If you’ve been to Kuala Lumpur before, you may have already seen many of the larger attractions from KLCC to the Botanical Gardens. A lot of tourists we get are return visitors and are looking for something a little more or off the beaten path. So we have decided to put together a list of attractions for those who are keen to explore an alternative side of Kuala Lumpur.
All of the below suggestions are within walking distance of the Chinatown area.
1. Zhongshan Building – Jalan Rotan – Kampung Attap
I am hearing a lot of feedback from tourists lately about this one. Back in the 1950s the Zhongshan Building housed a row of interconnected shophouses. Since then over the years it has been the home to Selangor Zhongshan Association, a frozen foods distributor and various local merchants. So it’s a unique building with a lot of history.
Today it is back in operation as a three-building independent arts and research hub. Indie you will find the art gallery of OUR art projects, a contemporary art gallery founded by Snow Ng and Liza Ho. After being funded by ThinkCity, a not-for-profit subsidiary of Khazanah Nasional. They opened their art gallery on the first floor. However since there was so much extra space, they decided to lease some of it to other artists.
Also inside you will find Tandang Records music store, Tommy le Baker’s Kampung Attap outpost and a lot more.
2. Peter Hoe Evolution – Boutique shop
This is the place to find the perfect souvenir. Peter Hoe Evolution is a unique and amazing shop in Jalan Doraisamy (also known as The Row KL) with a wide selection of homeware, clothes and souvenirs. It’s broken up into three sections: a retail store, boutique and café where you can lounge on silk pillows and enjoy goodies baked by Malaysia’s own Peter Hoe himself.
The retail store fuses Asian and modern styles with its handmade crafts and merchandise designed by Peter Hoe and made by many local artisans and craftsmen. Here you can find beautiful woven mats, rattan baskets and other treasures. Recently a tourist couple came back with some beautiful handmade candles and brightly colored flowery shirts and I knew right away they had been to Peter Hoe Evolution.
Also inside is a boutique with clothes designed by local fashion designer Justin Yap.
3. Malaysian Cartoon and Comic house
If you don’t already associate Malaysia with classic cartoons and comic art, after you visit this place you will. If you are a fan of comic books, comic strips and cartoons then this is the place to go.
The Malaysian Cartoon and Comic house and sits right in Taman Botani Perdana (KL Lake Gardens) The walls are lined with hundreds of comic dating back to the 1930’s. These comics predate modern methods and were hand drawn and words delicately added. Don’t worry, many have English subtitles or explanations so you can enjoy them too.
A Lot of the earlier comics feature Malaysian heroes and local legends like Mah Suri, Puteri Langkawi. You’ll also find some political satire comics and magazine and newspaper drawings.
What a lot of history buff tourists find interesting are the Japanese and British comics that were used as wartime propaganda to try and get the Malaysian people on their side.
4. PS150 bar
So we are talking about hidden gems and hidden is the word to describe the PS150 bar. PS150 is a classy brothel-styled cocktail bar on Petaling Street in Chinatown. And it’s not that easy to find. Tucked away under the popular cafe, Merchant’s Lane next to a stationary store, it’s fashioned like a pre-war speakeasy from a time when alcohol was illegal.
You enter through a toy shop where you’ll find the PS 150 dressed in a very Chinese style with Far East accents, a reminder of the earlier days of Kuala Lumpur. There are three parts: The main bar with some of the best cocktails in town, the outside courtyard and they have private “opium den” booths available as well if you are looking to get dressed up and spend some quality alone time with your significant other.
Speaking of the speakeasy, hidden behind two faded blue doors with peeling paint on graffiti ladend street, you’ll find one of Kuala Lumpur’s best-kept secrets. And I’m letting the cat out of the bag.
Once through the blue doors, you’ll follow a hallway to a flight of stairs. Take those stairs down and push through a couple more doors to find a dimly lit, opulent and plush lounge with vintage posters lining the walls.
Literally meaning the “Eight Treasures”, BarZhen is a reference to a famous alcoholic concoction in Chinese herbology that has been used as a remedy for a variety of illnesses. Many of the bar’s signature cocktails follow a traditional Chinese style including using potent herbs to give you an eye-opening jolt.
In the mood to try a cup of spiked tea? Try BarZhen’s best-selling drink, Lycium Maca Osmanthus Tea. You can also find great drinks infused with Ginseng, Tongkat Ali, and Wolfberry.
6. Tian Jing Hotel
The phrase Tianjin literally translates from Chinese meaning “Air Well”. Located right in the heart of Chinatown, the Tian Jing Hotel has only 15 rooms, but they are amazing and live up to their name. They are constructed with the wisdom of ancient Chinese architecture to make use of and maximize natural light, expand air circulation, and keep a cool balance at room temperature. The antique furniture in the hotel has been collected from all over Malaysia and each piece has a unique story.
If you are unable to get a room for the night, don’t worry. You can still stop in and indulge yourself at Tian Jing Hotel’s Lim Kee Cafe famous for their desserts. I was just there last Sunday and had their raspberry tiramisu which I highly recommend. You can also get a generous scoop of ice cream. They have flavors like pandan, teh tarik, mascarpone and soursop.
7. Bank Negara Museum and Art Gallery
Another hidden gem that many will find interesting is the Bank Negara Museum and Art Gallery located at Jalan Dato’ Onn. It’s a museum dedicated not only to Malaysian works of art, but to providing an educational avenue for anyone who is interested in better understanding of the Malaysian economy and its economic history. It also shows how the bank played an important role in the nation’s economic development and financial regulation from 1959 to the present day.
This is a great one for those who love to experience impressive works of art and learn some economic history at the same time. The museum itself comprises six galleries: the Art Gallery, Economic Gallery, Islamic Finance Gallery, Numismatics Gallery, Children’s Gallery and the Bank Negara Malaysia Gallery. It underlines the bank as a major patron of the art housing over 1,500 contemporary Malaysian and ASEAN artworks acquired since 1962.
The museum is open daily and free to get in. In my opinion, it’s a worthwhile stop.
8. Yat Hang Trading
For those who read my post on souvenirs, this is one of the places you’ll be able to find the mooncake moulders and a few of the other items that you foodies will love. Yat Hang Trading has been in business for over 100 years and has everything from typical Chinese utensils, to decades-old hand-painted ceramics. Anything that could be used in a traditional Chinese home or eatery.
Many of the other local Chinese restaurants and bars get their utensils from Yat Hang Trading. In fact, if you stop at the PS150 bar, the snack bowls on the bar came from there. There’s plenty of authentic Malaysian- Chinese merchandise to choose from so if you’re looking around for that one perfect Malaysian souvenir that can also be useful in the home, this is the place to check out. You’ll also get to experience some of Kuala Lumpur history.
9. A Decent Nasi Lemak Inside Kl City Gallery Arch Cafe
When you visit Malaysia you are bound to try the national dish. In fact, with all the tourists on our tours I insist that they do. So why not try it at the place that has the finest, traditional recipes in all of Kuala Lumpur? I just talked to a tourist couple yesterday who have been here once a year for the last 4 years and they told me they go to the Arch Cafe inside Kl City Gallery on their first day here and their last day. And they always get the Nasi Lemak.
The food isn’t the only thing that attracts visitors to the Arch Cafe. The tables and chairs are over a century old and were collected from the oldest coffee shop in old Market square and pudu. They have been used not only by prominent politicians, judges and other figures in Malaysian history, but also by the notorious Chinese gangsters from that era.
So these are our picks for the hidden gems of Kuala Lumpur. What gems have you found around Kuala Lumpur? Let us know and we’ll update this post.