15 Things to Do in Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur
Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur is our favourite area of the city. Yes it might be grimy in places and overcrowded at times but the mix of an always-buzzing tourist atmosphere and Kuala Lumpur local life make it an appealing area to visit or stay. Bustling markets, street kitchens and old architecture are what makes these streets so appealing and there are plenty of things to do in Chinatown Kuala Lumpur to warrant multiple visits.
Chinatown is going through a period of change with new trendy cafes and eateries popping up every month and some of the old Chinese buildings being renovated and turned into modern, clean hotels. However, the area still holds the charm it’s always had and offers some of the cheapest food and accommodation in the city.
Let’s check out the 15 best things to do in Chinatown Kuala Lumpur.
Related Article – Check out our guide on which area to stay in Kuala Lumpur.
1. Petaling Street Market
The epicentre of Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown is the always-bustling Petaling Street, a long undercover market full of tourist tat for sale such as fake designer watches, fake designer bags, jewellery, shoes, belts, hats, toys, mobile phone cases and anything else the locals think a visitor to Malaysia might want to buy.
The goods might not be of interest to everyone but it’s still a fun place to wander for the first-time visitor to Kuala Lumpur. The atmosphere is chaotic yet entertaining with the shouts from stallholders to Chinese dragons often seen dancing up and down the narrow streets.
You should also come for the food, there’s a lot of it on offer in and around Petaling Street Market – steamed dumplings, chicken floss sandwiches, deep-fried chicken feet, Chinese buns, coconut pancakes, stir-fries, freshly cut fruit, you name it, they’ve got it.
2. Central Market
If you prefer your markets less hectic, cleaner and with better quality goods then Kuala Lumpur’s Central Market might be the better option. What was once an old wet market is now a cultural heritage site with a restored art deco facade offering shopping, eateries & an outdoor stage. Spending time in Central Market is one of our favourite things to do in Chinatown Kuala Lumpur.
Many of the shops inside have a boutique-feel to them and is generally a very pleasant place to wander, even if you do not plan on buying anything. The market also houses Malaysia’s most popular coffee shop chain – Old Town White Coffee. The coffee shop offers extremely cheap coffee and tastes like no other coffee we have tasted. It’s delicious!
3. Kasturi Walk
The central market spills onto the pedestrian street beside the main building known as Kasturi Walk. This covered street has more stalls selling fashion accessories, crafts, souvenirs and a great selection of street food and drinks.
Some of the street food kitchens are housed inside cute matching mini caravans where tasty local delicacies such as Nasi Lemak, chicken curries, banana fritters and iced coffee sweetened with condensed milk can be enjoyed while people watching.
4. Chan See Shu Yuen Temple
If the idea of visiting one of the largest and oldest surviving Buddhist temples in Malaysia excites to you then add Chan See Shu Yuen Temple to your itinerary of things to do in China Town Kuala Lumpur. Situated at the bottom end of previously mentioned Jalan Petaling, the temple houses a typical open courtyard, well-formed pavilions, and is wonderfully decorated with woodcarvings, bright paintings and ceramic fittings.
The elaborate Chan See Shu Yuen Temple was built between the years 1897 and 1906, and when looking from the outside you can see the expertly carved kwang-tung roof, incredibly detailed gables and terracotta friezes showing Chinese history and mythological scenes. Inside the main temple contains pillars with pictures of painted warriors fighting with lions, dragons and various mythological beasts.
5. Central Market Food Court
One of the many things we love about South East Asia is the food courts often found in shopping malls and other busy places. They’re a great place to eat local food at almost street food prices but in a cleaner environment. The food court on the top level of Kuala Lumpur’s Central Market is no exception and should be one of your top things to do in Chinatown Kuala Lumpur.
For around $2 a main meal you can try all kinds of local delights such as Laksa Soup, Mie Goreng and Nasi Lemak. There are around 15 food outlets in the food court with each offering dozens of dishes, so it might take some time to make a decision!
6. Art on Your Latte at Coffee Amo
So many countries in South East Asia offer awesome coffee and Malaysia is no exception. There is a new breed of trendy coffee shops opening in and around Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown but the best for your Instagram account has to be Cafe Amo. Why? Because the skilled baristas at Cafe Amo can create cute 3D animal shapes using foamed milk.
If the image of an adorable smiling cat staring back at you from the top of your coffee doesn’t appeal to you then they can also serve you your coffee like a normal person and offer lots of sweet treats such as cakes and freshly made waffles.
7. Street Food
In our opinion, the best time to visit Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur, especially Petaling Street Market, is from late afternoon. This is when everything is open, is at it’s busiest and the street sides fill with tables and chairs for diners to enjoy a Chinese meal cooked in an alfresco kitchen. If you only have time to do one of the items on this list of things to do in Chinatown Kuala Lumpur then make it this one.
The area with the highest concentration of street food is along the section of Jalan Sultan which runs north to south. Some of the kitchens specialize in just one dish while others offer a full-on restaurant size menu with all the usual Chinese dishes you’d expect. Choose wisely though as some of the kitchens crammed down a dark and dirty alley don’t look too inviting to the western eye.
