Kuala Lumpur is blessed with a collection of temples, handicrafts markets and art galleries that are must-see items on any travellers’ to-do list in the city. An abundance of these sights are focused in Chinatown, so if you aim to see everything the city has to offer, then some exploration is a definite must.
For a small area largely dominated by the city’s Chinese community, KL’s Chinatown is a thriving tourist bubble crammed with some of the city’s best cultural sites including Central Market, the elaborate Sri Mahamariamman Temple and Chinese temples that are hundreds of years old. Read on for a full rundown of all the 10 Best Attractions in Chinatown:
- Half-Day City Highlights Tour
- Best City Highlights Half-Day Tour
- City Tour After Dark with Dinner
- Private Traditional Cooking Lesson
- Heritage Buildings & Icon of City Tour
- Private Half-Day City Heritage Tour with Lunch
- Private Night Heritage Trails
- Guided Perdana Botanical Gardens Tour
- Evening Street Food Walking Shared Tour
- Private City Street Eats Evening Tour of Chinatown
Petaling Street is chock-full of shops and stalls selling goods and food. A signboard warning against the sale of imitation goods provides an interesting – even ironic – contrast as the whole street is practically littered with fake branded items. Handbags, watches, trainers, clothing – you name it, they’ve got it. Louis Vuitton sits side-by-side with Rolex, and you can sometimes get the latest cinematic releases at less than RM 10 each. For shoppers on a tight budget or those looking for cheap and cheerful ‘branded’ goods, Petaling Street will be their first stop as it offers not just variety but also value for money as the prices can be further whittled down through hard bargaining.
Petaling Street is also filled with opportunities to sample a delightful array of local cuisine. Chinese and seafood restaurants can be found at every corner, and stalls selling all kinds of snacks are stretched along the street, resulting in an interesting mixture of aroma filling the air that is quite hard to resist. The best thing about them is that most of them are open until very late at night, with some even staying open until four to five in the morning. For a highly-recommended list of food to try in and around Petaling Street, take a look at our Chinatown Dining section. Read More...
- How to get there: Chinatown is served by a good network of public transportation. Major bus routes operate through this area – just take the ones heading for ‘Kotaraya’. There are also plenty of train stations nearby; you can either take the LRT (Pasar Seni or Masjid Jamek station), KTM Komuter (Kuala Lumpur station) or Monorail (Maharajalela station) – all within walking distance.
The focus for the city’s artistic community, Central Market is a KL cultural landmark just a short walk away from Petaling Street. Also called Pasar Seni, it was built in 1928 and used to be a simple wet market until the early 1980s when it was revamped to promote handicrafts fashioned by skilled artisans. In similar vein to New York’s SoHo flea market, the merchandise here is cheap and comprises traditional goods such as batik, embroidery carvings, souvenirs, and sculptures.
Classified as a Heritage Site by the National Heritage Department, the 120 year-old Central Market is divided into different zones, with vendors’ stalls separated by race. The purpose of this zoning practice is to let visitors get an insight into the cultural differences of the various races in Malaysia. There is even a Malacca ‘Jonker Street’, an area that looks like a typical Baba-Nyonya house with Peranakan-style furnishings and fixtures on sale. Another reason to love this market is its collection of local artists who gather outside the building and sell their artworks, or even just break out in impromptu song-and-dance performances. Read More...
- Opening Hours: 10:00 – 22:00
- Address: No. 10, 1st-3rd floor, Jalan Hang Kasturi
- Tel: +603 2031 0399 or +603 2031 5399 or +603 2031 7399
Set on Jalan Tun HS Lee, the extravagantly decorated Sri Mahamariamman Temple is Kuala Lumpur’s main Hindu temple. An incongruous sight between two Buddhist temples at the edge of Chinatown, it is a large structure incorporating Spanish and Italian tiles, precious stones and gold in its design.
First built in 1873 by Tamil immigrants, in 1968 significant renovation took place with the construction of an impressive 75ft tower that acts as the entrance to the temple’s inner sanctum. Executed by sculptors from India, there are 228 Hindu idols adorning the five tiers of the polychromatic entry gate.
The oldest (and reputedly the richest) Hindu temple in the city, it is a prominent feature during the annual Thaipusam Festival, when a 21ft silver chariot dedicated to Lord Murugan (Subramaniam) is used to transport the statues of Lord Muruga and his consorts, Valli and Teivayanni, through the city streets en-route to Batu Caves, on the northern edge of the city. Read More...
- Opening Hours: 06:00 - 21:00
- Address: 163, Jalan Tun H. S. Lee, Kuala Lumpur
- Tel: +603 2078 3467
The Malaysia Heritage Walk, called Kasturi Walk by locals, is a covered, open-air flea market along Jalan Kasturi, a lane running alongside Central Market. Established in early 2011, in similar vein to Petaling Street, you can find vendors selling local snacks, fruits and fake label goods (think, T-shirts, flip flops, watches) set up side-by-side. Additionally, the goods are reasonably priced plus its convenient location makes a trip here worthwhile. Food stalls sell everything from Malay kuih and Chinese dim sum to Indian rojak and other local snacks. A popular spot with tourists, during special events Kasturi Walk organises cultural performances.
