Places to Stay: Tian Jing Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

“Every single day is like a blank page of our life. Every person we meet and every event we encounter is a vivid essay.”

– Jing Si Aphorisms –

Name: Tian Jing Hotel

Derived from a Chinese phrase that translates into English as “air well”, the name and design of the hotel pays tribute to the ancient Chinese architectural wisdom of expanding air circulation, maximizing natural light, and balancing room temperature.

Location: Located in the Chinatown neighbourhood of Kuala Lumpur at 66 – 68 Jalan Sultan.

Description: Although this quaint boutique hotel is furnished with antique furniture, it was done with a minimalistic approach, successfully combining heritage with contemporary design. The pieces were hand-picked from across Malaysia to reflect the rich Chinese heritage within the country, and while the white bedding and walls form a cool contrast with the wooden furniture, every convenience to make your stay comfortable was included: a towel rack, a stool for your suitcase, a cupboard that can be locked, a little writing desk with a desk lamp that also serves as the tea station, and even a TV. The mattress is exceptionally comfortable. Not too hard, yet nice and solid. The bed has mosquito netting, and a mosquito coil was burning on the balcony, when I arrived.

It is remarkably quiet considering its location in such a central spot, and instead of human activity, one actually hears birdsong. The rooms are spotlessly clean, and very comfortable with both a ceiling fan and an air-conditioner. If you are staying more than one night, and want your room cleaned, you need to remember to hang out a notice, which you will find on the inside of the door knob.

Also take note that there is a RM 100 cash deposit required that is refunded on check-out.

What makes it special: The spacious balconies were transformed into open air bathrooms, containing a shower and toilet, while the wash basin is inside the room. There are cane blinds you can lower for more privacy (although not needed), and a black shower curtain against the glass sliding door to provide privacy, while also serving as a perfect black-out curtain at night.

Another special touch is a book of Jing Si Aphorism on the bedside table.

Food:  The Kim-Lee Café, which also serves as the reception area of the hotel, has excellent coffee, a variety of cakes, and some basic meals. Like most of the coffee shops in the area, you order and pay at the till. Your food and/or drinks will then be brought to your table. Find the WiFi password on your till slip.

Each hotel guest receives a free daily warm drink of his/her choice here, which is a wonderful touch, as the café has friendly staff and a vibrant energy.

Breakfast is served in the Nanyang Lounge and although simple, is plentiful. One can choose between Western, Malaysian or Chinese. It is only served from 8h30 in the morning, so if you are an early riser, and/or prefer to explore different options, it is better to reserve a room without breakfast, as there are various breakfast options available in the immediate surrounding area. The lounge is a comfortable place to relax with complimentary snacks and drinks available throughout the day.

Website:  www.tianjinghotel.com

How to get there: It is about a 45 minute drive from the International airport. A metred taxi from the airport costs around RM90. A Grab ride back to the airport will cost more or less RM70. You can also take the Star Shuttle bus to and from the airport for less than RM20, as Pudu Central Station (Puduraya) is a short walk from the hotel.

Surroundings: Around the start of the 20th century, Kuala Lumpur was a typical pioneer town, with mostly a male population, who worked in the tin mines in Ampang. Chinatown is one of Kuala Lumpur’s oldest neighbourhoods. With the Central Market, Sri Mahar Mariamman Temple Devasthanam, Sin Sze Si Ya Temple, and Guan Di Temple on your doorstep, as well as various hipster restaurants and coffee shops, you are spoiled for choice without having to venture outside the neighbourhood. Chinatown is known for its Petaling Street Market, but I found it uninteresting with stalls all selling the same brand name rip-offs. I was told by more than one Chinese Malaysian that the Chinese shop owners in Chinatown sub-let their shops to Bangladeshis who they all described as “aggressive”. I didn’t stay long enough to find out for myself if it was true or not.

I chose Chinatown as my base, as the promise of good food on my doorstep was too much too resist. My time in KL was centred around the act of eating, interspersed with bouts of walking. Although I did my best to taste as many different dishes or foods as possible, I had to admit defeat, and settle for only a drink at many of the places I visited. That said, the choice was huge and the drinks very creative. Here is a list of some of the gems in Chinatown:

Have an artisan soft serve at Urban Artisan, where the flavours change daily. The Matcha and Valrhona Chocolate flavour was my favourite (RM12.90). Find them at 149 Jalan Petaling (12h00 – 22h00).

