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 June 26, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What are the best day trips near Kuala Lumpur?

    Whether you've exhausted the sights KL has to offer or you just want to get out of the city for a while, there are a number of excellent trips and activities all doable in a day from Malaysia's capital. From back-to-nature exploits to charity projects and historical sites, there's plenty of variety for visitors willing to leave the Klang Valley.

    Kuala Selangor
    70 kilometres north-west of Kuala Lumpur is Kuala Selangor, a small seaside town with a real treat for visitors. In the day time, there's not a lot to this sleepy region of countryside, but at night it really lights up – literally. Home to a population of fireflies, the town offers tours around the surrounding mangroves where you can catch a glimpse of the famous kelip-kelip as they twinkle their way across the night sky. Bring a camera, but be warned: not even the fanciest of DSLRs will catch the beauty of this rare and breathtaking sight.

    Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary
    Kuala Gandah ticks a number of must-do day trip boxes. As an organisation, its aim is to raise money and awareness for elephants across Malaysia, coordinating rescue missions and projects to save the species. As a sanctuary, it offers visitors an incredible close-up experience with the gentle giants that call its reserve and parkland home. An hour-and-a-half's drive from Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Gandah is a must for animal lovers, but with a full schedule of daily events that includes feeding, cleaning and playing with the elephants, it's a trip well worth considering for all visitors to KL.

    Malacca
    Just two hours south of Kuala Lumpur, Malacca gives visitors an insight into Malaysia's Portuguese past.  While the British colonial era takes centre stage among attractions in the capital, this quiet, historical city is frozen in the other side of the country's heritage. With forts, churches and some amazingly well preserved architecture, there is plenty to keep strollers entertained, while Malacca's famed street food and shopping on Jonker Street will satisfy all but the most stubborn of stomachs.
  • On June 24, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    Where can you get the best view of Kuala Lumpur?

    Many tourist destinations claim to give visitors the perfect view of Kuala Lumpur, but to truly see the best of the city, you have to venture further than the hotspots. While attractions like the KL Tower and the Petronas Twin Towers certainly offer awe-inspiring views from the centre of the city out, there are better places to take in the diversity of KL.

    To get a real appreciation for the jungle landscape that flanks the northern and eastern sides of the city, head to the hiking and biking trails of Bukit Kiara. They’re a bit out of the way and require a certain sense of adventure (and fitness) but make it to the summit’s lookout point and you’re greeted by a 180-degree view that encompasses Batu Caves to the north, the world’s longest quartz ridge at Klang Gates to the east and the sail-like Telekom Tower to the south. The only downside? Bukit Kiara is under constant threat from construction, so this secret vantage point’s days are numbered.

    For a slightly more established look across the city, head to Ampang’s Lookout Point  – almost due east of the Bukit Kiara spot. Here, a well-used road snakes over the city’s surrounding hills and down to a town called Hulu Langat. Make an early morning stop at the peak and watch the city wake up before heading down the other side to some excellent waterfall picnic sites.
  • On June 24, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What are the best outdoor activities in Kuala Lumpur?

    Despite the heat and humidity of Kuala Lumpur, outdoor activities are not hard to find. From city centre golf and country clubs to jungle trekking and bungee jumping, visitors can be spoilt for choice. The best activities depend entirely on your appetite for adventure.

    Adventure level: Moderate
    Get back to nature at the foot of one of Kuala Lumpur’s most familiar landmarks: the KL Tower. Surrounding this, the world’s seventh tallest telecommunications tower, is a feature few global cities can boast: an area of true virgin rainforest. While the tigers that once roamed this part of the country are of course long gone, many fascinating species of flora and fauna still remain and still offer the sort of photo opportunities you’d never expect to find in the middle of a growing capital city. Though the Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve is currently closed for maintenance, it will reopen in September.

    Adventure level: Intermediate
    Join a hash. The global phenomenon of hashing started right here in Kuala Lumpur, and clubs still run (and drink) weekly and monthly all across the city. Find a run time and date (most clubs are now online: try the Mother Hash for the original hash group, the KL Hash House Harriettes, the KL Full Moon Hash, or the KL Junior Hash House Harriers for children), turn up, follow the paper trail and soak in the post-run drinks and banter.

    Adventure level: Extreme
    Join Air Venture Sports Aviation for a lesson on how to fly a paramotor. Start off with a tandem flight where you’ll learn the basics of flying before progressing to the optional training course that will take you from the ground to the skies in five days. It’s a commitment, but one that has a reward few people will ever experience: looking down on KL’s surrounding Klang Valley with nothing but air beneath your feet, an 80cc motor strapped to your back and a parachute above your head.
  • On June 24, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    Where can you get the best view of Kuala Lumpur?

