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While blessed with the same exotic feels, these two Southeast Asian capitals could not be more different from each other picking the right one for your vacation can be challenging, but it can turn out to be a crucial choice.
Kuala Lumpur is the better destination to get an introduction to the rich culture of Malaysia. The food and shopping scene here is vibrant, and the metro system well connects all attractions. Jakarta is more chaotic and more suitable for adventurous travelers.
|Cost of Stay: Weekly (USD)||$370 – $400 per person||$390 – $410 per person|
|Transportation||Taxi, Grab, Uber, GoJek, Monorail, KLIA Ekspres train, KTM Komuter.||Taxi, Grab, Uber, Motorcycle taxi (Ojek – GoJek), Angkot microbuses, MRT, LRT|
|Notable Attractions||Batu Caves, Petronas Twin Towers, Central Market, Chinatown, Menara KL Tower, Sultan Abdul Samad Building, Perdana Botanical Gardens, Masjid Jamek||National Monument, Merdeka Square, Jakarta Cathedral, National Museum, Taman Mini Indonesia Indah|
|Weather||Hot all year round. The monsoon season falls between March and April and October and November.||Hot all year round, the rainy season can be as long as from November to June.|
|Food and Drink||A fascinating blend of Chinese, Indian, and Malay Cuisine. Opportunities for fast-food, Turkish, and fusion available. Foodpanda recommended for deliveries.||Many Indonesian restaurants and fast-food chains (both Asian and Western). Check out the apps Grab or GoJek for takeaways.|
|Activities for Kids||Sunway Lagoon, Kidzania, Skytrex Adventure, Berjaya Times Square Theme Park, i-City Theme Park, Petrosains Discovery Center.||Taman Impian Jaya Ancol, Ragunan Zoo|
|Nature Attractions||Batu Caves, KLCC Park, Perdana Botanical Gardens, KL Forest Eco Park, KL Butterfly Park||Thousand Islands, Sepa Island, Ragunan Zoo|
Both Southeast Asian capitals are hectic, highly dynamic, and utterly capturing. However, Kuala Lumpur offers the appeal of affordable luxury options and state-of-the-art urban facilities, coupled up with ancient rituals like the ones happening once a year during the Hindu Festival of Thaipusam in the Batu Caves.
Oppositely, Jakarta is chaotic and not as well linked with public transport, but it gives you the best introduction to Indonesian culture, especially if you wish to continue your journey toward other islands.
Read on to determine which destination will give you the better vacation.
Cost of Stay
Both capital cities are considered among the most affordable ones in the world. It is worth mentioning that Kuala Lumpur has a greater range of options for cheap but high-quality food and accommodation options.
You can easily book a double room for less than $30 in a 4-star hotel and eat at a restaurant for no more than $5. Of course, both cities offer other luxury options for those who are looking at a more exclusive stay.
Both Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta offer cheap transport options, but the links in Kuala Lumpur are better organized and intelligible – for the same price! The same is true for KL buses and trains that connect to nearby cities and attractions.
Ultimately, a stay for one person in these cities remains around $400, a sum that includes accommodation, experiences, food, and drinks.
Hotels and Accommodation
Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta’s city centers are dotted with accommodation options ranging from basic hostels to luxury hotel rooms and apartments.
For accommodation in the heart of Kuala Lumpur that is kind on the wallet, check out the d’Majestic Place in Pudu. While a night’s stay here will cost you no more than $30, you are guaranteed free entry to the rooftop gym, bar, and infinity pool.
The hotel is located just off the metro entrance and just a stone’s throw from the impressive Petronas Twin Towers and Berjaya Times Square. The public transport system can help you get anywhere in the city, but you can reach many of the most common attractions by foot in just under 20 minutes.
Kuala Lumpur has become a unique destination for the unique blend of old and new it offers. Indeed, in the Petronas tower’s shade, you can find roadside restaurants selling home-cooked meals for less than a dollar! When here, don’t forget to admire the presence of three different cultures, such as Malaysian, Indian, and Chinese.
Walking around the city offers you the city’s best perspective, but don’t miss out on a day at the Batu Caves. Preferably, you should get there at sunrise or sunset, when they are at their quietest.
In Jakarta, head towards the National Monument. But, be mindful – this is one of those situations when the journey counts as much as the destination. Indeed, an attentive eye will be able to spot the signs of a beautiful and unchanged Indonesian way of living.
Days Out of the City
Whether you have decided to visit Kuala Lumpur or Jakarta, don’t forget to get out of the city at least a day.
You could opt to visit the nearby Thousand Islands from Jakarta, an agglomeration of unspoiled strips of sand where you can enjoy the day at the beach with your family.
Oppositely, from Kuala Lumpur, an overnight bus will take you to the stunning Perhentian Islands. These islands are as close to a paradise on Earth as it gets! However, you might need an extra couple of days to soak in the island life.
From KL, trips to Langkawi, Penang, and Cameron Highlands are also worth the bus ride!
Food and Drink
Jakarta might be considered an appealing destination for foodies, but you might need to pick your restaurants wisely.
While most of the Indonesian cuisine revolves around Gorengan (fried foods), nasi (rice), mie (noodles), local vegetables, and various meats, there is a difference in standard from a restaurant to another.
In Jakarta, we recommend studying your area before getting there and carefully reading TripAdvisor reviews. Indeed, cases of food poisoning here are not so uncommon!
In Kuala Lumpur, the situation is a little different. Due to the special blend of cultures, there is something for any plate. If you still have a curious mind and are open to trying new dishes, you will likely experiment with something new.
Indian cuisine, characterized by exotic spices, curry dishes, and roti canai, can be enjoyed once you feel like you have had enough Chinese or Malay food. Of course, you can always order a takeaway through Grab, Foodpanda, or GoJek and have a Turkish-themed night!
The weather in both cities can be extremely hot and humid. It is recommendable to avoid walking around the city centers during the hottest hours of the day, as it can be hard to enjoy the journey!
However, rainy seasons are also characteristic of these places. Usually, the rainy season happens between April and May and October and November. Jakarta, being in a more exposed position compared to KL, can experience much longer Monsoon seasons.
While many tourists tend to avoid these times, the rain is usually limited to mornings or evenings. As a result, you can enjoy much cooler days!
Both cities are relatively safe – but common sense always applies! Indeed, you should not forget that you would be in some of the world’s biggest cities, and the atmosphere can be chaotic.
The transportation system in Kuala Lumpur is much better organized and easier to understand than the one in Jakarta.
Indeed, Jakarta still uses older trains, and indications and information are written only in Bahasa Indonesia. There are also some non-written rules, such as women-only carriages, that you should be looking out for.
If in doubt, hiring a motorbike taxi (Ojek) through a platform such as Grab or Gojek is the best way to get where you need to get – cheaply and quickly!
Instead, Kuala Lumpur boasts a transportation system with nothing to envy to one of Singapore or other major cities. The trains and busses are new, they run on time, and all the information panels and signs are in English. Even better, all the information is available online for your convenience.
Picking between Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta for your next destination is not easy. Both are capturing examples of rich culture – in terms of cuisine, religion, experiences, and festivals. However, KL is more modern, clean, and easy to navigate than Jakarta while maintaining its real nature.