Petaling Street or popularly known as Chinatown is a noisy, busy, mind-boggling place that can be quite unnerving for tourists and first time visitors. There is nothing sinister about the place. It’s just really alive and truly never sleeps. Activities here start as early as 4am when the restaurants’ workers and cooks begin their daily ritual of preparing food for breakfast. You will find pre-war shophouses selling all sorts of wares from clothing to leather bags, shoes, souvenirs, sunglasses and others.
Chinatown is indeed a bargain hunter’s dream with a bustling day and night market offering thousands of items that you can think of. Since the road is closed to traffic, shop owners would set up hundreds of stalls, creating a crazy maze that would require a bit of ingenuity to go through. With such a tight space, shopping and bargaining can be a bit tricky and certainly not for the faint-hearted. With its distinctly oriental atmosphere, it is definitely a must-go place for local and foreign visitors. Don’t be surprised though when you see the stalls being manned by foreigners mostly from Bangladesh. Most locals don’t like to work here due to the tough working condition and really long hours.
Food is abundance in Chinatown. Of course, Chinese food takes precedence over others. It’s a great place for dim sum early in the morning and they are relatively cheaper compared to other places in KL. Then there is the soft and delicious steam buns filled with meat or sweet fillings such as red beans or ‘kaya’. There is nothing like tucking into a crispy smoked meat or ‘daging salai’ that are very popular during the festivals such as the Chinese New Year. Visitors have been known to carry them back to their hometown. There are countless types of food here but the best thing is that you don’t need to go fancy restaurants to enjoy them. Do as the locals do and choose from many of the roadside stalls that are open for business from early morning to late at night. Everyday is like a food fiesta here in Chinatown. During sunny days, the best thing that you can do is to find a stall selling cold drinks and ask for ‘Lai Chee Kang’. It is a refreshing drink that can be taken hot or cold, filled with exotic items such as white fungus, lotus seed and red dates mixed with rock sugar. It’s simply divine. A word of advice to Muslim visitors – most of the stalls and restaurants are non-halal.
Aside from bargaining for hundreds of imitation goods such as branded wallets, handbags and watches, you may want to pay a visit to the Chinese pharmacies and herbal shops. You can find all sorts of herbs and traditional concoctions believed to be quite effective against many ailments, from common cold and flu, to constipation and many others. You can also find good quality ginseng that can fetch really high prices, some into the thousands.
Chinatown is not just about shopping and getting good prices for imitation products. There are several places of attractions that you should check out. One of them is the Sri Mahamariamman Hindu Temple. It is the oldest Hindu temple in the country and was built in 1873 to resemble a human body lying on its back. Almost everyday, hundreds of devotes and tourists can be seen entering its compound in search of blessing and just to admire the delicate sculptures of Hindu deities. After spending sometime in the Sri Mahamariamman Hindu Temple, take a short stroll to the Chan Shu Yuen Temple that is over a hundred years old. It is a beautiful temple with open courtyards, towering pavilions, and roof displaying important events in Chinese mythology. It is worth your while to spend an hour or two just taking amazing images of the sculptures of mythical creatures.
After spending the whole day shopping or sightseeing, you should check out many of the reflexology and foot massage parlour in the area. Reflexology is an ancient Chinese massage that is believed to be able to cure or eliminate a number of illnesses just by massaging your feet’s pressure points. You will find that these massages are quite affordable yet be warned that it can be a rather painful experience for those are doing it for the first time. But the pain is worth it because your whole body would feel as light as a feather afterwards which is great if you intend to savour and experience Chinatown’s nightlife. You won’t find rows of bars or pubs, or loud discos or nightclubs here. The nightlife here centres on the night market which is an even livelier version of the day market. The whole area would be lit up in colourful lights and you will find more visitors and diners here at night, creating an almost festival-like atmosphere. If you really must go to a bar, there are a few reputable ones in the vicinity.
Staying in the Chinatown area is a fantastic way of truly experiencing the local lifestyle. A popular haunt would be the D’Oriental Inn, a budget hotel located right in the heart of Chinatown. They offer comfortable, affordable accommodations that are great for those who are watching their wallet yet don’t want to compromise on quality and convenience. The rooms come with standard hotel amenities as well as city and country tours counters. With a starting rate of RM115 (USD33), it is definitely a great bargain for a great location in the city.
Another popular accommodation choice in Chinatown would be the Swiss Inn Kuala Lumpur, a 3-star hotel that offers great location as well as warm hospitality to make your stay in the city one that you would cherish. With the market and many dining choices just outside the hotel, you can easily enjoy doing some sightseeing and come back to freshen up anytime you want. The best way to experience Chinatown would be to relax and unwind at the Café Petaling that offers a great view and people watching opportunity. Nothing beats a cold glass of beer during a hot day, that’s for sure. You can easily afford to stay at Swiss Inn Kuala Lumpur with affordable rates that start from RM145 (USD40).
If you don’t mind paying a bit more for extra comfort and luxury, the Swiss-Garden Hotel Kuala Lumpur is a fantastic option. Although it’s not in the immediate vicinity of Chinatown, it is still within walking distance and also close to another popular shopping area of Bukit Bintang. This deluxe 4-star hotel exudes a welcoming ambience from hustle and bustle of the traffic outside as well as the heat and dust. The rooms have been renovated to create a perfect blend of earth tones that create a homely environment. With a starting rate of RM233 (USD66), it’s a great bargain to stay in a hotel that treats its guests with the utmost care.