Market Square in Kuala Lumpur has several tourist attractions such as Central Market, Jalan Hang Kasturi, the OCBC building, Market Square, Sin Seng Nam restaurant, the Old Gian Singh building, the Bank Bumiputra building, Lebuh Ampang, Jalan Tun H.S Lee, the M.S Ally building, and the Tze Ya temple.
You may be tempted to stand under a tree in this hot weather, but be careful. Other than being a popular destination for tourists looking for souvenirs, the trees in front of Central Market are also popular with crows, who might leave you a little souvenir on your head.
This charming little Art Deco building is the most popular one-stop cultural centre in Kuala Lumpur. In fact, if you have very little time, this place is more than enough for some cultural experience, showcasing the best art and craft in the country.
Built in 1888, this building is just one of the many Art Deco buildings in Kuala Lumpur. The façade is repetitive and is held together by unifying windows and doors.
The unique square shaped entrance, with its steps, as well as the horizontal repetitive band that runs along the roof makes the architecture a delight to savour. The giant glass windows all over Central Market transmits only 20% of the sun’s heat, but allows 60% of the light.
Central Market used to be Kuala Lumpur’s wet market. After it was reopened in 1986, this building is now a cultural centre and a Heritage Site; and is very popular with tourists. In there you can find endless selections of Malaysian handcrafts, such as the famous batik, which is a cloth that uses wax-resisting dye techniques; and the wau, the spectacular Malaysian kite; and the infamous Malaysia inspired T-shirts.
The stalls are placed in zones based on the three main races in Malaysia: Malay, Chinese and Indian, which allow visitors to have a deeper insight of the cultural differences in this country.
Tourists can also have their lunch or dinner at the second floor to savour some delicious, although a little touristy, Malaysian food. And if they are lucky, they might even catch a cultural show or two.
Jalan Hang Kasturi
Hang Kasturi was one of the five famous warriors during the time of the Malaccan Sultanate, who was rumoured to have had an affair with one of the Sultan’s concubines. The Sultan ordered Hang Tuah, another great warrior to kill his best friend, Hang Kasturi to prove his loyalty to him.
Along Jalan Hang Kasturi, or Hang Kasturi Road, tourists will see some fine examples of Neo-Classic buildings. At the time when Central Market was a wet market, Jalan Hang Kasturi complemented it with its retail shops selling dried fish and preserved vegetables. Some of these shops still remain, although many have been turned into restaurants. Look out for shops number 32 to 52, built around 1909. You can easily recognize them as they are painted bright yellow and green. Symmetrical shapes, tall columns, triangular pediments right on top and long vertical windows- these are some characteristics of Neo-Classic buildings.
Sleek and subtly theatrical, the OCBC building was built in 1938 for the Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation by the architect A.O Coltman. Its design was innovative as it has basement storage for bicycles, which were then always parked haphazardly on the pavement. This building is a fine example of an Art Deco building with a twist. The main corner of the building is not sharp and accentuated; instead it is slightly curved. Notice also the strong repetitive horizontal band that runs between the windows of both floors. Like many Art Deco buildings, the OCBC building has a flat roof.
Sin Seng Nam restaurant
Just across the road from the OCBC building, is the eye catching orange and white Sin Seng Nam restaurant. To call this building an institution may be a slight exaggeration, but the building, which Sin Seng Nam restaurant occupies, is a pretty historic. Built around 1906 by a wealthy businessman called Loke Yew, who has a street named after him, it used to be called the Red House, due to the distinctive exposed red bricks. It has now been painted over with orange and white. Look at the triangular Dutch gables on the top of the buildings, and note the unique entrances where wooden bars act as security doors as well as to provide ventilation. The windows are narrow and long, and the upper and lower ones are shaped differently. During the olden days, this restaurant was popular among planters for its Hainanese food, despite their notoriously bad service.
The tower forms the centre of the Market Square. The Tower was erected in 1937 in honour of King George VI of Britain. An interesting thing to notice is the sunburst motif, which one can find at the base. The clock tower is situated in the middle of the square.
How did this square come about? The city of Kuala Lumpur was founded by Chinese miners. And among the early Chinese settlers, the greatest of them was a man called Yap Ah Loy. This young man who left his village in China, arrived here at the tender age of 17, before rising to be the third Kapitan Cina of Kuala Lumpur. Kapitan Cina is loosely translated as Chinese Captain, or more specifically, a leader of the Chinese community. As Kuala Lumpur flourished, Yap Ah Loy ran his opium and gambling dens right here in Market Square. Imagine, hundreds of Chinese tin miners, gathering around this square, smoking in opium dens with their long pipes over oil lamps. This place was riotous with the disorderly noise of gamblers and the beckoning of prostitutes.
Yap Ah Loy built his large wooden house right here in this square. Maybe it was his way of keeping a close eye on the town he ruled. In 1882, citing health reasons and claiming that the site was state land, Frank Swettenham, the Resident General then, swooped in wanting the tycoon’s market and gambling sheds demolished. As a compromise, Yap Ah Loy removed his gambling sheds and was allowed to rebuild his market with the conditions that it would use brick piers and a galvanized iron roof. However despite the adjustments, he was only granted the land title for life and, upon his death in 1885, the Government took over and relocated the market.
