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Petaling Street and Chinese shophouses

Petaling Street and Chinese shophouses

Old Chinatown and it’s shophouse architecture, build during British colonial times, are the most beautiful sights in Kuala Lumpur and a gem in modern Singapore.  In 1896 Kuala Lumpur was the capital of British colonialism. The British instructed that all wooden houses shall be replaced by brick and get tiled roofs. The British residential system also required all shophouses to be exactly five feet from the road and to have a verandah side walk, to be able to bypass traffic, rain and sun light. The lower a side walk of a shophouse the older it is.

The shophouses were constructed by business smart and hard-working Chinese immigrants who lived and worked in those narrow and long houses. The merchants kept their shops downstairs and the living quarters for their family upstairs. The façades reflect the popular architectural style of those times.

Welcome to Petaling Street. A lively stretch of hawker stalls and eateries. Chinatown’s Petaling Street is known for its splendid assortment of fake designer watches, clothes, bags and accessories.

Petaling Street Chinatown Kuala Lumpur


Petaling Street looks nicest at night, the time of bustling business and charming lanterns.

Petaling Street Chinatown Kuala Lumpur


Walk the isles of souvenirs. The obvious reliance of Petaling Street on tourism has its two sides. The one thing is that stalls try to please the tourist, the down side is that most are focused on quick profit, lacking quality and loosing on originality and cultural heritage. Not the best, carelessly prepared food, cheesy and cheap souvenirs got to find takers. Eager sellers give out personal invitations every time you pass a shop or happen to look at their stuff. The sellers are only partly to blame. Who is wearing the fake Rolex after all? ;)

Petaling Street Chinatown Kuala Lumpur Petaling Street Chinatown Kuala Lumpur


Designer’s replica paradise. Not limited to handbags.

Fake bags Petaling Street Chinatown Kuala Lumpur


Steaming, roasted chestnuts and sweet tropical fruits.

Chestnuts Petaling Street Chinatown Kuala Lumpur Petaling Street Chinatown Kuala Lumpur


Famous dumplings and… what’s that?

Dumplings Petaling Street Chinatown Kuala Lumpur Alien balloon Chinatown Kuala Lumpur


Durian can be smelled across the street. Yuck!

Durian Petaling Street Chinatown Kuala Lumpur


Yeah, found the coconut drink.

Petaling Street Chinatown Kuala Lumpur


When we chanced upon (what seemed to look like) a nice hotel, we went in to compare standards. This, along with all Chinatown hotels we have checked, was just awful. The lobby looked promising.

 Chinatown Kuala Lumpur


Our hotel was right next to Chinatown, which treated us for a (disappointing) meal. And just as in the Chinatown Singapore manner, the owner charged for unused, not ordered napkins and did not inform about additional tax and service fees, nor did it say anything in the menu, which I doubt is paid to the state. The restaurants are mainly visited by tourists, so it is as if we walked into our own trap.

Petaling Street Chinatown Kuala Lumpur


This is how an idealistic, artistic soul portrayed Petaling Street.

Petaling Street Chinatown Kuala Lumpur


This Chinese restaurant is really worth mentioning, with (a bit) better food and traditional Malay dishes on the menu and most of all, shows great effort to preserve a shophouse in its old glory. The Old China Café.

Old China Cafe Chinatown Kuala Lumpur Old China Cafe Chinatown Kuala Lumpur


This is the only shophouse in Chinatown I came across that looked like this.

Old China Cafe Chinatown Kuala Lumpur


The menus have beautiful covers.

Chinatown house restaurant Kuala Lumpur


Inside are poorly photocopied pages. After ordering noodles with coconut gravy under the main meal section I was surprised to get soup, which are all listed on the other page of the menu. Oh well, hungry eats what hungry gets.  I so got used to looking at plastic food models in Japan and ordering from picture menus!

Old China Cafe menu Kuala Lumpur


Nyonya Laksa.

Nyonya Laksa soup Malaysia


Tomek had Nasi Lemak. A very popular Malaysian dish with coloured rice.

