Where past façades and storefronts have been modified in Downtown Kuala Lumpur (KL), community businesses have also intentionally refurbished and created streets full of decor to attract locals and tourists. Think colourful murals and installations over at Kwai Chai Hong, loosely translated as White Man’s Alley, also known today as Lorong Panggung.
But beyond these hotspots and Insta-worthy backdrops, Downtown KL is littered with many locales that pay homage to the past. Whether you’re looking for enduring mom-and-pop establishments or nostalgic landmarks and shopping locales that have stood the test of time, we’re willing to bet there’s something for everyone at these shops.
Kwong Fook Wing
The century-old shop on Jalan Sultan exudes heritage, a sense of tradition that cannot be easily dismissed. Owner Datuk Khong Kim Lyew cuts and sews in an intimate room surrounded by portraits of his ancestors’ past clientele, including British officers, cabinet ministers, and royalty. As the saying goes, anybody who is somebody would have come to Kwong Fook Wing to have their clothes made before and after Malaya achieved independence in 1957.
Today? A tailored suit here will set you back maybe RM2,000 to RM3,000. But the craftsmanship and the museum-esque experience are ones that money can’t buy. After all, the third-generation proprietor has yet to find a successor. Nonetheless, Datuk Khong will press on for as long as an appreciation for tailored suits persists. So, head on to this time capsule at Jalan Sultan for a royalty-worthy touch.
Address: 51 Jalan Sultan, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur
Contact: +603-2072 6246
Operating hours: Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm; Saturday, 9am to 3pm
Yan Kee Records & Recording
The experience of stumbling across a vinyl worth buying may be lost in the 21st century, but Yan Kee’s 1950s retro charm still holds firm in Downtown KL. Rummage through the selection of used pieces of vinyl, cassettes, and CDs available. Find out-of-print gems from Chinese classics and jazz to pop and Elvis.
It’ll be a nostalgic experience for those who haven’t visited a record store since signing up for Spotify and probably a thrilling affair for the younger ‘uns. It’s only a four-minute walk from Central Market, so why not make a day out of exploring Downtown KL.
Address: 182A Jalan Tun H S Lee, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur
Operating hours: Daily, 10am to 6pm
Nanyang Art Supplies
Since 1943, Nanyang Art Supplies has been providing paints, pastels, papers, pencils, brushes, and the like for artists and fine art students in town for decades. A family-run business, they stock everything that an artist, aspiring or otherwise, could need.
From Winsor & Newton paints and brushes, to pens, paper materials, mounting boards, canvases, and easels, the artful soul will feel right at home at this wonderful stationery store.
Address: 136 Jalan Petaling, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur
Contact: +603 2078 7066
Operating hours: Monday to Friday, 9am to 5:30pm; Saturday, 9am to 4pm
A renowned heritage site, Central Market, or Pasar Seni, is a one-stop destination for Malaysian handicrafts, souvenirs, and other collectables. The over-a-century-old historic building houses 350 bazaar-like shops and kiosks that offer the ultimate Malaysian experience for locals and tourists alike. There’s something for everyone, from batik and hand-painted postcards to jewellery and antiques.
Beyond shopping, there’s also much to see and do! Immerse yourself in Malaysian traditional art with artists showcasing their work, artisans creating intricate one-of-a-kind handicrafts, and performers captivating the audience with their graceful moves.
Of course, there are also plenty of Insta-worthy corners, so be sure your cameras are ready to snap at this former wet market-turned-heritage building.
Address: Jalan Hang Kasturi, 50050 Kuala Lumpur
Contact: +603 2031 0399
Operation hours: Daily, 10am to 6pm
As the saying goes, one should never judge a book by its cover, and in the case of this secondhand bookstore, it rings true. Housing more gems than junk, this dusty-looking store is one of KL’s longest-running secondhand book stores and is packed to the brim with unique literary finds and comics.