The British government then gave guidelines for shophouses to be erected. The result is a more gracious symmetry for the buildings. They are the ones very near where you are standing. You won’t miss them as their Neo Classic architecture is clearly distinct from the other newer ones, not to mention they are painted with bright colours such as yellow and pink.The decorative plaster garlands along the rooflines are quite interesting. Other distinctive features of these buildings are the triangular structures on the top, the long and vertical windows as well as the balustrades, which are the small little pillars on the balconies. Bright, geometric and dramatic, these old buildings have witnessed the early rise of Kuala Lumpur.
Old Gian Singh Building
Across Lebuh Ampang is a magnificent white building called the Old Gian Singh building. Built in 1909, the building is famous for its complex plasterwork- a blend of Dutch, English and Islamic influences.
Majestic and imposing, the building boasts intricate and elaborate architecture. Different sections of the building were built by different owners; hence as one runs their eyes along the building, one can see how the architecture changes from left to right.
This beautiful Art Deco building was designed by AO Coltman in the 1930s. The building actually follows the curve of the road, as you can see from the ground floor. The front façade has a central panel flanked by two tower-like pylons. The main panel has a white decorative plaster line following its frame. The plasterwork is made up of interlocking disks. The tall vertical bands alternate with windows, and the lighter horizontal bands run across, giving the entire building a striking and majestic look. The Oriental Building housed Radio Malaya when first built. Some people say if you look from afar, the building looks like a radio from the 30s.
The first thing that might strike you is the smell of jasmine flower, followed very closely by the vibrant sounds of the latest Indian hit. This placed is packed with Indian restaurants, spice and sundry, fresh flower garlands and money-lenders. The buildings here are an assortment of Utilitarian, Neo-Classic and Art Deco.
Number 24, which is a pink building, and the two buildings after that, are built using Neo-Classic style, with its plaster carvings, and its roof top balustrade, which are the tiny pillars that line the roof. The vertical columns separate the windows, and give it a theatrical illusion. The bright yellow and green buildings used to be occupied by the Chettiars, a south Indian caste of moneylenders. Money lending business is so closely associated with the Chettiars that in Malaysia, if you ask someone for the money that they owe you, they might call you a Chettiar as a joke. Today Chettiar moneylenders are rare with the establishment of banks and financial institutions.
Numbers 32 and 34, which are painted bright yellow and pink respectively are two examples of Utilitarian architecture. The roof and the butterfly grills on the windows help keep the building cool; and their beauty is not as important as their functionality.
On the right side of the road is house number 85. This is a good example of a Chettiar house. Peep in and you will see the glazed ceramic tiles with peacock design. The peacock is an important animal in Hinduism. It is the carriage of Lord Muruga who is the patron deity of the Chettiar people. There are also some low benches, chests and old safe.
Jalan Tun H.S Lee
Tun H.S Lee was one of the politicians who helped Malaysia achieve its independence, and this street is named after him.
If you walk on the right side of the road and look left and if you let your eyes follow the shop houses, you realize that they suddenly become shorter. The walkways are about two feet below the surface of the road. This is because the shorter shop houses are the some of the oldest buildings in Kuala Lumpur, and the newer ones are built higher than these. Today, these old shop houses have been restored and they look even newer than their surroundings. The original roofs have been refurbished by corrugated iron or tile roofs.
In olden times, feng shui or Chinese geomancy was very influential on this street. Many shops hung feng shui mirrors to ward off evil spirits and bad luck. It was believed that when evil spirits looked into the mirror, they will be frightened by their own image and will run away.
Build in 1910, it was occupied by the Federated Engineering Company and Sime Darby. Today, it is used by MS Ally, a pharmaceutical tender agent. The curious orange lines that run along the Dutch gables are quite a sight.
Sze Ya Temple
The famous Sin Sze Si Ya temple, or more known by its shorter name, Sze Ya temple is set at an angle to Jalan Tun HS Lee and Lebuh Pudu, the temple is built according to feng shui principles. Hence, it is a little hidden and is not easy to find.
It was built in 1864 by Kapitan Cina Yap Ah Loy, the same person who built Market Square, as a tribute to the deities Sin Sze Ya and Si Sze Ya. The oldest Taoist temple in Kuala Lumpur, the Sze Ya temple is a fine example of Chinese architecture using feng shui principles.
In 1859, a war broke out between the Malays and the Chinese. In this conflict, Kapitan Shin Kap, the head of Sungei Ujong, south of Kuala Lumpur, was captured by the Malays and beheaded. His death became sensational because according to local legend, when Kapitan Shin Kap’s head was chopped off, white blood flew out. The Malays believe that the spilling of white blood indicates that the person is a saint. They begged for forgiveness and allowed the Chinese to retrieve his body for burial. As a result of this miracle, the Chinese began worshipping him as the deity of Chinese miners in Malaya and Kapitan Yap Ah Loy built this temple in his honour. One will see an effigy of Kapitan Shin Kap on the main altar on the left under the name Si Tze Ya. The other figure is Yap Ah Loy’s chief general.
There is an altar of Yap Ah Loy on your left, together with other early Chinese founders of Kuala Lumpur. There are other deities in the temple such as Kuan Yin the goddess of mercy, Thai Swe the guardian of the year and Choi Sen the god of wealth.