My least favorite thing to do while traveling is shopping.
There, I’ve confessed it.
I’ve never discovered the fun that people find in browsing through items, haggling to find the right price, or clawing teeth and nail for an item on sale. Heck, I hate shopping so much that I usually don’t buy souvenirs for friends and family back home.
But when I visited Central Market in Kuala Lumpur, I gladly spent not one, not two, but almost four hours walking around the market area and stopping at shops every now and then.
Located just across Pasar Seni MRT Station in Kuala Lumpur, Central Market has been one of the must-visit places in the city for a while. It boasts shops filled with artisan crafts, secondhand items, and clothing and it’s also a heritage site with plenty of history, standing at its location since 1928.
Needless to say, it’s more than your average market place or modern malls.
Just like its other name – Pasar Seni or art market – describes it to be, Central Market is an eclectic yet artistic mix of old and new. Its interiors remind me of a London market with a touch of Malay peranakan style. Its floors are green and yellow tiles, popping bright from under your feet. Its shops are all similar in size yet each shop is completely different from one another. Some of its corridors are large enough for groups to walk around it while others are so narrow that you have to squeeze past other shoppers to pass by.
Nothing is quite ordinary here and yet they all seem so normal in the market.
Central Market’s Areas
Central Market’s complex includes several areas:
- Pasar Seni – the main building itself filled with shops selling mostly artisan goodies, antiques, clothes, souvenirs, fabric, dance costumes, and even food!
- Kasturi Walk – the outdoor walkway right next to the main building filled with stalls selling toys, some counterfeit goods, clothes, matches, Swiss army knives, kitchen utilities, and more food
- Annexe – located behind the main building, this is the area filled with the most artistic products – from paintings to crafts.
My Favorite Shops
Since the complex is quite huge and consists of several areas, after exploring it for quite a while, I found some places that I really loved and thought I’d share with you.
M Love De Fashion – 2nd Floor, Pasar Seni, M43
This one was quite an interesting shop since the shop owner is literally the most unfriendly woman I’ve ever met. Really, she’s rude even to her own staff. What made me stay was the sheer prowess in sales that one of its staff members has. This woman was incredibly nice and she’s really good in convincing people to buy the clothes she sells. She talked me into buying this beautiful pair of flowy pants with slits on its sides, though the price (RM45) ultimately came from her boss.
When she handed me the pants after I paid, she whispered discreetly, “How much did she gave you?” I gave her the price and her response made me laugh: “Aiyah, if I own the shop, I can give it to you for less.”
2. D’Bunga Batek Collection – 2nd Floor, Pasar Seni, M22
I kid you not, this woman was an absolute contrast to the shop owner in the first shop. She’s an incredibly sweet human being who started chatting to us in Bahasa Melayu after finding out that we’re from Indonesia and speak similar language. I bought two gorgeous batik pashmina from her for RM10 each and she fairly told me which materials are better than the others and even made the effort to dig up from her pile of scarves to show us as many options of the prints as possible.
She sells mostly headscarves for Muslim women, but also some pashmina as well. Make sure to check out her stall if you’re into these items.
3. Kedai Buku – Ground Floor, Pasar Seni, G54
Ladies and gentlemen, I present you my kind of heaven.
This shop is run by two Indian grandfathers passionate about keeping and sharing secondhand books. Doubling as both a book store and a library, I’m amazed by how both the owners run the store without any computerized system. They write every record of borrowed books and sold books by hand carefully on two large note books and I found it difficult to grasp that somehow, they could keep track of all of them – partly relying on the responsibility of those borrowing the books from them.
Their collection is huge! The entire shop is literally filled with books. When the shelves couldn’t fit them anymore, the books were stacked on the floor. Navigating the tiny shop without falling over the books or bumping into other visitors was nearly impossible. Yet it was oddly calming, being surrounded by books, the smell of old paper, and those respecting it.
What’s crazy is the prices of books sold at Kedai Buku. I bought Stephen King’s 11/22/63 for only RM19 just because the pages were already yellowing. George Orwell’s 1984 was sold at RM11 just because some sentences are underlined by the previous reader – which I don’t mind at all. If you’re into books, this place is definitely one you should check out at Central Market.
