Two world class places just a 45 minute flight away or 6hr VIP bus ride, KL is a city, and Singapore a country with the feel of a city. Most backpackers will find themselves in one or both cities and probably, this will be due to the budget airline they are using to fly around the region. Home to Air Asia, KL is the global hub for a zillion flights around SE Asia, if you find yourself on Tiger/Scoot or Jetstar then you will end up in Singapore. In terms of what to do, and where to be, which is the best? Singapore or Kuala Lumpur…
Best is obviously subjective, and there’s a lot to consider. I will break down both cities in respective categories and then conclude. Agree or disagree? Let me know.
Hands down KL is cheaper than Singapore on every level imaginable. Now that Grab is firmly established you can zip around the city for a few quid, a half hour journey will set you back around a fiver. Singapore does not even come close, taxis are still cheaper than the west, but are painfully expensive by SE Asia standards.
Food, travel, accommodation and entrance to things are all cheaper in KL. One thing to be aware of though is that KL operates in many places a two tier payment system whereby tourists pay more than locals. It’s an absolute scam and really the theme of Malaysia in that generally, a Malaysian will be more than willing to screw you for a few ringgit whereas in Singapore scams are rare and Singaporeans pride themselves on their honesty.
Still, accommodation within KL can range from as little as 90MYR (£16) for a half decent double room, but will start at least double that in Singapore. Consider standards too, rock bottom places in Singapore have rock bottom standards.
Getting around both cities on public transport is cheap, efficient and easy thanks to world class transit systems.
Things to do
Both Singapore and KL offer a lot for the tourist. Singapore is classier with mega resorts, universal studios and Sentosa Island. KL serves up culture well by way of Batu Caves and is home to sunway lagoon, a multi themed park with just £25 entrance. If fun is your thing then Singapore edges it, but falls short when it comes to culture, though it does serve up old colonial history well. KL also has an overpriced zoo, whereas Singapore has the best zoo in the world. Cinemas in KL cost about a third of watching the same movie in Singapore.
Both cities can be walked, and KL is particularly lovely in KLCC park which gives great views of the Petronas towers and offers a pool and huge play area for kids to burn off energy.
In Singapore, head to the Marina for great city views and a good walk around the area.
Considering both are jumping off places for the region, my own preference is Singapore, but don’t let that detract. KL is still a great place to find yourself.
Most backpackers finding themselves in either place will want to dust off SE Asia and maybe go shopping. KL has lots of malls, none as classy as Singapore. That said, you can still grab a fantastic bargain in Singapore, if you are looking for cheap tat Bugis is the place to go.
KL is where you can get fake watches, handbags and everything going. Singapore is where you can shop Gucci and Versace and not have to consider authenticity. KL is by far the better place for a bargain and no where is better than Times Sq, a huge mall dedicated to getting pretty much anything you want, as long as it is counterfeit.
Kuala Lumpur is one of the most dangerous cities in SE Asia, whereas Singapore is widely regarded as being the safest country in the world. It is blatant to see too.
Malaysians generally are good, honest people, but there is a large number who are greedy, deceitful and will scam your last breath and then kick you for more.
Taxi drivers are particularly aggressive, I suggest you stick to using Grab rather than have to go through negotiations at transport stations.
Singapore has tough laws and as a result is far safer. Even in the early hours, you just get a sense of belonging, of complete safety throughout the city. Singapore does have its seedy sides, particularly along Orchid road and in parts of China town and Little India.
If you want Western food, then Singapore is your place. If you want cultural delicacies then again Singapore is your place, but you’ll pay for it. Malaysian cuisine is nice, but chicken comes on the bone and is often suspicious. Not in the sense that eating a chicken leg in Cambodia will have you bolting for the bathroom, but in the sense that no flair or pride is taken in food in Malaysia. In Singapore food is safe, always. It is also served up usually by someone that actually cares whether you like it or not. I just get the sense that in KL food is just one of those things you do because it’s a necessity.
Service in Malaysia is notoriously bad. If you order a meal at a restaurant and you actually get what you ordered then put the lottery on, today is your lucky day. Thanks to a combination of laziness, contempt for seemingly everyone and the fact that Malaysians rarely look up from their phone screens you will wait ages for your order and then have it served up wrong. Singapore is slick, fast and world class in the service respect. If you flew to SE Asia on Singapore airlines then you will already know that.
I love culture and diversity and as a result, Singapore wins hands down. A nation of hardworking individuals, Singaporeans are world leaders in just about everything they turn their hands to. Malaysians on the other hand are world renowned for being lazy and nondescript. Walk around either place and you will see Malaysians rarely looking up from their phone, completely indulged in a virtual life. Join a queue in Singapore and relax, join one in KL and wait for someone to slyly try and edge their way ahead of you. Go to a store and need serving, that’s fine. As long as the Malaysian serving isn’t busy chatting to a friend or texting on their phone. There is a real streak of contempt for foreigners, a real disdain among Malaysians for pretty much everyone. Singapore on the other hand feels like home, like the most welcoming place in the region.
It probably reads like I prefer Singapore over KL and generally I do. It is cleaner, safer, slicker and just a better place to be. Singapore is world class and few people leave not liking what they have seen and felt. KL on the other hand is like marmite, some people love it, some people hate it. Personally I have a real soft spot for KL, excellent prices and a real ease of connecting throughout the region both on air and land make it a genuine magnet for backpackers looking for a stopover. To say one is better than the other, then it would have to be Singapore for the many reasons that I have stated above. I do however think both places should be visited. KL is a great stop over mid trip through SE Asia, a great place to remind yourself you’re Western and to spend a few days relaxing. Singapore on the other hand makes the perfect end to a trip, a great place to grab a good shower, food that is safe and tasty and somewhere to pull up a quilt, put on some English speaking TV on a flatscreen and relax knowing that even if for a short period, you are back where you started.
If you can only visit one place, then Singapore is the obvious choice if you have money. If not, then head to KL but keep a keen eye on your wallet.