Kuala Lumpur Chinatown: Your 2022 Insider’s Guide

Kuala Lumpur Chinatown is a highlight of any visit to the Malaysian capital. This is one of the best places to stay and hang out in the city and it is likely to be where you spend a large portion of your time.

The buildings and architecture in this district are a magnificent blend of old meets new, and ancient Chinese tradition meets modern, contemporary living.

Here, ramshackle Chinese shophouses line the narrow streets and passageways, while smoldering coils of incense emit smoke from every doorway. The district is a Photographer´s dream and it is quite unlike any other part of town.

Visiting Kuala Lumpur Chinatown

Kuala Lumpur Chinatown is the name of the district that has grown and developed around the infamous Petaling street. It sits in the eastern part of town, close to the Pasar Seni metro station and adjacent to the districts of Bukit Bintang, Chow Kit, and KL Sentral.

The population here is predominantly Chinese-Malay. However, 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 district.

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

The main street of Petaling Jalan is jampacked full of budget hotels, backpacker hostels, and stalls selling souvenirs. You would be forgiven for seeing this as quite a touristic neighbourhood at first.

But don’t be so quick to judge. Most of the Chinatown KLs highlights are hidden from view down unsuspecting side passages.

Best Things to do in KL Chinatown

Chinatown Kuala Lumpur
Katsuri Walk, Chinatown Kuala Lumpur

There are enough things to do in KL Chinatown that you could easily spend an entire week here and feel that you have barely scratched beneath the surface. Some of the area’s cultural and historical highlights, along with the best restaurants, cafes, and places to stay, are summarised in this post.

Take a walking tour

Opting to take a walking tour is a great way to get your bearings in a new city and Kuala Lumpur is no different. The Malaysian capital is an intimidating, sprawling megalopolis and each of its various districts are like little towns in themselves.

When you explore with a local, you will discover various streets, marketplaces, and eateries that you probably wouldn’t have found when exploring alone. Better yet, you have a Kuala Lumpur expert on hand to ask for their recommendations on the best places to eat, drink and hang out while you are in town.

A number of reputable small-group tours that take you around Kuala Lumpur Chinatown are detailed below for your consideration. Book online in advance to guarantee your place.

Browse the goods on sale at Pasar Karat

Pasar Karat is one of the most interesting markets in the Chinatown KL area. Even if you have no intention of buying anything, it is worth stopping by for the people-watching opportunities alone.

¨Pasar Karat¨ translates to mean ¨rusty market¨. This is the area´s unofficial antique market and the true embodiment of the idea that ¨one man’s trash is another man’s treasure¨.

In the 1980s and 1990s, locals affectionately referred to Pasar Karat as ¨the thieves market¨ as many of the items on display looked like they had been stolen! (To be honest, little has changed over the decades and many of the wares on display still look like they have been stolen!)

You will find everything here from ornate-looking furnishings and antiques to used garden tools, battered old mobile phones, and old magazines and comics. The market is open from around 5 am until 10 am daily.

Have a traditional Indian breakfast at Pasar Seni

Having an authentic Indian breakfast may not sound like a very KL Chinatown thing to do but this district is actually very multicultural and diverse. In fact, some of the best Indian food in the city can be found in KL Chinatown!

For the best of the best, head to Vinny Jeyaa banana leaf curry house (80, Jalan Hang Kasturi, City Centre). This little canteen-style restaurant sits directly opposite the Pasar Seni metro station.

You can’t miss it. Just look for the colorful place with an abundance of bright, fragrant flower garlands hanging from the ceilings.

Having curry for breakfast might be far from the norm if you are from a western country. However, once you have tried a few traditional Indian breakfasts in Malaysia, chances are that you will become a big advocate for having a curry breakfast on the regular!

There is plenty of selection and the servers can give you some recommendations on what to try. Consider ordering an egg roti served with daal and fish curry.

Wash it all down with a steaming hot cup of Adrak Wali Chai (Indian ginger tea). A meal here will cost you less than $2 per person.

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 Jalan is constantly filled with hawker stalls at all hours of the day. By nightfall, the market really comes to life.

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.

Visit Sri Maha Mariamman Temple

Kuala Lumpur China town
Sri Maha Mariamman Temple

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

The 1873 Sri Maha Mariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Malaysia. It was founded by K. Thamboosamy Pillay, the same Indian trader who discovered Batu Caves.  However, it was not opened to the public until the 1920s.