4. Tanvir’s Shop – Ground Floor, Pasar Seni
I was drawn to check out this unnamed stall by the owner – Tanvir – who spoke loudly and passionately about the unbreakable glass pendants he sold. He gave us a good 10-minute lecture on his craft and the process of creating it, showing various flowers and shapes he crafted while at it. The indestructible nature of his glass pendants is the result of painstaking molding and binding of 700 tiny pieces of glass. Within the molding process, he slipped in a piece of dried flower from Johor Bahru in the glass to add some color to each of them. These pendants could be attached to keychains or necklaces for free and they come in various shapes, sizes, and features. Some glow in the dark, some are twisted to look like waves, some are small and others contain larger pieces of flowers.
Tanvir is an extremely passionate and hardworking young man and its rare to see someone caring so much about his craft at such a young age. He also speaks 10 languages which he learned by himself just so he can interact better with people. His glass-molding skill was also something he picked up by himself after watching his employer do it for a while. He decided to take up the art and added his own twist to it.
“If we want to learn something, then I think whatever it is, we can do it,” he said to me while cutting the wire for my keychain – a small pendant with lavender petals in it worth RM35. Touché, Tanvir.
5. Kota Pinang – Ground Floor, Pasar Seni, K38-39
If there’s one shop I can spend hours on end at, it’s this one. Run by a Chinese-Indian couple, this antique shop is filled with a large number of historical treasures coming from various people and places all over Malaysia.
Though Central Market is filled with plenty of antique shops, I decided to stop by this one because the collections are unique, well-maintained, and came with stories. Also, the owners actually allowed visitors to take photos of the antiques displayed with permission from them and are super chatty.
I talked to the Indian man in a fedora owning the store and it amazed me how much he knew about all his item’s stories which would make one appreciate its value. One of its clay jars was found by its previous owner in a sunken ship and turned out to be something from the colonial times. Old advertising signs on display came from several different restaurants and shops closed down in the 80s. I even found an old Aretha Franklin record which he said was “a bit scratchy, but still sounds beautiful with the right player.” I eventually bought Star Wars comics for my dad which he gave a discount for – even though it was already at a good price!
Though I initially came to find antiques for my dad, I ended up leaving with a content heart after the lengthy conversation about history, God, and life with this man who loved Bandung in Indonesia and knows Jesus and would gladly hang out at his shop next time I find myself at Central Market.
6. Snack Shop – Ground Floor, Pasar Seni, near Lorong Kolonial
Unfortunately, I didn’t catch the name of this snack shop, but I know that it’s located near Lorong Kolonial. And though it’s quite a tiny stall, it’s filled on four sides with snacks only available in Malaysia! My family hauled a lot of items from this place and before making a purchase, we got to sample all the available snacks to make sure we’ll pick what we actually like – which is always a plus for me.
My favorites from this haul were the candied dried mango which I can never get enough of and the fish muruku (30 packs for RM23). My gosh, that fish muruku especially was straight out of heaven without any artificial seasoning. Though the muruku is now available in Indonesia too, nothing tasted quite like what I bought at this stall.
Do check out this snack stall near Lorong Kolonial at Central Market. Your inner foodie will thank you later – even if you didn’t buy anything and only sampled everything!
7. Putu Bambu Tradisi – Kasturi Walk
Just outside the side entrance to Pasar Seni, this little stall sells a pastry commonly found in Sumatra and Malaysia: putu bambu. The pastry itself is made of rice flour filled with cane sugar. The dough is then steamed in bamboo containers and topped with shredded coconut.
At the stall, one pack containing four putu bambu pastries is sold at RM3.50 – a really good bargain for it.
As this was my first putu bambu, I found the flavor combination to be this awesome mix of savory and sweet. The pastry was on the savory side on the outside, but the cane sugar inside added just enough sweetness. Also, though its exterior may seem to be at the right temperature, that cane sugar might be super hot when you bite into it so make sure to cool it down a bit before eating.
Final Thoughts and Advice
All in all, as a traveler in love with local culture, arts, and history, Central Market is definitely my favorite place in the entire city of Kuala Lumpur. It’s definitely a rich place buzzing with life and every single corner of the market will make anyone want to get their cameras out.
However, don’t forget to be mindful of each shop’s regulations too. Some shops strictly allow no photos, perhaps to protect the craftsmanship of the artist and I hope you’d respect that. Also, like any other markets, there are shops which sell quality items and those that price their items higher than what it’s really worth. Be mindful and shop smart.
I will definitely come back to Central Market the next time I’m in Kuala Lumpur and I’d love to see you hanging out there too!
If you have other stores I should check out in Central Market, comment below and let me know so I’ll check it out on my second visit to Central Market.