The home to the world famous Petronas Twin Towers began as a tin mining settlement at the confluence of the rivers Gombak and Klang way back in 1857. You could say that this spot is the heart of KL, as the name Kuala Lumpur means “muddy confluence”. Kuala is the point where two rivers join, and lumpur means “mud". What a unique name for a city!
While there are some different opinions about who founded KL, there is no denying that Yap Ah Loy, the third Kapitan China was an influential man and leader in the Chinese community and was largely responsible for the rise of the town into a commercial and mining centre. The city became a shining star and got the attention of the British, who decided to add Malaya to their portfolio of colonies in 1867.
Under British rule, the city was destroyed twice, once by fire and then because of civil war yet still caught the eye of Sir Frank Swetthenham, who played an important role in transforming KL from a rough frontier town to capital city.
Fast forward to 1942, the city was occupied by the Japanese during World War II until 1945, when the country and capital then went back to the hands of the British. For years Malaya fought for independence and could finally say “Merdeka, Merdeka, Merdeka!” on 31 August 1957. That was also the first time the Malaysian flag was flown for the first time at Merdeka Square aka Dataran Merdeka.
Kuala Lumpur became the capital of Malaysia in 1963 and received the city status 1972. Since then it has blossomed as a city, growing into a modern and dynamic place in the 1990’s with shopping malls, residential projects and of course, skyscrapers. Today, KL is a vibrant city that has a mix of modern and traditional elements.
Despite the constant development that happens in the city, there are still landmarks that remind us of the past history. You just need to look around closely to see the years of history in different buildings in good ol’ KL.
But wait, you don’t need to do all the hard work to find KL’s historical spots…just leave it to us lah! Join Traworld’s Exclusive Guided KL Heritage Walk and let a professional guide lead you to see KL in a new light, and have some new experiences. Just put on your walking shoes and comfy attire and follow the guide!
One of the best ways to explore a new city is with a walking tour, where you get to visit landmarks with incredible stories, listen to interesting facts and discover hidden gems. But until you do this fun heritage walk in real time, let’s go on a blog post tour of your next guided walk in KL!
Put on your best active wear, tie your shoelaces and get set for a walk you will remember! And you’ll get a chance to reach the 10k step count on your watch faster too! Your personal guide will meet you in front of Ali, Muthu & Ah Hock, Petaling Street. After a short introduction to the tour ahead, you will be off to your first destination, the Gurdwara Sahib Polis.
While this Gurdwara (Punjabi for temple) looks rather ordinary from the outside, it is loaded with history. This temple was built by the British in 1898 for their Sikh police officers, which was known to make up half of the police force of the Federated Malay States. The blue and white 118-year-old single storey building is a testament to the significance of the Sikh in the police force and is the first stop on the Guided Heritage Trail Walk.
Next stop is the best place to go back to the yesteryears of Petaling Street! Perhaps one of KL’s best hidden gem (but it’s getting more and more attention everyday) Kwai Cai Hong, meaning “little ghost lane” got its name from the children who used to play there in the back lanes.
The restored laneway of 10 pre-war shophouses with cool artistic murals that showcases its history is now packed with cool bars and old-school and fusion food spots. A great place to take super Insta-worthy pics too!
Then it’s off to Jalan Panggong, one of the oldest streets in KL. Originally called Theatre Street, it is said to be named after a Chinese theatre built by wealthy merchant Cheow Ah Yeok, a close friend of Kapitan China Yap Ah Loy. The road name was changed to Jalan Panggong in the early 1960’s, according to Kuala Lumpur Street Names: A Guide to Their Meanings and Histories. You’ll get that old KL vibe here and the chance to take some cool photos.
Time for a bit of culture. One of the most outstanding Chinese temples in KL, the Guan Di Temple (also known as Kuan Ti temple) is a Taoist temple on Jalan Tun H.S. Lee. One of the highlights of the temple is the 59kg copper Guan Dao, a Chinese pole weapon. Apparently, many visit the temple as they believe the sword possesses a special power to bless and protect person if he or she touches or lifts it. Others believe it has an inner force that can turn a person’s luck around. This writer is currently waiting for good luck to come to me after holding on to this extra special sword!
Next on the list is the oldest Taoist temple in KL, Sin Sze Si Ya Temple, constructed in 1864. The temple honours two deities, Si Sze and Sin Sze Ya and was founded by the Kapitan Yap Ah Loy himself. Look a little closer and you will also see his shrine sitting among the gods! When you’re there, don’t forget to circle under the main altar three times so that you’ll get good fortune. Check out the ancient wooden chair encased in a glass box that was used to carry the statues of deities at religious celebrations and processions.
Artsy street time! Want to know Yap Ah Loy a little better? Here’s the spot to do just that! Yap Ah Loy Street Mural is where you can find out his story and contributions to the city and country through an artistic mural. You can’t go to this lane without catching the cool vibes in the air.
Then it’s time to find out more about this well-known building. Named after the famous Chinese businessman Wong Loke Yew (sounds familiar? Maybe it’s because he also has a Jalan named after him?), the current Loke Yew Building replaced the original structure, which is believed to be an extension of a departmental store built in 1905. Another interesting fact: the late Loke Yew was also the founding father of the well-known Victoria Institution. Find out more interesting stories when you get to this stop!
You may know River of Life as a government project to clean up waterways in the city. But what’s more interesting is the convergence point of two rivers: the Klang River and the Gombak River, which was the centre of KL back in the days. The spot is where Masjid Jamek Sultan Abdul Samad, the oldest mosque in KL is located. Designed by Arthur Benison Hubback, it opened its doors to the public in 1909. Pretty cool!
Malaysia’s own Independence Square has to be on the list for sure! After all, it is the historical place where the Union Flag was lowered and the Malayan flag was raised for the very first time at the stroke of midnight of August 31,1957. From then on, it has been the venue for the annual Merdeka Parade. KL’s best known landmark, you get the historical vibe thanks to other pre-Merdeka structures such as Sultan Abdul Samad building, Royal Selangor Club and St. Mary’s church. A popular spot for tourists, Dataran Merdeka is also a good place for photos and selfies.
Last on the list is the famous Central Market, the place to buy local handicrafts, souvenirs and other collectables. Although it has changed a little since pre-Covid days, it is still an important spot in KL City. Starting off as a wet market in 1888, over time it was transformed into the retail hub for tourists, as well as art and culture lovers.After the lovely walking tour, you’ll walk back to Ali, Muthu & Ah Hock where you can say bye to your guide and fellow walkers and head off into the day or indulge in a typical Malaysian meal after that inspiring walk.
While you may know some of the stops on the heritage trail, there’s more stories to know about each one of them. Find out which ones you know and discover something new with Traworld’s Exclusive Heritage Trail Walk, available on Traworld.com from RM99.00!