As if time has held Pekan Sungai Besi hostage, the town has remained fairly untouched for the past 80 years. Many have walked unsuspectingly into this former tin-mining hub, unaware of its economic significance that weaved KL’s rich tapestry. While skyscrapers have cowed our heritage sites into docility, Pekan Sungai Besi – with its pre-war buildings and ex-military community still intact – quietly thrives in its safe little bubble.
Our knowledge of Pekan Sungai Besi is patchy at best – you probably know it as the congested kampung next to the Sungai Besi LRT station; the undocumented vestigial of the early settlements during the Emergency period. The town, labelled as a secondary heritage zone under the Kuala Lumpur City Plan 2020, was promised a RM10million facelift in 2013, but as of today, the roads are still riddled with holes, the drains clogged, the wet market in disrepair.
In street names we find stories and our ancestry. But the original road names in Pekan Sungai Besi, like ‘Market’, and ‘Post Office’, didn’t reflect the historical importance of the area; they’ve since been renamed Jalan Suasa, which alludes to a type of yellowish metal that contains a mixture of copper and gold. The buildings dating back to the 1930s, however, serve more powerful narratives – they recount the lives of ex-miners, the old but highly essential trades of tailors and barbers, and the architectural footprints of colonialism.
Pekan Sungai Besi’s old-school magnetism comes in part from its friendly people, who’ll voluntarily point you to the best warung or apam stall. Strike up a chat with any orang lama, listen, learn, and help pass their story on.