Fighting the good fight for Malaysia's heritage
Published/Last edited or updated: 19th December, 2017
Just a 15 minute walk from one of KL’s glitziest malls you can enjoy a glimpse into Malaysia’s more traditional way of life at the beautiful Rumah Penghulu Abu Seman within the grounds of Badan Warisan Malaysia (The Heritage Centre).
Walking among the skyscrapers and colonial shopfronts in modern-day Kuala Lumpur it can be difficult to imagine what predated what you can see today, but a visit to the Heritage Centre will allow you to not just see the house but to also support an organisation doing great work across the country.
If you’ve ever been to Jim Thompson’s House in Bangkok, the house here is a similar affair—a beautiful, fully restored wooden house, plucked from the northern reaches of the country and dropped into the centre of the metropolis. This is one of our favourite attractions in Kuala Lumpur.
Rumah Penghulu Abu Seman was built between 1910 and 1930 in Kampung Sungai Kechil in Kedah—a northern province in Peninsular Malaysia partially abutting Thailand. When the original owner of the house died, ownership was passed to his son, but later, when the son died, because he had no male offspring (the property wasn't permitted to be passed to a daughter) the house was left vacant and eventually abandoned. After some time, the family sold the house to Badan Warisan Malaysia (via an intermediary) in 1995. The organisation then carefully dismantled the house in 1996, shifted it to Kuala Lumpur and the reassembly and restoration was completed in 1997.
Guided tours of the house are available twice a day only, Monday to Saturday, at 11:00 and 15:00, so if you want to take a look at the house it is essential that you time a visit to here to coincide with one of the two tours.
The house is just lovely. Note that none of the furnishings are original—everything you see within has been either donated to the organisation or put together to illustrate a scene (in the kitchen area for example), but the rooms are well signposted in English and Malay throughout and we found the guide to be excellent—well spoken and with a detailed knowledge of the background of the house.
Traditionally, Malay houses in this style would have four primary areas—the rumah ibu (the main house), the rumah tengah (middle house), the selang (between the previous two) and the dapur (kitchen). In the case of this house though, there is an extra room, the balai which was the original owner’s office and would also have served as a place for community meetings and so on.
A tour takes you under the house first, then through each of these rooms, starting at the balai and finishing at the kitchen. There are small aspects of the tour which really highlight the effort that has gone into setting this up—we especially liked the wood sample case, where you were able to feel the different styles of wood that go into the building—soft woods for the carvings, harder woods for the roof supports for example.
A tour takes 45 minutes to an hour depending on how many questions there are and a donation of 10 ringgit per person is required. While the house lacks the bling of Jim Thompson’s House in Bangkok we loved the understated charm of this house—and we’d love one all of our own! Aside from the wooden house, the main building on site is a 1925 colonial bungalow which was restored in 1995. There is a small gift shop on the premises and it hosts occasional exhibitions and special events. See their website for details.
If you arrive early, (or have some loose time afterwards), consider strolling another hundred metres down the road to the Craft Complex. Ostensibly set up to showcase Malay handicrafts, it is mostly just a retail outlet, thought there are some artist shacks in the rear which may appeal. If you have kids, the batik sessions could be worth a try.
The Heritage Centre is about a 15 minute walk from the side entrance of Pavilion. The closest monorail station is Bukit Bintang, a 25 minute walk away.
Address: 2 Jalan Stonor
T: (03) 2144 9273; F: (03) 2145 7884;
Coordinates (for GPS): 101º42'59.69" E, 3º9'1.02" N
See position in Apple or Google Maps: Apple Maps | Google Maps
Admission: 10 ringgit for the tour
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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