Walking tour: KL’s Chinatown

Walking tour: KL’s Chinatown

A stroll around the block

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Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown district still retains plenty of historic charm and is none to shabby when it comes to temples—of all three kinds: religion, shopping and eating—and one of the best ways to explore is on a Chinatown walking tour.

Travelfish says:

This walking tour commences at Maharajalela monorail station and finishes at Plaza Rakyat station on the Ampang and Sri Petaling lines. To walk this entire trail without stopping would take no more than an hour, but once you factor in stops at temples, some shopping and some eating, this could easily pan out to a half day. You can just as easily walk it in the reverse—just read the story backwards.

Holding things up at Guan Yin Temple. : Stuart McDonald.
Holding things up at Guan Yin Temple. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Exit the monorail station on the north side and head west on Jalan Maharajalela for a short distance and you’ll see a grassy known with a red gate and bright pink walls—walk through the gate and take the two flights of stairs up to the somewhat gaudy Guan Yin temple, a Buddhist temple and meditation centre. It is easy to imagine how the site must have once been a place of serenity, perched on a hill on the edge of town—not so much anymore.

Leave the temple and continue to the west and you’ll almost immediately come upon Chan See Shu Yuen Temple—an imposing clan association building cum temple which saw a substantial renovation in the last few years sadly losing its pale green and far more charming exterior for a more monolithic deep grey. Details of the original can still be seen—check the roof lines and the ceramic work attached to the main wall to the left and right of the main entrance—but we do miss the original. You’ll still see the green structure in much tourism literature distributed in the city.

Wandering within Chan See Shu Yuen Temple. : Stuart McDonald.
Wandering within Chan See Shu Yuen Temple. Photo: Stuart McDonald

From here, start up Jalan Petaling—keep an eye out for Chocha Foodstore and Merchant’s Lane Cafe, between them is what looks like an entrance to a toy shop but it is actually the secret entrance to PS150—one of KL’s better speakeasy bars—note it down for a return visit in the evening. Continue along and take the first left onto Jalan Balai Polis, which will take you past Old China Cafe (a well regarded spot for Malay and Nyonya food). Turn right and follow the road up till you reach Jalan Sultan where you need to take a left and then a right onto Jalan Tun H.S. Lee.

Jalan Tun H.S. Lee, originally Jalan Bandar (and before that, High Street) was renamed in 1988 in honour of Colonel Tun Sir Henry Lee Hau Shik, who was born in Hong Kong in 1900 and grew to become a successful businessman and politician. As you walk up Jalan Tun H.S. Lee you’ll pass two cafes—Lucy In The Sky on the left and Cafe ETC on the right—either are a good spot for your first coffee of the day.

Photogenic Sri Maha Mariamman Temple. : Stuart McDonald.
Photogenic Sri Maha Mariamman Temple. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Continuing up you can’t miss the street frontage of Sri Maha Mariamman Temple—the largest and oldest Hindu temple in Kuala Lumpur. Allow 30 minutes for a visit. You need to take your shoes off before entering—there is a shoe closet which will store them for you for 20 cents.

Just a little further along the way, on the other side of the road, sits the Guan Di Temple—which remains one of our favourite temples in downtown Kuala Lumpur. Keep an eye out for the guan dao—a polearm style weapon with a nasty looking blade. You can see a replica (along with a large sword) within the temple. Devotees believe that touching the weapons can impart good fortune. Allow 30 to 45 minutes to explore the temple.

A glaring dragon at Guan Di Temple. : Stuart McDonald.
A glaring dragon at Guan Di Temple. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Continue north and you’ll see the art deco Lee Rubber Building on the left corner with Jalan Hang Lekir, take a left here and continue till you reach Jalan Hang Katsuri and turn right, then cross the busy throughfare—Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock. This deposits you at the start of the Kasturi Walk—a covered trinket market which runs parallel to the far more interesting Central Market—another great example of art deco architecture. Both the walk and the market and solid spots for souvenir shopping and tourist tat—the market has by far the better fare—dedicated shoppers could lose a considerable amount of time here.

Once you are all shopped out, walk to the northern end of Katsuri Walk and turn right onto Lebuh Pudu, walk two blocks east and you’ll again hit Jalan Tun H.S. Lee, then turn right again and head south. Look out for the understated temple entrance on the right side of the road—this is the way in to Sin Sze Si Ya Temple—one of Kuala Lumpur’s oldest houses of worship. Allow 30 minutes.

AT Sin Sze Si Ya Temple. : Stuart McDonald.
AT Sin Sze Si Ya Temple. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Leave the temple the same way you arrived and turn south again on Jalan Tun H.S. Lee and walk south to meet Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock. On your immediate left is Kedai Kopi Lai Foong, which is a good spot for lunch, though an even better one is across the road at Shin Kee Beef Noodles. Once you are sated, continue east on Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock and you’ll reach the northern entrance to the Petaling Street Market.

Petaling Street Market runs from Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock in the north to Jalan Sultan in the south and stalls tend to start opening by 10 in the morning. By early afternoon it can be quite busy and by the evening, heaving. We’re just going to walk one block south, but you can spend hours browsing and shopping here—bargaining is essential. One block in, you’ll find yourself at the base of the Lantern Hotel and you’ll see a stall, Air Mata Kucing—do get an iced longan drink here before turning left down Jalan Hang Lekir.

Petaling Street Market: Best experienced from a distance! : Stuart McDonald.
Petaling Street Market: Best experienced from a distance! Photo: Stuart McDonald

This stretch of Jalan Hang Lekir can be a good spot for an affordable cold beer as a couple of the restaurants put tables and chairs out, making it a good spot for people watching. It is also along here, midway between Jalan Petaling and Jalan Sultan, that you’ll spy a narrow alley running off to your right (south). The first part of the alley is a small wet market, but the second part, running all the way down to the curving southern stretch of Jalan Sultan is Pasar Karat.

Pasar Karat is a flea market which runs daily from early morning to mid afternoon and is a great place for picking up old LPs, mismatched shoes, padlocks, phone chargers and other random stuff—there are probably some gems among it all. Once you hit Jalan Sultan, take a left and follow it back up, walking north till you reach Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock and turn right. Plaza Rakyat LRT is a five minute walk away to the east.

Reviewed by

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.

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These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.


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