FiS City Shopping Guide: Kuala Lumpur
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
What can I say about Kuala Lumpur, other than it is severely underappreciated by tourists everywhere? After more than four years living in Asia, I hadn't yet made it to the Malaysian capital, mostly because every time I asked anyone about it, the answer was a resounding "eh."
Perhaps my experience was bolstered by low expectations, but I loved it. If you're planning an Asia trip, it wouldn't be at the top of my destinations (cities like Bangkok, Shanghai, Beijing or Hong Kong offer more in the way of sightseeing). But if you are looking for a quick stop and love to shop, then this is the city for you. Whether it's local handicrafts (wooden bead bracelets and gifts galore) or mainstream shopping (Topshop! Mango! Zara!), there's more than enough here to fill 2-3 days.
Me, I did what I could in just about 24 hours. Due to my time constraints, this is by no means a comprehensive guide to shopping the city (I invite more in-the-know readers to leave their favorite spots in the comments), but it should get you started, especially if you're just there for a weekend jaunt.
A few things first:
1) You can find great deals on high-end hotels in KL, which makes the stay that much more enjoyable. (We finagled a $110 per night rate at the Ritz Carlton, which included a free breakfast -- and a to-die-for bubble bath. It helps to call them directly to see if they're offering any special rates during your stay. The service was really impeccable – and the pillows were impossibly fluffy. Really.)
2) The biggest complaint about KL seems to be the less-than-honest dealings of the taxi drivers, who often try to charge higher-than-they-should-be flat fees instead of using the meter. I mostly refused to get into cabs where the driver didn't agree to use the meter – but if the driver was offering a reasonable flat fee (no more than R10, about US$3, to go across the city), I usually just took it.
(To their credit, every single cabbie I had was cheerful, chatty and extremely helpful answering all my incessant questions about the city and where to go.)
3) The LRT (metro) system is very clean and efficient, and I used that a lot during rush hours to get across the city.
4) I found prices to be pretty close to their US/Singapore equivalents (occasionally slightly higher, but not much). So you're probably not going to get amazing deals here, but you're not going to get stung by huge mark-ups either.
Okay, on to the shopping!
Stop 1: KLCC
KL's main tourist attraction is KLCC – a.k.a. the iconic Petronas Towers – which tower over the city and can be spotted from almost everywhere. They're very impressive during the day but at their best at night, when both towers twinkle with lights. Once you've taken the requisite photos outside, head in to check out the huge mall inside. You'll find most of the usual mall-store suspects, but this Topshop was my favorite (its sale racks had sizes and items that were sold out in Singapore, and the main selection had special pieces I haven't seen elsewhere, like items from the Celia Birtwell collection.)
Stop 2: Central Market, Chinatown
Just a short LRT ride from KLCC is Chinatown, where the Central Market is known for being one of the biggest and best shopping spots for antiques, "antiques", local handicrafts, clothing and more. You could easily spend two hours traversing up and down the rows of small shops. I loved that the sales people are polite and helpful and not in-your-face aggressive (which seems to be the standard sales tactic of most other markets in the region). I got some great gifts here – look for ceramics, baskets and other neat finds -- plus piles of wooden bead bangle bracelets (about $2 each) for myself.
Stop 3: The streets of Chinatown
Head out of Central Market and wander your way up towards Petaling Street. There are plenty of local handicraft-laden boutiques along the way as well as local shops selling kitchenware, ceramics and more. I spent quite a while wandering around the neighborhood and poking into any shop that looks interesting (of course, keep in mind that I am the kind of person who gets excited by Chinese restaurant supply shops). The main drag of Petaling Street is bad-fakes central (where you'll find lots of aggressive sales merchants) – I pretty much bypassed it completely, though I did find one great little shop here called the Dexon Button Shop (45 Jalan Petaling, 603-2070 8603) . It's a sewer's fantasy – drawers and drawers of buttons of all shapes and sizes. Very cool.
Stop 4: Mall mania
We already mentioned KLCC above, which is massive and shiny and infinitely shop-able. We were also completely impressed the brand-new Pavilion mall, which was still in the midst of opening during our visit. Here we found an even bigger Topshop, plus hundreds of boutiques like Marc by Marc Jacobs, Zara, Calvin Klein, and the emptiest Forever 21 we have ever been to. Have you ever been to a big Forever 21 when there is almost no one else in it? We can honestly say we have never had that experience before now, and it is really, really pleasant. The basement level food court and restaurant row had a ton of tasty options.
One of the city's famous old malls is nearby Sungei Wang, which is the kind of grungy local mall that is fairly typical of Asia. You can grab some tourist-y souvenirs here (we loved the bright, ethnic-y tops for R15, which we're planning to cinch at the waist to make a mini-dress) but the best part is probably the 1st floor "local designer section," where you can browse boutiques from some up-and-coming Malaysian designers. It's not that cheap, and the selection is hit-or-miss, but we did grab a pair of funky trouser shorts from one local designer (in the interest of finding cool golf wear).
A short walk away is Berjaya Times Square, home to the world's largest Borders bookstore, if superlatives impress you. It also allegedly has a fun park complete with rollercoaster inside, but we were short on time and couldn't find it, so we have no idea if it's a good rollercoaster. (Anyone?)
PS) In the name of thorough shopping, we also took a jaunt out of the city to the Melium Outlets (62 Jalan 8/91 Tama Shamelin Perkasa), which has discounts on past season collections from brands like Tod's, Ermenegildo Zegna, Aigner and Stuart Weitzman (unlike Petaling or Sungei Walk, these are authentic items). I imagine that, like most outlets, it can be hit-or-miss, but we were thoroughly disappointed by the place. The only things we spotted were a great Tod's bag (still $900) and a funky Furla ring (still $50) – not exactly the amazing bargains we were hoping for.
PPS) I took the Aeroline bus up from Singapore – a five hour drive but fairly pleasant, especially because they played the dvd of High School Musical 1 on the way up and the way back. I realize that is some people's worst nightmares, but all the six-year-olds on board and I had a great time singing along.
Got more KL tips, shops and suggestions? Please leave 'em in the comments for all to enjoy.
Last updated: December 19, 2007
Please note: These guides are very labor-intensive and are meant to provide shopping suggestions to visitors and locals in each city. Please do not reuse or republish the information or photos without express written consent from the author.