    Many tourist destinations claim to give visitors the perfect view of Kuala Lumpur, but to truly see the best of the city, you have to venture further than the hotspots. While attractions like the KL Tower and the Petronas Twin Towers certainly offer awe-inspiring views from the centre of the city out, there are better places to take in the diversity of KL.

    To get a real appreciation for the jungle landscape that flanks the northern and eastern sides of the city, head to the hiking and biking trails of Bukit Kiara. They’re a bit out of the way and require a certain sense of adventure (and fitness) but make it to the summit’s lookout point and you’re greeted by a 180-degree view that encompasses Batu Caves to the north, the world’s longest quartz ridge at Klang Gates to the east and the sail-like Telekom Tower to the south. The only downside? Bukit Kiara is under constant threat from construction, so this secret vantage point’s days are numbered.

    For a slightly more established look across the city, head to Ampang’s Lookout Point  – almost due east of the Bukit Kiara spot. Here, a well-used road snakes over the city’s surrounding hills and down to a town called Hulu Langat. Make an early morning stop at the peak and watch the city wake up before heading down the other side to some excellent waterfall picnic sites.
  • On June 24, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What are the best historic hotels in Kuala Lumpur?

    Historic hotels are not all that common in Kuala Lumpur. Older buildings tend to be renovated as the country continues its drive to becoming a developed nation. That said, two establishments still offer a piece of colonial Malaya in the city – even if they have also faced reworking since their glory days.

    For the ultimate in days-gone-by opulence, try Carcosa Seri Negara. Originally the residence of the British High Commissioner in Malaya (Malaya became Malaysia after independence in 1957), this mansion and gardens is now home to a grand five-star hotel. While the outside of the building remains the same, the inside has seen moderate renovations to bring the hotel into the twenty-first century. That said, when sipping tea in The Drawing Room or relaxing into one of the suites’ four-poster beds, it’s easy to forget you’ve left the early 1900s.

    If you’re looking for a more modern take on the historic experience, the new-but-old Majestic Hotel is ideal. Located next to Kuala Lumpur’s iconic railway station (purportedly built by the British to withstand up to six feet of snow) and sharing a similar design to its neighbour, this 1930s heritage building has recently been restored from the ground up. Like Carcosa, the hotel’s façade has remained entirely untouched but luxury hotel chain YTL has spruced up the interior to make this a truly classic hotel once again.
  • On June 23, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What is the best new restaurant in Kuala Lumpur?

    Troika Sky Dining recently opened on the rooftop of the Norman Foster-designed The Troika, a three-pronged residences right next to the Petronas Twin Towers. It’s the brainchild of Eddie Chew and Chris Bauer, the men behind the phenomenal French restaurant Frangipani, and it’s actually three outlets in one. Strato is a casual Italian-style bistro, specialising in authentic Italian dishes and wines. Overlooking the Towers is Claret, a beautiful wine bar with an impeccable wine list. And the third counterpart is Cantaloupe, possibly Kuala Lumpur’s most exciting restaurant – fine dining in the true sense of the word, with a constantly evolving menu using local and imported produce, with the prices to match.
  • On June 23, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What is the weather like right now in Kuala Lumpur?

    June is a tricky month in Kuala Lumpur. At this very moment (late June) we’re undergoing our yearly dose of smoke from Sumatra – illegal forest logging in the Indonesian island leads to huge swathes of smoke drifting across Singapore and Malaysia. It means perpetual grey skies and haze in the air, poor visibility and near-dangerous levels of pollution. But from experience (the haze happens every year) this will only last for another week, and generally Kuala Lumpur is as you’d expect from a city near the Equator – sunny, humid, and inclined to unpredictable thunderstorms. Even if it does suddenly tip down with rain, you know that the sun will be out in another hour.
  • On June 23, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What is public transportation like in Kuala Lumpur?

    Public transport in KL is, in a word, patchy. There are areas of the city that are very well served by public transport – in particular the city centre, and most of the inner city suburbs. The rest of the city has next to nothing.

    There are three major train lines – the light rail transit (LRT) that runs from the deepest end of Petaling Jaya right into the centre of Ampang, and is the main source of transport for people who work in the CBD. There’s the Monorail, that services most tourist spots in the city centre, and then there’s the KTM, a slower commuter train that runs across the whole country. These three lines intersect at very few places, and serve an almost random selection of towns and areas across Kuala Lumpur.

    Other than the trains there are buses, but these are generally unreliable and impossible to catch when you need one. If you’re not straying far from the tourist belt, the LRT is great – there’s a stop in café central suburb Bangsar, and in 15 minutes you can get from there to the Petronas Twin Towers (by road this could take anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours). Taxis are a great way of getting around KL, but be careful to always request the metre – there are more than a few unscrupulous drivers around who won’t hesitate to rip you off.
  • On May 30, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What are the best art galleries in Kuala Lumpur?

