Emma Johnston

Correspondent

  • Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Asia

Emma Johnston is a correspondent who lives in Kuala Lumpur and covers the area for Forbes Travel Guide. She’s a keen observer of the growing independent fashion scene in KL, and her fashion, food and travel articles can be found in Time Out Kuala Lumpur, Time Out Chicago, Time Out Hong Kong, Expatriate Lifestyle and Vision KL. Johnston regularly discusses culture and events in Kuala Lumpur on radio station BFM 89.9, and talks beauty and fashion on the lifestyle website she co-founded, Two Girls Times.

  • On July 2, 2014
    Kaley Johannesson is now following Emma Johnston
  • On July 31, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What are the best tours of Kuala Lumpur?

    Hop on-Hop off
    KL took a big tourist-friendly step forward when it introduced the Hop-On Hop-Off bus service and the free-and-easy shuttle system is exactly what visitors need. Running the length of the city's attractions and hotspots, the open-top tour buses offer a guided commentary and free wifi between their 23 stops. And at just over US$13 for 24 hours, Hop-On Hop-Off really is the best way to get to know the city. Not sure where to get off first? We'd suggest either Stop 2 for the KL Tower, Stops 14 and 15  for the Lake Gardens and KL Bird Park respectively, Stop 17 for Merdeka Square, or Stop 23 for KLCC.
    www.myhoponhopoff.com

    Rakan KL walking tour
    Started by a group of KL citizens concerned for the fading architecture, culture and parkland of their city, Rakan KL's walking tours aim to educate tourists and locals on Kuala Lumpur's heritage and sites of historical importance. Covering the Petaling Hill area – and with a particular focus on the loss of Kuala Lumpur's Merdeka Park – the volunteer-led walks promote sustainable development of the city while also diving into the past of some of KL's most iconic sites. The two-and-a-half hour walks are highly recommended for visitors seeking an insider's view on the development of a South-East Asian capital.
    Walks typically leave from Gospel Hall, Jalan Hang Jebat at 9am on Saturdays but check Rakan KL's Facebook page for confirmation.
    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Rakan-KL/262634717197142
  • On July 31, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What are the best things to do with kids in Kuala Lumpur?

    Buildings, temples and eateries not cutting it for the kids? KL has plenty to keep the young ones entertained – and most activities are great for adults too.

    Petrosains
    Located on the top floor of the Suria KLCC mall (the shopping centre that sits at the base of the Petronas Twin Towers), Petrosains science museum is a great hands-on experience for children and adults. Covering areas such as oil (Petrosains is part of Malaysia's Petronas oil conglomerate), technology, geology, chemistry and sport, the interactive museum has exhibits for everyone. Kids can explore the petroleum industry, come face-to-face with a dinosaur, become an inventor, and even try their hands at driving a Formula 1 car.
    www.petrosains.com.my

    KL Bird Park
    Home to over 3,000 birds, the KL Bird Park combines education with fun. Located in the Lake Gardens, the park's four zones let visitors get up close and personal with all 200 species of tropical bird. Huge walk-in, free-flight aviaries make up Zones 1 and 2 where children and adults can see twice-daily feeding of the birds (including an impressive eagle feeding display at 2:30pm each day), while Zones 3 (Hornbill Park) and 4 contain birds in smaller, more protective aviaries. Just 10 minutes outside the Golden Triangle, the KL Bird Park is more than a animal-friendly activity – it's a refreshing family break from the centre of the city.
    www.klbirdpark.com

    SkyTrex Adventure
    A little further outside the city, hidden among the treetops of Taman Pertanian, Shah Alam, is SkyTrex Adventure – perhaps the ultimate children's playground. SkyTrex calls its equipment 'aerial obstacles'. In reality, it's a series of linked rope bridges, swings, flying foxes and treetop challenges, ranging from three to 22 metres off the ground. Trips begin with a safety briefing and information on how to use the harnesses, carabiners and ropes before moving to the test track and eventually onto the real course. Choose from Little Adventure, Big Thrill and Extreme Challenge for a 30 minute to three hour test of varying difficulty and height.
    www.skytrex-adventure.com

