programme with the Russian Federation, an inspirational event at the time for Malaysia’s millennial generation. Today, the National Planetarium remains active in promoting interest in astronomy, and a community of space hobbyists now exist in Malaysia.


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8 Responses

  1. Sharyn says:

    I’ve never been to Malaysia but am putting it on my list for when i do. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Teja says:

      You’re welcome! tbh I don’t know that I’d recommend it for a first-time visitor to the country, given so many other contenders for your time! But if you’re specifically into astronomy, then this garden would make for a nice stop after the planetarium.

  2. Lovely. I’m sorry we missed this on our visit a few years ago. But I am sure we will be back so saving for then!

  3. Alma says:

    This garden looks peaceful and interesting. Thanks for sharing what to see.

  4. Jenny says:

    Great article. I would love to visit this garden one day. I saved the pin so I can find it again later. Thanks!

    • Teja says:

      You’re welcome! It’s a quirky little place amidst the more conventional attractions in the wider Perdana Botanical Gardens complex on Aman Hill.

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