A bumper list of your favourite places from the past, where we feature long-running mom-and-pop establishments such as biscuit shop, tailor, an old photo studio from Petaling Street, and more. Also, we reminisce on the nostalgic landmarks, attractions and shopping mall where our parents used to visit.
Chinese classics, warm and waltzing, still pour out from the shop today – much as they did in the ’50s, when Yan Kee first opened. Alongside its more obscure opera offerings, you’ll find classics, jazz and pop releases – both CD and vinyl – by popular recording artistes.
The 101-year-old shop on Jalan Sultan exudes an air of sagacity – a sense of tradition that cannot be easily dismissed as owner Datuk Khong Kim Lyew cuts and sews in an intimate room surrounded by portraits of his ancestors’ past clientele: British officers, cabinet ministers and royalty. The third-generation proprietor has yet to find a successor – and we’ll mourn the shop’s disappearance when the time comes – but Datuk Khong will press on for as long as an appreciation for tailored suits persists.
Eighty-year-old owner Chook Wah Sun is a matchmaker who pairs you with your perfect sole mate. For the past 67 years, San Lee has been catering to a host of unsteady feet and dancers – shoes are custom-made to rectify medical problems (especially bunions) or to set the dance floor on fire, be it for Latin, jazz or ballroom dancing. Some parts of the shoes are now machine-stitched to save time, but trust the masterful Mr Chook to put his best foot forward in their creation.
May May is a smart store to begin your search for a shiny new watch or a sentimental pre-loved vintage – it sells mostly Alba, Casio and Seiko timepieces at a margin of market price, and has been one of the city’s top watch distributor and repair shops for the past two decades.
This 30-year-old business offers everything under one roof: saree alterations, mehendi drawing, makeup services, hair styling, saree-making as well as tips on how to tie one. Dropping by Hema Enterprise would be like a crash course for beginners – don’t be intimidated by the sheer variety of colours and fabric. Even if you don’t know where to start, there are always ready-made sarees to choose from.
A landmark in its own right, biscuit wholesaler Xin Kwong Sang Woh has been selling biscuits and snacks in the heart of Kajang for 110 years. Fun fact: The Kwong family stocks up to 3,000 varieties of biscuits, sweets and keropok. That’s a lot of iced gem biscuits. Buy the biscuits in bulk or get them in 300g packets.
Long before there was wai sek kai in SS2, there was Babyland. Babyland, every PJ parent and child’s preferred destination since 1981, is basically an institution in itself. Need an infant sleep positioner? How about an assortment of stylish diaper bags? Babyland has those, and more. Put it this way: Back then, if you are seven years old and your mum bought you something from Babyland, you get instant kid cred.
Of course, there are the classics – Barbie dolls, Lego and Ultraman figurines – but this emporium and toy exporter and importer truly has it all. It peddles everything: beauty and kitchen playsets, toy guns, building blocks, plush toys, puzzles, sport games and riding wheels for newborns, toddlers and tweens. Best of all is the store’s extensive selection of toy vehicles – think Tamiya and other radio-controlled models, which include F1 racing cars, planes, superbikes and even national car models like the Myvi, Kelisa and Waja.
If your mum is not a fan of Topshop, there’s always Lin Ho. This iconic KL department store has three floors of womenswear and shoes. There are some cheongsams and dresses with pretty nifty cutting, but most of the styles seem to be from the ’70s. Also, look out for their sales where white sneakers sometimes go for RM1 per pair.
Previously a wooden shack selling groceries, Hock Choon today is a three-storey building with a supermarket that has been catering to the embassies nearby and wealthy homes for decades. Built by the first generation of Malaysian Chinese in KL, Hock Choon was the only place in the city selling epicurean food in the ’70s. The supermarket has now extended its range to include craft beers and Japanese goods but customers constantly return for one thing: the butcher counter with top quality meat.