    Aquaria KLCC
    Sharks, piranhas, electric eels, turtles, giant garoupa – Aquaria KLCC's list of attractions reads like the cast of a children's cartoon. And a trip to the city-centre aquarium has all the adventure you'd expect of a top family destination. With touch pools, talks and tours for learning, Aquaria KLCC ticks the education boxes, while a huge variety of sealife and activities – including shark feeding at 3pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays – ensure the kids have a whale of a time.
    www.aquariaklcc.com
  • On July 31, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What are the best things to see and do in Kuala Lumpur?

    Climb a tower
    There's no doubt that Kuala Lumpur's most famous – and impressive – landmarks are its towers: the Petronas Twin Towers and the KL Tower. While both buildings offer stunning photo opportunities from their bases and various viewpoints around the city, to truly experience them you have to go up. Seeing Kuala Lumpur from the viewing platform in either building (or from the Twin Towers' Skybridge) gives a lofty, 360-degree perspective that's the perfect way to start or to top-off a trip to Malaysia.

    Haggle for a deal
    Tacky, hot, sweaty, cheap, tourist trap – call it what you will, but no trip to Kuala Lumpur is really complete without a stop at Petaling Street. The centre of KL's Chinatown, this market strip is lined by vendors flouting all kinds of goods. Here, only one rule exists: don't settle for the first price. Haggling, and the banter that goes with it, is all part of the fun.

    Get spiritual
    With three major cultures and races making up Malaysia's population, it's no surprise that different religions are visible and notable all across Kuala Lumpur. Make a day of exploring them. Start by taking a taxi out to Batu Caves – a Hindu temple found inside a huge cave above a 272-step staircase that doubles as a monkey playground. Then, head back into the city to visit Masjid Jamek in KL's old quarter. This tourist-friendly mosque is situated at the very heart of Kuala Lumpur – the confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers – and is open to visitors (as long as they are suitably covered up). Finally, drop by St Mary's Cathedral, just a short walk away from Masjid Jamek, for a small but well preserved piece of colonial Anglican architecture.

    Eat!
    If anything in Malaysia can stand up to the fame of the Petronas Twin Towers, its the country's food. Known for its blend of Malay, Indian and Chinese cuisines, food plays a significant role in Malaysian life. Nowhere is this more evident than in the variety of eateries in Kuala Lumpur, and while the city's fine dining scene is always growing, it's the road-side and street corner mamaks and nasi kandar (mixed rice) stalls that offer the most authentic dining experience.
  • On July 29, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What are the five best Kuala Lumpur food experiences?

    Village Park nasi lemak
    You can't visit Malaysia without trying nasi lemak – it's a national treasure. Fluffy coconut rice, alongside cucumbers, a boiled egg, crispy anchovies and peanuts, and a spicy chili sauce (sambal) on the side. At Village Park, a place so famous that it inspires queues of people snaking round the block at lunchtime, this comes topped with a succulent piece of fried chicken.

    myBurgerLab
    A recent burger boom in KL has seen burger joints sprouting up all over the place, and myBurgerLab has been credited with starting it all. The tiny outlet serves its burgers in black buns (a gimmick, but it works) filled with juicy patties and inventive extras. Be warned – the queues here are not for the faint of heart.
    www.myburgerlab.com

    Banana leaf rice
    If you're the kind that likes to get messy, have a go at banana leaf rice. It is literally rice served on a banana leaf, doused with different curries, accompanied by vegetable pickles and as many side dishes as you please. Nirwana Maju does a great banana leaf rice, as does Devi's just across the road.

    Fatty Crab
    You wouldn't expect it from a landlocked city, but Kuala Lumpur does an excellent line in seafood. Fatty Crab is a prime example of this, having won awards for their eponymous crab. Try the sweet and sour crab, drenched in a piquant gravy that requires a side dish of bread to mop up.

