Spreading out southeast from Central Market, Chinatown was KL’s original commercial kernel, dating from the arrival of the first traders in the 1860s. Bordered by Jalan Sultan to the east, Jalan Tun Perak to the north and Jalan Maharajalela to the south, the area had reached its current extent by the late nineteenth century, with southern Chinese shophouses, coffee shops and temples springing up along narrow streets such as Jalan Tun H.S. Lee and Jalan Petaling. Though the shophouses today are fairly workaday, it is encouraging that many period buildings are being refurbished despite recurrent threats of redevelopment; in 2011, public outcry saved a row of old shophouses on Jalan Sultan from demolition during construction of the ongoing Klang Valley railway.
Although Chinatown scores more on atmosphere than essential sights, it’s a hub for budget accommodation, and holds a wealth of inexpensive places to shop and eat, so you’ll probably spend some time here.
East off the lower end of Jalan TAR, Little India is a commercial centre for KL’s Indian community, though these days it is being eclipsed by Brickfields. Only a few steps north from the Masjid Jamek LRT station, Jalan Melayu holds Indian stores, some selling excellent burfi and other sweet confections; its name derives from the former Malay community here. Approaching Jalan Masjid India, you encounter a popular covered market, smaller but otherwise similar to Chinatown’s Jalan Petaling. Further up is Masjid India itself, an Indian-influenced affair dating from the 1960s and tiled in cream and brown.
A few minutes further along the street, you come to a little square, to the right (east) of which you’ll find plenty of kedai kopis and, come evening, street vendors selling food; turn off to the left to reach Lorong Tuanku Abdul Rahman, whose northern end is dominated by a night market, busiest at weekends. Mainly Malay-run, the stalls sell both food and eclectic bits and pieces, from T-shirts to trinkets. Just past here, Madras and Semua are two huge haberdasheries, packed to their roofs with Indian textiles.