OFF INTO THE WILD WET YONDER How does this...
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.