Bubble Bee Café – Their bubble waffles make for an excellent snack if you go for a plain one, or an extravagant desert if you choose one with a topping. I chose the Matcha Classic Bubble Waffle (RM7), which was soft and chewy inside, and crisp at the edges. They also serve food and a variety of drinks. Every customer entering or leaving is greeted by the entire staff with a cheery hello or goodbye. Find them at 139 Jalan Petaling (9h00 – 18h00).

Chō Chă Foodstore – I enjoyed a tasty Eggplant Balado accompanied by a cold local craft beer, but at RM60 it is definitely not a cheap lunch option. Find them at 156 Jalan Petaling (11h00 – 23h00, closed on Mondays).

Merchant’s Lane – Find them at 150 Jalan Petaling (11h30 – 21h30, closed Wednesdays, and open 9h30 – 21h30 on Sat and Sun).

Ali, Muthu & Ah Hock – It is very popular with office workers during the week, so lunchtime gets busy, and you may have to share a table. The food is traditional, tasty, and well-priced. A meal (including something to drink) costs more or less RM15. Find them at 13 Jalan Balai Polis (next to Old China Café) (8h00 – 17h00).

Old China Café – It housed the Selangor & Federal Territory Laundry Association, when the guild moved to this part of Chinatown in the 1920s. The space retains various original features, including two large traditional feng shui mirrors opposite one another, which the Chinese believe would perpetually reflect good luck. The café serves Baba Nonya cuisine, which is a combination of Chinese ingredients fused with Malay spices and cooking techniques. The food is good and the beer is cold. Find them at 11 Jalan Balai Polis (11h30 – 22h30 , last order for the kitchen is at 21h30).

Aku Café and Gallery – They serve meals and delicious cold pressed juices. The pineapple, cucumber, mint and chia seed juice was delicious. (RM10.90) Find them just off Jalan Petaling at 8 Jalan Panggong, on the first floor (11h00 – 20h00, closed on Mondays).

Just around the corner from Aku Café and a stone throw away from the crowded Petaling Street Market, you will find the Purple Cane Tea House with a variety of teas to buy or enjoy in store. It is a great place to balance the senses, and escape the frenetic energy and heat. The Puer Tea (RM8) was delicate and soft on the palate, and the perfect afternoon drink. Find them on the corner of Jalan Balai Polis (Jalan Panggong) and Jalan Sultan across from the Pasar Seni Metro Station.

The Hojicha Latte (RM14) I had at Vintage 1988, made with roasted matcha, was wonderful as it gives this drink a lovely depth of flavour. I had it cold and unsweetened, which was the perfect drink for a hot, humid afternoon. Find them just down the road from the hotel at 34 Jalan Sultan (10h00 – 22h00).

Café 55 by Mingle Hostel (next to Leaf & Co.) serves creative food and drink. Try The Fragrant Concubine (RM13). Find them at 55 Jalan Sultan (7h30 -21h30, and until 22h00 on a Fri & Sat).

Further afield: The rest of the city is easily reachable via its extensive Metro system, which is easy to use and much cheaper than Grab or taxis. Pasar Seni station is a short walk from the hotel. If, like me, you enjoy walking and aren’t too bothered by the heat, many of the places of interest can be reached on foot, which is a much better way of exploring the city.

For a different experience, co-ordinate your visit to coincide with the first or third Sunday of the month, as from 7h00 – 9h00, downtown KL is car free.

##  The cheapest place to visit for delicious local food is one of the many night markets scattered across the city. I visited the Connaught Night Market (held on Wednesdays) with May from Jalan² with M.K. Although I arrived hungry, it was a real challenge to work my way through the crispy Po Pia, Apom Balik, fried cempedak, jackfruit, coconut jelly, salted egg mushroom, salted egg tofu, scallion pancake, and Air Mata Kuching. It was lovely to experience the food through the tastebuds and stories of a local. We ended the evening at a local Mamak restaurant, and it felt like I made a friend, which is one of the joys of travel.

##  My second best experience in KL, beaten only just by climbing Bukit Tabur East with Casey, was my cooking class at LaZat Cooking. Ana, the owner, is a delight, and her sense of humour makes for a very intimate cooking experience, despite the fact that the class consisted of 9 students. The day started with a wet market tour (Pasar Besar TTDI), and local breakfast featuring Roti Canai, and ended with feasting on all the different dishes we cooked. I wish I could have spent a week here, as there are a variety of menus to choose from, reflecting the different cultures that make up Malaysian society.

Visited:  January 2019

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