Kuala Lumpur (or KL, as it is commonly known) is, more often than not, a traveler's point of entry to Malaysia. As the capital, it is the most modern and developed city in the country, with contemporary high-rises and world-class hotels, glitzy shopping malls, and local and international cuisine.
The city began around 1857 as a small mining boomtown spawned by the Industrial Revolution's hunger for raw materials. Fueled by tin mining in the nearby Klang River Valley, the town grew under the business interests of three officials: a local Malay ruler, a British resident, and a Chinese headman (Kapitan China). The industry and village attracted Chinese laborers, Malays from nearby villages, and Indian immigrants who followed the British. As the town grew, colonial buildings that housed local administrative offices were erected around Merdeka Square, bounded by Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin and Jalan Kuching. The town, and later the city, spread outward from this center.
Life in 19th-century KL had many difficult starts and stops -- tin was subject to price fluctuations, the Chinese were involved in clan "wars," and, worst of all, malaria was killing thousands. Still, in the late 1800s, KL overcame its hurdles to become the capital of the state and eventually of the Federated Malay States. Its development continued to accelerate, with a brief setback during the Japanese World War II occupation, until 1957, when newly independent Malaysia declared Kuala Lumpur its national capital.
Today the original city center at Merdeka Square is the core of KL's history. Buildings like the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, the Royal Selangor Club, and the Old Kuala Lumpur Railway Station are excellent examples of British architectural sensibilities peppered with Moorish spice. South of this area is KL's Chinatown. Along Jalan Petaling and surrounding areas are markets, shops, food stalls, and the bustling life of the Chinese community. There's also a Little India in KL, around the area occupied by Masjid Jame, where you'll find flower stalls, Indian Muslim and Malay costumes, and traditional items. Across the river, you'll find Lake Gardens, a large sanctuary that houses Kuala Lumpur's bird park, butterfly park, and other attractions and gardens. Modern Kuala Lumpur is rooted in the city's "Golden Triangle," bounded by Jalan Ampang, Jalan Tun Razak, and Jalan Imbi. This section is home to most of KL's hotels, office complexes, shopping malls, and sights like the KL Tower and the Petronas Twin Towers, the tallest buildings in the world from 1998 to 2004, when Taipei 101 stole the title. They are now officially the world's tallest twin towers.