A Traveller's Guide to Kuala Lumpur's Chinatown

Entrance of Chinatown Petaling Street | © Mr. James Kelley/Shutterstock
Entrance of Chinatown Petaling Street | © Mr. James Kelley/Shutterstock
Photo of Sam Bedford
20 March 2018

In the 1850s, a group of Chinese miners looking for tin accidentally founded Kuala Lumpur. Today, Malaysia’s multicultural capital thrives with a sizeable community of Chinese Malaysians. Head down to Petaling Street, or Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur, to soak up a piece of their local culture.

Petaling Street

Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur is centred on Petaling Street, which itself passes between Jalan Pudu and Jalan Sultan. A daily flea market sells everything from clothes and electronics to perfumes, CDs and street food. Expect to pass through hundreds of stalls and pre-war shophouses along Petaling Street. Hawkers, mostly Chinese with a sprinkling number of Indians and Bangladeshis, sell their goods on either side. For handicraft and souvenirs, head to Central Market, or Pasar Seni. The indoor market sells various crafts, batiks and embroidery. Head further from Petaling Street and find Buddhist and Taoist temples. Follow the side streets and enter Kuala Lumpur’s unofficial red light district.

Expect to see hundreds of stalls selling a variety of things on Petaling Street | © J. Lekavicius/Shutterstock

The best street food

As with all markets in Malaysia, food is a number one priority. Various stalls sell street food such as satay and rice while restaurants and food courts specialise in Chinese favourites like Hokkien Mee and endless types of noodles. Tourists looking to have a taste of the real Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur can sample the famous salted dry duck, beef ball soup and wantan mee. Different stalls and restaurants open at different times of the day giving visitors a wide selection of food to choose from.

Quick snacks on sticks are easily available in Petaling Street | © Calvin Chan/Shutterstock

Things tourists should know

The vendors along Petaling Street have a reputation for driving a hard deal. Ask ‘how much?’ and expect a price anywhere between 25-50% more than the going rate. Those looking for a bargain should begin at 25% of the amount quoted. But, some vendors get upset and angry at customers who ask for the price, bargain and then walk away. Tourists should also be aware that quite a lot of the designer labels and products are cheap knock-offs.

How to get to Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur

The fastest way to get to Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur is to use public transport. Maharajalela station on the monorail stops at the southern end of Petaling Street. Or take the MRT from KLCC or KL Sentral to Pasar Seni, Central Market. Some tourists prefer to walk from Bukit Bintang, which takes approximately 15 minutes. It’s also possible to take a taxi, Grabcar or Uber, but this may or may not be advisable depending on congestion.

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