    Mamak restaurants
    The mamak culture is huge in Kuala Lumpur – a mamak being an open air restaurant specialising in Indian-Muslim fare, often with stalls selling satay, hookah/shisha and tandoori chicken with naan. Devi's is a great mamak, with a huge variety of food and also (see above) a great banana leaf restaurant upstairs. Suzi's Corner is another famous one, with their repertoire extending to Thai green curry and steaks. Eclectic, but true.
  • On July 29, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What are the best places for brunch in Kuala Lumpur?

    Yeast Bistronomy
    This new opening in Bangsar's cafe-packed streets has garnered a loyal following in a few months. Yeast is all about artisanal French baking, and you'll find a beautiful selection of French pastries and breads here (we can highly recommend the croissants). They also do a beautiful quiche, and their baked eggs are superb. Try and grab a seat outside so you can people watch.
    www.yeastbistronomy.com

    Antipodean
    If you can walk into Antipodean and get a table straight away, count yourself very lucky. This Australian-New Zealand cafe has undergone a popularity explosion over the last couple of years, thanks in large part to its generously portioned breakfast fry up.Though bacon is usually the name of the game here, they also do great waffles and pancakes; nothing experimental, just good old comfort food.
    www.antipodeancoffee.com

    Yut Kee
    One of Kuala Lumpur's insitutions, Yut Kee is a proper Malaysian coffee shop in the old style – tiled floors, marble tables and seriously good food. It may seem unconventional to have a pork chop in the mid-morning, but you should definitely try it – Yut Kee's is crisply fried, then drenched in gravy alongside crunchy potatoes. Also try their French toast, served with kaya (coconut jam), and if you're lucky you might be able to order a plate of Yut Kee's famous roast pork, only available on weekends.
  • On July 27, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What are the most romantic restaurants in Kuala Lumpur?

    Tamarind Springs
    Out in the forests of Ampang, Tamarind Springs is an Indochinese restaurant with some serious atmosphere. Although tromping up a gravel pathway from the carpark may not be your idea of a romantic evening, things get decidedly better when you reach the lantern-lit walkway leading into the restaurant. It feels like an incredibly sophisticated treehouse, and you'll be able to dine looking out into the forest. Plus, the food is simple, authentic and delicious, and the cocktail list is, if not the best, very inventive.
    www.tamarindrestaurants.com

    il Lido
    il Lido occupies prime city space but is still just off the beaten path. A small, luxurious restaurant, it specializes in fine Italian cuisine, with an excellent wine list to match. The restaurant is an intimate one, with dramatic lighting and simple decor, and after dinner you can proceed to the rooftop bar for cocktails with a view.
    www.il-lido.com.my

    Cafe Cafe
    Despite its name, this beautifully furnished French restaurant is certainly not a cafe. When you step in from the KL traffic outside, it feels like you've been transported into 1920s Paris, with lowslung chandeliers, a checkered floor, candles everywhere and the smell of wonderful food. The menu is resolutely French; the duck confit is a must try.
    www.cafecafe.com.my
  • On July 27, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What restaurants have the best views in Kuala Lumpur?

    Troika Sky Dining
    The newest opening that's had people talking this year, this three-part restaurant combines an excellent location in KL's CBD with floor-to-ceiling windows to make the most of it. You'll be able to survey the entire city over a glass of wine at Claret, rustic Italian food at Strato, or impeccable European cuisine at Cantaloupe.
    www.troikaskydining.com

    twenty.one tables + terrace
    This oddly named bar and restaurant is the sister of the more bustling twenty.one kitchen+bar in KL's nightlife district, Kuala Lumpur. Despite being a little more low-key, the restaurant serves food and drink that is just as good, and a view that's better. From the top floor of the swanky Bangsar Shopping Centre, you'll be able to pair modern food with an unimpeded view of the KL skyline including, of course, the Petronas Twin Towers.
    www.drbar.asia

    La Vie En Rose
    This French restaurant occupies an old house in the heart of KL city. Despite the office blocks towering around it, La Vie En Rose also commands an excellent view of the KL Tower and the surrounding Bukit Nanas forest reserve, plus excellent French cuisine.
    www.cuisine-studio.net
  • On July 27, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What are the best neighborhoods in Kuala Lumpur?