To get there using the LRT, alight at the Pasir Seni station: from there it is only a few minutes’ walk to Kasturi Walk; the KTM Komuter also has a stop (Kuala Lumpur) nearby the market. Read More...
- Opening Hours: 10:00 – 21:30
- Location: Jalan Kasturi
One of Kuala Lumpur’s most venerable and refined Buddhist shrines honours the Goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin, with simple yet dignified architecture. A refuge in the heart of the city, Kuan Yin Temple was built in 1880 and is set in Chinatown (nearby the Masjid Jamek LRT station): it features distinctly Chinese and European baroque architecture.
Within the compound are stalls selling traditional prayer items like joss sticks and candles, lending it a festival-like atmosphere: at prayer times (12:30 – 13:45), the chanting of ‘Namo Guanshiyin Bodhisattva’ from devotees and priests is a beautiful, melodious sound. We highly recommend a visit to see the three golden Chinese Buddhist statues inside – Shakyamuni (Gautama Buddha), flanked by South Sea Guanyin and Qianshou (Thousand Arm Goddess of Mercy) in the main prayer hall. Read More...
- Opening Hours: 07:00 – 17:00
- Address: Jalan Stadium and Jalan Maharajalela, Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur
Located at the southern end of Jalan Petaling, Chan See Shu Yuen Temple is one of the largest and oldest surviving Buddhist temples in Malaysia. Built between 1897 and 1906, it is quite an elaborate temple, characterized by a typical open courtyard, an intricately carved roof, gables, and specially-crafted terracotta friezes.
Easily accessible via the Pasar Seni LRT (only a 15-minute walk from the station), it serves a dual function as both a shrine and a community centre. Originally built as a kongsi (clan house) for families with the surnames Chan, Chen or Tan, besides the temple’s beautiful architecture you can also see black-and-white pictures of deceased clan members above the altars on the right and left of the main temple. Read More...
- Opening Hours: 08:00 – 18:00
- Location: Southern end of Jalan Petaling
The 121 year-old Kuan Ti Temple is a Taoist shrine located along Jalan Tun HS Lee, easily recognisable for its bright orange façade. It is dedicated to Guandi, the Taoist God of War and Literature, who is the patron saint of martial arts. In China he is extremely popular with the police and triads, and both groups pray to him for divine protection.
Deified in the Sui Dynasty (580-618 AD), replicas of Guandi’s weapons, a famous sword and spear (called guan dao and guan jie) lie in the temple, and devotees believe that it has special powers and that they will be blessed by ‘touching’ or ‘lifting’ the 59kg copper guan dao three times. Inside the temple is a counter where joss sticks and incense are sold. Read More...
- Opening Hours: 07:00 – 19:00 (opening hours may vary, so please check with the temple keeper)
- Location: Along Jalan Tun H. S. Lee
Although this temple is famous due to its claim-to-fame as the oldest Taoist temple in Kuala Lumpur, it is most memorable as a cultural centre for the city’s Chinese community, especially during festivals such as Chinese New Year. Devotees even believe that circling the temple’s main altar three times will bring good fortune.
Comprising a main prayer hall and two smaller side halls, it is was built in 1864 by Yap Ah Loy in honour of a fallen comrade-in-arms during the civil war in Sungai Ujong, Negeri Sembilan. Dedicated to patron deities Sin Sze Ya and Si Sze Ya, it is located along Jalan Tun HS Lee and is sometimes called Sze Ya Temple by locals. The pathway leading to the shrine is lined with potted plants, and the temple grounds have open-air pavilions, where you can light incense and joss sticks or even ‘crawl’ under a table right in front of statues of Sin Sze Ye and Si Sze Ye – this is supposed to help lessen mortal burdens. Read More...
- Opening Hours: 08:00 – 20:00
- Address: 113A Jalan Tun HS Lee; 14A Leboh Pudu, KL
One of the city’s earliest skyscrapers, the Dayabumi Complex is a major Kuala Lumpur landmark. Built in the 1970s along Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin, the 515ft skyscraper was built to resemble a mosque (the first modern building in KL to do so), by incorporating principles of Islamic design into its architecture. It features patterns of eight-pointed stars, high vaulted Islamic arches at the top and bottom of the tower, and shiny white fretwork (interlaced carved decorative designs).
Also known as Menara Dayabumi, the 35-storey building is spread across 1,621,930sqft. Designed by Malay architect Nik Mohammed, it used to house the headquarters of the national oil company PETRONAS, until they moved to the world famous PETROAS Twin Towers. Read More...
- Location: Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin
A great addition to the popular tourist spot Central Market is the Annexe Gallery, a modern art gallery located on the second floor of Annexe Central Market. Aimed towards the more laid-back and modern contemporary arts scene, it hosts a series of talks, art exhibitions, book launchings, movie screenings and fashion shows throughout the year. One of the premier events of the space is Arts for Grabs, an arts and crafts bazaar held several times a year to promote affordable art pieces.
The gallery spans over three interconnected spaces that can be partitioned for smaller events, and may accommodate several exhibitions at a time. Usually frequented by KL’s young and savvy, admission to the gallery is free. Read More...
- Opening Hours: 11:00 – 20:00
- Address: 1st and 2nd Floor, Central Market Annexe, Jalan Hang Kasturi, Kuala Lumpur
- Tel: +6016 489 2603