An art deco beauty
Published/Last edited or updated: 16th December, 2017
Central Market (also known as Pasar Seni) has been through a few personality changes over the years but today is one of the best spots in Kuala Lumpur for a heady bout of last-minute souvenir shopping.
Established in 1888 by Yap Ah Loy (the third Kapitan China of Kuala Lumpur) the market began life as the city’s central and primary wet market and was known as Pasar Besar (big market). As it (and the surrounding city) grew, a more permanent building began to take shape and by the mid 1930s the art deco bones of what you see today were in place, designed by the architect RH Seed. Through the decades what was within the walls remained the same, and, when the wet market was relocated in the 1980s, the site fell under the beady eyes of developers.
While Kuala Lumpur doesn’t have an exactly stellar reputation when it comes to protecting historic buildings, in this case, the Heritage Society (Badan Warisan) stepped in and successfully petitioned the Federal Government to not only cancel the demolition but also to pony up some 9 million ringgit to fund a complete renovation of the site and, in 1986, it was renamed Pasar Seni.
In 2004 the market changed hands and a further outfitting saw it transformed into the somewhat tourist-focussed shopping outlet which it is today. There is a mind boggling array of goods for sale from simple tourist trash and “I Love KL” t-shirts through to saris and expensive high quality pashminas. The standards of the goods in general are a big step up from Petaling Street Market, making this a better place for souvenir shopping for people you actually care about!
If your energy levels are running low after all the shopping, the upper floor of Pasar Seni holds a pretty decent food court (there is a second, cheaper and simpler foodcourt on the roof level). There are also a few snacking options on Kasturi Walk (see below).
The name Pasar Seni literally translates as “art market” so where is the art? Well, you’ll find a small gallery “the annexe” at the rear of the main market on the ground floor. As with the rest of the market, it is primarily a retail outlet, but still might be worth a look for the more artistically tilted.
Running along the east side side of the market is the Kasturi Walk which was much more recently established and seems to be primarily focused on selling tourist trinkets—similar to Petaling Street Market without quite so many painful touts. You can spot the walk from the distance thanks to the decorative kite insignia above the market entrance.
Pasar Seni abuts the bank of the Klang River so it easy to leave the market and walk along the very pleasant renovated riverside up towards Merdeka Park should you feel like some sightseeing. The closest station is Pasar Seni, a block to the south. Petaling Street is a ten minute walk to the east.
Address: 10 Jalan Hang Kasturi, Chinatown
T: (03) 2031 0399;
Coordinates (for GPS): 101º41'42.04" E, 3º8'44.83" N
See position in Apple or Google Maps: Apple Maps | Google Maps
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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