Beyond the hustle and bustle of Chinatown and a little further along Petaling Street lies Kwai Chai Hong, an almost hidden alley that takes you back to a bygone era. Beautiful murals depicting everyday life of Chinese settlers back then adorn the walls of the carefully restored shop houses here, while charming eateries offer culinary surprises that tickle your taste buds.
Pockets of the greater Chinatown area have undergone transformations in recent years, and Kwai Chai Hong is a stunning example. Neglected and in a state of complete disrepair for years, Lorong Panggung (where Kwai Chai Hong lies) was re-opened just over a year ago and has since become one of the most talked-about Instagram spots in KL.
It’s easy to see why as the team behind the revitalisation project, Bai Chuan Management, have made painstaking efforts to maintain the authenticity of the area and its original architecture while handpicking artists to paint the captivating murals. The result is a warm, inviting backstreet filled with art that draws you in and makes you want to stay just to bask in its ambiance.
Translating to ‘ghost lane or ‘little demon alley’ from Cantonese, the disputed origins of the name are perhaps less nefarious and more mischievous in nature, referring to the children that used to make Lorong Panggung their playground.
An arched bridge with red railings made from reclaimed wood leads you into the alleyway where you’ll find several murals that bring the area to life. One depicts an old man sitting on a simple stool wearing simple clothes playing an erhu; another shows children playing marbles on the street while another peers out a window at them.
A calligrapher practices his art on one wall, sitting in front of freshly written charms on red paper that hang behind him to dry. Further on there is a cabaret girl waving seductively – a nod to the area’s less than savoury past – and at the end of the lane, there are steps that lead to a first-floor balcony where a detailed scene reveals itself.
A street barber at work, children playing skip-rope (with a colourful set of rubber bands attached to the wall), vendors on bicycles, clothes being hung out to dry on bamboo rails, and perhaps most prominently a woman with curlers in her hair looking down from her balcony (the very same one in Stephen Chow’s movie Kungfu Hustle).
Planted on the walls beside many of the murals are QR codes that lead to voice clips telling stories for each image, and giving you further insight into what used to happen in the area. The artists responsible for the murals are Khek Shin Nam, Chan Kok Sing, Chok Fook Yong, Chew Weng Yeow and Wong Leck Min, each of them bringing their own style and flavour.
If you’re feeling peckish, there’s a great selection of food from the eateries that inhabit the revamped shophouses. Their interiors are just as charming as the alley outside. Signature egg waffles at Bubble Bee Café, traditional desserts at Pandan Republic, local and Thai favourites at Asia Street Food Club, top quality baos with a twist at DaBao, and the best fresh egg custard tarts in Malaysia at the century-old Bunn Choon are just some of the delights you’ll find here.
Chinatown holds many wonders, an area infused with history and heritage at almost every corner, and Kwai Chai Hong has emerged as one of the key places to visit while here. Make sure to take a stroll over the bridge and take in the wonders that lie beyond it while you explore this part of Kuala Lumpur. Make sure to bring a camera as well!