    Kuala Lumpur is not a particularly large city, but there's still great contrast in each of its neighborhoods. It holds both small inner city suburbs and larger satellite towns, and each neighborhood is known for something different.

    Bangsar
    Although it was once a railway town, since the '80s Bangsar has been known as one of the trendier neighborhoods in KL. It's gone through several phases over the year, but is currently known for its excellent clutch of cafes, boutiques and restaurants. The rent in Bangsar is astronomical and contributes to a very high turnover rate for the cafes, but it does mean that there's always something new and exciting. Bangsar is a lot more cosmopolitan than the other suburbs, so while it's not the best place to experience authentic Malaysian culture, you will find a great latte.

    Taman Tun Dr Ismail
    A quiet, primarily residential suburb, Taman Tun is a leafy neighborhood possessed of a great mix of artisanal cafes (Artisan Roast and its excellent coffee), cosy pubs and local hawkers. Although it does house some great cafes and restaurants, Taman Tun still retains a more old-fashioned charm and has not become entirely gentrified. A great neighborhood for an afternoon's exploring.

    Section 17
    Its slightly futuristic name notwithstanding, Section 17 is a charming, quiet area of KL that has only just started attracting the attention of the hipsters. You'll find excellent hawker food here, mixed in with topnotch restaurants that prefer a less flashy locale. Experimental French restaurant Bistro a Table plies its trade here, a few stops down from the very authentic Verona Trattoria. You'll also be walking distance from PJ Live Arts, known for its comedy and improv performances.
  • On July 27, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What is the best time to visit Kuala Lumpur?

    It can be easy to peg Malaysia as a tropical paradise, given our proximity to the Equator, but even though sunshine and 30Celsius temperatures are pretty much guaranteed all year 'round, there are definitely better times to visit than others. Malaysia and its regional neighbours have a particular seasonal schedule, and one of the big things to consider when planning your visit is the monsoon season. Kuala Lumpur is particularly affected by the southwest monsoon from May to September, during which time you can expect blazing sunshine in the morning and some very impressive thunderstorms in the evening, every day. Having said that, the weather has been getting more and more unpredictable with every passing year, so come prepared for thunderstorms even outside the monsoon season.

    Late January and early February are known to be particularly hot months in Kuala Lumpur; coincidentally this heat takes place at the same time as the Lunar New Year. If you can, avoid the months of June and July, as smoke blown over from Sumatra often affects the air quality in Malaysia at that time.
  • On June 26, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What should I pack for a trip to Kuala Lumpur?

    Kuala Lumpur is not so different from any other Southeast Asian city – you’ll need plenty of sunblock, mosquito repellent, and an umbrella to ward against our unpredictable thunderstorms. But KL is also a city of contrasts, so on top of your beach gear remember to pack something special to wear for a cocktail at a rooftop bar, or to the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas. Malaysia is also a more conservative country than you might imagine, so women should carry a cover up with them, as some venues can be fussy about the amount of skin on display.

    Unlike some of our neighbours, Malaysia is not a country where you can get by on US dollars, so remember to get the local currency, the ringgit, for your day to day expenses.
  • On June 26, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What would be a perfect date night in Kuala Lumpur?

    Start with dinner at Acme, one of KL’s most stylish restaurants at the foot of the spectacular Norman Foster-designed building, The Troika. Remember to leave space for dessert, as Acme’s cakes are phenomenal. After dinner head up to the rooftop of the Troika for drinks at Claret. Claret is the new kid on the rooftop bar block, and combines an excellent winelist with a really great view of the Petronas Twin Towers.

