Kuala Lumpur’s transportation and airport systems will be very familiar to those that have traveled throughout Asia. There are a few notes given the nuances of the politics of the country.
KLIA Airport (Airport Code: KUL)
Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) has 2 terminals. These airports are HUGE. From gates to a custom line might take you 10-15minutes walking even at my super-fast NYC speed (so like nearly 1km). Whether arriving or departing, you’ll want to realize that you’ve got a trek and you need to allot your time accordingly. If you have kids there are trollies and moving walkways to help you along. Still, plan and manage bathroom needs accordingly.
Customs on Arrival. KL despite its large quantity of visitors is set up pretty well for customs IMO. Wait times can be very short. The key thing is to realize that there is both a left and right queue. Read the signs carefully and preview which side might be shorter, both at passport check and also on the x-ray of luggage on your way out. This saves SO much time.
SIM Cards. You can purchase a SIM card both before and after customs. It’s your choice. Pricing does not vary before and after gate. I like to get customs done with first. Also, I prefer the more store-like format after gate, versus the make-shift booths that are in front of customs.
Car Service. Grab is your only choice and it does take about 8-15 minutes for them to get to the terminal. Taxis are a bit more expensive. Sometimes they are there, sometimes not. The terminals are very long though. I usually order it at customs and then do all the ATM, bathroom, and shopping in the mall while I wait. It’s really good to communicate with your driver via text to make sure he’s on his or her way. For some reason, in KL it’s quite common for the driver to fall asleep but still have their settings to allow for pick-up.
KLIA Train. This is a legitimately good way to get into the city. You do want to watch the schedules. It’s best if you are right on top of Sentral Station.
Grab vs. KLIA Train.If you are arriving very late (after like 12:30pm), Grab is your best option. If you 1) are staying on top of Sentral Station, 2) arrive during rush hour 3) are farther from KLIA and aren’t feeling the metro station, then it’s about a $2USD difference in cost Grab vs. KLIA. Just note. Traffic during certain hours can be REALLY bad, though it’s usually ok.
Many flights are bright and early in the morning. Traffic can really vary. Depending on what time you’re leaving, you may prefer to take the train rather than a car (See notes above).
NOTE: YOU NEED TO GIVE YOURSELF TIME & DON’T GET THE WRONG TERMINAL!
KLIA 1 or KLIA 2 are quite far apart. To get from one to the other might take 10-15 minutes by car or train. It isn’t long, but it’s not fun, particularly if you add in the size of terminals and how long it takes to get from entrance to the actual gate.
Carry On Bag – Weight Check. If you’re on a discount carrier, really double check weight limits on carry ons. They actually have scales in front of security and will send you to check-in if you are over weight. You want that sorted the night before as it’s extremely expensive to sort it out at the airport.
Check-in Lines at the Airport. If you’re flying on one of the discount carriers, it’s good to know that they are almost always booked to the gills. This means that check-in lines at the airport can be really long. You want to give yourself extra time.
Security on Departure. Because KL is a muslim country, there are 2-3 layers of security. The initial security is just after check-in. The second layer is to the terminal letter. For some countries, such as the US, the arriving country requires a 3rd level of security. Give yourself extra time.
Also, don’t get mad at staff when they take your beverage away. It’s a boarding requirement of the country you’re going to, not an arbitrary attempt to be mean to you. Remember, all this security would be unnecessary if there was world peace and that starts with being nice to people who are doing their job.
VIP Lounges. These are nicer than staying in the main terminal. The worst terminal is L terminal. The lounge there is no good. Stay in the main terminal (P&Q), but don’t miss your flight.
Last Minute Gate Changes. This happens a lot more than you think in KLIA. There is no big loud speaker announcement. If you arrive at the airport early, double check your gate a half hour before boarding.
This system is very easy. However, make sure you’ve got the right terminal. You can purchase using small bills or credit card. There are also ticket booths if you are confuse as to which ticket is the right one.
It’s important to note that KL isn’t yet a city that has been designed for walking. They are working on it for sure. Bukit Bintang and the Golden Triangle have reasonably good sidewalks. More later in the walking section, but if taking the train, you want to make sure that walking the final distance is actually possible.
Car Service & Taxi.
Car Service (Grab Car). This works all over Asia in a way that is similar to Uber. Grab Car during my last trip did not take US Credit cards. Just make sure to have enough cash to cover the fare. Download the app here. Grab car is cheaper than a regular taxi and often the cars are nicer. However, in busy areas and peak times, you may only be able to take a taxi. You can negotiate.
Taxis. Taxis are a bit older looking for the most part. I got lucky once and had this crazy decorated taxi that was a lot of fun. Take this guy if you find him.
As of 2018, you should ABSOLUTELY use Google Maps. The city is in transition toward creating walkways and bikeways. You have to follow the pathway that Google Maps suggests for now, because it leads you around roads that cannot be traversed. Something can be so close and yet so far, b/c you can’t cross the street without playing frogger across a multi-lane highway. If you’re a walker it’s something to consider when choosing your area. Currently, the best areas for walkers are really the Golden Triangle & Bukit Bintang