Words & Photos: Nadiah Aziz
As a cycling city, Kuala Lumpur still has a long way to go. The Southwest Dedicated Bicycle Highway has been undergoing upgrades for years and remains unridable even now, and you've already outgrown the KL Car Free bi-monthly events. If you like discovering hidden spots in the city, the best option is to find new haunts along your local rides.
Beyond the 9am deadline when the roads are reopened to motorised vehicles, you can still cycle in the city or head to the other areas in the vicinity of Dataran Merdeka. Either way, it is evident, that the general pedal-powered community, myself included, will eventually seek out greener pastures, so to speak.
But we don’t have three-day weekends all the time, and the local neighbourhood is simply more accessible. So is it necessary to leave the concrete jungle to get a change of scenery? Many cyclists in KL have already discovered that this is obviously not the case.
Malaysia is a developing nation, and thankfully many heritage areas still exist in our fair capital, nestled quietly in between the shiny skyscrapers of the 21st century, often hiding in plain sight. While many have been bulldozed and replaced with the more profitable towering commercial structures, there are still locations holding out against the advance of modernity. It is this exact characteristic that makes the Greater Klang Valley area a superb place for an exploration ride (or a quick cycling fix).
For a relatively short Saturday night jaunt, we chose to stay within the boundaries of KL itself. The planned route would start at the KL bike lane, leaving the relative safety of the protected path to take us through several spots in the city, both the more well known and not so popular sites. And of course, being a born and bred Malaysian, no ride would be complete without stopping for a quick bite or two, proper meal times be damned.
To ensure we had safety in numbers, we assembled a group of nine people at our rendezvous point near Mid Valley Megamall, the open air car park right next to the start of the bike lane. All of us were riding on folding bikes from Pacific Cycles, so setting up was quick and painless. After a short briefing, we were soon on our way.
Jalan Kerayong was near the beginning of the ride, so we started in the early evening to avoid cycling through the old cemetery area after sundown. It was also a good idea safety-wise, as there was enough light to see the uneven road, peppered with a number of potholes. To get there, we exited the bike lane at the Brickfields turn-off, looped around and headed onto Jalan Robson. We skipped the steep turning up to the picturesque Thean Hou temple, since there would be a non-optional uphill climb a little further up, before reaching the graveyard proper.
The Kwong Tong cemetery is a vast final resting place covering more than 300 acres, making it the largest and oldest in Bukit Petaling. A number of notable pioneers have been buried there, including third kapitan of KL Yap Ah Loy, the fifth and final Yap Kwan Seng, businessman Chan Sow Lin, and Chinese educationist Lim Lian Geok. The mood was sombre as we rolled slowly through the quiet area, past the fragrant frangipanis and crumbling tombstones that are dated more than a century old.
Exploring the graveyard would be akin to taking a walk through Malaysia’s history, as there is also a mass grave from the Japanese occupation for 800 victims who were murdered and another 500 buried alive. Unmarked graves of the May 13 riots in 1969 also take up a spot in the cemetery, as well as several memorials for different eras of our country’s shared past. It was a peaceful ride through a fairly well kept place, and even though some stray dogs call the area home, they are non aggressive and only watch anyone passing through.
After a half loop around Kwong Tong we found ourselves exiting the cemetery near the Alice Smith School and into Jalan Bellamy, where there is the famous ikan bakar stall. It is a quiet road that has not changed much since pre-independence, winding through a lot of greenery on either side. The entire prime piece of land is said to be haunted, but we did not encounter anything out of the ordinary while there.
On either side there are old government quarters and bungalows including the Chief Minister of Melaka’s official residence when he is in KL. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is there, and the area borders the perimeter of Istana Negara, which has now been turned into a museum. You will also pass by an entrance to Taman Dusun Bandar, which is often both closed and deserted.
After passing through Jalan Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, we continued in Jalan Hose and Lengkok Belfield, which takes you out to Jalan Maharajalela. There, we hauled our bikes up a pedestrian overpass, since there is no escalator or lift for wheelchair access or ramps up the stairs for bikes.
The crossing took us to the Chan Clan Ancestral Hall, located at the edge of Petaling Street. The founders were unsurprisingly tin mining tycoons and businessmen, who set up a place to help new immigrants from the clan settle into their new home. It’s particularly festive there during Chinese New Year, when clan members come to pay their respects to their ancestors and collect their roast pork allocation.
The Hall was recently the subject of controversy over the restoration of the building, a smaller reproduction of the clan’s building in Guangzhou, China. Work on the original structure began in 1897 and was only completed in 1906, providing a fine example of Canton-style art and Southern Chinese architecture. The temple roof is adorned with elaborately crafted pottery artwork and intricate sculptures of Chinese gods, mythological figures and drama personalities. Unfortunately for us, the building is only open from 8am to 5pm, which meant we’d have to come back another time for a look inside.
