Kuala Lumpur Chinatown: A Useful First Timer’s Guide

Kuala Lumpur china town
Petaling Street

Kuala Lumpur China town quickly became my favourite neighbourhood in the Malaysian capital. Here, ramshackle Chinese shophouses line the narrow streets and passageways, while smouldering coils of incense emit smoke from every doorway. Despite being home to a predominantly Chinese-Malay population, Kuala Lumpur China town is a melting pot of local cultures. Islamic mosques, Taoist temples and statues of Hindu deities all stand shoulder-to-shoulder in this bustling KL neighbourhood.

Chinatown Kuala Lumpur boasts some of the best nightlife and street food dining in the city – with plenty of eccentric, “secret” cocktail bars tucked away down side streets, and atmospheric hawkers markets such as Madras Lane, and the Petaling Jaya night market.

You would be forgiven for assuming that Chinatown Kuala Lumpur was quite a touristic neighbourhood. Afterall, that is how it presents itself at first impression. The main street of Petaling Jaya is jampacked full of budget hotels, backpacker hostels and stalls selling souvenirs. Don’t be so quick to judge though, most of the neighbourhood’s charms are hidden from view down unsuspecting side passages.

Kuala Lumpur Chinatown Highlights

Chinatown Kuala Lumpur
Katsuri Walk, Chinatown Kuala Lumpur
  • Hanging out in eccentric speakeasy bars owned by expert cocktail mixologists
  • Visiting some of the most beautiful temples and spiritual sites in Malaysia
  • Sampling traditional Chinese delicacies
  • Navigating the city’s most atmospheric hawker’s street food markets
  • Sipping an iced coffee at Kuala Lumpur’s most photogenic hangout spots

I have tried to make this guide as comprehensive as possible and therefore it runs through many aspects of KL Chinatown – from the sightseeing options, to the best bars in Kuala Lumpur China town. Feel free to use the table of contents to navigate and skip forward to the relevant sections.

Coffee Shops in Kuala Lumpur Chinatown

Kuala Lumpur China town
Merchant’s Lane, Kuala Lumpur

In recent years, Kuala Lumpur China town has seen a new lease of life injected into it with the emergence of several quirky “hipster” style coffee shops.  The beauty of these establishments is that they have not renovated or modified the old buildings in any way, but simply polished up and restored them to their former glory. Some of the most charming places to enjoy a coffee break away from the Southeast Asian heat and humidity are detailed below.

Lim Kee Cafe, Tian Jing Hotel

Where: 66-68, Jalan Sultan, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur

Forming part of the Tian Jing hotel, the adjacent Lim Kee coffee shop was perhaps my favourite in chinatown Kuala Lumpur. Lim Kee is essentially a modern interpretation of an old Chinese kopitiam and it focuses on the beauty of Malaysia’s Chinese heritage. Delicate oriental music plays over the speakers as patrons sit on mismatching handcrafted furniture sourced from all over the country. Lim Kee serves a variety of homemade cakes and pastries, as well as freshly brewed hot and cold coffees.

Merchant’s Lane

Where: 150, Jalan Petaling, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur

If you didn’t know of Merchant’s Lane’s existence, it would be so easy to simply walk past it. The coffee shop awaits behind a crumbling, unsuspecting old door that is usually closed. Behind the door, at the top of the narrow staircase, you are met with a huge, bright and airy coffee shop painted in pastel colours and filled with beautiful flowers and rattan furnishings.

Every corner of Merchant’s Lane is incredibly beautiful and photogenic. Like Lim Kee cafe, the establishment places a lot of emphasis on embracing traditional Chinese culture. Merchant’s Lane has a twist though – this was once an incredibly popular brothel. Today, Merchant’s Lane is one of the most popular rendez-vous and brunch spots among KL locals and expats alike. The establishment serves an extensive brunch and lunch menu that offers both Asian and western dishes.

Mingle Cafe

Where: 53, Jalan Sultan, City Centre, 50000

With exposed brick walls and high ceilings, Mingle has something of an urban warehouse feeling to it. Part of the popular Mingle hostel, this is a great place to socialise, meet fellow travellers, or simply while away a lazy afternoon in the Malay capital. Mingle is popular with Digital Nomads who can usually be found typing away on their laptops at the corner of the cafe. If you are hoping for an alternative to constantly eating Asian food, Mingle offers a nice international/western focused menu for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. As such, if you have a major craving for an eggs benedict, you can come here to satisfy it.