With its vibrant domes, frescoes, gopurams, and murals, Sri Maha Mariamman is a beautiful place to visit to gain an insight into Hindu culture. The main temple is roofed by an ornately embellished dome. There are also three smaller temples within the complex dedicated to Lord Ganesha and his brother, Lord Muruga.

The temple is free to enter, though you must dress appropriately and cover your legs/shoulders. If you are not conservatively dressed, you can rent a sari at the temple entrance for just a few ringgit. The temple is open daily from 6 am until 8.30 pm.

Window shop at Kasturi Walk

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.

Stop by the Chan See Shu Yuen Temple

Where: 172, Jalan Petaling, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur’s 1906 Chan See Shu Yuen Temple is one of the oldest and largest Buddhist temples in Malaysia. The temple’s elaborate interiors and intricate frescoes boast scenes from Chinese mythology.

More specifically, this was actually a building built for the Chan clan rather than a general place of worship. All of the building materials used to create the temple were imported from Southern China where the family hails from.

Visit the Guan Di Temple

Where: 168, Jalan Tun H S Lee, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur

Chinatown’s Guan Di Temple is a beautiful, bright Taoist temple. The site is dedicated to Guan Di, a former Chinese militant general who was given the title of 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.

See the Kuan Yin Temple

Where: Kuan Yin Temple, Jalan Maharajalela, Kuala Lumpur City Centre, 50480

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. It 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. However 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.  

Visit the Masjid Jamek Sultan Abdul Samad

Where: Jalan Tun Perak, City Centre, 50050 Kuala Lumpur

The Masjid Jamek Sultan Abdul Samad was built by British Architect AB Hubback in 1907. It 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.

Eat at the Kuala Lumpur Central Market

Kuala Lumpur Central Market features in a lot of Kuala Lumpur itineraries but it is very touristic in nature. The complex 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 handicrafts and independent artwork outside the front of the market. That being said, you can try a very diverse range of Malay delicacies here. Nasi Lema, Nasi Ganja, and Nasi Goreng all feature on the menus of the hawker stalls in the market. Better still, you can dine for less than $1.50!

Treat yourself to a Chinese massage

If you find yourself in need of some R&R after a long day of sightseeing, treat yourself to a Chinese massage in Chinatown KL. There is an abundance of massage parlors here, particularly foot massage places. Chinatown Foot Reflexology & Massage (60, Jalan Sultan, City Centre, 50000) and Relax Time Foot Reflexology (69 Tingkat Bawah) both come very highly recommended.

Coffee Shops in Kuala Lumpur Chinatown

Kuala Lumpur China town
Merchant’s Lane, Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur China town has had a new lease of life injected into it with the emergence of several quirky coffee shops. Many of these establishments are housed inside old, traditional buildings.

The beauty is that the buildings have not been modified or altered in any way. They have simply been polished up and restored to their former glory.

Some of the most charming places to enjoy a coffee break away from the heat and humidity are detailed below. You will find everything here from Ipoh white coffee to different blends of coffees and teas.

Lim Kee Cafe, Tian Jing Hotel

Kuala Lumpur Chinatown: Lim Kee Cafe
Kuala Lumpur Chinatown: Lim Kee Cafe

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

The charming Lim Kee cafe forms part of the eclectic Tian Jing hotel. Lim Kee is essentially a modern interpretation of an old Chinese Kopitiam. 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

Merchant’s Lane

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

Merchants Lane is easily one of the most popular coffee and brunch spots in Kuala Lumpur today. Unless you specifically know about its location, it is very easy to walk past it.

The coffee shop awaits behind a crumbling, unsuspecting old door that is usually closed. Once you open the door, you need to ascend up the narrow, creaky wooden staircase.

At the top, you are met with a huge, bright, and airy coffee shop painted in pastel colours and filled with beautiful flowers and rattan furnishings. Nothing about the place hints at its former purpose.

Merchants Lane was once a brothel. Today, the cafe serves an extensive brunch and lunch menu that offers both Asian and western dishes.

Mingle Cafe

Mingle Cafe, Kuala Lumpur Chinatown
Mingle Cafe, Kuala Lumpur Chinatown

Where: 53, Jalan Sultan, City Centre, 50000

Mingle cafe is part of the namesake Mingle hostel. This is a great place to socialise, meet fellow travellers, or simply spend a lazy afternoon cradling a cup of coffee.