    Bank Negara Money Museum and Art Centre
    The Bank Negara art museum is a well-stocked but under-publicised vault of some of the best art in Malaysia. You may not find the young, adventurous artists but you will see an excellent cross section of the more established names – Ibrahim Hussein, Latiff Mohidin, Syed Ahmad Jamal, Jalaini Abu Hassan and Bayu Utomo Radjikin, among others.
    museum.bnm.gov.my

    Wei-Ling and Wei-Ling Contemporary
    The original Wei-Ling gallery is housed in a narrow shoplot in Brickfields, and displays a rotating selection of young artists – Ivan Lam, Munkao, Anurendra Jegadeva, Chin Kong Yee and many more. Wei-Ling has also recently opened Wei-Ling Contemporary in upscale mall The Gardens Mall. They have a similar stable of artists but a more accessible approach, with bare concrete floors and wide open door for visitors.
    www.weiling-gallery.com

    MapKL
    A multi-disciplinary space, MapKL consists of the Black Box and the White Box. The Black Box is a bare, black space designed to host theatre and dance performances, as well as talks and workshops. The White Box is an open plan, light-filled space for art exhibitions. In the past the White Box has hosted the regional Henry Butcher Art Auction, and favours in particular young, independent artists who work with alternative media.
    www.facebook.com/mapkl
  • On May 30, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    Where are the best cocktails in Kuala Lumpur?

    Teh tarik at View Rooftop Bar
    For a sophisticated take on Malaysia’s most beloved drink, the calorific sweet tea teh tarik, head up to the View in GTower. Here they take the silky, milky tea and give it a strong shot of aged whisky.
    www.view.com.my

    Lemon meringue martini at Tate
    Tate is a speakeasy-inspired bar filled with dark leather couches, wood panelling and some spectacular cocktails. One of note is the lemon meringue martini, a sweet, tangy concoction topped with a caramelised cloud of meringue. Tate also does the classic cocktails very well – try their take on the Old Fashioned, and marvel at their array of homemade bitters.
    www.thebiggroup.co

    Assam boi at Palate Palette
    Quirky, mismatched bar Palate Palette in Changkat Bukit Bintang has some of the most original cocktails around. We like their boozed up take on a national staple, asam boi – that’s 7-Up, lime juice and a couple of salted plums soaking at the bottom. Their offerings have a characteristically Malaysian flavour to them, if you’re after something a bit more local.
    www.palatepalette.com

    Selangor Sling at SkyBar
    Cocktails at SkyBar are expensive, but excellent (plus, you’re paying for the view). Try the Selangor Sling, a localised version of the other famous Sling. It’s a mellow, fruity drink, perfect for accompanying the sunset.
    www.skybar.com.my
  • On May 30, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What is the best way to see Kuala Lumpur in one day?

    Seems cheesy, but the much-publicised Hop On Hop Off bus is a great way to take in all of the sights of KL without getting bogged down with transport details. You can jump on the bus at any of the designated stops, and hop off when you want to check something out. The stops include must-see tourist hotspots like the Badan Warisan heritage complex (complete with a fully restored traditional Malay house on stilts), the Bukit Bintang shopping district and Tugu Negara, the national monument.

    If you’d rather go your own way, map out your own route on the public transport system, keeping in mind that things can get a little hairy during rush hours (8-9am, 5-6.30pm). Start at the KLCC stop on the LRT line, to take in the Petronas Twin Towers and a little shopping at Suria KLCC. Make your way to Bukit Bintang through the overhead pedestrian bridge, take the monorail down to Titiwangsa to see the park, then head back to Bangsar on the LRT line for a look at the ’burbs and some of KL’s best cafés.
  • On May 30, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What is the best thing to bring home from Kuala Lumpur?

    If you don’t have to deal with stringent custom regulations when you arrive back home, the best thing to bring back from Kuala Lumpur is food – lots of it. Authentic Nyonya curry pastes are easily available, as are traditional biscuits, fragrant chilli sauces, prawn crackers, and local herbs and spices.

    If you do have customs to contend with, there are any number of beautiful souvenirs you can pick up around KL. Local company Arch does beautiful carvings of local scenery and architecture, in the form of bookmarks, models and photo frames. Or you can pick up wooden carved fans at Central Market, even elaborate replicas of the traditional Malay sword, the keris.
  • On May 27, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What are the most unusual dining experiences in Kuala Lumpur?

