Ask anyone who’s been to Malaysia about Petaling Street and they will cite it as a shopper’s haven, albeit in a different league when compared to its more glamourous counterparts, Bukit Bintang and KLCC. A well-known shopping district, the whole area transforms into a lively and vibrant night market after dark, with hundreds of stalls selling all kinds of stuff at dirt-cheap prices, making it the most happening night market in the city.
Petaling Street Historical Background
Back in the olden days when Malaysia was still known as ‘Tanah Melayu’ or Malaya, the Chinese had come to this country to work at the tin mines. However, during the Selangor Civil War, the tin mines were temporarily abandoned. The Chinese returned after the war, only to find the mines flooded. Yap Ah Loy, an influential Chinese figure back then, had opened a tapioca mill on Petaling Street in his bid to persuade the Chinese to stay on. To this day, Petaling Street is sometimes called ‘Chee Cheong Kai’, meaning ‘Starch Factory Street’ in Cantonese, referring to its history as the centre for the production of tapioca flour back then.
Since then, Petaling Street has been given a facelift. Gone are the patchy roads, broken pavements and colourful umbrellas attached to wooden pushcarts lining the street on both sides. A green awning covers the length of the street, acting as a roof to shield vendors and shoppers from the heat and the rain. An Oriental-style archway with the words ‘Jalan Petaling/Petaling Street’ spelled out in gold letters greets visitors at its main entrance.
Shopper’s Haven & Foodie’s Galore
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.
Bargaining is the way to go when shopping in Petaling Street, unless you don’t mind being ripped off. Prices are generally quoted 15 to 35% higher than what they are truly worth – even higher sometimes for tourists. So before you head down to Petaling Street, make sure your bargaining skills are well-honed.
But first things first – before going on your haggling venture, pay attention to what you’re wearing. If you look like you have the money, some vendors will not hesitate to charge you double or even triple the price. So leave your Armani shirt and gold wristwatch behind, and dress as simply as you could. Wear no visible labels or anything that is a dead giveaway to your financial status.
When you find an item you like, take your time to inspect it. Keep a neutral expression and don’t let your interest show too much, even if you’re dead keen on it. Even if there’s a price tag on the item clearly stating what it’s worth, still make it a point to ask: “How much?” The bidding process will thus begin. Start with offering just one quarter of the asking price – don’t feel bad about this as you can always raise your offer bit by bit.
Keep going back and forth with your counter-offer until you reach a price that you’re comfortable with. If the vendor refuse to budge any lower, thank him, tell him that you will think about it and walk away to survey other shops. Two things will happen: 1) the vendor calls you back and states his final (and much lower) offer or asks you how much you’re willing to pay for the item, or 2) you will find a much better offer elsewhere. The mistake that most foreigners make is that they’re too afraid, too embarrassed or feel too guilty to ask for a much lower price, that they immediately accept the first counter-offer that the vendor makes. Remember, most of the items sold here initially bear a higher marked price, so don’t be afraid to bid lower, and feel free to shop around – it is the culture here.
Getting to Petaling Street
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.