Opened since 1943, Nanyang Art Supplies has been providing paints, pastels, papers, pencils, brushes and the like for artists and fine art students in town. They stock plenty of Winsor & Newton (a British brand that has been granted its Royal Warrant by Queen Victoria in 1841) items too. Head upstairs for more paper materials, mounting boards and easels.
The humble, old-school cake confectionary in Petaling Jaya has no airs, no beautifully arranged bakes on antique plates and saucers; it’s just fine, fresh cakes, loaves and pastries. Think chicken floss buns, durian cream puffs, ice cream cakes and dozens of other carb-heavy and crusty offerings. The store, over two decades old, still serves a steady stream of elderly aunties, gabbing over hot coffee, and office workers grabbing a quick lunch from the set menu – like assam laksa on Mondays.
Before the advent of Pavilion KL and Mid Valley, there was the triumvirate of bargain shopping spots on Jalan TAR in the ’90s: SOGO, Pertama Kompleks and Harisons. SOGO was the go-to place for affordable household items; Pertama Kompleks for cheap sporting gears and bags; and Harisons for traditional Malay wear and curtains within a pre-war shophouse. They may not keep up with the megamalls downtown now but there’s still something very exciting about hauling swathes of fabric from Harisons to make that perfect kebaya or haggling (successfully) with the old uncle at Pertama Kompleks for a cheaper pair of sports shoes. Plus, you can always count on the nostalgic Capital Café just down the road for kopi peng after a tiring day of shopping.
If you’re a kid of the ’90s, you’ll have at least one childhood photo of you playing with ‘snow’ among some ice sculptures in a stinky, oversized jacket at a place called Ice Factory. That seems like a good name for a club, but no, this was in Mines Wonderland, the first winter wonderland in Malaysia. Do you also remember the musical fountain? And Light Fantasy on Water where animated swans glided across the lakeside promenade in glittering lights? Mines Wonderland was fun, and it was the coolest place our parents brought us to to make up for the Disneyland promises they couldn’t keep. If this makes you feel better, the WaWa Splash Tour and Mines Cruise are still available if you want to go around the lake.
Old is gold – how apt, because Sungei Wang translates to ‘the river of gold’. Nearly 40 years on, it still has faithful followers who flock there for its bargain stores, hair salons and zhap fan. The same goes to its neighbour, Lot 10, which houses H&M, Zara and Lot 10 Hutong.
Since the iconic Merdeka Park (where your parents used to go for dates at the mushroom-shaped pondoks) was demolished to make way for Menara Warisan, we suggest Dataran Merdeka. Come nightfall, the dramatic Mughalstyle Sultan Abdul Samad building is all lit up, and a light breeze gently blows through the historic field.
With willow trees swaying in the afternoon breeze, young men busy fishing, and the occasional cyclist zipping past, Kota Bridge is the best spot to check out Klang River. Once used to connect north and south Klang, the first double-decked bridge in Malaysia (built in 1957) was closed when two other bridges were built to accommodate higher traffic. Today, the bottom part of the old bridge is still used by cyclists, pedestrians and on rare occasions, photo exhibitions.
Ornate carvings on the pillars and striking red lanterns dangling overhead – the crowd loved the decor then; they still love it now. Built on land atop Robson Heights, Thean Hou is not only a favourite location among couples to take their pre-wed photos or register their marriage, it’s also often crowded with Buddhists and Taoists who come to assert their faith. There are not many venues in KL – except for the malls – that celebrate the Mooncake festival or the Chinese New Year on a grand scale, but Thean Hou celebrates the festivities with impressive fanfare. Even if you’re not here to pray, Thean Hou’s vantage point still affords a stunning vista overlooking the greenery and serene part of Old KL.
Built in 1888, the Lake Gardens (renamed Perdana Botanical Gardens) is where you can take a stroll through the herb garden (the herb collection dates back to 1889!), Orchid Park and the Bird Park. If you’re planning to spend the day, join the queues at Nasi Lemak Tanglin.