Malaysia - Kuala Lumpur (KL) Culture and Attractions

Malaysia - Kuala Lumpur (KL) Culture and Attractions

Kuala Lumpur (Capital city of Malaysia) has air-conditioned shopping malls that are the equivalent of the world's best. But there are also shopping areas in the city that are as Asian as can be. A visit to the Chinatown and Central Market area is a total sensory journey for any shopper and the experience is far more thrilling especially for first time visitors.

It's difficult not to be excited by the range of new aromas, the hustle and bustle of traders shouting out the virtues of their wares, the sense of excitement and the theatre of it all that is packed into this part of central Kuala Lumpur. Sure, it can get hot, busy and sometimes claustrophobic but at least you know you are alive when you are there. Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) is similar to many other Chinatowns in big cities around the world. However, there are other elements of Malaysian culture and society that make it unique. It's often called Petaling Street, which is the main artery there, and taxi drivers often understand this as a direction better than your saying "Chinatown". The area is concentrated in Petaling Street and bounded by Jalan Tun H.S. Lee and Jalan Hang Lekir.

Walking is the best way to discover the heart of the old city. Much of what occurs in this part of town has not changed for decades. Old men still ride dilapidated bicycles to collect and deliver their wares. Chinese medicinal shops display their traditional herbs and medicines in stores that could have come out of the last century. There are goldsmiths, basket weavers, dry goods stores, shops selling pots and pans, food outlets of all descriptions and clothing sores. The old residents hold fast as new developments slowly make their inroads and the architectural facades change.

The five-foot walkways offer shelter from the tropical heat but most are filled with traders and their stalls selling all sorts of treasures. While the area is known as Chinatown, it is an ethnically mixed area with an Indian temple and local Malay curry houses among the predominantly Chinese shops. This part of city rarely sleeps so visitors can visit it at various times of the day and night to appreciate the constantly changing atmosphere. In the morning, dim sum restaurants are popular for breakfast and the wet market is active with chefs and homemakers selecting the freshest produce. The pace picks up at lunchtime as office workers satisfy cravings that have been high on their minds since breakfast. Things quieten down a little in the afternoon, but once work finishes, crowd arrive and the streets return to their frenzied state of excitement.

The least exciting time to visit is during Chinese New Year when many of the merchants take their holidays. Food is served around the clock in make-shift open-air stalls, in fan-cooled coffee shops or air-conditioned restaurants. Some favorite dishes in Chinatown include dim sum, Hainanese chicken rice, curry laksa, won ton mee, assam laksa, and yong tau foo. Petaling street is always so crammed that cars battle with pedestrians to negotiate the narrow stall-lined street. However, in the evening, pedestrians reign supreme and stall sellers commandeer the entire road. Many of these merchants sell a variety of fake imitation brands and operate seemingly with immunity. It's all a bit of the fun so don't be surprised if that "designer" watch you buy self destructs just months after purchase. While prices may be displayed, bargaining is an essential component of shopping here. Firstly, choose a price that you are happy with and then start the great Asian game of bargaining. Pay what you think it's worth and enjoy the exchange.

There are several places of worship in the district that make a peaceful retreat from the street side mayhem. The colorful and ornate facade of Sri Mahamariaman Hindu Temple is an interesting sight. Constructed over a century ago, it is from here that the annual Thaipusam pilgrimage to the Batu Caves begins. Fragrant jasmine garlands are sold in the street and the front entrance is lined with shoes that must be removed before entering the temple. Like all places of worship in the country they are solemn places first and tourist attractions second. Photography can also be a sensitive subject for some, so ask or gesticulate your wishes first.

Just down the road is the Persatuan Kwong Siew Chinese Temple built in 1888. Nearby in Jalan Hang Kasturi, the oldest temple in Kuala Lumpur, the Temple of Sin Szu SI Ya stands hidden a little back from the street. Look for the colorful facade above the drive-way entrance. This small temple is a hive of activity as devotees burn incense, make offerings on the altars and hit big brass gongs to seek help and guidance. Just beyond the back entrance to the temple is the large and colorfully decorated Central Market. Built in 1936, it was saved from demolition and converted into a showcase of local and regional arts and crafts in 1986. It is an easy walk between Chinatown and the Central Market.

The art deco markets stand just near where the first tin mining operation in Kuala Lumpur (KL) was established about 150 years ago. Once a wet market principally selling fresh vegetables, meat and fish and vegetables, Central Market now houses hundreds of stalls, food outlets, a Cineplex, a small exhibition space and an outdoor amphitheatre for cultural performances. A great selection of goods is sold here, including handicrafts, souvenirs, jewellery, clothes, antiques and art. In addition to Malaysian crafts, you can find Burmese puppets, silk cloth from Cambodia, woven mats from Sarawak, cotton textiles from Laos and carved wooden products from Thailand. Bargaining is still advisable especially with some of the more pricey antiques and pieces of art.

There are some interesting stores including Songket Sutera Asli. Songket is one of Malaysia's best known textiles that incorporates golden threads with colorful cottons. It is highly respected and valued. Some artists wait for consumers to draw quick sketches or photo perfect images. They use crayons and pen and ink on the spot. Those seeking higher quality portraits have to wait a few days. There are various stalls selling nasi kandar or rice smorgasbord with tantalizing curries and vegetable dishes served to accompany the rice staple. Some restaurants, food stalls and pubs are also found on both floors of the building.

Outside, a pedestrian mall fronts old shops in various states of disrepair. Many are traditional shops selling produce as they have for decades. Others are souvenir shops, art galleries and restaurants including the fastfood variety. Not far away is a new urban train station and the end of the mall is one of the city's main bus stops so people are always milling around. The mall itself is one of the most popular meeting places in Kuala Lumpur. It's not uncommon for locals to say "meet you in Central Market".

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