For a city that sees as many young independent travellers as Kuala Lumpur, it is peculiar how few services have sprung up to serve their needs. Compare the situation with Bangkok say, which has a whole travel industry centred on backpackers, and more recently flashpackers too. While KL might not want the fully fledged Khao San Road experience, it could certainly do with more businesses catering towards independent visitors.
A big step in the right direction has been the growth of Tengkat Tong Shin, in Bukit Bintang, as KL’s first real traveller accommodation hub. Though still low-key compared to the likes of Khao San, Tengkat and neighbouring streets now boast dozens of guesthouses, from old-style cheapies through to charming flashpacker digs. This is great, as far as it goes, but the area still lacks ancillary services, such as secondhand book shops and cafes, specifically aimed at independent travellers.
Tengkat started life as an upmarket street, whose main inhabitants were wealthy Chinese families. As such, it was heavily targeted by Malay mobs in the May 1969 violence, in their campaign of murder, rape and arson. The area went through a long downward spiral after 1969, and became distinctly seedy. The lifting of rent controls a decade ago breathed new life into the area, although Tengkat has yet to rid itself completely of its reputation as a red light district.
One of the most pleasing aspects of Tengkat’s transformation is how many of its beautiful colonial era buildings have been turned into guesthouses, hotels and restaurants. The normal pattern of development in KL is to bulldoze every trace of history, and then build another concrete monstrosity. While sympathetic restoration is a rarity in the city, it has become the norm on and around Tengkat.
Number Eight Guesthouse is credited with being the first of a new breed of more comfortable and tasteful accommodation for independent travellers in the area. Though the rooms may be a little overpriced these days, the communal areas are spacious and pleasant. Several other recommended places now compete for the same market, such as the quirkily designed Tropical Guesthouse and the well-run Anjun KL Guesthouse.
The area also has some good new midrange options, like the restored Hotel Rae, and the funky, modern YY38 Hotel. Last, and definitely not least, Tengkat boasts the city’s best boutique hotel, the comfortable and classy Anggun. The latter encapsulates how the area has been transformed from red light to highlight, in the space of a few years.
Number Eight Guesthouse
8 & 10 Tengkat Tong Shin, Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur
T: (03) 2144 2050
2 Tengkat Tong Shin, Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur
T: (03) 2141 1168
Anjung KL Guesthouse
4 Tengkat Tong shin, Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur
T: (03) 2148 6812
42, 44 & 46 Tengkat Tong Shin, Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur
T: (03) 2148 1770
33 Tengkat Tong Shin, Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur
T: (03) 2148 8838
Anggun Boutique Hotel
7 & 9 Tengkat Tong Shin, Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur
T: (03) 2145 8003
By Pat Fama
Last updated on 26th February, 2015.