Tuesday, 24 June 2014

A (Child Friendly) Morning In China Town, KL

The first time I went to China Town I dragged my little boy around in circles for a good hour.  The second time we did figures of eight.  The third time I made the effort to actually study a map properly and discovered that while getting lost is almost par for the course, with a little forward planning China Town is one of the most exciting spots to explore here in KL.    It's not necessarily the easiest destination in this great city but don't let that put you off - there's something for everyone here.

So I've done the grind work for you and thought I'd share an itinerary for a top morning or afternoon that will showcase a few of the area's charms.

Getting there

Traffic in China Town is something else.  The streets heave with a throng of coaches, motorbikes, Myvis and pedestrians.  I have neither the mettle nor the patience to drive there (though plenty do) and always take the LRT.  The nearest LRT station is Pasar Seni, just a few short stops away from KLCC.  It costs peanuts to travel and the transport is clean and efficient.

Take note though that whilst in theory it should be possible to wheel a stroller out of the station, escalators and lifts aren't always reliable.  That said, I've never had problems adopting a helpless look and finding a kind stranger to help me carry my stroller down stairs when needed.

You can also take an easy taxi journey to China Town but bear in mind that traffic can be variable and taxis hard to flag down in busy periods.

The streets around China Town, however, are hardly ideal for pushing prams and strollers.  You can just about do it if you really want to, but if you aren't a fan of pumping iron you might want to consider using a lightweight baby carrier rather than four wheels.  Just build in plenty of pit stops to avoid over heating.

Sri Maha Mariamman

China Town boasts numerous temples.  In order to avoid the all-too-real 'temple fatigue' phenomenon, I've selected two of my favourites for this itinerary.  Start early while the children are fresh and walk to Jalan Tun HS Lee to visit KL's most important Hindu temple, Sri Maha Mariamman.  You can't miss it - the five tiered tower at the front is a bit of a China Town landmark.  Children will love the vibrant colours of the various deities and friezes decorating the building and those who hanker after the exotic will love the sensation of stepping into another world here.  If you're lucky the temple with be abuzz with the sound of music accompanying prayer, if not, you'll enjoy just walking around the impressive structure.  You'll need to take off your shoes before entering.

Peter Hoe Beyond

It might seem early in the day, but given KL's heat you've probably already earned yourself a little stop gap.  It's time to walk over to Peter Hoe Beyond.  This gorgeous shop and cafe is a hidden retreat from heat, sweat and frizzy hair.  Tucked away on the second floor of Lee Rubber Building at 145 Jalan Tun HS Lee the shop stocks beautiful homewares and souvenirs, with embroidered cushions, silver tableware and decorative lamps that are a world away from some of the mass produced trinkets you'll find elsewhere in China Town.  Best of all, the little cafe serves up delicious cakes.  You may find yourself needing to use this as a bit of an incentive for good behaviour - the shop is saturated with goods, especially breakables, and you'll want to hold tightly onto little hands as you wander around.

Sze Ya Temple

Getting yet another 'average lot'
Next stroll to this little Taoist temple at 14A Lebuh Pudu.  The entrance is rather nondescript but don't be deterred.  Built in 1864 the temple houses a main hall and two side halls in honour of two deities who died in battle.  All are welcome to wander around the alters and see the statues of the deities.  If you're feeling brave you can then ask one of the attendants to take you to the side hall to discover your fortune.  They will show you how to shuffle a basket containing numbered sticks until one drops out.  The number corresponds to a fortune written on a small piece of paper and you'll be shown an English translation in a well-thumbed book in the main hall.  Be warned:  I've done this three times now and got one 'bad lot' and two 'average lots'.  So far I haven't been told I'll soon be a millionaire or a world-famous blog writer...but perhaps you'll have better luck than me.

Central Markets

Lastly, cross over to the iconic Central Markets.  I love this beautiful art deco building because it has almost everything I'm after at this point in the day.  Air con - check.  Handicrafts, souvenirs and art - check.  Food - check.  We love to meander around some of the many stores and the art enclave at the back then head upstairs to the tasty Ginger Thai restaurant for lunch when little feet start to tire.  (Of course, there are plenty of Chinese options nearby if you prefer cuisine more in keeping with the area).  My real reason for coming here though?  Taking my guests to try one of my 'non-negotiable' KL experiences:  a fish spa.  For RM5 a pop, you can submerge your feet into a communal tank while little fish nip away at dead skin.  Let's be honest here - no one really walks away with baby soft feet, but you'll be dead proud of yourself for going through with it (or satisfyingly tired out after belly laughing at your companions enduring the process).

All in all I think that's plenty for a family introduction to China Town.  Of course, you could do countless other things.  One of China Town's biggest tourist attractions is the Petaling Street markets.  These perk up at night time, when traders emerge with their fake designer bags, knock-off watches and 'best quality' DVDs.  If a slightly wonky Prado purse is the closest you're ever going to get to owning a designer piece you might want to check it out.  But bear in mind that it gets pretty crowded and can be quite overwhelming.  I've been a number of times but never taken my children.

You can use the following interactive map to plot your trip.  Of course, sometimes getting lost is part of the fun so don't let me know stop you if you choose to walk in circles or figures of eight too.

Happy exploring!

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