You may want to drop by only if you have several hours to spare, as the piles of books are arranged loosely by genre. However, it’s worth putting in the elbow grease to pick between what’s a treasure to you, with some selections starting at just a few Ringgit per book.
Address: 78 Jalan Tun H S Lee, City Centre, 50050 Kuala Lumpur
Contact: +603 2078 3822
Operating hours: Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 3pm; Saturday, 8:30am to 2pm
Perniagaan Jam May May
Believe it or not, before the Internet catered us to our every whim and fancy, we needed physical establishments to cater to specific needs. And in Downtown KL, many of these businesses live on despite today’s connectivity. One such testament that stood the test of time? May May’s watch store is just off of Chow Kit.
Whether you’re looking for replacement links, leather straps, a shiny new timepiece or a sentimental preloved vintage of Alba, Casio, and Seiko at a margin of market price, this decades-old shop can probably prod you in the right direction.
Address: 374 Jln Raja Laut, Chow Kit, 50350 Kuala Lumpur
Operating hours: Monday to Saturday, 11am to 6pm
Pasar Jalan Raja Bot
The flea market on Jalan Raja Bot is a maze of crisscrossing alleys and bursting stalls. Popular among locals and tourists alike for its low prices and variety of items, the largest market in the city centre is where you should go bundle shopping if you’re willing to delve into the deep trenches.
Besides a diverse range of cooking ingredients and fresh food, countless stalls sell clothes, bags, books, shoes, and other essential goods. Partly in the main building and the rest on street level, the Pasar Jalan Raja Bot is vast and bursting with surprises. We recommend bringing your sense of whimsy and walking shoes for this particular adventure.
Address: Jalan Raja Bot, Chow Kit, 50300 Kuala Lumpur
Operating hours: Friday to Saturday, 9pm to 3am
Kien Fatt Medical Store
There was a time when as many as 14 Chinese medicine halls stood tall along Petaling Street. In this modern-day age, however, many found it challenging to keep up with the onslaught of modernised pharmacies.
The decades-old Kien Fatt proves to be up to the challenge, and then some, standing tall in Petaling Street for over 80 years now – with in-house sill sinsehs (physicians) administering treatments in the backroom until today. They keep up with traditions here — your ailments are swiftly diagnosed through a pulse check and remedied by prescription herbs.
Whether you’re looking for a health boost with centuries-old ginseng and bird’s nest remedies or simple health tonic ingredients like cordyceps, wolfberries, and atractylodes, Kien Fatt is one of the few remaining traditional Chinese medical halls tried and trusted for generations to get you sorted out.
Address: 59 Jalan Petaling, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur
Operating hours: Monday to Saturday, 9am to 5:30pm
Sin Hua Bee Bakery
Naturally, no truly Malaysian list is complete without at least one mention of food and snack if a trip is made to Downtown KL. But with all the roadside fare available, what could stand above the rest? Of course, a mix of delightfully sweet and savoury cookies plus the nostalgia of going to the bakery!
The atmosphere at Sin Hua Bee bears no difference from an old Chinese medicinal store. Still, instead of sinsehs who diagnose and pack your medication, they have devoted chefs who administer happiness in the form of traditional Chinese cookies.
From tau sar piah (sweet and savoury mung bean paste encased in a flaky and buttery pastry shell also called tampon biscuits) and lao huei (glutinous rice biscuits with sesame seeds glazed with molasses) to their famous Wedding Biscuits (pink-hued cookies that are customary gifts from a groom’s family to the bride’s before a wedding), there’s a whole range of baked goods to indulge in.
The proprietors may not necessarily be the cheeriest of bakers there are. Still, as long as you know what you want, you’ll walk out of the bakery with your pace quickened, your heartbeat fluttering, and your mouth salivating in anticipation of tearing open the paper wrappers and digging into your purchased golden goodies.
Address: 72 Lengkok Raja Laut, Chow Kit, 50350 Kuala Lumpur
Operating hours: Monday to Saturday, 9:30am to 6pm