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Last updated : Nov 2009
Kuala Lumpur Culture Guide
Kuala Lumpur Culture Guide - TravelPuppy.com
Culture Scene

In the last few years, traditional arts and culture have become popular again in Kuala Lumpur. City wide, small-scale performances are found everywhere. The more beautiful revues are available at theatres and at the Central Market, Jalan Hang Kasturi (telephone: (03) 2274 9966). This is the setting of tourist-orientated fortune telling, shadow puppets and batik painting demos. The city is home to the nation’s most popular orchestra, the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, which performs frequently. In spite of this re-birth in local culture, western movies and music still influence, particularly amongst the younger crowd.

The free monthly Vision KL Magazine provides listings on events and performances that take place in the city and these can be found in 4 and 5-star hotels or in some bars. For cultural events, no main ticketing agency is available in Kuala Lumpur; however, tickets can be purchased directly from the venue.


For classical concerts, the key venue is Dewan Filharmonik Petronas, in the Petronas Twin Towers complex (telephone: (03) 2051 7007; fax: (03) 2051 7077; email: dfp_boxoffice@petronas.com.my). Malaysia’s first concert hall and home to the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra also features other main classical concerts including cultural performances.


The Panggung Negara (National Theatre) move to the large new Istana Budaya theatre, Jalan Tun Razak (telephone: (03) 4025 5932; fax: (03) 4025 5975; e-mail: info@istanabudaya.gov.my), provides revolutionized Kuala Lumpur’s theatre scene. With seating for about 1,500 people, the RM210-million state-of-the-art venue is one of the best in the world. The Actor’s Studio Theatre at the Bangsar Shopping Centre (telephone: (03) 2094 0400/1400; fax: (03) 2093 8400) holds all sorts of performances and also some comedy. Two of the more innovative theatre groups are Dramalab and Instant Café (telephone: (03) 2148 5192).


Traditional dances, such as Menora, the all masked men or Mak Yong, the all masked women is sometimes performed. No venue or organization is in charge of this. Some hotels and the Central Market, Jalan Hang Kasturi (telephone: (03) 2274 9966), stage visiting regional dancers.


Kuala Lumpur features cinemas located throughout the city, many of which are in large shopping centres and provide performances in English. Cinema Online gives a good and comprehensive listing in English for the following cinemas: GSC Mid Valley (telephone: (03) 8312 3456), GSC Capital Selayang (telephone: (03) 6138 6311), GSC Cheras Leisure Mall (telephone: (03) 8312 3456), TGV Suria KLCC and TGV Mines (telephone: (03) 7492 2929), ISWARIA Odeon Theatre (telephone: (03) 2694 4995) and UE3 Complex (telephone: (03) 9285 4970).

Cultural Events

Because of a wide range of ethnic groups, many cultural and religious events are available around the city throughout the year.

In February, Hindus celebrate Thaipusam at the Batu Caves and here you can witness the bizarre spectacle of kavadi bearers who push skewers into their bodies to show their devotion.

Also in February,Chinese New Year is 2 weeks of loud street festivities and the famous lion dances. The epicentre is around Jalan Petaling, where many ethnic Chinese ignore the government efforts to limit festivities to a 2-day holiday and take 4 or 5 days off.

Buddhists have a more sedate celebration of the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha, with Wesak Day in May.

The Jalan Gasing or the International Buddhist Temple is the place for this event. The Muslim major event is Ramadan, in the Muslim month of the same name, the period of fasting that culminates in Hari Raya Aidilfitri, where Muslims open their homes and feast on a collection of Malay dishes.

Dates for all of the religious festivals change depending on each religion’s calendar. All come together to celebrate Malaysia's independence on 31 August, with a huge parade that brings the city centre to a stop.

Literary Notes

Being a new city, there is a shortage of English-language fiction in Kuala Lumpur.

Paul Theroux’s Consul’s File (1977) is a good selection of short stories located just outside the city.

A Malaysian Journey (1993) is a good insight into modern Malaysia, written by an ex-pat Malaysian journalist, Rehman Rashid and it is about his return to his native country. The story follows his travels around Malaysia, examining a number of issues as he goes and ending in his emotional return to modern Kuala Lumpur.

Steve and Lee Bristow’s Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur (1994) delves into Chinatown’s eclectic history and includes some great photographs.

An examination into Malaysia’s intriguing past is the Malayan Trilogy (1984) by Anthony Burgess. The author analyzes the state of post-war Malaysia and its fight towards independence from Britain in 1957.

For a normal overview of Malaysian history, Jim Baker’s Crossroads – A Popular History of Malaysia and Singapore (1999) is complete and easy to digest compared to other of the more scholarly studies of Malaysian history.

A unique insight into the most powerful man in Malaysia, the recently retired Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad (Mohamad handed over power to his deputy on 31 October 2003 after an epic 22 years as Prime Minister), is his autobiography Voices of Asia (1995). It examines his pro-Asian views and his contentious opinions on the world economy and where it should be going.

Stephen Lee’s Outside Looking In – Kuala Lumpur (2000) is a work of photographs taken at the end of the 1990s encapsulating life in the city.