Note: Coffee Amo was previously a very popular coffee shop that was renowned for its unusual foam art. A lot of Kuala Lumpur China town guides recommend this place but unfortunately, as of January 2019 it has permanently closed.

The Best Bars in Kuala Lumpur Chinatown

Although Malaysia is officially a Muslim majority country, over 25% of the country’s population is Chinese. These residents do not follow Islam and do drink alcohol. As a result, you can find plenty of quirky bars and speakeasies in Chinatown Kuala Lumpur, often which are owned by world-renowned mixologists. The market for cocktail bars and themed hangouts in Kuala Lumpur is still emerging, but some of the themed bars

The Deceased

Where: 55, Jalan Sultan, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur

As far as themed cocktail bars go, The Deceased is about as unique as it gets. This KL Speakeasy is hidden behind a locked door which requires a passcode to enter. The door creaks open to reveal a narrow staircase with creepy mannequins positioned every few paces, shrines to the dead nestled into arcoves, evil eyes painted on the walls, and chilling sound effects and scratching sounds echoing down the passageway. If you are able to brave it to the top of the stairs, The Deceased opens out into a dimly lit cocktail bar with an incredible adjoining rooftop.

As the name suggests, The Deceased bar possesses a very macabre theme. Its cocktails are all based on ancient Chinese ghost stories and each drink is served with a creepy presentation or gimmick. I ordered a Pontianak – a sweet, fruity cocktail served inside a spooky mask that was based on a Chinese ghost story about a woman who lures and kills men. My friend ordered an ‘ouija’. As you may guess, it was served in an oddly-shaped vase and placed on an ouija board.

All of the drinks served at The Deceased are accompanied by different gimmicks, so it is quite an addictive (and risky!) sport to keep ordering them and see how they are presented. A lot of the voodoo and spirtual tools served with the beverages are genuine, adding to the spooky feeling.  

PS150

Where: 150, Jalan Petaling, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur

All of my expat friends in Kuala Lumpur raved about PS150 and claimed that it served the “best cocktails in Malaysia”. Like The Deceased, PS150 is another speakeasy bar. The facade of PS150 looks like a little retro toy shop and you would never guess that it led into one of the best bars in the city. Situated on Jalan Petaling, the storefront is filled with action figures, little wooden trains, and collectible figurines. Enter the toy store, tell the man on the front desk that you have come for drinks and he will allow you to pass through an old wooden door way. The door swings open to reveal a dimly lit passageway filled with mannequins, before leading you into a chic, stylish cocktail bar that plays funky retro music and attracts a well-dressed crowd.

Arriving at the bar of PS150 can seem a little intimidating at first. The walls are lined with hundreds and hundreds of bottles of liquor from around the world and the cocktail menu would rival a bible for its size! That said, the resident mixologists are more than happy to help you to find or create a cocktail that suits your preferences and taste palette.

PS150 is a very popular local bar and as such, it is advisable to make a reservation before arriving, particularly if you plan on stopping by on a Friday or Saturday night.

Bar Zhen

Where: 5, Jalan Balai Polis, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur

There are few cocktail bars that are as cultural and atmospheric as Bar Zhen. Since its opening, the bar quickly established itself as one of the hottest spots on the KL nightlife scene. Bar Zhen does a good job of embracing the Chinese heritage of the owners. Ancient oriental trinkets and antiques can be found scattered throughout the bar, as old movie posters from Shanghai are plastered on the walls. A lot of the concoctions found on the menus here follow unique recipes that utilize Chinese herbs and ingredients.

Attic Bar

Where: Third Floor, No. 15, Jalan Balai Polis, City Centre, 50000

Before Speakasy bars in Kuala Lumpur became a “thing”, the Attic Bar was at the forefront of this movement. The bar is hidden at the top of Chinatown’s popular “Travel Hub Guesthouse” hostel. Enter the hostel, ask the receptionist to point you in the correct direction, and follow the twisting, turning staircase that leads up to the Attic bar. As the name suggests, the bar is styled like an attic – with wooden flooring and ceilings. The icing on the cake is the stylish rooftop terrace which boasts incredible views out to the petronas towers, the KL tower, and the Merdeka tower, as they are all illuminated by twinkling lights as night falls.

The cocktails at the Attic bar come highly rated, but so too does the bar’s extensive wine list. The Attic bar sources quality vinos from their own vineyard in Luretta Valley, Italy. As a result, you can find exquisite tipples here that cannot be found elsewhere in Kuala Lumpur.

