Emma Johnston


  • 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 May 24, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What are the best kids activities in Kuala Lumpur?

    If your kids are getting cabin fever in the city, take them out to Skytrex, a half hour drive from the city centre. It’s an obstacle course set amongst the treetops, and the kids will need to be strapped in, run through a gentle training course, then can be let loose on the rope bridges and flying foxes. There are also bumper cars, Segways, quad bikes and archery targets for afterwards.

    A slightly bizarre educational experience, Kidzania recreates, for kids, the professional industries of the grownup world. Your child can go through different stations representing different careers – bank teller, manicurist, newscaster, firefighter, etc.

    Aquaria is Malaysia’s largest indoor aquarium, and houses a huge variety of fish and sealife. There’s a very famous sand tiger in residence, as well as a giant blotched fantail ray and, of course, baby otters. For a more immersive experience, children can stay overnight in the aquarium as part of their camp series, complete with sleeping bags and worksheets.

    Camp 5
    Camp 5 is a great indoor rock-climbing facility, with a range of different difficulty levels and heights. They say it’s Asia’s largest indoor rock-climbing facility, and it’s hugely popular among both children and adults
  • On May 24, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What are the best kid-friendly restaurants in Kuala Lumpur?

    Fit For 2
    Located in the upper reaches of family-friendly mall Bangsar Village II, Fit For 2 was one of the pioneers of the kid-friendly movement. It’s specifically targeted at mums and their kids, so there are corresponding menus for adults and children, and a series of exercise classes that mum-child duos can take part in together.

    Marmalade is both a chic café (their carrot cake is deservedly famous) and a paradise for children. It’s decked out with pastel furniture and murals on the walls, with dedicated play areas and a menu packed with meals and treats designed to appeal to little ones, but still not too cutesy for the grown-ups to enjoy.

    Ben’s General Food Store
    Though there is no dedicated kids menu at Ben’s General Food Store’s many outlets, the offerings are definitely kid-friendly – home made pizzas, a wide range of inventive milkshakes and possibly the best salad bar in KL. The laidback atmosphere and dishes for sharing make it a casual, family-friendly spot for a feed.
  • On May 24, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What are the best clothing boutiques in Kuala Lumpur?

    Kuala Lumpur is known by many as a shopping paradise, with visitors from neigbouring countries coming in especially for shopping sprees. The market is highly competitive and you'll find a majority of international high street and luxury labels represented. Recently though, there's been a swing towards supporting local fashion designers, resulting in an increase of independent boutiques.

    SEETHROUGH Concept Store
    Run by local stylist Calvin Cheong, SEETHROUGH Concept Store brings together young, independent designers from across the country and around the region in an ultra-modern space. Across the road you’ll find another store run by Calvin and friends, called Never Follow Suit – the stock here is a little younger and funkier, with different rooms catering to different styles.

    M Store
    Occupying prime position in the swanky Gardens Mall, M Store hosts a selection of designers from all over the world – the latest imports include Emma Cook and Clover Canyon, while they also carry beautiful shoes by Sam Edelman and Schutz and accessories from a range of cult designers.

    Khoon Hooi
    If you’re looking for something truly Malaysian (but not cliched) to take home from your holiday, local designer Khoon Hooi has some lovely pieces in his Starhill boutique. Khoon Hooi has showed and sold in Paris, and his work is feminine, refined and thoroughly modern.
  • On May 21, 2013
    Paulo Barbosa is now following Emma Johnston
  • On May 21, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What is Kuala Lumpur’s dining scene like?

    Though we may not boast the same number of Michelin stars as our southerly neighbour Singapore, in many ways Malaysia’s dining scene simply cannot be equalled. As the capital city, Kuala Lumpur brings together many different threads of the country’s food culture, so it’s the perfect place to try a little bit of everything.

