If you and your hubby—or wife-to-be—are fans of an exciting meal, you might be eyeing Asia as a potential honeymoon region. After all, it’s home to some of the world’s truly outstanding cuisines and dishes. But while Thailand’s food is a crowd-pleaser and Singapore and Hong Kong win buzzy accolades for their street eats and Michelin stars, there’s another city many argue has an even more delicious, diverse and affordable take: Kuala Lumpur.
Geography plays a significant role in this fact—Malaysia is sandwiched between Thailand and Singapore, and sits above Indonesia. (Fun fact: Its language, Malay, shares about half its words with Bahasa Indonesia, and it’s just a two and a half hour flight from Bali, if you feel like bouncing around.) But this isn’t a place famous for gridlock traffic or hazardous levels of pollution—though it is home to some very impressive skyscrapers, including the world’s tallest twin towers, which seem to glitter from many vantage points—like many Asian cities. It’s somehow a little slower, a bit more chill, and not quite so teeming with people. Kuala Lumpur’s population mainly comprises three ethnicities: Malays, Chinese and Indians. But many other cultures have left their marks over its storied history, like the Dutch, English and Portuguese.
This melting pot of influences is evident in the humid city’s newest design-forward hotel, The RuMa Hotel & Residences, which means “home” in Malay. The idea behind its look is that if any aspect of the design was in another location it would look out of place. In a way, it’s a contemporary retelling of KL’s history, reaching back to the mid-1800s when it came up in tin mining. Lamps, a glorious copper ceiling in the lobby and the mesmerizing antechamber are a tribute—a very glamorous tribute—to that industry. Then there are old wooden pillars salvaged from Malaysian village homes, spiral staircases representing KL’s colonial days, etched Indian trays as coffee tables, Forbidden City–style floor tiles, and a gilded kebaya (the traditional women’s dress) rendered in gilded butterflies, commissioned by a local designer to promote local arts and design.
Meanwhile, staff habitually greet every guest by name, and tend to know things like whether you’re heading to UR Spa for a deep Borneo-style massage or due in the Librari for a hand-washing ritual before high tea starring layers of savories and sweets (or they might sense you could use a gin and tonic at the bar). The pool is another impressive attraction, tiled with gold that shimmers and reflects the skyscrapers around its mind-bending infinity edge. Birdcage-like daybed pods, hand-woven rattan and furniture featuring caning creates an elegant blend of the tropics with a colonial tinge. Another not-insignificant perk: check-in and check-out at The RuMa happens 24 hours a day, meaning if your flight lands at 4 a.m. you can go straight to your room or suite with automatic blackout shades, complimentary minibars and chic rattan beds.
The way The RuMa’s design tells a story is a theme that continues with food. At Atas restaurant, modern Malaysian cuisine is played with by a Canadian chef who features local produce and flavors but in Western-inspired plates—think heirloom tomatoes with whipped tofu and salted plum dressing, dry-aged duck breast with kedongdong and five spice, and charred baby corn with reduced coconut and pecorino. You won’t find these exact dishes elsewhere, just like you won’t ever spot some of those at Yun House, in the glamorous new Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur, where 209 sleek guest rooms and suites reflect KL heritage through local art and Royal Selangor pewter touches. The most unique on the vast, comprehensive menu: fried eggplant with cereal, an incomprehensibly addictive dish. (The hotel’s Bar Trigona is equally innovative, mixing up libations with special citrusy Malaysian honey, while interested parties can ave the concierge arrange a visit just outside the city to A Little Farm on the Hill to pick organic veggies and have a meal.)
In fact, Chinese food in Malaysia is different from Chinese food in China. But some of the same is also found at countless restaurants in the city’s ever-evolving dining scene, as well as on the street. For lunch seek out a banana leaf rice spot, a south Indian tradition that should be eaten with your right hand. Japan Alor is a famous market strip well worth an amble on an empty stomach—graze your way along the stalls and stands munching on everything from exotic seafood to tropical fruits from a tiny plastic stool.
Less of the circus is Lot 10 Hutong, which appears like a mall’s basement food court, but is so much more than that. This is where locals feast on national treasure–status meals, with prices far lower than at Jalan Alor. Penang’s famous char kway teow noodles (similar to pad Thai), Hainan chicken rice, Cantonese roasted duck, and wantan mee with pork ribs represent some of the best hawker eats in Kuala Lumpur—they each must have at least 40 years of history—curated into one convenient air-conditioned space.
As the dining scene matures, so do the concepts, opening in rapid fire succession the last couple years. Chocha Foodstore is a purposely humble, pastel-hued garden cafe that’s as cool as anything you’d find in Brooklyn, serving local favorites with a twist—think duck confit rice, Cincalok Fried Chicken (CFC)—alongside homemade sodas and infused gins from the verdant upstairs Botak Liquor Bar. Rooftop bars are most definitely a thing: head to Banyan Tree Kuala Lumpur’s 59th floor to Vertigo, for impeccable views of the Petronas Towers and whole KL skyline over a sundowner and Asian tapas. (The new hotel is also quite a sexy one for newlyweds, especially the Sky Century Suite, with its massive jacuzzi tub with a view, and sauna.) And well after dark, speakeasies are popular—look for what seems to be a weird old Chinese toy store where you push a cabinet and wind up at PS150, where cocktails chronicle the history of mixology, from pre-Prohibition through tiki and disco eras to contemporary sips.
Fortunately, there are built-in opportunities to stretch your legs in between meals and attempt to work off at least some of the calories consumed. KL Forest Eco-Park is like a miniature jungle in the midst of the skyscrapers, and its rolling hills can make for quite the hike, as do the canopy walkways that bounce over the fresh, protected foliage and Tarzan-worthy vines. And KLCC Park, at the foot of the towers, offers walking paths and wide open green spaces, clean and appealing for a walk or picnic à la Central Park, but with palm trees. Central Market is worth a stroll, too, for souvenirs and window shopping. It’s a couple hundred steps to Batu Cave’s vivid Hindu temples, even more colorful and appealing a jaunt since the stairs were painted in brilliant Technicolor stripes less than a year ago. If you can rise early it’s worth it to see the morning ritual, a cleansing ceremony that is as colorful as the rest of the complex and accompanied by musicians playing sounds that seem to bounce between mystical Indian melodies and improvisational jazz.
And once you’ve eaten your way through a few days in KL, it’s easy to move onto the beach portion of your honeymoon. After all, Langkawi (see the Four Seasons resort there) is one of the region’s most famously beautiful islands. Still, you’re guaranteed to continue dreaming of what you tasted in KL—those diverse flavors aren’t easily forgotten.