At the heart of Kuala Lumpur is an area which never sleeps, and far more colourful and bustling than its bigger and more glamourous neighbours, KLCC & Bukit Bintang. Chinatown, based in Petaling Street, is also known as 'Chee Cheong Kai' (Starch Factory Street), a reference to its roots as a tapioca-producing district. Deeply immersed in Oriental culture, heritage and history, Chinatown is undoubtedly one of the most popular tourist spots in Malaysia.
Chinatown is also a well-known bargain hunter’s paradise, a place where you can find all sorts of stuff from Chinese herbs to imitation goods. At night, its main market area, Petaling Street, transforms into a lively and vibrant night market, filled with hundreds of stalls offering all kinds of goods at dirt-cheap prices.
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Chinatown’s biggest attraction is perhaps the rows and rows of stalls selling all types of merchandise from food to clothing at bargainable prices. But look further and you will find that there’s more to Chinatown than fake branded goods.
Just around the corner from this paradise of bargains are temples that have been around for more than a century. Built in 1873, the Sri Mahamariamman Temple is the oldest and most elaborately-designed Hindu temple in the country, while Chan See Shu Yuen Temple and Kuan Ti Temple are fine examples of Oriental architecture with open courtyards, symmetrical pavillions and embellished roofs.
Chinatown is practically filled with Chinese restaurants and hawker stalls selling all sorts of delicacies from steamed buns to seafood. Almost everywhere you look, a Chinese restaurant greets your eyes, the glorious smells wafting from its kitchen beckoning you to come inside and sample what’s cooking.
But those are not the only things you can find here; there are many more popular delicacies that are unique to Chinatown and can’t be found anywhere else in the city. What’s best about these places is that they are all open until late at night, well into the wee hours of the morning.
The nightlife in Chinatown is in a league of its own; it’s not about rows of clubs, pubs and bars offering music-and-alcohol-fuelled entertainment, but the extra colour that seems to grow more vibrant at night, lighting up Petaling Street and its surroundings. The Reggae Bar and The Beatles Bar are situated just across the road from each other, offering a laid-back environment to chill out in.
Chinatown’s night market serves as the area’s main attraction – even bigger and more happening than during the daytime – giving you a kind of nightlife that is quite different from what you may be used to. Soak in the atmosphere of this legendary night market as you trawl the rows of shops and stalls in what is deemed the mother of all night markets.
Chinatown’s most well-known shopping area is undoubtedly located along the stretch of road called Petaling Street. Marked by a huge, green awning sheltering shoppers from rain and daytime heat, the street is practically stocked to the brim with shops and stalls along it offering all kinds of goods at dirt-cheap prices, from fake branded fashion items to delicious hawker food. The best thing is, the prices can be brought lower still as haggling is the way of life here.
But besides Petaling Street, there are also quite a number of shopping centres around Chinatown, with three malls and a touristy bazaar called ‘Central Market’ (Pasar Seni) serving the area, which, although not as grand and glamourous as their counterparts in the city’s more upmarket areas, offer plenty of good bargains within its walls. Aside from Petaling Street market and shopping malls, there are plenty of independent shops dotted all over Chinatown.
Believe it or not, there are more to Chinatown than hunting for bargains and shopping ‘til you drop. Chinatown is practically littered with foot massage parlours and foot reflexology centres. There is one in every corner, claiming to be the best in town. They’re not only strategically placed, but also reasonably priced as well, making it convenient for visitors to just drop in for a much-needed pampering for their tired feet after a long day hunting for bargains.
Alternatively, you can simply take a walk around, preferably with a camera in hand, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of Kuala Lumpur in its most raw form – unbridled and unpretentious.