Being a tourist in my own city

Kampung Bahru
Kampung Bahru

You can’t expect to settle-in in a new location if you don’t do the things tourists do. With four years here, and already being a third of the way through, I am acutely aware that we simply cannot put off making the effort to see and do everything on offer both in KL and Malaysia any longer.

Every time visitors come to stay we try to show them some of the best bits and it is easy to tread the same old routes with them all, which, while fun, also means that it can be hard to make ourselves do even more touristy things once the visitors have gone home.

One of the things that has been on our list for over year is to book the guided walk through Brickfields, also known as Little India. It takes place once a week, on a Saturday and is free of charge.  But we haven’t got round to it yet.

Then, this week, Anne, who has been here six months, invited me to join her on a walk not of Brickfields, but of Kampung Bahru. This too had been on the list for a while but all I knew was that it was a rural village slap bang in the middle of the city. I had also heard they had great food there, so there had been even more reason to get off our behinds and do it. Only we hadn’t got round to it. It took a nudge from Anne for it to happen.

And so, yesterday, as storm clouds gathered, we joined a group of about 20 tourists on the one kilometre walking tour of the area. Our guide, Jane, was enthusiasm personified and kept up a fascinating commentary throughout the two and a half our tour.

At the start of the last century colonial British administrators, together with the support of Sultan Suleiman, decided to set aside an area of 230 acres in order to build a community. The community would have special areas for recreation, others for schools, residence and markets. People were invited to move to Kampong Bahru from all over Malaya and even Sumatra. However, they had to fulfil some criteria: that they were practising Muslims, spoke Bahasa and were married. Those who came were each given between half and two acres on which they could build a house. Even though the area covers less than a kilometre, it was divided up into seven smaller villages each with its own headman. Signs are erected outside the homes of the headman, together with their phone numbers, inviting you to call them any time. Today, Kampung Bahru is home to just over 3,000 people.

A headman's house
A headman’s house

Just fifteen minutes’ walk from Chow Kit station and you find yourself among wooden colonial buildings built on concrete stilts. Chickens and cats roam and in many places the lanes are still made of dirt.

It makes sense that each ethnic group built their homes according to their own traditional practices and brought not only their own dialects but also the skills and habits. Many houses, passed down from generation to generation, have been maintained, others are ruined. Some were knocked down so the owners could build a shop, cafe or open a car park, but all stay in the family. Nevertheless, there are still mango, dragonfruit, banana and other fruit trees and many yards are shady from foliage. For me, the best thing about Kampung Bahru is the food!


There is a street, called Jalan Raja Muda Musa, on the edge of the community and from which the Petronas Twin Towers can be seen perfectly in the distance. Here it is busy day and evening with food outlets. You can find every kind of cuisine from peninsula Malaysia here – nasi lemak, grilled fish, buffets, drinks, fried bananas, noodles, soup, everything, even sweets and desserts. There is a fruit stall, a handmake batik wholesaler and a flip-flop shop. Most eateries are laid out help-yourself or food court style, which allows the visitor to sample dishes from more than one outlet. The aroma was tantalising and many of our group paused for a few seconds to make purchases. We, being lucky enough to live here, will definitely be back.

Behind the Kelantan food stall
Behind the Kelantan food stall
Kelantan sweetmeats
Kelantan sweetmeats

Towards the end of the trip we learned the sad news that some parts of the village are officially on commercial land and are set to be redeveloped. Hurry, if you want to see this amazing community before it changes. In addition, the Brickfields tour will finish this month after five years. Of course, I have already emailed to reserve us places.


If you want to do one of the guided walks you need to visit or call 03-2698 0332

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