My neighborhood for a week in KL, home the gray building below the red sign.
On my previous stop in Kuala Lumpur, more a pause on a several month’s swing around Asia than a real visit, I looked for a hotel with character as I always do. Though the main Raj-style train station for the city was winding down after serving the city since 1910, the Heritage Station Hotel within was said to still be operating. On arrival in the city we asked a taxi driver to take us there and though certainly full of character it seemed a ghost hotel, the only human I saw was the kind man that showed us the room and who also understood entirely, it seemed, when we opted not to stay.
Arriving at the KL airport we’d walked past a glass-enclosed replica of a room in a brand new hotel, the Hilton across the road from the new station, KL Sentral. It wasn’t far away so we decided that for a just a few nights we could splurge and despite my love of hotels with history I enjoyed a stay at the Hilton.
Forward to 2023, a planned visit for a week in KL and a search for another interesting place to sleep. Using Booking.com, my usual search and reservations tool, I spotted a place that appeared to be the one, with the added benefit of its location, in Chinatown. How I love a good Chinatown, let me count the ways.
Hotel Tian Jing stood out from the pack. It’s design was shophouse modern, industrial chic with an overlay of the tropics, appealing to every corner of my personal esthetic. The hotel was fronted by the ground floor Lim Kee Cafe and upstairs, the Nanyang Lounge for guests’ breakfast and relaxing anytime, day and night. The ground floor room, Number 1, was every bit as stylish as shown on the website. The bathroom was outside the room on a wooden deck with bamboo blinds for privacy and a soothing minimalist gravel garden beyond. I’ve always been fond of outdoor showers but this was my first urban garden bathroom experience and I loved it.
During the day Jalan Sultan is a quiet urban street that caters as much to locals as visitors, clean & modest with utilitarian sorts of restaurants, a couple of business hotels, convenience and other small retail stores, nothing fancy but pleasant. But as the sun goes down food vendors begin to arrive and by evening the street is jumping with tables on the sidewalk, a variety of dinner choices, mostly grilled meats and vegetables and one particularly popular stand that cooks food in clay pots. And a big beautiful fruit cart from which I bought bananas.
Daytime on Jalan Sultan, above, evening below.
For several evenings we perused the possibilities on offer as we decided where to eat dinner. The clay pot guy’s stretch of sidewalk was always busy and tempting but we’d move on to find an indoor spot. Late in the week, stepping out of the Tian Jing, the vendor nearest the hotel struck me as interesting. Called ‘Fat Boy,’ how had I not noticed it before. All the meats and vegetables were skewered on bamboo sticks, looking so tempting and ready to grill, perfectly dinner. We chose a number of items and sat down at a table in front of our hotel. The food arrived a short time later and so did the rain. The fellow who’d delivered our plates was back in a flash, gathered everything up and hustled us to a table on the other side of the carts under an awning. A skilled pro in the world of pop-up al fresco dining. And the food was good. I don’t know why it took us so long.
One more thing. I arrived in the lounge for breakfast one morning and for the first time looked through the shutters at the sidewalk below. I was surprised to see people selling things, like a flea market on cloths spread on the pavement. For me it was early in the day but, I was told by Awng, the young man who most often served us breakfast, this was the end of the business day for these sellers of used goods. They came in the wee hours of the morning and conducted their business without authorization from the city. From time to time, the police would descend and the vendors would scoop up their goods and make a run for it. Had I not looked out the window that morning I would never have known that they arrived while I slept and were gone by the time I stepped out the door, among the secret dramas played out daily on our doorstep.
The Tian Jing Hotel website:
Next time, The Other Jalan Petaling.
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