Chinatown: First Impressions of Kuala Lumpur

It was strange to be in a big city again. I think the last time I had seen a skyscraper was back in Saigon, over four months prior. As the bus made its way through the outer suburbs of Kuala Lumpur, I realised that this really is a big city, with endless buildings, streets and motorways sitting below towering apartment buildings. In the distance I could see the huge modern skyscrapers of the CBD standing amongst a light haze of smog. As I looked out the window I had the immediate impression that Kuala Lumpur is definitely a modern city, and it is going places. Development appears to be everywhere, but it doesn’t appear to be in the same “anything goes” kind of way like other Southeast Asian metropolises that I’ve been to. There looks to be planning and thought going into the city. Malaysia clearly wants its capital to rival other successful Asian cities such as its neighbour, Singapore.

Pulling into the Puduraya Bus Terminal, we disembark and fight the crowds to gather up our backpacks and step onto the streets of Kuala Lumpur for the first time. Its a busy place, cars and motorbikes zooming past along the road while people bustle by in both directions beneath a bridge where a metro train flies by in a flash.

We have pre-booked a guesthouse on the famous Petaling Street in Chinatown, so we follow the line of people heading west from the bus station. It doesn’t take long to reach our destination, and as is the case with most cities, Chinatown is easy to spot in Kuala Lumpur. Little shops, restaurants and street food vendors line the street that we walk down and the smells have already pulled me in. On the street corner across the road I can see a traditional and very busy Kedai Kopi (coffee shop) and make a mental note to go back there.

Petaling Street isn’t hard to miss with its typical Chinatown archways sitting at its entrance. The market is already happening and not too crowded or busy. I’ll find out later that it completely transforms at night. Its hard to read the signs on the buildings behind the stalls but eventually we find our guesthouse. There are two prostitutes standing out the front and their “minder” is quite obviously sitting not far away, but none of them are interested in us as we enter the guesthouse. While we are checking in I see one of the girls from the front escort a new customer past us and in through a door just down the hall from the reception. I’m wondering if I’m in the right place, and if I am, I’m not overly confident about our room at this point. It turns out that our room is lovely, clean, quiet and very comfortable. The guesthouse seems nice, even if it does double as a brothel.

Petaling Street Market in Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur

Petaling Street Market

After a little R&R after the long bus ride, we head off into Chinatown to see what our new neighbourhood is like. By now, being late afternoon, the market outside our guesthouse is already transforming. The street that we walked down before between the market stalls is now full of market stalls as well, and it is closed off to vehicle traffic. Vendors are calling at us trying to sell their goods, and there are all kinds of things on offer from fake designer handbags to bags of roasted chestnuts.

Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur

Walking the streets of Chinatown

We round the corner after exiting Petaling Street and spend some time wandering the streets of Chinatown. I already like the place. It is alive and pulsing and everywhere are smiling faces. We find ourselves along Jalan Sultan which runs parallel to Petaling Street, where we discover a wonderful choice of hawker stalls that have set up in the evening to serve up all kinds of delicious street food. The smells are amazing, and the food looks delicious. I’m in heaven.

Hawker stalls in Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur

Hawker stalls along Jalan Sultan

Wanton Noodle Soup at a hawker stall in Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur

Delicious pork wanton noodle soup from a hawker stall

We settle on a seating area that is surrounded by several hawker stalls and I order a bowl of pork wanton noodle soup. The first mouthful is amazing, and our dinner is eaten almost in silence as we slurp down our delicious noodles. My meal costs me 4 Malaysian Ringgit – about $1.30.

Lantern Lit Market in Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur

The lantern lit Petaling Street Market

After dinner we wander back through the now very crowded market to our guesthouse, where our new neighbours are still at work out the front. Kuala Lumpur has already drawn me in, and I can’t wait to explore more of this interesting city over the next few days. I’ve got a feeling that there is going to be a lot on offer.

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