Great guide but not great value
Published/Last edited or updated: 6th January, 2018
A traveller we met up with while in Kuala Lumpur recommended we check out the tour-selling platform Withlocals. After a false start, we ended up on an afternoon walking tour through Kampung Baru billed as “the best Asia food tour” with Nadia. The site describes her as being “the charming local”, which she certainly is, though the tour itself did not represent the best value in town.
Once we made the booking and payment, we were passed Nadia’s contact details. She got in touch via text message to sort out where we’d meet and asked about food allergies and so on. Two days later we met out front of the fabulous Chow Kit Market in the northern reaches of downtown Kuala Lumpur. With 20 years in Southeast Asia, we’ve seen my share of wet markets, but Chow Kit is still well worth a look, with a vast fresh produce section and a wet market loaded with beef, chicken and flopping seafood. As the market is halal, pork is not sold.
From the market we started to make our way into Kampung Baru, stopping at a durian stall to sample some Malaysian durian—warm and sticky in the midday heat, we much prefer it as an ice cream especially on a hot day like the one we faced. As we continued, grazing here and there, Nadia chatted about her background and what she likes (and dislikes) about Kuala Lumpur.
Eventually we found ourselves at Chunburi Seafood, a Malay restaurant in the heart of Kampung Baru that I found myself at a couple of times throughout my stay in KL. Famous for its laksam and nasi kerabu—the former a rich fishy broth with fat juicy noodles and the latter distinctive for its blue coloured rice—this was an exceptional meal.
Over the meal I chatted with Nadia about how things worked with Withlocals and I discovered that I’d misunderstood the premise of much of what they do. I thought Nadia was a freelance food enthusiast who had put together her own personalised itinerary, sold through their platform. In fact, the trip was actually designed by Withlocals, and she was essentially a guide paid by them by the hour.
In discussions later with Withlocals, they explained that they offer both flavours: anything marked with a “Choose your favourite local” marker means you’re buying their product, not that of the guide. We think they could do a considerably better job of differentiating the two styles of tours to the reader; this isn’t to reflect on Nadia of course, who was a good guide.
Anyway, enough inside baseball.
From Chunburi Seafood we jumped in an Uber (maybe it was Grab) and we whizzed south of Kampung Baru into Little India, where we pulled up at Sangeetha Vegetarian Restaurant for a tiffin. The air-con was a welcome comfort. From here we wandered down into Chinatown, first to Central Market (Pasar Seni), and then we cut across towards Petaling Street Market on Jalan Hang Lekir. Here, as throngs of shoppers and tourists passed by, we had a bowl of curry mee with a cendol chaser I could barely get down. I was stuffed!
Nadia was a good guide, but compared to Bike With Elena or Urban Adventures, at least for a single traveller, I thought the tour was considerable overpriced at almost double the cost (92 euros). If there is a group of you, the per person cost drops dramatically, so then perhaps this is worth consideration. For a single traveller on a budget, I would look elsewhere.
As an aside, we were originally recommended another Withlocals food guide, Fadly. We weren’t able to sort out a formal tour with him during our time there, but it turned out that he also leads food tours at BackHome Hostel—we ran into him when checking in! A great guy, he was very apologetic about not being able to meet up through Withlocals. We ended up jumping on his bike and scooting up to Kampung Baru for a terrific meal at MZ Darul Naim (my treat!) I'd definitely recommend contacting Fadly directly, but do so via BackHome as the tours run there are considerably more affordable (though are not private tours).
Withlocals does have a large range of tours on the books for Kuala Lumpur, so if you have a group, do consider others. And just be sure to avoid the “Choose your favourite local” flags if you want a true “designed by a local” experience.
Coordinates (for GPS): 101º41'52.91" E, 3º9'55.53" N
See position in Apple or Google Maps: Apple Maps | Google Maps
Admission: 92 euros
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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