Kuala Lumpur: a business guide

By Sorrel Downer for Business Life magazine

Photography by 123RF

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September 2016

Young and upwardly mobile, Malaysia's capital is a Southeast Asian powerhouse with big ambitions for the 21st century.

The lowdown

Kuala Lumpur is a vibrant manifestation of Malaysia's recent growth, its glassy skyscrapers rising up all around, with more on the way. As a city with a stable economy, a lower cost of living than neighbouring Singapore, good business infrastructure and a welcoming twinkle, KL is attracting blue chip investors from both east (and Middle East) and west. And its large and busy airport makes it ideally positioned to be a Southeast Asian hub.

Kuala Lumpur is a vibrant manifestation of Malaysia's recent growth

Investment in transport infrastructure is set to radically change the shape and size of the city and - if they get it right - radically accelerate that growth. Settled by Chinese tin miners in only 1857, Kuala Lumpur has built up, rather than out, the 21st-century-scale mixed-use office blocks backing incongruously on to old Chinatown, Little India and the Malay area of Kampung Baru. Now the Mass Transit System project (MRT) is extending routes into new areas, integrating the central city with its population of 1.7 million into the Greater Kuala Lumpur/Klang Valley, encouraging new development, and creating one big united force to be reckoned with.

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  • The Colonial Café at the Majestic Hotel

    Fit for a king

    The Colonial Café offers an air of sophistication plus a stellar breakfast menu, all in opulent surroundings.

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  • Cantaloupe Restaurant

    Fine dining

    You’ll find Cantaloupe in the iconic The Troika building offering dinner with excellent cityscape views.

    Explore Kuala Lumpur
  • Marini’s on 57

    Drinks with a view

    Did you know that Marini’s at 57 is Kuala Lumpur’s highest rooftop bar?

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Business etiquette

Budi bahasa, the culture of politeness, is fundamental. People are reluctant to say no but that's what they mean if they say, "I will try" or "perhaps". However relaxed and informal a business environment seems, hierarchy is important and rank is respected. Address people using both their professional title (eg doctor, architect) and any bestowed title (such as Dato, Datuk, Tan Sri, Tunku). Malays and Indians use titles with their first name, while Chinese use titles together with their surname. When in doubt, just use the title.

Food & Shopping

The best of Asian cuisine is found at street stalls, local cafés or mamaks, and curry houses. The setting is basic, but the flavours and smells are superb. Head to Kampung Baru at lunchtime for chargrilled fish, curries and nasi lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk), or to a banana leaf curry house (try Fierce Curry House, 16 Jalan Kemuja, Bangsar Utama) for fish curry, fried bitter gourd and sambal. At night, visit Jalan Alor in Bukit Bintang for fiery Szechuan Chinese and fried flat noodles, char kway teow.

  • Vaulted lobby at The Majestic Hotel

    Time travel

    Located on the city’s historic mile, staying at The Majestic with its beautiful 1930’s decoration is like stepping back to a beautiful bygone era with the advantage of the latest luxury amenities.

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Best Business Breakfast: The Colonial Café, Majestic Hotel

Ceiling fans, starched tablecloths, top service and instant calm define this airily gracious and nostalgic setting. (Majestic Hotel, 5 Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin; majestickl.com

Best Power Lunch: Marini's on 57

Fine Italian cuisine and spectacular aerial views in the heart of the city's main business hub. (Menara 3 Petronas, Persiaran KLCC; marinis57.com

Best Slap-Up Dinner: Cantaloupe, Troika Sky Dining

Warm, chic ambience, vast views of the Petronas towers, and a 12-course degustation menu starring local seafood. (Tower B, The Troika, 19 Persiaran KLCC; troikaskydining.com


This is a city of malls, among which Starhill Gallery and Suria are the glitziest. You're more likely to find a bargain at the heaving Low Yat, the 'IT lifestyle mall', and cool Malaysian designer clothing along Jalan Maarof, Bangsar.

  • Grand Hyatt guest room

    Forty winks

    Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur is adjacent to the Kuala Lumpur Convention & Exhibition Center (CONVEX).

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  • Aloft KL Sentral

    Chic and sleek

    Creatively modern, the Aloft KL Sentral has a prime location a few steps away from the city’s main transport hub.

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  • Shangri-La Lobby Lounge

    Rest and relaxation

    With a spa and health club and surrounded by beautiful green foliage, Shangri-La Kuala Lumpur is perfect for escaping the rush of the city.

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There are few independent boutique hotels, but what KL lacks in quirky, it makes up for in lofty luxury. Most of the top global brands can be found in a circle around the Petronas towers, or near the shopping and entertainment district, Bukit Bintang, and yet more are slated to open over the next three years. They are well-used by people living and working in the city as well as visitors, with popular public meeting spaces at lobby level, and restaurants and cool bars positioned at giddy heights.

The Majestic

A rare chance to bathe in a sense of KL's colonial past, located in the heritage area.

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Aloft KL Sentral

Ultra modern and very chic, located in the heart of the KL business hub.

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Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur

A truly five-star experience, this hotel offers breathtaking views of the famous Petronas Towers.

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Shangri-La Hotel Kuala Lumpur

Nestled in a spot of lush greenery, this is a quiet spot to unwind and conveniently located a stone’s throw from all the major sights and business districts.

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Did you know...?

1. Although originally founded by tin miners in 1857, KL only gained city status in 1972, making it Southeast Asia's youngest capital city.

2. KL is the chosen location for the world's first Harrods Hotel (and residences), due to open in 2018.

3. The 100m high flagpole in Merdeka Square is said to be the tallest in the world.

4. The average age of Kuala Lumpur's population is 27.

5. The latest trend in late night drinking is themed speakeasies. Inevitably they are hard to find...

Getting around

Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) is 50km south of the city. A taxi journey to the city centre takes at least an hour. Faster is the KLIA Ekspres train (MYR55 one way), which runs every 15-20 mins to KL Sentral, taking 28 mins.