Despite the trouble recently experienced by one of its nation’s airlines, we touch down in Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur to discover that, over there, things are business as usual.
Story by Antonino Tati
There has been some seriously sad news in connection to Malaysian tourism of late, particularly due to the disappearance (without a trace) of Malaysia Airlines flight 370. Such news is enough to tarnish a brand, be it that particular brand’s fault or not. Suffice to say, it ought not to ruin the reputation of an entire nation. Indeed, Malaysia remains one of the most wonderful places to visit in all of Southeast Asia and for its capital, Kuala Lumpur, well, it’s business as usual.
Since Malaysia shares its borders with Thailand, Indonesia and Brunei, and holds onto maritime ties with Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines, visitors inevitably sense a huge variety in the country’s culture. Indeed, there is an obvious multiculture in just about everything you see or do there – from the arts and entertainment to car culture and cuisine, commerce and sporting successes to religious rituals.
Aside from its ties with the aforementioned nations, there is another reason behind Malaysia’s massive cultural mélange. Kuala Lumpur, happens to be the eighth most visited city in the world, thanks to its convenient positioning on the globe, and is often remarked as the perfect stopover between northern and southern hemispheres. This means KL enjoys booming tourism – 9.2 million visitors at last annual count – with each and every visitor adding to the nation’s cultural diversity.
Of course most visitors to the city have one thing in mind: shopping.
Shopping is a major pastime in Malaysia, not least of all in KL, even for the locals. Malls here offer the perfect blend of designer, high-end and budget shopping buys, while traditional market stalls make up much of the rest of this bustling city.
Two times a year, KL hosts ‘Mega Sales’ – the first being the 1Malaysia Mega Sale Carnival which this year happens around August, and the second being the Malaysia Year End Sale, happening aptly over the entire Christmas season. During these sales, shoppers can expect to find competitive discounts, bargains and promotions – even with the greater designer labels.
Shopping has become such a big deal here that CNN recently took it upon themselves to label KL the fourth best city in the world to spend big in, right behind London, Tokyo and New York.
Not bad for a place that started out a hundred-and-fifty years ago as a humble sea-port. But enough of history; let’s get back to the here and now. Here’s our rundown on the best shopping establishments in KL City.
Starhill would have to be considered the pinnacle of luxury retailing. Or at least an excellent contender. With its well-groomed doormen, subdued lighting, and chill music everywhere you go, this is experiential shopping like no other. And with seven levels of stores to contemplate, you best set aside a good half a day for this shopping-plex.
It appears every luxury brand worth its salt has a spot in Starhill. In one window-shopping session we came across Alexander McQueen, Arpels, Bvlgari, Chopard, Christofle, Dior, Fendi, Sergio Rossi, Van Clef and Valentino – and that was within a mere two hours before morning tea!
Speaking of which, Starhill’s great food hall, aptly called ‘The Feast Village’, is very different to your average mall’s culinary heart. Here, restaurants and takeouts are set up like market food stalls, serving an array of pan-Asian and western-influenced dishes. And let’s just say you’ll need plenty of kilojoules to burn for the rest of your shopping sojourn here.
Location: Jalan Bukit Bintang.
BERJAYA TIMES SQUARE
Forget the Petronas twin towers for a moment. Berjaya Times Square is an impressive twin-tower complex that houses a massive shopping centre and two five-star hotels.
The shopping component is spread over 13 floors and offers a brilliant array of leading labels, food halls and entertainment outlets. Heck, there’s even a theme park complete with rollercoaster in this joint.
Stores include Borders, Converse, Dockers, Esprit, Levi’s, MNG and upmarket labels such as Tag Heuer, Matsuda and Christian Dior. Something for everyone, then.
Location: 1 Jalan Imbi.
Who doesn’t want to find the nearest Zara no matter where they are in the world? Well the answer in KL is here at Lot 10. In fact this place has the best of high-street labels mixed in with local favourites.
Also on site are three stories of H&M, as well as Designers at Debenhams, Henry Holland, Matthew Williamson and Preen. Yes, you guessed correctly, despite Spanish favourite, Zara, this is a place for certified Anglo-maniacs. So if British labels are your thing, best you make Lot 10 your first pit-stop.
Location: 50 Jalan Sultan Ismail.