If you need a quick drink or a bite to eat, the Old China Cafe is nearby, as well as the Ali, Muthu & Ah Hock cafe. Both serve traditional kopitiam fare that many Malaysians consider an essential part of their breakfast. From there, we looped around Jalan Panggong to Jalan Sultan, turning right in front of Central Market towards Pudu, then left into Jalan Pavilion. By then we were all feeling peckish, and made a calculated decision to have an impromptu pit stop along Jalan Alor.
It was 8pm, a few hours before the weekend crowd is in full swing, but we had some trouble finding empty tables for our big group and spots to park our bikes. It took about an hour to order and consume our shared plates of grilled stingray and BBQ chicken wings, before we set off again.
From there we rode through Bukit Ceylon, connecting to Jalan Raja Chulan, where you have a nice view of the KL Tower. After several snapshots, we proceeded to Jalan P. Ramlee, circled Jalan Pinang and entered the KLCC Park through Trader’s Hotel. Cycling is not allowed in the park, but since it was late and starting to rain, there were no security guards to stop us from riding through.
Eventually we connected to Lorong Kuda, from where we cycled towards Jalan Tun Razak, riding past the iconic Tabung Haji Tower and coming to a stop at the Ampang LRT station. Since it was getting late, the rest of the group opted to grab a bite and head home, leaving Eka and myself to press on through Jalan Ampang, to explore Kampung Datuk Keramat.
Keramat, along with Kampung Baru, which is a 10 minute drive away, are both Malay reserve areas, and have many hidden gems of heritage eats. Originally known as Tangga Cina, the name Keramat is reported to refer to the sacred grave of a saintly Bugis man, which an early group of Chinese miners believed had miraculous powers, treating it like a shrine. A number of accidents were said to be linked to how they treated the grave, which was later relocated in 1990.
From Keramat, we attempted to connect to the Titiwangsa area, trying to find a way through what used to be Jalan Semarak. Unfortunately, the area is a restricted police zone for their training academy, with no roads connecting to the Titiwangsa park. The only way through was to circle around the Duke Highway, or reconnect via Jalan Tun Razak. Either way would have added another hour and a half to our ride, since construction of the highway has cut pedestrians and cyclists off from the park completely. Now, only motorized vehicles have easy access
Abandoning that plan, we made a beeline for Kampung Baru, for a plate of nasi lemak. Being another Malay reserve heritage area, there are many places that vie for the title of best nasi lemak in town. Our spot for the night was Wanjo’s stall, but the Tanglin and Nasi Lemak Antarabangsa variety are also fairly well known. As an ethnic Malay whose own mother makes a decent plate of nasi lemak at home, I must admit I can’t recommend one over the other. Just like art appreciation, personal preference will always be the case when it comes to heritage foods.
From Kampung Baru, we passed through Chow Kit, going all the way down Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, along the way grabbing some fresh pomegranate juice at the Saturday night market. Once we reached Dataran Merdeka, we took a right turn to go towards Bukit Tunku via Jalan Sultan Salahuddin, which meant a nice uphill ride from the Bank Negara side.
Bukit Tunku is a favourite haunt for cyclists, since the roads are quiet and shaded by mature trees, while the hilly terrain is a good training ground for building stamina. The area was originally known as Kenny Hills, but was renamed in honour of Malaysia’s first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, whose house is located in the area.
Bukit Tunku is also a popular spot for ghost hunters seeking supernatural thrills, thanks to urban legends linked to a number of abandoned bungalows there. There is also said to be the ghost of a motorcyclist who died in a race somewhere in the area. It was already past midnight, but no beings dead or alive seemed bothered by the two unsuspecting cyclists huffing and puffing their way up the hilly route.
From there we took a left at Persiaran Sultan Salahuddin, passing by Istana Selangor and continuing along the road until we reached the tourist spot of Tugu Negara, which was already closed off for the night. Coming out at the other side, we took the cross junction towards Lake Garden, going through Jalan Tanglin and Jalan Lembah, to come out at Masjid Negara. At the roundabout we took the exit to the KL railway station, after which we turned left towards the bike lane.
Unfortunately, getting back to our starting point meant either going through Brickfields and braving a short portion of the dark and deserted bike lane, or the longer loop around via the Federal Highway. We decided on the bike lane, picking our way carefully with front lights at maximum brightness. After a brief encounter with a passing python, we reached the then-empty open air car park, packing our bikes before heading home.