Exploring a city on your own can be intimidating especially if you are new to the city or still feeling disoriented after a long flight. Having to deal with a foreign environment of different landscape, sounds, languages and climate, and to decide what to see within a short period of time can be overwhelming. Therefore, a walking tour is the best way to have an introduction to a city.
I have been a fan of walking tours ever since I went for heritage walking tours in Mumbai and Kolkata. There are guided walking tours available in Kuala Lumpur (KL) but majority are paid tours. Fortunately, Kuala Lumpur City Hall has been organising free walking tours in KL for tourists, and here are 2 free guided walks that I had signed up for in January and February this year:
#1 Dataran Merdeka Heritage Guided Walk
The Dataran Merdeka Heritage Guided Walk is about the history of KL – how KL began and how life was in KL during the colonial British rule.
The two-and-a-half hours guided walk begins at Kuala Lumpur City Gallery which was formerly the Government Printing Office during the British administration. It is at the gallery where the guide shares about how KL came into existence. The name ‘Kuala Lumpur’ means ‘muddy confluence’ of two rivers, Gombak and Klang, and it was these rivers in which tin was discovered and that attracted tin miners and prospectors from China. By mid-19th century, KL grew from a small jungle settlement into a frontier town often riddled with inter-gang rivalry among tin miners to gain control of tin production in KL.
Rivalries were later subdued when the town was placed under the control of the third kapitan, Yap Ah Loy. Yap was instrumental in the early modernisation of KL in the late 19th century – the jungle was cleared, law and order were established, and brick and stone buildings were constructed – by which time, more settlements were formed on the east side of Klang River (the Chinese in Chinatown and Market Square, the Malays and Indians in Java Street), and the British administrators moved their living and office quarters to the west side of the river.
The guided walk continues to take tourists through sites which centre on Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square), the central point of British administration prior to independence. And funny stories shared as well – the hill located behind KL City Gallery was once called Bluff Road where the police headquarters was (I guess you can’t bluff at the police station eh? :-)). Bluff Road is now called Jalan Bukit Aman which is coincidentally or not, the present location of KL Police HQ.
In this tour, tourists will not miss one of our historical landmarks in KL – the Sultan Abdul Samad Building – the first Mughal-style architecture in Malaysia which the British architect, A.C. Norman, had adopted in many of his designs during his tenure with the Public Works Department in India and Africa.
Sultan Abdul Samad Building used to house several government departments during the British rule, and the former High Court and Supreme Court of Malaysia. Opposite the building is the Padang or Dataran Merdeka that was once a cricket ground, fronting the Royal Selangor Club, a former exclusive whites-only gentleman’s club built with Tudor-style architecture in early 20th century. It was at Dataran Merdeka that the Union Jack flag was lowered and the Malaysian flag was hoisted for the first time at midnight on 31 August 1957.
Guided Walk Info:
Starting Point: KL City Gallery
Time: 9.00am – 11.30am
Days: Monday, Wednesday, Saturday
#2 Jalan-Jalan @ Kampung Baru Cultural Guided Walk
Jalan-Jalan @Kampung Baru is a two-and-a-half hours guided walk for tourists to discover and explore the cradle of Malay culture in a village which is situated right in the heart of modern Kuala Lumpur. The route takes tourists through the neighbourhood sights: traditional wooden houses and shops, food venues and markets that provide an insight into their way of life, popular Malay dishes, local foods and fruits.
“Jalan-Jalan” means walking and “Kampung Baru” means “new village”. Kampung Baru was formed in 1899 as a settlement of Malay farmers in KL. The enclave consisted of 7 rustic villages which were later amalgamated and gazetted as a Malay agricultural settlement by the colonial British Administrators in 1900 to attract rural Malays to the city and, by the same token, to allow the Malays to retain their village lifestyle within the city.
The Malays who live in Kampung Baru have been part of its community for generations. They maintain their heritage and traditions through their Malay wooden houses, mosques, street stalls and shops such as traditional tailors, barbers, cobblers and songkok (headgear) shops, all of which showcase Kampung Baru as a place of authentic Malay culture and identity.
The guided walk begins at the Sultan Suleiman Club, a social club that was formed in 1901 as a meeting place and gatherings for the newly settled residents of Kampung Baru. The tour continues to a former headmaster’s house – a traditional Malay house raised on stone pillars and concrete balustrade steps. The third generation of the headmaster’s family currently lives in the house.
Throughout the guided walk, tourists will get to taste a diverse mix of Malay food, cakes and snacks on Jalan Raja Muda Musa, a lively street of food courts, restaurants and stalls. Towards the end of the tour at the border of Kampung Baru and another enclave, Chow Kit, tourists will experience the vibrant evening street bazaar where hawkers sell fresh produce of vegetables and fruits.
In addition, true to Malaysian multi-ethnic identity, situated at the edge of Kampung Baru is Gurdwara Tatt Khalsa, a place of worship and religious school for the Sikh community in KL. The Sikh temple was formed in 1922 and its current site of 2 acres of land was given by the former British Administration, making it the largest Sikh temple in South-East Asia. Visitors of all faiths are welcomed to enjoy free vegetarian lunch at the Gurdwara on Sundays.
The interesting facet about this guided walk is that, in spite of its urban location, Kampung Baru has a “village” feel to it for it still maintains a strong sense of history, heritage, culture and customs. However, one is uncertain of the future of Kampung Baru for modernity is encroaching upon this neighbourhood, its residents struggling to strike a balance between maintaining their unique heritage and moving forward with urban development that is surrounding them. An article from The Guardian recently highlighted this conundrum, you can read it here.
Guided Walk info:
StartingPoint: Kelab Sultan Suleiman, Jalan Dewan Sulaiman, Kampung Baru.
Time: 4.30pm – 7.00pm
Days: Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday.
#3 Self-Guided Walking Tour
For those who do not wish to follow a guided tour (even though it’s free), there is a third way to explore KL city, that is, a self-guided walking tour. You could wander around the city on your own to see the main sights or you could be your own personal guide by downloading GPSmyCity app which has 25 self-guided walking tours ranging from museums and galleries, architecture, religious places, parks and gardens and night scene.
Each walk provides a route map guiding you to famous attractions and sights, allowing you to explore at your own pace with mobile phone or tablet at a minimal cost, a fraction of the cost that you would normally pay for a guided tour.
I have tried the app myself last year – the ‘Kuala Lumpur Architecture Tour’ and though I didn’t follow the map to a tee, I enjoyed discovering my own city, covering 7kms over a period of 2 hours. These self-guided walks of KL can be found in iOS and Android apps “Kuala Lumpur Map and Walks on iTunes and Google Play respectively.
The cool thing about GPSmyCity app is that they have travel articles that you can easily download on to your mobile device for free after which you can read them anytime, anywhere without data plan or Wi-Fi. To convert these travel articles into a GPS-guided article in which GPS coordinates are embedded into the map of the route, you can upgrade for only US$1. Still, it is way much cheaper than a paid guided tour.
My article on Central Market and Chinatown is a GPS-guided article. To download and upgrade into a GPS-guided article, you may click here.
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