One of the newest additions to KL’s ‘mallscape’, Fahrenheit 88 opened in 2010 (though confused tourists might think it’s been around since 1988). Nonetheless, the five-storey structure lays claim to the most prime piece of real estate along Jalan Bukit Bintang and has been given a RM100 million revamp since changing ownership and name from the more humble ‘KL Plaza’ (still sometimes referred to this by locals).
This is more of a mid-range shopping centre, aimed at young shoppers concerned more with keeping up with trends, hence labels you’ll find here include G-Shock, New Balance, Skechers, Tissot and highly sought-after Japanese label, UNIQLO.
The architecture of the place is interesting, to say the least, with even a mini Giza, complete with giant Sphinx, one of its key design features.
Often, too, Fahrenheit 88 will go full-on with the colour and themes per special seasonal occasion while mixing it up a little (a giant green bunny at Christmas time, for example). Contemporary and quirky.
Location: Jalan Bukit Bintang.
Located within KL’s famous Petronas Twin Towers, Suria KLCC is the place to head to for your international fashion fix. The shopping centre is renowned as one of the city’s greatest luxury retail emporiums and includes high-end designer labels such as Armani, Bally, Burberry, Chanel, Coach, Dior, DKNY, Emilio Pucci and Ermenegildo Zegna. Notice I only got to the ‘E’s there, so rest assured there’s an entire remainder of the alphabet to go of luxury labels at this popular shopping spot.
As for dining, head to Harrods for the best in English dishes; traditional favourites served up posh such as meat pie and mash, roast beef and veg, even fish fingers given the upscale makeover.
Location: Petronas Towers, KL City.
Located halfway between the city centre and the spectacular Klang Valley, Mid-Valley is home to the usual round of suburban fitness houses and cinemas, but also to some of the better brand names in streetwear including Topshop, Calvin Klein, Mango, Seed and (again) Zara.
You can also access three hotels from this mall – the Boulevard, Cititel Mid-Valley, and The Gardens Hotel and Residence. There are plenty of al fresco dining options, too, for when you want to put those bagsful of goodies down and indulge in a little food and drink.
When Christmas comes – along with the 1Malaysia End Of Year Megasale – you ought to see this place come alive with decoration. Seriously, it’s over the top, bordering on the insane, with even ‘Alice In Wonderland’-type hedge mazes constructed to take up most of the ground floor.
Location: Lingkaran Syed Putra.
TO MARKET, TO MARKET…
If trawling through local markets is more your thing, our suggestions for the best to shop at in KL are Central Market on Petaling Street (for everything from toys to t-shirts), Little India south of the city (for fabulous fabrics), and the many stalls throughout Chinatown which come alive every evening from 6pm.
For more information visit kuala-lumpur.ws.
An ideal spot to unwind after a big day of shopping is at the Sky Bar at Traders Hotel. This freshly rejuvenated venue, perched on the hotel’s 33rd floor, boasts KL city views like no other. Sure, the signature 26m-long pool might be its centrepiece, but it is the cocktails that are the real stars here. Skip the simple Mojito and opt for a Lychee Rose cocktail (vodka, lychee liqueur and rose syrup) or a Mata D’Or mocktail (passionfruit, pomegranate and Red Bull) instead.
Location: Level 33, Traders Hotel, KL City Centre.
WHERE TO STAY
Check in to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Jalan Imbi and be in the heart of KL’s action. The hotel is within minutes walking distance from supermalls such as Berjaya Times Square and Starhill Gallery (in fact, Starhill is right next door).
Porters will swiftly take your luggage and have you escorted to your suite, quicker than you can learn to say ‘efficiency’ in Malaysian.
The Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur offers a relaxed ambience that feels miles away from the hustle and bustle outside. Nightly stays include accommodation, breakfast and complimentary internet access.
For dining, Césars offers a la carte and buffet breakfasts, and for dinner you must try the hotel’s award-winning signature restaurant, Li Yen, which boasts superb Cantonese specialities.
Bookings and enquiries at www.ritzcarlton.com/KualaLumpur. And for special packages keep in touch via Twitter @YTLHotels (Ritz-Carlton, KL).
For information on all things Malaysia, visit www.tourismmalaysia.com.au.