Kampung Baru is the Muslim quarter of Kuala Lumpur. Located in the centre of the city you reach it rather quickly. And then everything slows down. Life in Kampung Baru tends to be quieter, more traditional.
To learn more about culture and people you can book a free tour like I did. And I highly recommend this experience.
Jalan – Jalan @ Kampong Bharu Tour Guided Walk
Actually the quarter is a village. In Malay Kampung Baru means “new village” and today 17.000 inhabitants live here.
The tour starts in the late afternoon, it is hot. Our guide briefs us, tells us what we will see and where we should take care.
The attendance is free. Kuala Lumpur came up with the idea for a tour like this to introduce tourists to the rich culture. Visitors often only come to KL to shop, dine or see the skyscrapers.
We pass local schools, and come to traditional Malay houses which are standing on stilts. “For 115 years this is the way we build houses. They are made of wood. We wanted to be able to move with the complete house. The whole village was involved and was helping the families to move”, explains our guide.
Kelab Sultan Suleiman Gallery
Next station is Kelab Sultan Suleiman Gallery.
In the meantime it started to rain and we run into the house. It got pretty dark “we have to hope the rain stops, otherwise we will not see anything”. The gallery is in its original state which also means no light. Walls are covered with old photographs and you find notes of the Japanese occupancy. Torches are guiding us through the dark rooms.
Off to the street food stands. Jalan Raja Musa is the street where most locals go to get tasty dishes. The atmosphere is brisk and colourful, people do not mind walking relaxed across the street, motorbikes find their ways through the crowd.
Everything is more familiar than the rest of the city. It feels more canny. Maybe because I lived in Jakarta and life in Kampung Baru resembles Indonesia´s. Culture and language are related. I even manage to order water.
Our guide orders food for everyone to try “rice wrapped in a banana leaf tastes better, it gets this significant aroma”. And it is spicy, but very tasty. We eat Nasi Lemak Antarabangsa and Kuih-Muih. Kuih-Muih is very sweet and absolutely nothing I would order again.
We stop in front of a Rumah Limas, a house, which combines traditional architectural styles. It is colourful, has a beautiful wooden roof, and a perfect location. From this point you can see how central Kampung Baru actually is.
The location is also the problem because there is no monumental protection in Malaysia. People advocate and they have no plans of selling, but the offers get higher and higher. “There is one rich man in this village, he owns a few properties and he is so stubborn when it comes to selling. He wants to protect the heritage. As of late Kuala Lumpur supports the district financially. Not only to keep the traditions but also to persevere the buildings”, says the guide.
Markets are always a highlight of mine while travelling and the one in Kampung Baru is a heaven for foodies. It is packed with fruits, vegetables, and spices. Everyone invites you to try their goods and I cannot resist those fresh rambutans. While peeling the fruit the vendor explains the name “Rambu is Bahasar and means hair, the ending Tan indicates the plural. Rambutan means nothing else than hair”. If you take a closer look on the fruit you know why.
Behind the mosaicked archway is the Mosque, an important part of the every day life of the community. During Ramadan Muslims break their fast here. Everyone gets a simple rice dish. People in need get clothes and other things they might need.
“Religion holds everything together”, and life is heavily influenced by it “the hospital for example operates strictly within the Sharia”, she adds. They want to keep their traditions, the religious as well as the cultural ones. So a few years ago they even changed the street names “now they have their old names. Everything is Bahasar now”.
That gives Kampung Baru a sort of island life. An island you reach within five minutes, even though it seems like a long journey. An island that takes care for itself, preserves their traditions and protects the inhabitants of “bad influences from the outer life”.
Good to Know
Every Saturday evening from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. there is a market Pasar Minggu. You get local products, delicious food and handmade goods.
Sign up: firstname.lastname@example.org send the mail at least one day earlier
When: every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday at 4:30 p.m. come at least 15 minutes earlier
Where: Kelab Sultan Sulaiman, you will be greeted with a big smile
Price: for free, even the food is for free
Bring: something to drink, sunglasses and an umbrella, weather can be a bit Irish