The cafe has something of an urban warehouse feel about it. It boasts high ceilings and exposed brick walls.

The decor is reminiscent of something that you would expect to see in Greenwich Village New York or perhaps trendy Dorcol in Belgrade. Mingle offers a nice international/western focused menu for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner.

The Best Bars in Kuala Lumpur Chinatown

The Deceased, KL
The Deceased, KL

Although Malaysia is officially a Muslim majority country, over 25% of the country’s population is Chinese. These residents do not follow Islam and often drink alcohol.

You can find plenty of quirky bars and speakeasies in Chinatown Kuala Lumpur. Many of these places 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 are fabulously unique and eccentric.

The Deceased

Innovative and macabre cocktails at The Deceased

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

The Deceased is about as unique as a cocktail bar could get. This KL Speakeasy is hidden behind a locked door that 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 alcoves, and evil eyes painted on the walls. As you make your way to the top of the stairs, you are faced with chilling sound effects and scratching sounds echoing down the passageway

The Deceased opens out into a dimly lit cocktail bar with an incredible rooftop. The cocktails here are some of the best in town. They are all named after different horror movies or Asian folklore tales and each order comes accompanied by some kind of gimmick or accessory.

PS150

PS 150

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

The facade of PS150 looks like a little retro toy shop. You would never guess that it led to one of the best bars in the city.

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 doorway. 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.

Attic Bar

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

The Attic Bar was at the forefront of Kuala Lumpur’s speakeasy movement. The bar is hidden at the top of Chinatown’s popular “Travel Hub Guesthouse” hostel.

The bar is styled like an attic – with wooden flooring and ceilings. The icing on the cake is the stylish rooftop terrace that boasts incredible views out to the Petronas towers, the KL Tower, and the Merdeka tower.

Places to Eat in Kuala Lumpur Chinatown

Dining options in Kuala Lumpur China town are plentiful and varied. 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.

It 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. Expect generous portions served at reasonable local prices

Old China Cafe

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

The Old China Cafe is a great choice if you are looking for something a little different. The cafe is set in a pastel-coloured pre-war storefront. It 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. The menu offers Southeast Asian & Chinese cuisine dishes which were the personal favourite meals of the founder of the restaurant.

The founder had worked in Malacca for two years and fell in love with the recipes that were prepared for him by an old Peranakan cook. Today, the eatery serves Peranakan cuisine prepared with Chinese ingredients and Malay spices.

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 dessert in chinatown Kuala Lumpur. The pastry store has won the hearts of many locals and tourists alike.

Don’t miss the egg tarts. These are essentially the national sweet treat of Malaysia and are similar to British egg custards or Portuguese pastel de nata.

Many KL locals consider Bunn Choon’s tarts as being among the very best in the city. Other notable Chinese dessert pastries that are well worth trying include sweet lotus bean cakes, and durian tarts. Durian tarts are a nice introduction to the pungent fruits if you are not quite brave enough to try a piece of the fruit by itself.

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 of the best. This 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 of people waiting to be served.

There is no better indication that a place serves excellent quality than that. There is no need to be deterred by the wait time either as the queue moves very quickly.

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.

You can choose from a wide selection of 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.

Where to Stay in Kuala Lumpur Chinatown

Tian Jing Hotel

Kuala Lumpur Chinatown is one of the most popular places to stay in the Malaysian capital. 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

Tian Jing, Kuala Lumpur Chinatown
Tian Jing, Kuala Lumpur Chinatown

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

Tian Jing hotel has been built in a style that honours Chinatown’s oriental heritage. Its rooms 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

5 Elements Hotel, Kuala Lumpur
5 Elements Hotel, Kuala Lumpur

Where: 243, Jalan Sultan, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur

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

Mingle Hostel, KL
Mingle Hostel, KL

Where: 53, Jalan Sultan, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur

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.

Final Thoughts

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 send me an email if you need anything. Safe travels in Malaysia! Melissa xo


Melissa Douglas

Melissa Douglas is a British Travel Writer and Blogger based in Athens, Greece. She writes for numerous high profile travel publications across the globe - including Forbes Travel Guide, Matador Network, The Times of Israel and The Huffington Post.

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