2023 Travel Update: As of 2023, Malaysia essentially is open for tourism by both vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers without Covid-specific documentation or testing. However, be sure to double check the official government site and travel alerts for up-to-the minute details.
Kuala Lumpur's Chinatown district — currently centered around Jalan Petaling, or Ci Cong Kai (茨廠街) in Cantonese for "Starch Factory Street," — traces its history back to the 1800s, even before the arrival of the British. However, in its modern incarnation as a shopping and eating destination, it was given more of an identity with welcoming gateways in 2003 and improved pavement and a "green dragon" canopy over the main street in 2007.
Although the formal designation of a Chinatown was not without controversy from some Chinese citizens in KL who were concerned it could be an effort by the Malay majority to further marginalise the Chinese community, the neighbourhood does have a sense of place and the main streets provide a pleasant walk, too.
Jalan Petaling, Jalan Hang Lekir, & Jalan Sultan
The covered Jalan Petaling and its uncovered Jalan Hang Lekir cross street formally are people-only, but motorbikes routinely ignore this rule. Be mindful of vehicles.
Jalan Petaling is known mostly for its cheap designer knockoffs, and quite frankly, travelgasm.com would suggest that you not buy any counterfeit goods. Beyond the fact that they technically are illegal — even in Malaysia — and can be confiscated if you return to a country with better intellectual property protection, they tend to be low quality and poorly made. If you wish to buy this type of product, bargain aggressively and don't be surprised if what you buy falls apart quickly. There are other "cheap and cheerful" products on Jalan Petaling that would be better options for a souvenir than a knockoff.
The Jalan Hang Lekir cross street is known mostly for its food; we would suggest that food is the best reason to visit Chinatown. There also are a smattering of inexpensive hostels and the neighbourhood is becoming more of a trendy place to hang out in recent years, as well.
Three long well-regarded places to eat in the area include Kim Lian Kee (金莲记福建面), famous as the originator of hokkien mee (福建麵) noodles in 1927; Hon Kee Porridge, which has been popping out inexpensive Cantonese congee (粥) for breakfast since 1949; and the beautiful Old China Cafe, which serves Baba Nyonya (峇峇娘惹) cuisine, an early Chinese-Southeast Asian fusion and one of our favourite types of food in Asia. These restaurants definitely are must-visit, first time in Kuala Lumpur destinations.
If you have visited Kuala Lumpur before — or you just would like to enjoy a bit of the city's trends of today alongside Chinatown's classic hits — be sure to make it around the corner from Jalan Hang Lekir to Jalan Sultan to see the REXKL community center and mall. Once Kuala Lumpur's top movie theatre (Rex) — first built in 1947 — and rebuilt and repurposed over the years after a series of fires, it largely was left for dead in 2007. This changed in 2019, though, when local entrepreneurs renovated and rebooted the building as an event venue with trendy local shopping and small-scale bars and eateries. It is now a must-visit destination in its own right whether you're just visiting Kuala Lumpur or live in the city.
No doubt inspired by REXKL, a number of cute, local coffee and dessert shops also have sprung up along Jalan Sultan in renovated shophouses. Three of our favourites are Lim Kee Cafe, with a retro Malaysian vibe; Monster, a leafy cat cafe; and Jao Tim, which often has live jazz in the evenings. Feel free to find your own favourites, too.
Kasturi Walk (Laluan Kasturi) is another covered walking street not far from Jalan Petaling. Launched in 2011, goods on offer are pretty similar to Petaling Street, but it has a Malay-style roof covering and a brick floor that makes it look more like a shopping mall. It's a quick — and pleasant — walk from Petaling, so you might as well see it if you like shopping. However, the real reason to make the trek is next door.
Adjacent to Kasturi Walk, Central Market began its life as a wet market in 1888, but now is clean, air conditioned, and boasts 300+ stores that sell handicrafts, batik fabrics, jewelry, knickknacks, collectibles, and more.
If you want to buy a souvenir that is genuinely Malaysian, Central Market very well might be the best place in the city. For those who like to shop, it definitely is a must see. If affordable shopping is your primary objective, you might also find it worthwhile to book a street market exploration and shopping tour for local guidance regarding specific products to buy, help with evaluating quality, and assistance with bargaining.
Although Central Market mostly is about shopping, it also hosts an inexpensive food court and stand-alone restaurants with a variety of Malaysian and international options including a branch of the Old China Cafe with its original home on Petaling Street.
Below, we have mapped out a logical route from and back to MRT Pasar Seni Station. It's a nice walk between Chinatown and the River of Life, so we have included the River of Life as an alternate arrival or departure point, as well.
How to Get Here: Take LRT Kelana Jaya (Line 5, Pink) or MRT Sungai Buloh-Kajang (Line 9, Dark Green) to Pasar Seni Station (KJ14, SBK16). There is a directly connected paid-to-paid transfer area between the elevated LRT and the underground MRT. To start our suggested walk, use Exit A from MRT Pasar Seni Station. To go to or from the River of Life on foot, Jalan Petaling and Leboh Pasar Besar provide a pleasant walk.
travelgasm.com's Jalan Petaling/Chinatown Map (Full Screen)
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Be sure to see our 7 Things Tourists Don't Do in Kuala Lumpur, but You Should, too.
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