Places to Eat in Kuala Lumpur Chinatown

Dining options in Kuala Lumpur China town are plentiful and varied. Of course, it goes without saying that you absolutely must try traditional Chinese delicacies while in this neighbourhood. However, whether you’re looking for Chinese high tea, cheap street food eats, or western cuisine, you can certainly find what you are looking for here.

Song Kee Beef Noodles

Where: 86, Jalan Tun H S Lee, City Centre, 50050 Kuala Lumpur

Ever since Song Kee’s initial opening in 1945, the Chinatown eatery has been one of the most beloved local restaurants in Chinatown. Song Kee is a family establishment that has been passed down through the generations and is now managed by the grandson of the original founder. Song Kee is famous for their “hakka” noodles which are traditionally prepared with marinated beef or pork and served with a side dish of beef ball soup. Those stopping by can expect a hearty lunch at budget prices.

Old China Cafe

Where: 11, Jalan Balai Polis, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur

Those who are looking for something a little different to Chinese and Cantonese food are well-advised to stop by the Old China Cafe to sample their Peranakan cuisine. Set in a pastel-coloured pre-war storefront, Old China Cafe has a charming old-fashioned appearance with a touch of modernity. Antiquated wooden furnishings are used throughout the premises, and the walls are decorated with old calligraphic paintings. Perenakan food is rich and flavourful and there is plenty of variety available here.

Bunn Choon Bakery

Where: 142, Jalan Tun H S Lee, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur

Bun Choon bakery is a great place to stop by for a quick snack or to pick up dessert in chinatown Kuala Lumpur. The pastry store has won the hearts of many locals and tourists alike. Don’t miss the egg tarts – similar to the western egg custard, these are essentially the national sweet treat of Malaysia, and many KL locals consider Bunn Choon’s tarts as being among the very best. Other notable Chinese dessert pastries that are well worth trying include sweet lotus bean cakes, and durian tarts – the latter being a nice alternative to those not quite brave enough to try the pungent fragrant fruit.

Yong Tau Foo, Madras Lane

Where: Madras Lane, City Center (old) Jalan Sultan, Kuala Lumpur, 50000

If you are going to try authentic Chinese delicacies, you want to be sure that you are trying them at a place that serves the very best which is why Yong Tau Foo is a perfect spot to start at. Yong Tau Foo is actually a hawker stall that sits just off the main strip of Petaling street. The stall is so popular among locals that it is not at all uncommon to see a long queue (though it moves very quickly so there is no need to be deterred).

The way to order at Yong Tau Foo is to select a variety of different individual food pieces from the stall and have the hawkers prepare them for you in a bowl. The price is 1.40 RM per item, and you can choose from traditional foods such as lady fingers, fried dumplings, tofu, fried fish balls, and brinjal. Once the food is prepared, it is served with two sauces – a sweet sauce and a chili sauce.

Browse the Street Food Markets of Kuala Lumpur China town

Street food delicacies are a huge part of the Kuala Lumpur food culture and the scene in Chinatown only reinforces that. The main strip of Petaling Jaya is constantly filled with hawker stalls but by nightfall, this becomes particularly impressive and should not be missed. Handmade bao (Chinese dumplings), stinky durian fruit, Malay curry puffs and sumptuous chicken satay sticks are among the local delicacies that you must try. Offering an equally extensive array of options is the Madras Lane market where the curry laksa is regarded as being some of the best in the world.

Explore Kuala Lumpur Chinatown with a Food Tour

Navigating the labyrinth-like network of stalls and street food vendors can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to identifying which place serves the best food. Opting to book a Kuala Lumpur food tour is a nice way to discover Chinatown through the eyes of a local and avoid the tourist traps.

Temples and Religious Sites in Kuala Lumpur Chinatown

Kuala Lumpur China town
Sri Maha Mariamman Temple

The places of worship that can be found in Kuala Lumpur China town are very diverse. Here, colourful Hindu temples stand beside Chinese Taoist temples and the glistening minarets of mosques. Most religious sites in the area are open to tourists, though it is important to dress conservatively and to respect the worshippers inside.

Sri Maha Mariamman Temple

Dating back to 1873, the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Malaysia. It was actually founded by the same Indian trader who discovered Batu Caves.  With its colourful domes, frescoes, gopurams, and murals, Sri Maha Mariamman is a beautiful place to visit to gain an insight into Hindu culture. The temple is free to enter, though you must dress appropriately and cover your legs/shoulders.