8. Guan Di Temple
Founded in 1886, the Guan Di Temple is an atmospheric, incense-filled Chinese temple that’s one of the most impressive in all of Kuala Lumpur. It’s free to enter and once inside you can admire its high ceilings, red walls, tiled eaves and pointy gable ends that give Guan Di Temple a unique look that’s perfect for photos.
The best time to visit is early in the morning, not only because it’s the least busy time of the day but mornings also offer a better chance to witness locals praying and worshipping while holding and waving incense sticks.
9. Sri Maha Mariamman Temple
We might be in Chinatown but standing out like a sore thumb is Sri Maha Mariamman Temple – Kuala Lumpur’s oldest Hindu temple, featuring a monumental, ornately carved entrance tower like those usually seen in Southern India. The impressive entrance is 23m tall and colourfully decorated with Hindu gods.
Founded in 1873, this Hindu temple is named for Mariamman, the South Indian mother goddess (also known as Parvati). Take off your shoes, dress appropriately and enter the temple to explore Mariamman’s shrine at the back of the complex and to the left sits a shrine to the elephant-headed deity Ganesh.
10. Old China Cafe
There are of course plenty of establishments in Chinatown offering tasty Chinese/Malaysian food but eating at one of the oldest restaurants in the city has to be on everyone’s list of things to do in Chinatown Kuala Lumpur. The old yet charming Old China Cafe decorates its walls with Chinese paintings, historic photography and large mirrors while diners eat around classic marble-topped tables seen all over Malaysia.
Spicy food such as the devil curry chicken is the most popular choice at this cafe but there are plenty of less spicy options including their delicious beef rendang. Are you feeling hungry yet? Check out reviews here.
11. Chinese Shop Houses
While Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur might not be as well preserved and resorted as other historic neighbourhoods in Malaysia such as Georgetown and Ipoh, it’s still important to admire the architecture here. Amongst the large shop signs, never-ending markets stalls and ugly modern hotels are old colourful Chinese shophouses dating back from the 1800s.
A typical Chinese building in style, the shophouses were designed to house both a family at the back of the property and their business at the front. Each shophouse has an outside undercover space at the front which is designed to protect shoppers from the hot Asian sun and torrential rain. When shop houses are terraced together, which they usually are, shoppers are able to walk from one shop to the other without getting sunburnt or wet, genius!
12. Chinese Massage
The Chinese know a thing or two about giving good massages and there are plenty of places to get one in Kuala Lumpur’s China Town. Whether you want a relaxing full body oil massage or a firm Shiatsu massage, China Town’s massage shops offer most types.
Foot massages are also big business in China Town, just look out for a neon flashing foot sign and head up the stairway. There are also a couple of places where the masseuses stand outside the shop with a menu of what massages they offer. Prices can often be negotiated so don’t always accept the menu price.
13. Kuan Yin Temple
If you’re looking for more Chinese Temples for your things to do in Chinatown Kuala Lumpur itinerary then check out Kuan Yin Temple. Built in 1880, Kuan Yin Temple is one of the most colourful shrines in Kuala Lumpur. Known by some as Guanyin Temple, the temple is dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin and it is located across the road from Jalan Stadium in Chinatown.
Kuan Yin Temple features very beautiful Chinese and European baroque architecture and although it might not be the most extravagant temple in the city, it is deserving of a visit to view the three golden Chinese Buddhist statues inside.
14. River of Life
This year (2017) has seen the upgrade to the rivers in the Greater KL/Klang Valley region. Billions of RMs (local currency) has been spent to clean the Klang River and improve the surrounding areas including several vibrant and liveable waterfronts.
The centre point for this River of Life project is in the Chinatown section of the Klang River. What was once an unimpressive waterfront now includes wide riverside boardwalks, footbridges, pleasant seating areas, a goldfish highway, water fountains and at night, displays of neon lighting and at 8:30pm an impressive amount of dry ice! Walking along the east side of the river offers great views of the KL skyline.
15. Masjid Jamek Sultan Abdul Samad
Splitting the river in two at the centre point for the River of Life installations is the epic looking mosque called Masjid Jamek Sultan Abdul Samad. The recently renovated and oldest mosque in Kuala Lumpur is open to the public and is free to enter. The only time you’ll find it closed is during wet weather when the tiled flooring gets slippery.
The mosque is just as beautiful from the outside as it is on the inside with pointed domes, ornate pillars, arches and towering minarets. The best time to visit is during one of five daily calls to prayer or at 8:30pm when you can sit on the riverside listening to the prayer while neon blue-lit dry ice fills the atmosphere.
As you can see, there are plenty of things to do in Chinatown Kuala Lumpur but if you prefer to explore cities in the safe hands of an experienced guide then we can recommend Get Your Guide who offer a fantastic selection of guided tours in and around Kuala Lumpur, including Chinatown! Check out their KL tours here!