    You can’t stay in KL and not try the local street food – even hotel and restaurant approximations of the classic hawker staples are better than nothing. So many different cuisines are represented on the streets of KL – Malay, Indian and Chinese, as well as Thai influences, Portuguese spices, and the myriad flavours from Sabah and Sarawak. The best place to start would be a local night market (pasar malam, in Malay) where you’ll find a huge variety of local dishes and snacks.

    KL is also the location of a burgeoning café culture, with independent coffee shops and bakeries opening all over the city. And fine dining is surprisingly vibrant here, with all the major hotels represented and a growing number of independent restaurants taking on the degustation challenge.
  • On May 21, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What is nightlife like in Kuala Lumpur?

    Nightlife in KL is pretty vibrant, with a wide spectrum of choices from neighbourhood pubs to full on, tripped out clubs. If you club for the music, you may find it a little hard-going in this city – at the moment, it’s either R&B all the way, or pretty hardcore dubstep, but there’s always a fun night out to be had in one of KL’s many rooftop bars or bopping with the masses in the clubs.

    For a dependable night out, you can’t go wrong with Zouk. The original superclub, it originated from Singapore and is one of KL’s longest standing clubbing institutions. There are three rooms, each playing a different variety of music, and there’s also a relaxed alfresco bar where you can drink from 5pm to 5am. Zouk plays host to an ever-changing roster of international DJ acts, so you may even find your favourite DJ here.

    If you’re after something a little more hip, check out The Establishment down in famed nightlife district, Changkat Bukit Bintang. Modelled after a more Australian way of nightlife, The Establishment has a slightly more deconstructed feel, a more edited guestlist and more interesting music policy.

    And if all you want is a good old-fashioned bar crawl, Changkat Bukit Bintang is the best place to be. A tangle of streets just off the main CBD, Changkat is lined with bars both of the fashionable and trashy varieties, with a great mix of international food joints mixed in. Twentyone is always dependable for a good cocktail and a tiny, but vibrant, dancefloor, while newbie Pisco brings a Spanish flavour to proceedings.
  • On April 29, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What are the best seafood restaurants in Kuala Lumpur?

    Lala Chong
    You’ll find some of KL’s best seafood in either of Lala Chong’s branches – try the clams steamed in ginger and rice wine on a rainy day, or tuck into crabs fried with salted egg and curry leaves.

    Fisherman’s Cove
    For high end seafood, it doesn’t get better than Fisherman’s Cove. Housed deep in the belly of KL’s most expensive mall, Starhill Gallery, the restaurant uses both local and imported seafood to create stunning dishes. You can choose from the fish on display (in tanks) and then the cooking method – poached, grilled, steamed, fried, even sashimi-style.

    Nong & Jimmy Thai Seafood Barbeque
    Seems counter-intuitive to come to Malaysia and order Thai food, but if you don’t have time to nip over the north border, Nong & Jimmy is a good substitute. Their barbequed crab is sensational – the sweet flesh holds a subtle, smoky flavour. Pair it with some eye-popping tom yam soup and be prepared to sweat buckets.
  • On April 29, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What are the best hotels in Kuala Lumpur?

    The Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur
    For a long time The Majestic lay empty, a leftover from Malaysia’s colonial history. It’s recently been revamped and extended – the original building has been restored to pristine condition and a very large extension added round the back and to the sides. It’s all been done very tastefully, and consequently The Majestic is now one of KL’s loveliest hotels, combining that old colonial charm with modern luxury. They do one of the best afternoon teas in town, and will even serve it in a special conservatory filled with orchids.

    Aloft Kuala Lumpur Sentral
    While we’re waiting for an actual W Hotel to open up (the hoarding’s gone up, now it’s just a waiting game), the newly opened Aloft is doing a lot to calm our nerves. It’s located in the public transport hub KL Sentral, making it perfect for business travellers or tourists who don’t want to stay right in the city centre. Low key and quirky, the hotel houses two excellent bars and modern, well-appointed rooms.

