Kuala Lumpur: Shopping

From giant shopping malls big enough for their own weather systems to tiny market stalls in Chinatown, opportunities to shop in Kuala Lumpur are as available as air. You can buy fancy-name designer handbags at hundreds of dollars in the same mall that sells pirate DVDs for US$3 a piece two floors down. The only problem is deciding where to start, plus of course paying for everything.

But first, a word about credit cards. We were advised by Folks Who Know to be very cautious about using credit cards in anything less than a well-known store. Check receipts carefully, and keep copies of everything until the bills are settled. Following these rules, we had no trouble in Kuala Lumpur.

Suria KLCC

One mall you are sure to encounter is the giant Suria Shopping complex, located at the base of what was/might still be the world's tallest buildings, the Petronas Towers. There are supposedly some 300 stores here, but that number seems low. I seriously think that workers were building additional stores as we walked down the mall, in a Potemkin-village like attempt to see that we never really reached the end of the mall.

There are both big name department stores (try Isetan, a Japanese store) and smaller shops (three toys stores plus one more devoted strictly to R/C toys), plus restaurants, fast food places and more and more and more and more. The complex is easy to reach by subway or taxi.

Mid Valley MegaMall

An even bigger mall is the MegaMall. This is supposedly the largest mall is Asia, and likely anywhere else. It is just outside the central city area, easy to reach by subway (and then a free shuttle bus from the station, Bangsar) or taxi. Every known form of retailing is available inside. Highlights include French hypermart Carrefoure in the basement, Japanese retailer Jusco, and a tidy food court on like the second floor.

Your kids will enjoy a two-story pet shop full of snakes, birds and excellent fish, as well as a well-stocked hobby shop called Miniature Hobbies on the top floor. Right next to the hobby shop is a for-fee indoor kids play land called Megakidz, featuring one of those crawl around inside Habitrails for kids. There is also, inevitably, a Toys ‘r Us at the mall.

They have a web site if you want to learn more. There is even a special section just on the mall's feng shui.

Times Square

Back in town, one of KL's newer malls, Times Square, is a little bit disappointing. Reflecting perhaps a glut of retail, there are a few empty shops and a lack of well, focus, maybe. Times Square does boast a bowling alley, indoor roller coaster, video arcade the size of Texas and more than a few pirate DVD sellers if you are into that sort of thing.

IMBI Plaza, et al

If you are into that sort of thing, not too far away from Times Square is perhaps where you want to be, at IMBI Plaza and its neighbors Low Yat Plaza and Sungwei Plaza. Between these three huge indoor markets, you should be able to find nearly any piece of computer software, CD or DVD ever made, at least those made in the past two years or so (don't expect to fill out your Frank Capra collection here or buy French language art films, however). Prices are very negotiable, both in terms of actual price and in getting one disk free if you buy ten from the same guy.

Careful with DVDs- as you may know, they are regionally encoded so that a DVD made for use in southern Asia will not play in your DVD deck in Kansas. This is designed to prevent piracy. The pirates, however, usually will sell you a “DVD Region 9” which plays in all regions, so be sure to ask if this is your interest. A close friend who bought some told me that a few disks seemed to have been recorded by a camera from a movie theatre audience, but most stuff worked just fine once back home. Be aware that bringing these things across international borders is a crime and you can be subject to search, seizure and criminal penalties at Customs stops.

Central Market

Located right in the middle of Kuala Lumpur, and a short taxi ride from Chinatown, the only real problem with Central market is that it is often oversold. What it is advertised as is a one-stop journey into all things Malay, with ancient artisans whacking out handicraft before your eyes.

What it is is a decent enclosed mall with a number of interesting shops selling handicrafts and some probably real antiques, along with crafts from nearby Asian nations. Some of the stuff is junky trinkets, but mixed in are some interesting pieces and well-made things you will consider buying.

Of course, if you need junky trinkets as cheap things to bring home to the people feeding your cat, this is the place. We especially found some nice prints by local artists of Malaysia countryside scenes for a few dollars a piece.

Bargaining is allowed, if in a mild, low-key way compared to Chinatown, and browsing is encouraged. There are toilets and a decent if unspectacular food court, and the area right around the market is quite pleasant and colorful, as pictured.

Go with the right set of expectations and the Central Market is worth a visit.

Chinatown

Last on our shopping food chain is the night market in Chinatown, which actually kicks off around dinner time on Petaling Street. Any taxi driver knows where to go. The market is fun if you have never been to this sort of place, but otherwise is a bit toady and run down compared to night markets in other Asian areas.

You can buy fruits and noodles cheaply, and there are all the fake watches, cheap T-shirts and fake DVDs you could possibly want. Prices on all of the above were the same or more expensive than those charged elsewhere in Kuala Lumpur, and we found the bargaining to be a bit mean spirited, as if the vendor was angry that we didn't pay the asked for price. The asked for prices, by the way, were about 50% higher at first than the final price in Chinatown, whereas at the other places bargaining was encouraged within Kuala Lumpur the opening price was not as dramatic. We are told that Chinatown also has its share of pick pocketing, though we experienced no difficulties.

User Feedback

Directly above the subway station to KLCC is “Avenue K”, another shopping mall.

Mid Valley is easily accessible by the commuter train. Take the KTM to “Mid Valley”.

The “IMBI Plaza et al” has a name. “Bintang Walk”.

Chinatown stalls are more numerous during the weekends.

Lee

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