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  K U A L A  L U M P U R   C I T Y   G U I D E

A Beginner's Guide to Cruising and Carousing in Kuala Lumpur

Illustration for TIME by Susy Pilgrim Waters

The most popular slogan rallying Malaysians in Kuala Lumpur and throughout the country these days is the Bahasa expression, "Malaysia Boleh." Loosely translated as "Malaysia Can Do," the government-spun phrase evokes the pride and confidence that Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has sought to instill in his country's 21 million people. One thing Malaysia is already doing is driving ahead with core infrastructure projects to improve road, rail and air links to Kuala Lumpur. The new international airport is operational, upgraded highways and secondary roads have eased getting around the city and the newly opened light-rail transit system looks like a winner--a trio of achievements sure to be appreciated by residents and visitors alike.

While traffic around the city has improved, rush hour can still be punishing for downtown drivers. If you can, use those congested periods to check out the city's various delights. K.L. can be a treat to explore on foot; it's the perfect way to discover the capital's rich roster of attractions and activities, mouthwatering meals, vibrant nightlife and the friendly smiles of locals--your reward for taking the time to explore one of Asia's prime urban attractions.

A favorite way to while away an afternoon here is strolling and trolling for bargains. The main shopping hubs are in the Bukit Bintang area, nestled between two lavish landmarks, the Ritz-Carlton and Regent hotels. Meanwhile, a few blocks away on Jalan Ampang you can find the Kuala Lumpur City Center, located at the base of the stratospheric Petronas Twin Towers. The KLCC boasts department stores, boutiques, a cinema, a science center and an art gallery. Its gardens include a "dancing" fountain, a water playground for kids and a refreshing spot for pooped parents to take a break. Visitors can also stop for lunch at one of the KLCC's many great eateries, such as Piazza Cavalini, which also serves a great selection of coffee and tea--an ideal way to rejuvenate yourself.

Interested in a more traditional shopping expedition? Malaysia is famed for its pewterware, so make time to visit the Royal Selangor factory in Setapak (and pick up a few pieces, which range anywhere from 10 bucks to thousands of dollars). And check out Jalan Pahang, home to merchants selling bolts of beautiful hand-blocked batik fabrics. Shops in the area often sell exquisite kain songket--swaths of cloth interwoven with gold threads, traditionally made into elegant ladies' sarongs. In the past, only the country's richest folks could afford it; now the material is within nearly anyone's reach. This area is also known as Little India for its many South Asian shops and restaurants (and the impressive Indian mosque). On Saturday evenings, local vendors set up stalls for an impromptu street market.

Another impressive sight is the world's tallest flagpole, which soars over Dataran Merdeka, or Independence Square. If you're lucky, an open-air performance in the square may enliven your visit. Photographers, take note: across the river is the Art Deco-style Central Market. For striking examples of Moorish architecture, visit the Jamek Mosque or the city's old railway station. Any itinerary should also include the lovely Lake Gardens, home to a bird park, a butterfly farm, a deer sanctuary and orchid gardens. The Batu Caves, a Hindu temple complex featuring rock formations and scenes from Indian mythology, is worth the 40-minute drive from the city center. And for an untraditional outing, don skates and take a spin around the ice rinks at the Mines Shopping Fair or the Sunway Pyramid--the latter mock winterlude also features an amusement park.

When you have worked up an appetite, stop for a cheap and cheerful meal at one of Kuala Lumpur's numerous (and safe) roadside food stalls. To find one, ask your taxi driver or inquire at any gas station. If you're not sure what to order, most stall-owners will let you taste before you eat.

Still hungry for action? Check out when the pros will be putting K.L.'s new Formula One circuit at Sepang to the test. Located beside the new international airport, it puts a whole new spin on fly'n'drive vacations.

With reporting by Rusdi Mustapha/Kuala Lumpur

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