    Sekeping Tenggiri
    Sekeping Tengirri (meaning ‘a piece of mackerel’) is one in a series of boutique hotels conceptualised by local architect Ng Seksan. Each location is a different, unique property, and brings Seksan’s modern, industrialist aesthetic to bear with distinctive results. Sekeping Tenggiri is located in one of KL’s most fashionable inner city suburbs, Bangsar, and has taken over a standard terrace house and turned it into something very cool. Seksan houses his personal art collection here, so you’ll get a great primer on local and regional artists, and his architecture references and amplifies local culture and history without being clichéd.

    Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur
    Right in the middle of the city, Grand Hyatt is one of KL’s newest openings. The hotel boasts 39 floors and therefore incredible views of the city, as well as some top notch restaurants and bars. Head up to the lobby on the top floor to get a 360 degrees view of KL,
  • On April 26, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What are some things to know before visiting Kuala Lumpur?

    It gets very humid
    Over here by the equator, the temperature rarely drops below 30 Celsius and even when it’s not hot, it’s always humid. As common sense would dictate, the hottest hours are between 11am and 3pm, so try not to conduct any strenuous activity outdoors at those times. If you are intent on embracing the weather, make sure you sunscreen up and keep lots of fluids to hand – in this country, you dehydrate fast.

    Malaysia is more conservative than you think
    On a similar note, if you’re thinking of enjoying the sun with beach-worthy outfits, exercise a little caution. Malaysia is in general still quite a conservative place, though exceptions are made for tourists. Shorts are fine, but bikini tops in the city may be taking things a bit too far. Modesty is a key Islamic value, and Islam is the official religion of state.

    Remember to bargain when you can
    Like many tourist-heavy cities, KL has its fair share of traders out to get the most from travellers. This includes market stall holders, taxi drivers and sometimes even restaurant staff. Feel free to bargain, especially if you’re in a market, and try never to accept a set fee from a taxi – insist on using the meter.
  • On April 26, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What are the best local dishes in Kuala Lumpur?

    Malaysian cuisine is an intriguing (and sometime confusing) mix of many influences – there’s a heavy Chinese presence, as well as Malay, Indian, and Portuguese. KL food is often on the receiving end of some gentle ribbing from our neighbours in Penang, who claim that KL food is watered down and inauthentic. Whatever the case, you can sample a huge variety of cuisines in the city, and the best place to do so is in the local coffee shops and hawker stalls.

    Nasi lemak
    Widely claimed to be Malaysia’s national dish, nasi lemak (literally ‘fatty rice’ in English) is composed of rice cooked in coconut milk and flavoured with pandan (screwpine) leaves, accompanied by crispy fried anchovies, crunchy peanuts, half a boiled egg, a few slices of cucumber and a generous helping of sambal, a sweet and spicy sauce. These components alone make an excellent breakfast, but can be supplemented by a variety of dishes – the most common is chicken curry, but also stir-fried green vegetables, eggs sunny side up, squid braised in curry, fried fish… the possibilities are near endless.

    Char kuey teow
    Char kuey teow is a hotly debated dish – Penang people claim the noodle dish for their island, and they’re probably right. Flat rice noodles (kuey teow) are fried in a searingly hot wok with prawns, bean sprouts, chives, sliced Chinese sausage, egg and plenty of garlic. It’s an incredibly aromatic, incredibly unhealthy dish that is absolutely delicious.

    Roti canai
    No one knows where roti canai came from – some claim that ‘canai’ is a reference to Chennai, others claim that is a wholly Malaysian invention. The roti canai, or just roti to regulars, is a flaky flatbread found in mamak restaurants across the country. It starts as a simple lump of dough before being kneaded and then flung expertly in the air to create paper thin layers that are folded back on themselves. The result is like a multi-layered pancake, best enjoyed with copious amounts of dahl (lentil curry) and piquant fish curry.
  • On April 26, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What is the one must-do activity in Kuala Lumpur?

