Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur is a historic part of the city and has always been a vibrant district for as long as I can remember. Growing up in Kuala Lumpur, my school was literally a stone’s throw from Chinatown so I spent quite a bit of time there after school hours, going to the Rex cinema with my friends or eating at one of the many street stalls. On a recent trip to K.L., my sister told me of the new attractions in Chinatown (map), including a newly-restored street, the myriad of atmospheric speakeasies and new restaurants, so I knew I had to check it out. Petaling Street, with its famous street market, lies in the heart of Chinatown and is one of the recommended things to do in Kuala Lumpur, but on this visit, I decided to skip the market but instead visit the new attractions nearby.

Petaling Street market

I discovered a very cool back alley with gorgeous murals, a repurposed cinema, some excellent cafés and a rooftop bar with stunning views of the Kuala Lumpur skyline. Scroll down to read more about my stroll around Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown.

My first stop was RexKL, an arts and culture centre with a cool bookstore, exhibition spaces and various cafés. I have fond memories of Rex as it was a cinema I frequently visited as a child/teenager. I’m really glad that the cinema was repurposed, maintaining much of the original structure and interior.

what to see in chinatown kl
Entrance to RexKL
Cool artwork inside RexKL.

The highlight is undoubtedly the BookXcess bookstore, which is absolutely photoworthy! RexKL promises to be another star attraction in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown.

BookXcess at RexKL

Visiting Kwai Chai Hong

Next up was Kwai Chai Hong or ‘Little Demon lane’. This back alley, along with the rows of heritage buildings on both sides, has been beautifully restored and now features gorgeous street art by local artists depicting life in Chinatown in the 1960’s. Situated a short walk from the southern end of the Petaling Street market (map) – the entrance to this back alley can be found near Jalan Balai Polis or you can walk through one of the cafés along Jalan Petaling such as Bubble Bee Café or Da Bao to access the alley. The street art in Kwai Chai Hong alone makes a visit to this back alley more than worthwhile!

Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown lies at the foot of the Merdeka 118 tower. At 679m, it’s the world’s 2nd tallest building.
Another view of Merdeka118.
The entrance to Kwai Chai Hong just off Jalan Balai Polis.
Kwai Chai Hong or ‘Little Demon lane’ is a hidden alley packed with beautiful murals and cafés.

Kwai Chai Hong street art

Two birds at the entrance to Kwai Chai Hong.
A mural in Kwai Chai Hong depicting kids playing in the street.
One of the many murals in Kwan Chai Hong.
A mural depicting a street scene from the 1960’s.
There’s even a barber’s chair you can sit in and pose with the mural. 🙂
The ‘Prostitute’.
The musician.

The nostalgic murals in Kwai Chai Hong sure reminded me of my childhood in Malaysia!

There are numerous cafés which have their main entrances on Jalan Petaling whilst their back doors open out into the Kwai Chai Hong alley. I decided to pop into Da Bao, which specialises in bao (steamed buns with a savoury filling). The bao were absolutely delicious! A must-try is the pork bun, a signature recipe.

The main entrance of Da Bao facing Jalan Petaling (Petaling Street).
Interior of Da Bao.
The delicious pork bao.
After some bao, I popped into Urban Artisan ice-creams a few doors down for their durian ice-cream (which was absolutely incredible!).
The Musang King durian ice-cream is just as rich and indulgent as the fruit itself!

The bars and speakeasies

It’s a joy to walk around the streets and lanes of Chinatown and discover the many hidden bars or speakeasies – an adventure in itself to find them! In the Kwai Chai Hong, these bars are located on the first floor of some of the shophouses or through partially hidden doorways. Try to find some of these bars such as Da Bao (an easy one to find!), Concubine, PS150 (one of the first speakeasies in the neighbourhood), The Deceased (with an extraordinary horror house theme!) and Shuang Xi.

Join a guided KL Chinatown street art and food/speakeasy tour!

The Da Bao bar is located on the first floor above the restaurant.
Concubine bar (don’t miss the bar/terrace on the first floor).
Cool art at Concubine
PS150 is a dark, labyrinth-like speakeasy behind a stationary store in Jalan Petaling.

A bar with a VIEW!

I ended my stroll at the nearby Four Points by Sheraton Hotel as I heard of its ‘rooftop bar’ with great views of the Kuala Lumpur skyline. Located on the 7th floor, the JANN Bar isn’t a rooftop bar per sé but it does have terrific views!

The JANN Bar.
The JANN Bar has panoramic views of Chinatown and the Kuala Lumpur skyline.
I stayed there till after the sunset to see the city lights.
From the bar, we also had a great view of the evening light show of the KL Tower.

Dinner at Chocha

From JANN, I crossed the road to have dinner at Chocha, a fusion restaurant in a historic townhouse. The food was great and I appreciated the extensive wine list. But most of all, the interior, especially the lovely courtyard, and the bar upstairs, were absolutely wonderful!


Before I left Chinatown, I dropped by in Kwai Chai Hong to see it by night, and I spotted another beautiful mural around the corner.

kl chinatown night
Kwai Chai Hong at night
I absolutely loved this mural on the side of a heritage building.

It sure was a treat to visit Chinatown and see the new developments in the district. If you’re visiting Kuala Lumpur, you definitely do not want to miss Chinatown!

Read other Velvet Escape posts of Kuala Lumpur:

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