    Dining in the dark
    As a concept, dining with the lights off isn't particularly new but that takes little away from its novelty. And as unusual dining experiences go, this one's pretty hard to beat. Quite literally doing what it says on the tin, KL's own dining in the dark offering – quite aptly called Dining in the Dark KL – can be found on Changkat Bukit Bintang, where its dim, experimental setting provides stark contrast to the bright lights of the street below.
    Dining in the Dark KL, 44A & 46A Changkat Bukit Bintang, KL. www.dininginthedarkkl.com

    Omakase at Kampachi
    When you arrive at Kampachi for the omakase menu, expect only one thing: to be eating what the chef wants you to eat. Omakase – basically meaning 'leave it to you' – is a form of Japanese cuisine in which the chef is left to their own devices to create a bespoke menu, usually involving the freshest, best produce of the day. And there are few better places to try the concept than at the newest Kampachi outlet. Located at the Norman Foster & Co-designed The Troika, Kampachi serves the very best of ingredients (flown directly from the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo) in the most stylish of settings.
    Kampachi Troika KLCC, Lot G-3, The Troika, 19 Persiaran KLCC, KL. www.kampachi.com.my

    Revolving Restaurant at the KL Tower
    It's a bit of a tourist trap but the Atmosphere 360º revolving restaurant 282 metres up the KL Tower is definitely an experience. One floor above the popular (and recommend) viewing platform of this, the world's seventh highest telecommunications tower, the restaurant rotates – as its name suggests – a full 360 degrees while you dine. That sounds a little terrifying but don't worry, the pace is more Sunday morning amble than theme park attraction, meaning all you'll notice is the changing city scenery stretching out for miles.
    Atmosphere 360, TH-02, Menara Kuala Lumpur, 2 Jalan Puncak, Off Jalan P Ramlee, KL. www.atmosphere360.com.my
  • On May 27, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What are the best indoor activities in Kuala Lumpur?

    Art jamming
    'Art jamming is for all,' The Studio@KL's promo material states, and you soon realise what they mean by that. Bringing together members of the public of all art backgrounds,  the studio sets out to prove, in one three-hour session, that there is an artist lurking in everyone. Presented with an easel, apron, canvas and everything else you need to channel your inner Picasso, you're given a brief of 'Express yourself' and are encouraged to go wherever the paint takes you. It's different, relaxing and a whole lot of fun.
    Art jamming sessions are held at The Studio@KL, Solaris Dutamas, Mont Kiara, KL. A three-hour session, per 'jammer' costs RM120. www.thestudioatkl.com

    Dewan Filharmonik Petronas
    Taking up pride of place at the entrance to the Petronas Twin Towers, Dewan Philharmonic Petronas – the home of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra – is perhaps the premier venue for classical music in Southeast Asia. Opened in 1998, the hall has welcomed some of the world's leading performers and continues to bring famed composers and orchestras to the Malaysian public and visitors.
    Dewan Filharmonik Petronas, Level 2, Tower 2, Petronas Twin Towers, KLCC. www.dfp.com.my

    Shopping centre flea markets
    Life in Malaysia seems to revolve ever more around the ubiquitous shopping malls, and the recent increase in the number of flea markets does nothing to buck the trend. Stocking everything from vintage Malaysian furniture, stamps, posters and gramophones (try Amcorp Mall's weekly flea market) to clothing, kids' toys, stationary and homemade food (stop by Bangsar Shopping Centre's monthly Seek & Keep Artisan Market), there's really no need to leave the air conditioning.
    Amcorp Mall Flea Market, Saturdays & Sundays. Amcorp Mall 18 Persiaran Barat, Petaling Jaya.
    BSC Seek & Keep Artisan Market, Monthly. Bangsar Shopping Centre, 285 Jalan Maarof, Bukit Bandaraya, KL.
  • On May 24, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What are the best museums in Kuala Lumpur?

    Kuala Lumpur is, unfortunately, a little short on quality museums, as the state-run institutions are somewhat old and dusty. There are a few worthy candidates though, and Malaysia’s colourful history is told well through their exhibitions.

    Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia
    The IAMM is a truly beautiful space, worth visiting to marvel at the architecture alone.  There are a number of permanent galleries, showcasing architecture, jewellery, textiles, metalwork and more from around the region. The museum also regularly hosts international touring exhibitions.
    www.iamm.org.my

    Kuala Lumpur City Gallery
    Run by Arch, the company that produces beautiful carved wood veneer souvenirs, KL City Gallery is located just off Merdeka Square. It’s not a huge place, but thoughtfully planned out, and you’ll be able to read about Kuala Lumpur’s chequered history and look at old photographs and new recreations of city life through the years.
    www.klcitygallery.com

    Bank Negara Malaysia Money Museum and Art Gallery
    If you’d like to learn about the history of money in Malaysia (a more interesting topic than it sounds), this is the place to be. You’ll be able to see the design progression of currency notes and handle old coins. The art gallery attached to the museum is one of the best in the city, housing the work of some of the most prominent Malaysian artists of our time.
    museum.bnm.gov.my