I’m seriously unfit. My job – which requires me to spend at least 40 hours a week glued to a screen – is no help whatsoever. But I try to pretend that I am making some progress in the exercise department by walking as much as I can – 10 minutes here, 3,000 steps there. You know, at the end of the week when I discover I’m healthier than 70% of Subang Jaya, I actually feel quite proud of myself.
So when I heard that the KL Tourism Bureau (KLTB) has a series of free guided walks, and there was a night walk in the mix, I was elated. Usually the walks are either too early for me (wake up at 6am? You’ve got to be kidding!), or too late in the day (when the sun is scorching and ready to wreak havoc on my delicate skin).
A night walk, on the other hand, seemed like a fabulous idea.
What made it even more enticing was the KLTB had actually invited a bunch of media along with some locals and tourists to experience the walk and spread the news about it.
KLTB have four guided trails in all: The Kuala Lumpur Heritage Trail, with over 11 historical sites to see including the Music Museum, Merdeka Square and Panggung Bandaraya; The Old KL & Nature Walk, during which you can explore historical landmarks such as the Loke Chow Kit Mansion, Sin Sze Si Ya Temple and the KL Forest eco-park; the Jalan-Jalan At Kampong Bharu Culture Walk, which highlights Malay culture in the city; and, last but not least (and the only walking tour that I’ve been on!), the Kuala Lumpur Night Walk.
As its name suggests, you see parts of the city by night.
The KLTB has enlisted licensed guides who take you through the bustling streets, and these men and women have lots of tales to tell at each stop. Be sure to ask questions along the way as they are eager to share with you what they know.
Our walk kicked off at 7pm, when our guide said it would promptly turn to dusk, which it did. The trail started off at the Arch Cafe at the Pacific Express Hotel, right next to Central Market. It was especially easy for me to get there, as I just had to hop on to the LRT from Subang Jaya, and it took me straight to the Masjid Jamek station for just a bit over RM3. The Arch Cafe is just a hop, step and a jump away.
The first stop on our trail was Medan Pasar, an open square in the heart of town, surrounded by pre-war shophouses. This is where Yap Ah Loy – the famous Chinese Chieftain often called a founding father of Kuala Lumpur – once resided in the 1800s. Standing in the middle of the square suddenly felt quite special. The guides spoke of the shophouse architecture (by Arthur Benison Hubback), pointing out that some facades had never been touched, explaining why some houses were smaller than others, and entertaining the participants with tales of the clock tower in the centre, and how it was erected in 1937 for the coronation of King George VI.
Interestingly (and how did I not notice before?), the clock tower has an art deco look about it – credited to British architect A.O. Coltman, who for 32 years practised in Malaya where he worked as manager of the architecture firm Booty Edwards & Partners. Coltman also was responsible for the OCBC Building and the Oriental Building, which you will get to see on your walk as well.
Truth be told, I never knew these tales – of the five-storey Oriental Building, which, at 25m, was once the tallest building in KL, and which housed Radio Malaya in those days of yore.
Our guide shared that the Oriental Building’s basement was rat-proof and in case of floods, doors could be fitted into specially constructed grooves over the basement windows to prevent water from entering the building! These were all fascinating nuggets of information.
I have lived all my life in Malaysia, and this was the first time I was being made aware of these things. It’s so strange that I have often gone on tours and learnt about and taken a gazillion photos of beautiful buildings in other countries … but when it came to downtown KL, I have been so ignorant!
Hello from the other side
Moving on to Masjid Jamek (see top image), you’ll find the architecture evolving as you see the Mughal-style mosque on the other side of the Klang River, and you’ll notice the lines blurring from Chinese to Indian Muslim stores and eateries. Names of roads are another spot of interest for history buffs – and the guides will eagerly fill you in on all the changes – like how Java Street became Mountbatten Road, and ended up Jalan Tun Perak.
Again, the guides will regale you with tales of the Whiteaway Laidlaw department store which brought in products that appealed to the Europeans and wealthy locals and was once situated here. (PS: If you’re a Pokemon trainer looking for Magikarp, this is the place to be!)
You’ll soon realise you are in a different part of town – look out for the Jai Hind Restaurant – apparently their sweets are quite delicious, as if straight out of India. You’ll also learn how P.H. Hendry Jewellers (the “Jewellers to the Sultan”) first started out in this area.
At this juncture, we cut through the covered street bazaar at the junction of Jalan Melayu and Jalan Masjid India. Here stands the Indian Muslim mosque on Masjid India Kuala Lumpur, where they apparently preach in Tamil. A few steps away is the night market. Tourists are especially enthralled with the variety of food on display here – from apam balik to giant jackfruit, kuih bahulu and air tebu.
The Coliseum cinema makes for a grand picture – more so when it features superstar Rajinikanth
Tucked away in an alley off Jalan Masjid India is the Coliseum 6 Haircut barber shop. Photo: The Star/Ann Marie Chandy
After negotiating some narrow alleys (look out for the cute little retro barbershop called “Coliseum 6 Haircut”), you’ll wind up at Kamdar, Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, and the Coliseum Cinema. Stop over at the Coliseum Cafe (established in 1962!) for dinner and drinks. Inside you’ll find tiles and furniture from yesteryear. It is almost like stepping into a time warp. Once a gentleman’s bar (with such famous patrons as writer Somerset Maugham), today Coliseum even has female waitresses on its roster!
The walk comes to an end at Dataran Merdeka, where you can soak up the rich architectural heritage of our colonial past, juxtaposed against our now modern city skyline.
For those who want to catch Mud, The Musical at Panggung Bandaraya, you’ll need to get here by 8.30pm when the show starts (www.mudKL.com). And what a fabulous show it is! If you haven’t caught it yet, I urge you to watch it. In fact, go for the walk, enjoy our capital city from its vibrant, vivacious streets. KL has many a story to tell … and you’ll earn your 10,000 steps for the day as well – bonus!