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As you travel from Port Kelang to Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur, 37 kilometers (23 miles) to the northeast, it can be hard to believe that the city with a skyline of soaring towers was a small mining town for much of the 19th century. That changed beginning in 1880, when the British moved the capital…

As you travel from Port Kelang to Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur, 37 kilometers (23 miles) to the northeast, it can be hard to believe that the city with a skyline of soaring towers was a small mining town for much of the 19th century. That changed beginning in 1880, when the British moved the capital of Malaya here. Yap Ah Loy—a Chinese-born émigré who rose from miner to political titan—and British politician Frank Swettenham were crucial in turning KL (as it's often called) into a true city. Their program of improvements, including establishing Kuala Lumpur’s first school and building a number of roads, continues to this day. For more than a century, Kuala Lumpur has been determined to become bigger and better. 

For all its focus on the future, Kuala Lumpur has preserved some rich historic architecture, including the cheerful Art Deco Central Market, the Mughal-style Old Railway Station and the Tudor Revival Royal Selangor Club. These colonial-era buildings contrast nicely with newer structures, among them the gleaming Petronas Towers, whose design is based on motifs found in Islamic art, and the National Museum, inspired by Malay imperial palaces.

Eating is practically a national pastime in Malaysia, and KL has some of the country's top restaurants. You shouldn't leave without enjoying a meal of delicious Southeast Asian, Chinese or Peranakan (a Malay-Chinese fusion) dishes.

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In Partnership with
AFAR
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