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One Night Out in Kuala Lumpur

As with most major Southeast Asian cities, it’s not difficult to stumble across a shopping mall, especially a very big, very cold, and very busy one. Whether you’re in Manila, Jakarta, Singapore, or Kuala Lumpur (KL), there’s no shortage of malls that range (sometimes widely) from 3 stars to 5 stars, so you’ll definitely have no problem finding something to take back home for that special someone. But finding that perfect “after meetings” drinking spot? That sometimes takes a little more effort. Moreover, even if with a few locals they never quite seem to get it right when suggesting a decent spot. So allow me to introduce an area where you can unwind with a few cold beers, or temperate glasses of wine, before heading back to your hotel and readying for the next day’s round of meetings or that quick dash to the airport.

If there’s one area in KL that has it all—restaurants, pubs, cafes, dance clubs, you name it—it’s the well-publicized Changkat Bukit Bintang. This area is not new, nor is it anyone’s “best-kept secret.” Practically every guidebook and travel site mentions it, but none seem to put the right amount of emphasis on this area for traveling business people, or anyone for that matter. It’s an area that literally has it all. And from my years of experience in KL, is the place to be if you have only one or two nights. Yes, the infamous Beach Club is always highly touted as the place, but the Beach Club is definitely not for everyone, especially if you’re female or not into the pay-to-play scene that is so prevalent throughout Southeast Asia.

“Changkat,” as it’s commonly referred, is situated just below Bintang Walk and Jalan Alor. The area is tightly situated and within easy walking distance from many hotels and the well-known Pavilion shopping mall. Bintang Walk offers many good Arabian-styled restaurants and cafes, as well as a few less-than-desirable international restaurants, whereas Jalan Alor is the tourist hawker street epicenter of KL, offering up “cheap” (assuming you bargain well) local Chinese cuisines.

The main area of Changkat is small—just a short city block—but it’s kept relatively clean and more and more new businesses seem to pop up every month, so the area seems to be expanding in all directions. The buildings are pre-war colonial and have been refurbished to accommodate the modern establishments that now occupy them. I personally love the buildings, they look great night or day, and the owners have put some creativity into them that would rival any hipster joint in Brooklyn, New York, or Austin, Texas.

Key takeaways here are variety, proximity, and safety. Although safety can be “questionable” after the early-risers have all gone home for the night and only the hardcore seem to have prevailed, it is no different than any other city in the world after midnight. Common street smarts are best dusted off and put to use.

So whether you’re on business, in transit to one of Malaysia’s beautiful islands, or exclusively visiting KL, Changkat is not only suggested, but is the preferred night spot to eat, drink, and socialize while here.

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These two streets are basically the X and the Y of the neighborhood. Most of the bars and restaurants are along Changkat Bukit Bintang, but others, as well as traditional Thai massage shops and cafes, run along Tengkat Tong Shin.

 

A personal favorite, Taps Beer Bar sits directly behind Changkat Bukit Bintang off of Jalan Nagasari. They serve craft beer from around the globe: Belgium, Scotland, Australia, Japan, and even several U.S. brands. The beers carried are always rotating, so part of the bar’s appeal is that you never know what will be on offer when you stop by. In a city filled with places that serve only Tiger or Carlsberg, Taps Beer Bar is an extremely welcomed establishment for beer enthusiasts.

 

The outside of Taps Beer Bar at night.

Another plus for this place is the friendly staff, as they are very outgoing and will make you feel right at home. If you do stop by, try the Beef Rendang pizza, a uniquely Malaysian must-try that goes nice with a refreshing wheat beer.

 

Some interesting places to see and enjoy throughout the area.

 

A good variety of restaurants to choose from in Changkat—Vietnamese, Italian, Arabian, Mexican, Japanese, and of course Malaysian. You name it, they’ve probably got it here.

 

Par for the course in Malaysia, hawker-type food centers also abound for those wanting some cheaper local favorites. Hit one before drinking and then a different one after.

 

There’s plenty of outdoor seating, which is great on a beautiful evening even if the street is a little bit busy and noisy.

 

Some establishments open relatively early in the afternoon, while others are open all day, so visit whenever your want or when your schedule permits.

 

For the young, wild, free, and budget-seeking backpacker, there are plenty of hostels, dorms, and boutique hotels for you to choose from for a night or two before embarking on to your next destination.

 

As night begins to soak in the day, Changkat comes alive. It’s best to get here early if you want a seat outside.

  • Vinnie Salvatore

    Been there last year. Great Italian restaurant right on the main drag.

  • Tetsuya Miyamoto

    Saving money is essential, especially in the times we live in.

  • Saki

    I love the beer shot!

  • curtis

    great read. thanks! – embarrassingly enough i’ve yet to make it out to kl. bookmarking this for future reference.

  • Sarah

    It looks lovely. I will visit in Aug. I hope the weather is agreeable.

  • kissme78

    Not the safest place to be after midnight. No cops, drunks, and motorcycle robbers prowling the streets.

  • Sean

    i prefer singapore, more variety and better service

  • OPM

    The ever changing face of KL. Haven’t been since 1999. Heard it’s grown up. Did they clean the air up? Worst air quality in asia, maybe even wors than china.