Chan See Shu Yuen Temple

Kuala Lumpur’s Chan See Shu Yuen Temple is one of the oldest and largest Buddhist temples in Malaysia. With its elaborate interiors and intricate frescoes boasting scenes from Chinese mythology, it is also one of the most beautiful.

Guan Di Temple

Chinatown’s Guan Di Temple is a beautiful, brightly coloured Taoist temple that is dedicated to Guan Di, a former Chinese militant general who was given the title of being the “God of War” due to his war hero status. At the centre of the temple sits a giant Chinese weapon (a Guan Do). Worshippers believe that touching this will provide them with good luck.

Kuan Yin Temple

Decorated in playful shades of pinks and reds, the Kuan Yin temple is perhaps one of the most colourful shrines in Kuala Lumpur. The temple is dedicated to the goddess of mercy, Kuan Yin and has been created using a combination of European baroque and Chinese architecture. The interiors of Kuan Yin are much more simple than other religious sites in the Malay capital, but it is worth visiting for the golden Buddha statues that are scattered inside. If you are able to be outside between 12,30 – 13.45 pm, you will hear the monks chanting Namo Guanshiyin Bodhisattva.  

Masjid Jamek Sultan Abdul Samad

Built by British Architect AB Hubback in 1907, the Masjid Jamek Sultan Abdul Samad was the very first brick mosque to be built in Malaysia. The premises are encompassed by beautiful gardens filled with lush greenery and beautiful flowers. Non-Muslim Visitors are permitted to enter the mosque and its grounds provided that they do so outside of prayer times and are conservatively dressed.

Shopping in Kuala Lumpur Chinatown

If its sleek fashions and accessories that you are after, Bukit Bintang is arguably the best place to head to while you are in Kuala Lumpur. That said, Chinatown certainly has its fair share of shopping opportunities, especially as far as cheap and cheerful products are concerned.

Kuala Lumpur Central Market features on a lot of Kuala Lumpur itineraries but it is nothing to really write home about. By all means, have a stroll through the market while in the area, but the market mostly offers touristic stalls selling souvenirs and cheap clothing, and a handful of hawker stalls. The main appeal of the market is perhaps the artists and street performers who sell their handicraft and independent artwork outside the front of the market.

Kasturi walk and Petaling Street are both good places to stop by. The latter houses some interesting spots including the oldest Chinese medicine store in Kuala Lumpur. It is important to note that haggling is expected at all of these shopping locations. Vendors will typically quote prices that are at least one third more than their actual price, especially when dealing with tourists. Never take the first price offered.

Where to Stay in Kuala Lumpur Chinatown

Chinatown Kuala Lumpur is one of the most popular places to stay while travelling in the Malaysian capital. As such, there are a wide variety of Kuala Lumpur accommodation options available here to suit every budget – from backpacker to luxury. Some of the most charming and  reputable options are detailed below.

Tian Jing Hotel

Built in a style that honours Chinatown’s oriental heritage, the rooms at Tian Jing hotel are simple yet elegant. The furnishings used within the rooms and common spaces of the hotel have been sourced from Chinese Designers across the country. This lovely boutique hotel is a great choice for those looking for something unique and filled with personality. Each room boasts trees, potted plants, and a feng shui style. Rooms start from $50 (245 ringgit) per night. Click here to check the latest prices and availability.

The 5 Elements Hotel

The 5 Elements hotel is a stylish boutique hotel that offers spacious, comfortable rooms at affordable prices. Rooms start from $30 per night including breakfast. Click here to check the latest prices and availability.

Mingle Hostel

Chinatown’s Mingle Hostel is a good choice for those travelling through Malaysia on a budget and hoping to meet others as they do so. The hostel has a great central location in the midst of Chinatown’s best bars and brunch spots. Dorm bed prices start from $15 per night with breakfast included. Click here to check the latest prices and availability.

Have any questions about this Chinatown Kuala Lumpur guide or about Malaysia travel in general? I based myself here for a month in December and will be happy to answer any questions you may have. Feel free to drop me a comment below or send me an email. Safe and many travels, Melissa xo

Disclaimer: This Kuala Lumpur China town guide may contain affiliate links. This means that if you choose to make a purchase through some of the links on this page, I will obtain a small amount of commission at no additional cost to you. Commissions earned through High Heels and a Backpack enable me to keep up with the costs of managing this site so that I can continue to provide you with free travel advice.

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