    Speaking of the Petronas Twin Towers, after drinks take a slow walk through the KLCC park to enjoy the sight of the towers glowing in the dark. Book yourself in for a show at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas. Whatever the concert, half the pleasure is in enjoying the beauty of the concert hall and the spectacular pipe organ. The Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra is made up of some of the most accomplished international musicians, but the DFP also hosts performers musical and theatrical from all over the world.
  • On June 26, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    Where is the best nightlife in Kuala Lumpur?

    KLites love their nightlife districts – a clutch of good clubs and bars on the same road means you can take the party from one place to another with minimum inconvenience. Right now the most popular area is still Changkat Bukit Bintang, a tangle of roads just off the main Bukit Bintang shopping district. New club The Establishment has made a name for itself with its good music policy and cooler than thou clients; down the road twentyone is a small bar with excellent, modern food and creative cocktails. Or swing by Spanish bar Pisco for golden oldies and their famous ginger shots.
  • On June 26, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What are the best stores for designer clothes in Kuala Lumpur?

    M Women
    Emma Cook, Clover Canyon, Elizabeth &James, Sam Edelman, Vita Fede – you won’t find these brands anywhere else in KL. M Women is a stylish multi-brand boutique tucked into a corner of the stylish, multi-brand mall Gardens. Staff are not the most well-informed but generally friendly, and stock is held in limited quantities, so you know you’re getting something special.
    The Gardens Mall.

    Aseana
    Aseana could be considered M Women’s sophisticated older sister (the two boutiques are run by the same company). It’s the largest multi-brand boutique in Kuala Lumpur, and carries an excellent edit of established and up-and-coming designers. Think Catherine Malandrino, Mary Katrantzou, Issa London, Roland Mouret and Victoria Beckham.
    Suria KLCC.

    Seethrough Concept Store
    The designers carried in Seethrough are young, regional and oftentimes experimental. Run by stylist Calvin Cheong, the boutique prides itself on supporting young designers, but is also padded out with rare finds from Maison Martin Margiela and Alexander McQueen.
  • On June 26, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What are the best coffee shops in Kuala Lumpur?

    Coffee connoisseurs are in luck in KL because the last year has seen an explosion in independent cafes trying to oust the established chains. Now fighting for your latte dollars are organic, bean-to-cup brewers using top quality ingredients, serious machinery and experienced baristas.

    Artisan Roast Coffee
    One of the first players in the independent coffee movement, Artisan Roast has now grown to become one of the more established names. With cafes in Taman Tun Dr Ismail and Bangsar Shopping Centre – two of the city's most happening suburbs – the shop has found a following among trendy coffee drinkers. But don't be fooled, Artisan Roast is as welcoming to coffee newcomers as it is to coffee aficionados. There's even a hand-drawn flowchart of coffee types to help you get just the drink you're after.

    Coffea Coffee
    South Korean coffee chain Coffea Coffee went international when it branched into Malaysia in early 2013, but that's done nothing to take away from its independent coffee shop feel. Sourcing, roasting and blending its own beans, the shop has outlets in Bangsar and Section 15, Petaling Jaya with shopping mall locations planned for later in the year. Its growth is based on getting the basic things right, and Coffea Coffee outlets do a good job of mixing excellent coffee (producing one of the city's best mochas) with real chill out locations.

    Espressolab
    Like many of its coffee shop competitors, Espressolab started out as a small operation. Now, however, outlets appear to be sprouting up in every high-end mall. The cosy coffee kiosks aren't the best place to lounge for long periods of time, but that's not the point at Espressolab. Here what matters most is the blend of fresh, rich beans and deliciously airy microfoam.

    Top Brew
    When a coffee bar can boast to serve drinks prepared by the country's top barista, you know you're going to get a top cup of coffee. Founded by JH Yee – 2012 Malaysian barista champion and 2012 Asia Barista Challenge second runner-up – Top Brew prides itself on serving the best of the best when it comes to the black stuff. The bar at Plaza Damas, Sri Hartamas is the one to try for coffee purists.