    If you must do one thing in KL, it would have to be experiencing the Petronas Twin Towers up close and personal. The towers are an iconic part of our cityscape – admire them from the ground, from a rooftop bar in a nearby hotel, on the skybridge connecting the two towers, or from the observation deck on the highest floor. It’s simply not to be missed – you’ll be able to see, from the vantage point of 88 floors in the air, just how much KL has grown and developed. Office and apartment blocks sit side by side with Art Deco buildings from the ’20s,  diminishing patches of virgin rainforest,  the two rivers, and villages scattered amongst the commercial areas. Plus, the towers themselves are an incredible feat of architecture and design.
  • On April 26, 2013
    Emma Johnston is now following the question:
  • On April 23, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    Should visitors rent a car in Kuala Lumpur?

    Renting a car is not necessary in KL – it’s not even advisable, as the city traffic is notorious, and the road systems always changing. The public transport system is not extensive but is adequate for the main tourist sightseeing spots, and for everything else, there’s taxis. You can get a taxi to even the outskirts of the city, or book one for a day to take you around all the major hotspots. Hotel taxis are generally the most reliable, although expensive – KL has a bit of a problem with taxi drivers ripping off unsuspecting travellers. Insist on using the meter, rather than accepting the fixed price they’ll try to offer you.
  • On April 23, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What language is spoken in Kuala Lumpur?

    It’s easy to lose track of all the languages spoken in Kuala Lumpur – the official language of the country is Malay, the lingua franca of the many races that reside here. You’ll also hear Cantonese and Mandarin, Hindi and Tamil, even a smattering of European languages in the expat areas. However you can easily get around KL on just English. After all, Malaysia was once a British colonial outpost – though there’s been a concerted effort since that time to rename old English road names and buildings, KL is cosmopolitan enough that English is many residents’ mothertongue.

    All of the major tourist hotspots will be well signposted in English, and apart from a few streetside stalls and suburban coffee shops, all the restaurants will have English menus.
  • On April 23, 2013
    Emma Johnston answered the question: Emma Johnston

    What are the best bars in Kuala Lumpur?

    It’s indisputable that Skybar is the leader of the pack when it comes to drinking in KL. Perched on the 33rd floor of the Traders Hotel right in the city centre, the bar is dominated by the hotel’s swimming pool, though the number of swimmers lessens somewhat as the hours progress. But the pool, though pretty, is not the focal point – that would be the magnificent view of KL’s Petronas Twin Towers from the floor-to-ceiling windows. Settle down with a Selangor Sling (the bar’s cheeky take on the classic) in a windowside cabana and contemplate the city’s skyline.

    Modelled after a 1920s speakeasy, Tate is entered by a cunningly disguised door (just ask the staff if you can’t see it) and decked out in leather, wood and a suit of armour, for no particular reason. Cocktails are both classic and inventive – the lemon meringue martini is especially impressive, served with a blow-torched meringue perching on top of the glass. The atmosphere is sophisticated but laidback, and the truffle fries are excellent.

    Marini’s on 57
    Marini’s on 57 is located on the 57th floor of the newly erected third tower abutting the famous Petronas Twin Towers. As you’d expect, it has a spectacular view of the city (though not great for viewing their next door neighbours) and a luxurious set up in which red velvet plays a big role. It’s not a huge venue, and prices can get a little steep, but for the view of sunset over KL, it’s worth it.

    The Social
    KL isn’t all about cocktails and rooftop bars. For a more relaxed evening, try any one of the many The Social outlets scattered across town. One of the oldest is the Bangsar branch, which houses flatscreen TVs in every corner, a clutch of pool tables and a very commendable wine list. They also have a great menu, including lots of local favourites (noodle and rice dishes feature heavily), a bar snack version of Peking duck rolls, and plenty of substantial beer accompaniments.