Nasi Lemak traditional dish Malaysia


Crispy fried anchovies for starters.

fried fish traditional dish Malaysia


Upstairs was a Chinese tea house, with the best blend we have tasted so far.

Old China Cafe Chinatown Kuala Lumpur Old China Cafe Chinatown Kuala Lumpur


Just the perfect treat for tea addicts. And awesome interior.

Teahouse in Old China Cafe Chinatown Kuala Lumpur


The Chinese grey haired but fast acting and agile owner set his tea house rules first thing upon our arrival and after agreeing on a time limit for our stay.  First rule: no pictures of the product. I don’t even remember a name of whatever his product was (the tea blends?). But there you go – these pictures have no product placement. Second rule: choose any tea blend you like and go for as many tea rounds as you like but drink expeditiously. The good man suffered from inexplicable time pressure. Third rule: I can come and take away the glass jug any time I think is appropriate. We pointed blindly to a tea position on the menu and sat down.

It was a bit strange but really the best tea house ceremony experience. I think that the tea house owner was a master of his tea brewing passion and a true perfectionist serving us to his sophisticated standards of tea brewing. He probably invented the tea blends himself and was just a bit overprotective of his secret. His tea was truly divine and he told us how each round is going to taste. It was the same tea blend but every round tasted different (less strong and smoother) and was delicious, without our usual sugar lemon routine! I think we had at least five rounds. Yum!

Teahouse in Old China Cafe Chinatown Kuala Lumpur


Unfortunately, most shophouses in Kuala Lumpur, originally constructed between the end of the 19th century and the 1920s, were renovated with very little sensitivity to its architectural design.

Chinese Shophouses Kuala Lumpur


An elegant row of shophouses with distinct rooflines, columns and window shapes. Harshly contrasting with its steel-glass progeny.

Chinese Shophouses Kuala Lumpur


The Beaux Arts floral plaster designs make Yusoof’s restaurant sign look totally misplaced.

Shophouse Chinatown Kuala Lumpur


Pink is a great colour but at this shophouse something went very wrong.

Shophouse Chinatown Kuala Lumpur


Happy planet?

Shophouse Chinatown Kuala Lumpur


Shophouse misuse.

Chinese Shophouses Kuala Lumpur


Chinese restaurant.

Street side Chinese restaurant Chinatown Kuala Lumpur


Fortune telling at Pusat Astrologi is in high demand. The place was newly renovated. A lot of potential rests in those houses (to the right).

Pusat Astrologi Chinese Shophouses Kuala Lumpur Chinatown Kuala Lumpur


Many houses, although tied to the history of the city have been allowed to deteriorate. All they need is a little up keep with love.

Shophouse Chinatown Kuala Lumpur


Notice the new window.

Old neglected Building Kuala Lumpur
My favourite Kuala Lumpur Abbey Road cover. Where are the Beatles?

decaying beautiful shophouse Kuala Lumpur


Art Deco for Lee Rubber.

Art Deco Rubber Building Chinatown Kuala Lumpur


This beautiful neo-classical building stands out in Chinatown. It has got a curved baroque pediment with Chinese characters and unique balconies.

Chinese Shophouse now Hostel Kuala Lumpur Chinese Shophouse now Hostel Kuala Lumpur


Once a grocer’s guild, it was turned into a backpackers hostel featuring claustrophobic windowless rooms – we counted five dorms in what was one ample room. The guy at the reception could not tell us anything about the history of the house. The Chinese owner had apparently sold his heritage.

Chinese Shophouse now Hostel Kuala Lumpur Chinese Shophouse now Hostel Kuala Lumpur


See you at the next post!

Shophouse balcony Chinatown Kuala Lumpur


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  1. Hi. I have a humor blog and am looking for a picture to illustrate a funny piece I did on shopping for knockoffs in Chinatown. Did you take the picture of the handbags featured above? If it is original, I would like to know if I can use it on my blog. And if so, who can I give a photo credit? Thanks!

    • Yep, all the pictures have been taken during our travels by ourselves. Please link back to! Good luck with your piece :)

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